Please leave your message after the tone

Much has been blogged and tweeted on the recent House of Bishops’ Statement, which you can read here:

http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/02/house-of-bishops-pastoral-guidance-on-same-sex-marriage.aspx.

I initially resisted from saying anything, as I felt the letter was simply reassertion of what the House had said before, and who would have expected otherwise without further consultation? Also, others had already provided helpful commentary:

http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/house-of-bishops-same-sex-dogs-breakfast.html

http://jeremyfletcher.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/sex-marriage-and-the-house-of-bishops/

http://therachelmannblogspot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/personal-response-to-house-of-bishops_15.html?spref=tw&m=1

What I haven’t been able to shake off, though, is the tone of the pastoral letter toward the priests and deacons who serve in the Church of England. Whether intended or not, the final paragraphs felt finger-wagging at best, and threatening at worst. I had thought that the Bishops were working hard to shake off the paternalism of ages past, but this (far-from) pastoral letter suggests that such a change is easier said than done. Perhaps, though, I am being too harsh; as with any person or group, changing attitude and character takes years of un-learning and learning. I certainly know that to be true for me.

That doesn’t change, however, the global reality of non-heterosexual human beings. In a context where countries are introducing imprisonment (and far worse) for ‘homosexual activity’, does a pastoral letter that threatens discipline send an unintended message of support to such régimes? Certainly the Bishops have spoken against any Ecclesiastical support of such laws, but this letter does little to provide action to back up those words.

Whilst I personally regret that the Church has not had facilitated discussions about this before now, at this stage of discussing Pilling the House can do little other than ask for a moratorium on Equal Marriage in the Church of England. (Easy for me to say, as a married man with children, I know. Or perhaps, I don’t know.) What needs to be recognised, and what is sorely missing from the letter, is any sense of the enormity of what is being asked of our clergy who are not heterosexual. To agree to such a moratorium will have a huge impact upon their mental and physical health, as well as their relationships. As is so often the case, the Church is asking those members who are not Heterosexual Men to practise far more Christlikeness than the Institution can itself display.

Such a moratorium should have been called for with lashing and lashings of care, support and tears, and not just the threat of lashings.

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About fancourt

I'm the Parish Priest of St Luke with St Bartholomew in Reading, U.K (http://www.lukeandbart.org.uk). This is mainly a blog of sermons, and I'd welcome your thoughts on what I write. I've taken a bit more time to write about my thoughts about the church in today's world in a little book called Brand New Church? (Review of it here: http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/book-review-brand-new-church.html).
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