Anglican fudge? More like pick'n'mix

Do you like fudge? According to the Archbishop of York, the Church of England has just ordered a truckload of the stuff.

Published 21 March 2014  |  
(PA)

Dr John Sentamu was commenting on the latest pastoral guidance from Anglican bishops regarding same-sex marriages. This states that those in such relationships cannot get ordained, nor can those already in ministry enter into them as this would "clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England".

But by contrast, when it comes to lay people, "same-sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments."

Dr John Sentamu said the Anglican view was therefore that clergy should follow the "expectation to live within the teaching of the Church, but for lay people and others they should be welcomed into the Church". This, he declared, was "Anglican fudge".

In this he is entirely right. For there are some basic contradictions at the heart of this guidance. In the first place, it contradicts the teaching of the worldwide Anglican church. This states that "in view of the teaching of Scripture, [the church] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage". The pastoral guidance apparently upholds this teaching for clergy but seems much less concerned about whether lay people follow it.

Secondly, the guidance implies double standards. If a form of behaviour is intrinsically wrong – or indeed fundamentally godly – then it is such for all Christians, whether lay or ordained, for all believers are called to shape their lives according to the Gospel. While it is true that those who are ministers "will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3v1), that is surely by the same set of standards – rather than some variable, shape-shifting morality. Imagine the outcry if the Church decided adultery was wrong for bishops but okay for clergy – or that lying was wrong for Archdeacons but fine for Rural Deans.

Many have been quick to point out this inconsistency. Lee Gatiss of Church Society has written: "However difficult it is to accept or confront, those who choose to pursue sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage are not living in the path of godliness that Christians are called to walk. We accept such people into our hearts and homes, and many attend our churches. Our prayers for them are frequent and heartfelt. We all struggle and fall short in many ways. But it is surely unhelpful to baptise what the Bible calls sin, as if it was not sin."

And the Evangelical Group on General Synod has stated: "While affirming that everyone should be welcomed in our churches, we continue to believe that appropriate sacramental discipline should apply to those who choose to enter into any sexual relationship other than within marriage between a man and a woman."

At the same time, liberal groups have condemned the guidance for permitting lay people to live in same-sex marriages but not allowing any formal services to mark them.

Andrew Goddard of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics observes: "The sad reality is that a house divided against itself cannot stand ... The reactions to the guidance make clear just how extensive the divisions are in the wider church."

To call this document a fudge is perhaps somewhat unkind to fudge. Fudge, after all, is a pleasure to be richly savoured. Sadly, this guidance is more like pick'n'mix – and it leaves a most peculiar aftertaste.

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