The Church Of England And Gays: A Brave Attempt To Walk The Biblical Line

Bishop of Norwich Graham James unveiled the Church's latest position on homosexuality and gay marriage at Church House, Westminster this morning.Reuters

It was a brave attempt.

Leaders of the Church of England might have hoped that two years of "conversations" about same sex relationships - with the press, TV and all social media firmly excluded – would send everyone to sleep. 

And that by the time they all woke up, Church and society would have moved on.

After all, with Donald Trump and Brexit, and with gay marriage now long on the statute books, does anyone really care what the Church does or does not do about the issue of gay relationships? 

It turns out they do. 

Today, the Church's bishops issued a report that marks the next stage in the process – a minor review of pastoral practice, and a pledge to put together a major new teaching document on the doctrine of marriage.

Fundamentally, it offers no change to church teaching.

It is full of pledges to be nicer to gay people.

This means little to gay people who believes a welcome to church means a welcome to marriage. Prominent LGBT campaigners are vociferous in their anger. They feel deeply betrayed, distressed, excluded and wounded. 

It does however please conservatives who believe the opposite.

Conservative evangeligical Anglicans – in line with Traditional Anglo-Catholics, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and other Reformation Churches – argue that this is a "first order" issue that cannot be changed, because that would be like changing the Creed itself, or the texts of the Gospels.

The Church, despite its doctrine on marriage, does allow remarriage after divorce.

But it is not ready, and may well never be ready, to allow gay people to marry in church.

Yesterday, a former Queen's chaplain, Gavin Ashenden, warned that the Church of England is dying because it is capitulating to liberal culture, and suggested Christians might want to leave, and join more biblical churches instead.

Today's report shows that he is wrong, at least on one count.

The Church of England is not capitulating to liberal, secular culture.

Not remotely.

It is standing, firm and unequivocal, by the biblical teaching on marriage.

There is little danger that conservatives will depart the Church en masse, at least over this issue. And despite their anger, the LGBT community shows every sign at present of remaining within the Church.

So never mind leaving the Church. The problem is how the bishops are going to persuade anyone under 30 to join the Church in the first place.

This goes beyond sexuality to questions of liturgy, worship and faith.

The bishops can be as profound and clever as they like in explaining the Bible. They can attack highly intelligent journalists from national newspapers for getting it "wrong" when trying to grapple with these complex issues.

But they are never going to be able to "sell" the Bible's orthodoxy on marriage to young people if these young people do not come to church in the first place.

Such people – millennials and the new teenage generation coming on after – might well be more interested in comforting their gay friend who has been bullied than hearing a prelate from an older generation explain why this gay friend should never get married in church. 

Of course I do not know how the Church can maintain its orthodox tradition on marriage while giving the kind of welcome that the LGBT community actually wants.

But when the Church appears to be compelling an entire community to get out, something is going very badly wrong indeed.