On Tuesday morning it was theology hour in the House of Commons. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw had requested an urgent question on the Church of England’s latest prevarication on homosexuality. Ahead of next month’s synod, the bishops have decided that gay marriage will not be up for discussion, even though a full debate was expected after six years of consultation.
Can the established Church continue to be out of kilter with the law of the land? Can MPs legitimately put pressure on it to reform its teaching? Bradshaw and others, including Penny Mordaunt, are muttering threats of disestablishment. Their case is weakened by the fact that parliament promised, ten years ago this week, that religious groups would not be coerced into performing gay marriages. As the C of E is widely agreed to be a religious organisation, the MPs amicably concluded that this circle could not be squared.
To placate progressives from inside the Church and out, the bishops last week gave the green light for the blessing of same-sex unions. Sort of. Clergy will be permitted to bless couples in same-sex unions, but not the actual unions. Because the distinction is difficult to monitor, conservatives are probably right to see it as the beginning of a slippery slope to the straightforward blessing of gay unions. Unplacated progressives are planning to table an amendment to scrap the blessings and instead ‘bring forward immediate legislation to provide for equal marriage in church’. But few think that there is a majority at the synod for such legislation.
I have a confession to make about the Church’s stubborn determination to prevaricate. I’m in favour. It seems to me that snail-paced change is the right approach. And I think that I speak for the quiet majority of Anglicans. The average Anglican is a moderate liberal, with mixed feelings that are difficult to express.