It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden
The news this morning seems so sad and pointless: The Anglican Church seems set on writing itself out of history at a time when the world, and the UK, so badly needs a structured and liberal church as a counterpoint to religious fundamentalists like IS, and to provide an alternative view on the patterns of consumption that create so many of today’s environmental issues.
At a time when we need to hear a liberal and calm voice in our society, to be reassured that faith can promote liberalism and personal liberty - it seems the Anglican church is more than eager to throw away its historic goodwill and privilege, built up over centuries.
So now a very real question remains: is the Anglican church actually moving beyond merely being quaintly archaic and gently irrelevant, to actually doing real harm in our society?
Slowly but surely – and with great sadness- my answer to that question is creeping towards a yes ….
That answer has come as a surprise and a shock to me: I have long argued that the Anglican church holds a key role in our community that includes safeguarding the public against all sorts of maverick priests and child-eating preachers, as well as providing the established structure with which to engage in socio-political dialogue. I have argued that within society someone needs to hold a signpost for the spiritual, to hold the knowledge of human spirituality that has been build up over two thousand years, and be the place people know they can turn to when need arises.
But I cannot condone an organisation that at its heart withholds its love from some. Last summer I had the privilege of speaking with two women who had both been excommunicated by the church: one for being a Catholic and marrying a protestant Swedish man, and the other for being an Anglican and marrying a liberal Jewish man. Neither of these women were recognised as being married by the church and consequently they were treated as living “in sin” and shamed. One left the church entirely, and her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren inherited a deep a sense hurt and spiritual injustice- they are still all these years later still seeking a spiritual home. The other woman never told her husband or family- and sits alone at the back of the church trying to be invisible as the congregation communes together without her. In twenty years not one person in her church or her family had asked her how she felt or why she didn’t take communion. When I asked she burst into tears. She never allowed her children anywhere near church.
Those encounters showed me how in hurting people now we cause real and tangible harm to future generations….
Christianity, like the deep river in the poem above, is essentially about love, respect and forgiveness. And it is these qualities that make it the enduring deep and positive faith it is. There is so much more to Christianity, and to God, than can be contained by any human religious structure or organisation.
If that organisation chooses, as it has now done, to side with some irrelevant dinosaurs in Africa - over doing what is needed by Christians and congregations here and now – then that marks a turning point. If supporting what even Archbishop Welby accepts (1) is the moral, legal, political and even theologically justifiable position is something the church no longer does - then liberal Christians everywhere have a duty to speak out, and stand up for what they believe.
It is time now to become the Christians, the priests (2) and the face of faith that society so needs in dealing with the real issues of our time.
Marriage is the one sacrament that has no direct need for church: a marriage is a covenant, a commitment, between two people before God. Two people who seek to formalise their union and be seen by society as being part of one household. You yourself marry yourself to another, so you don’t actually need a priest or the church at all to marry your beloved before God.
But if you would like a celebrant for your marriage, then I, and I’m guessing a very many others, would be happy to marry you.