Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
The world does not want the church’s approval. It has managed very well without that for many years and will continue to do so. What the world wants is the church’s capitulation. And however one cares to dress up these latest findings—as pastorally sensitive, as keeping up with the times, as affirming the marginalized—they represent the latest fulfillment of that desire.
A recent poll conducted by The Times of London indicates that a majority of Church of England clergy now favor gay marriage. The figures (53.4 percent in favor, 36.5 percent opposed) show a significant shift from 2014. Back then, in the aftermath of the legalization of gay civil marriage in the U.K., only 39 percent were in favor and 51 percent were opposed. There are numerous lessons here.
First, the old battle lines between conservative and liberal Christians have changed. In the past, it was the affirmation or denial of the supernatural claims of the Bible, supremely that of Jesus’s bodily resurrection, that divided churches. Today, it is questions of morality, specifically sexual morality, that are the points of contention. And these are of more significance for the broader life of the church within society. To affirm the resurrection might have made you look like a benighted fool, but societies generally tolerate benighted fools. To oppose our current Western cultural regime, where sexual identity is key to personal value, is to deny the humanity of fellow citizens. The world sees that as a deeply immoral act, and not one that will likely be tolerated forever. Christians need to understand that. This is not an excuse for abandoning biblical teaching on kind words turning away wrath or on blessing those who curse us. But it is to say that we should expect suffering, not op-eds in the Washington Post, to be our reward.
And that brings us to the second lesson. The clergy’s shift on this issue might well be motivated by pastoral intuitions to affirm people. It is a caring vocation and few, one hopes, enter it with a view to hurting others. Kindness is the order of the day. Ironically, however, this shift buys the immediate possibility of affirmation at huge long-term cost.
One reason for this is that gay marriage does not simply involve a minor expansion of the traditional concept. There was a time when gay writers such as Andrew Sullivan argued that allowing same-sex marriages would simply permit gay people to be part of a conservative institution. It is now clear that gay marriage did not merely expand the set of those considered to be married, but fundamentally evacuated marriage of meaning—or, more accurately, exposed the fact that it had already been fundamentally evacuated of meaning by the ready acceptance of no-fault divorce. It is no longer a unique relationship whose stability is important for its normative ends, but little more than a sentimental bond that only has to last for as long as it meets the emotional needs of the parties involved.