The Church of England - a house divided
Cranmer has appended his own thoughts on the matter:
Over the past decade, the morality of homosexuality has become obsessively an increasingly central issue in the Church of England. It is an evolving debate, the complexity of which is compounded by the contiguous debates of same-sex civil partnerships or ‘gay marriage’ and whether such partnerships should receive liturgical blessing; the ordination of practising homosexuals and the rights of bishops to demand pledges of celibacy from their priests; and the first elevation in the Anglican Communion of an openly homosexual priest to a Bishopric. With the strong feelings these developments have aroused on the two apparently irreconcilable wings of the church – liberal and conservative – it is possible indeed that it will lead to schism. While a final decision on this may be imminent, the Archbishop of Canterbury recently stated: ‘It is not a question of legislating for schism or providing for schism or whatever - we are there already’.
Given that 'we are there already' - and Dr Lilico is simply stating what the Archbishop has already proclaimed - it is important to keep this in perspective. The Church has been fracturing ever since the very first debates over the divinity of Christ and the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325. Schism is inevitable in the diversity of humanity and the broken imperfection of our fellowship.
Historically, the Church of England maintained the same continuity as the Magisterial Reformers with certain Roman Catholic beliefs and practices – particularly the Church-State link, infant baptism, and recognition of the authority of the Church Fathers. It adopted a via media which supplanted papal authority with royal authority, and thereby suffered none of the pressures endured by the Continental Reformation to define itself by doctrine. It exists, without rivals, by parliamentary transaction and is thus an Act of State. No government has any plans to change this (even Jack Straw's constitutional reforms maintain 26 bishops in the House of Lords).
The debate on homosexuality within the Church of England is contiguous with the increasing assertion of ‘human rights’, and considerable changes in the relationship between the individual and society. The modern tendency to frame the immunities accorded people by law in terms of ‘subjective rights’ is a conception which puts the autonomous individual at the centre of our system of law. At the Enlightenment, there had been no impulse for homosexual rights (as there had been for slaves and women); it is a development of the 1970s.
The Church of England was founded on compromise and contradiction, and it still retains these disparities. These inherent tensions have created an ongoing struggle between its various wings, and some assert that the debate over homosexuality is the ultimate political battle for supremacy. The rhetoric is intense from both factions: statements like ‘Anti-gay bishops crush liberals’ are counterbalanced with those who assert the church’s attitude towards homosexuals is ‘a modern form of human sacrifice’. There is middle ground, like the compromise to accept homosexual priests as long as they give their bishop assurances of celibacy, but such proposals are deemed inadequate by both sides. The Daily Telegraph observed:
"Issues in Human Sexuality laid down the principle that the clergy were allowed to be homosexual by inclination, by temperament, and by affection - but only within the privacy of their cassocks. They must not do anything outside them with anyone, ever. Even by the standards of the Church of England, it is a remarkable achievement to produce a statement that no one on either side of the dispute could really sign in good faith and then to make that a touchstone of orthodoxy. If homosexual practice was wrong, then why should the faithful laity be allowed it? If it is not wrong, why is it a bar to ordination?"
It may be concluded that efforts to hold the Anglican Communion together are simply going to protract the division, keeping the debate at the forefront of people’s minds, deflecting the church from it primary mission - the proclamation of the gospel. It may be time to acknowledge that one harmonious body may not be possible among dissimilar parts of the world, where different attitudes and traditions prevail. Ultimately, the discussion ceases to be about homosexuality, but about control and authority; power and politics. The homosexual debate has simply become the means by which that battle is being fought, with its absolute demand of ‘Which side are you on?’. While for many, this permits of only two answers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seeking a via media, asserts that ‘it is really a matter of having a language in which to disagree rather than speaking two incompatible or incomprehensible exclusive tongues’. But his search for ‘reconciled diversity’ is, for many, an unscriptural if not an unattainable objective.
Let the Anglican Communion divide, by all means; it is a relic of Empire. But the Church of England, as the genius Hooker designed, shall hold itself together through this 'tension', just as it has done since its foundation.