March 7, 2017 in General
Why is the Church of England so retrograde compared to other members of the Anglican Communion, such as the US Episcopal Church, and Anglican Churches of Canada and New Zealand when it comes to lesbian and gay issues?
In Prospect, Linda Woodhead pondered this question and analysed why the UK ‘established’ (state) church experienced such episodes. Recently, the Church of England’s lay and lower echelon clerical General Synod voted against a Bishops Report that suggested the maintenance of conservative restriction of religious marriage to straight couples only. This lower echelon revolt repudiated a noxious strand of fundamentalism that had begun to seep into the church in the eighties, delaying the ordination of women until the early nineties (whereas that occurred in 1976 within the Anglican Church of New Zealand) and which then proceeded to establish divisive internal fundamentalist pressure groups such as “Reform” and “Anglican Mainstream” (sic) to corrode pluralist theological traditions within the church. This challenge to historical pragmatism and diversity was fought by advocates of social liberalisation- the Church of England condoned contraception and divorce and supported the tentative homosexual law reform present within the Sexual Offences Act 1967. In 1970, though, the General Synod emerged and provided an opportunity for orchestrated fundamentalist hijack attempts.
One of these occurred in 1987, when Essex fundamentalist vicar Tony Highton was able to pass a motion that sex should be restricted to married straight couples and that gay sex required ‘repentance.’ This angered the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement on the other side of the debate, but while the Highton motion galvanised fundamentalists within Africa and East Asia, as well as the fundamentalist faux “Anglican” Archdiocese of Sydney, lay Church of England opinion was steadily moving toward embracing liberalism. When England, Wales and Scotland passed civil marriage equality legislation in 2013, the majority of active Church of England membership backed the religious recognition of committed monogamous same-sex relationships.
One wonders how other branches of the Anglican Communion will deal with this. North American Anglicanism seems to have already accepted the authenticity and inclusiveness of religious marriage equality, and New Zealand Anglicans tend to profess the tenets of theological liberalism. When women were ordained for the first time, New Zealand did not witness the formation of a backlash anti-women “Anglican Catholic” breakaway sect, as occurred in Australia when it finally voted for women’s ordination in the nineties. While it is possible that the fundamentalist Anglican Diocese of Nelson might try to break away, it is possible that the solution may be a return to theological pluralism- which may mean lesbian and gay Nelson Anglicans may have to travel elsewhere in New Zealand if they want Anglican religious recognition of any intending marriage.
Linda Woodhead: “The Church of England has reached a turning point on gay marriage” Prospect: 22.02.2017: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/the-church-of-england-has-reached-a-turning-point-on-gay-marriage
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement: http://www.lgcm.org.uk
“Anglican Mainstream”: http://www.anglicanmainstream.org.uk
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