‘in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance … 2 whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in 1 Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ …’ (Article 2, ‘Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man’)
Is the Church of England at last about to surrender to LGBT ideology? The Church Times has reported that ‘the bishops acknowledge that simply to restate the existing ban on same-sex blessings or marriage in church is not an option’. Accordingly ‘formal proposals will be presented to the General Synod in February 2023’, not long now (reported 2nd November 2022). Several bishops are already flying white flags.
The surrender has already been given on the other side of the Severn. Last year the Church in Wales amended its Constitution to authorise the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships. Now the present author’s beloved parish church – almost a second home since childhood, and a constant place of refreshment, light and peace – is awaiting the imminent arrival of a new incumbent who, according to the official announcement, ‘lives with his partner Jim’, and proudly advertises this arrangement by wearing a wedding ring. (Website accessed today.)
It is no use being nostalgic, of course. Political activism is not an option. Nor does ecclesiastical law help much. The purpose of this blogpost is merely to
(1) examine the seemingly unstoppable phenomenon of LGBT ideology and
(2) ask what, if any, intellectual response to it is now possible.
The Failure of Pan-Anglicanism
The only significant attempt to halt the advance of LGBT ideology in the present century was a policy that may conveniently be labelled ‘Pan-Anglicanism’, which sought a closer integration of the member Churches of the Anglican Communion. The idea was to oppose, or at least balance, Western LGBT ideology with the cultural values of non-Western Churches which were strongly resistant to it.
The Lambeth Conference of 1998 passed a robust resolution ‘rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture … the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions [and] ordaining those involved in same gender unions’. However, such resolutions have no authority other than the personal opinion of the bishops who vote for them.
The then Archbishop of Canterbury therefore appointed a high-powered commission, which was tasked with seeking ‘the highest degree of communion that may be possible’ within the Anglican Communion (mandate). One of the members of the commission was Professor Norman Doe, the leading commentator on ecclesiastical law.
The commission proposed a pan-Anglican Covenant, to be ratified by the member Churches, in order to ‘make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection’ (118) (i.e an application of tough love!). The Covenant was to be the means of strengthening the Anglican inheritance on the dubious basis that the member Churches enjoyed only a limited autonomy, rather than absolute independence of each other.
Professor Doe was rewarded for his services with a Lambeth doctorate in civil law (DCL). However, the Anglican Communion Covenant itself got nowhere. The LGBT lobby, of course, saw the threat that it represented to them, and resisted it articulately and successfully. There was also a general reluctance among member Churches to compromise their independence.
Pan-Anglican opposition to LGBT ideology forced the postponement of the Lambeth Conference that was due to take place in 2018. The coronavirus situation necessitated a further postponement. The Conference finally met this year, 2022. However, Professor Doe, the erstwhile Apostle of Pan-Anglicanism, failed to persuade even his fellow legal advisers to agree on a definition of marriage. The latest edition of Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (2022) lamely admits that ‘it has not been possible to discern a common principle of canon law on who may marry whom’ (p.97)
The last vestige of Pan-Anglican policy now seems to consist of trying to persuade non-Western Churches that, in English law, a civil partnership agreement is something completely different from a marriage contract. Just 3 weeks ago, the present Successor of St. Augustine authorised a response to criticisms of his new Cathedral Dean, which referred to ‘international confusion about the nature of … civil partnerships … civil partnerships are not recognised as marriage’ (Anglican Communion News Service, 21st October 2022). Wedding rings notwithstanding.
This is disingenuous, to say the least. There is no substantive difference between civil partnership and marriage. The only difference concerns the terminology and formalities involved. It is argued that the intention of Parliament in passing the Civil Partnership Act was to create a same-sex marriage contract, but not to call it marriage, because of a political calculation that public opinion was not yet ready (this was nearly 20 years ago now) to accept same-sex marriage in terms.
Jacqueline Humphries provides a most helpful analysis of this issue in ‘The Civil Partnership Act, Same-Sex Marriage and the Church of England’ (Ecclesiastical Law Journal, January 2006). As she says ‘It is clear that, culturally, civil partnerships are being seen as gay marriage’. Indeed they are. Public perception accords with parliamentary intention. Pace the Archbishop, there is no ‘international confusion’ on this point.
The Trojan Horse of Traditionalism
Anglican tradition should not be difficult to identify. It is found in the 3 historic formularies of the Church of England – the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the 39 Articles of Religion. These date from the 16th and 17th centuries, the early modern period.
Anglo-Catholic ritualism, by contrast, originated centuries later, in Victorian times. It is romantic and aesthetic, driven by devotional practices and devotional materials that are pleasing to the heart, with elaborate ceremonial, ornate decoration and rich colours to please the eye, fine music to delight the ear, fragrant incense to pleasure the nose.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, of course. The heart and the senses do have their rightful place in religion and in worship. Anglo-Catholic ritualism has probably done much to improve the quality of Anglican worship.
However, there is an ever-present danger of exaggeration. The heart and the senses must not become divorced from authority and reason. Religion that ignores authority and reason, and that exists only in the romantic imagination and the senses is, frankly, bad religion (if it can be called religion at all).
Ritualism has never had an easy relationship with authority. Its refusal to comply with the 1662 regime of public worship has, of course, provided a rich source of material for the study of ecclesiastical law.
Another, hidden, source of tension with authority was the undeniable presence within ritualism of a homosexual culture (or sub-culture). Resistance to the liturgical regime of the historic formularies was accompanied by a latent resistance to the moral regime that they imposed.
It is ironic, therefore, that Anglo-Catholic ritualism came to be seen as ‘traditionalist’. There are 2 reasons for this
(1) its (unsuccessful, and now largely abandoned) resistance to female ordination and
(2) its (apparently successful) resistance to liberal Biblical exegesis. Academic theologians might deny the Virgin Birth, but pilgrimages to Walsingham kept increasing.
A commentator once lightly characterised ritualism as ‘hairsplitting and hypocrisy’. However, in the present century the hypocrisy has been absolved and redeemed by ideology. The gay culture in ritualism is no longer half-hidden behind clouds of incense. Its latent resistance to traditional morality has become overt. It now asserts a contrary, LGBT morality.
Ritualism has therefore been something of a Trojan Horse to tradition. Anglican tradition repudiates Catholic teaching on the eucharist, but affirms Catholic teaching on marriage. (The Prayer Book marriage service is the most Catholic part of the formularies, being taken almost verbatim from the mediaeval Sarum rite.) Anglo-Catholic ritualism affects devout adherence to Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, while repudiating Catholic teaching on marriage. It thereby repudiates both Anglican tradition and Catholic teaching. Under the influence of LGBT ideology, the divorce of romantic ritualism from authority (and from reason) has become absolute.
Traditionalists who oppose LGBT ideology – perhaps of a certain age now – face the uncomfortable reality that the momentum for the ideology has come largely from their own side. (Certainly more than from heterosexual liberal exegetes!) There have been individual secessions to the Roman Catholic Church, and to breakaway Anglican Churches. Otherwise the only course for traditionalists is to follow the Archbishop of Canterbury in pretending that civil partnership is substantively different from same-sex ‘marriage’.
Scripture, Tradition and Reason
Biblical literalism seems to offer the only intellectual resistance to LGBT ideology at present. It may have enthusiastic and articulate adherents. But it is a blunt instrument, and also a rather weak one. It is, frankly, simple-minded. When read in isolation, the Bible is notoriously capable of meaning almost anything. One passage of Scripture can always be opposed by another. It can be plausibly explained away. A harsh-sounding Scriptural reference can be attractively countered by a pleasant-sounding abstraction.
Tradition can offer no resistance, and not only because of the treachery of its false friend, ritualism. Its thought and language come from a different age, of course. The sublime English prose of the Prayer Book is still widely appreciated, but modern Anglicanism is very ignorant of its own tradition. There seems to be almost no systematic study of the historic formularies (perhaps even less than of ecclesiastical law). The historic formularies are treated as just that – of historical interest only.
As mentioned, Anglican tradition is, in part, inherited from the Catholic Church, with which the Church of England shares the Sacrament of Baptism and the historic episcopate. Can ecumenical dialogue do anything to save the situation?
The record here is not encouraging. In the 20th century, several explicit papal warnings against female ordination were ignored. In 2009 the then Pope established Anglican Ordinariates (in this country and overseas) as a bridge across the Tiber, but to little effect. Ecumenists (and their superiors) now seem positively to avoid controversial subjects. The late Father Edward Yarnold SJ, a shrewd observer of Anglican-Roman Catholic interactions, noted that they suffer from ‘the danger inherent in bilateral dialogues, that the ecumenical left hand may not know, or may ignore, what the right is doing’ (Anglican Orders (1996), p.70).
So reason alone is left. It has its own limitations, of course. But it can penetrate further than Biblical literalism and traditionalism. The latter can only address the effects or symptoms of the LGBT ideology (e.g same-sex marriage or transgenderism). Reason can address the ideology itself. It can explain
(1) what the ideology is and
(2) why it is not compatible with the Christian religion.
What is LGBT Ideology?
It is important to begin an analysis of LGBT ideology by admitting that IT IS PARTLY TRUE. (It is another weakness of Biblical literalism that it can appear to deny that there is any truth in the ideology.)
But if LGBT ideology is partly true, reason dictates that it is partly false.
LGBT ideology consists essentially of the assertion of rights – LGBT rights, gay rights. What does this mean, exactly? It is argued that the assertion of ‘LGBT rights’ or ‘gay rights’ is ambiguous. It carries a double meaning, as follows:
(1) it could mean simply that persons of particular sexual orientation, or gender orientation, have exactly the same rights as all other persons have. Equal rights with everybody else. Equal rights of reputation, privacy, freedom of association and freedom of expression.
If that was the only meaning of ‘LGBT / gay rights’ there would be no difficulty. It is, of course, true.
The problem is that this is not the only meaning of LGBT / gay rights. There is a second, quite different meaning
(2) that a sexual orientation or gender orientation is itself a source of rights, that it is productive of rights. That a sexual orientation or gender orientation, of itself, confers rights on the person who experiences it.
The rights purportedly conferred by sexual or gender orientation include the right to ‘marry’ a person of the same sex, the right to engage in genital activity with such person, and the right to choose or change one’s gender.
This second meaning of LGBT / gay rights (2) is certainly not true. The false rights asserted by (2) must therefore be distinguished from the genuine rights asserted by (1).
Thus LGBT ideology does indeed contain an element of truth (1). But, unfortunately, behind the element of truth, there is a lie (2). It is this lie that separates the ideology from the Christian religion.
It is possible to identify a certain structure to LGBT ideology. The element of truth in it (1) is used to protect and conceal the falsehood (2). The lie at the heart of the ideology is concealed by a protective veneer of truth. This means, of course, that it is difficult to oppose (2) without appearing to oppose (1).
It is also possible to see a resemblance between LGBT ideology and romantic ritualism. The LGBT assertion of sexual or gender orientation as a source of rights is in harmony with the tendency of ritualism to assert the sovereignty of the heart and the senses.
Why is LGBT ideology not compatible with the Christian religion?
Biblical and traditionalist approaches to the phenomenon of LGBT, by addressing only its symptoms or effects, are largely concerned to explain only what is wrong with it. This inevitably fixes them with an unattractively negative, judgmental character.
What is right or wrong is ultimately determined by what is true or false. By addressing the LGBT ideology itself, not just its effects, reason can explain what is true and false, not merely what is right or wrong.
Morality is undeniably concerned with (right and wrong) behaviour, but it is much more than that. Christian morality is the doctrine of Man himself. Just as Christianity has a particular belief about God, so it has a particular belief about Man.
Our analysis has indicated 2 objectionable characteristics of LGBT ideology
(1) it contains a lie and
(2) it misuses truth by using it to conceal or protect the lie.
Any lie must be incompatible with true religion. Christian witness is like witness in court – to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is not about half-truth, nor about negotiating some kind of bargain between truth and falsehood.
Does the lie in LGBT ideology matter much? It engages the God-given constitution of Man himself. It denies the constitution of the human person as male and female. It denies the constitution of marriage as a bodily union or ‘one flesh’ (see blogpost ‘The Constitution of Marriage: Consensus-Copula’). It denies the God-given nature of both gender and marriage. If gender and marriage are determined only by individual orientation, they cease to be God-given and become man-made instead.
By engaging the God-given constitution of Man, LGBT ideology also engages Man’s relationship with God. God not only created Man in His own image, He Himself became Man.
This is powerfully and beautifully expressed by Article 2, quoted above. Jesus was, and is, both God and Man. To follow Jesus is therefore to accept the truth about both, not just about the one or the other. God and Man cannot be divorced from each other. They stand or fall together. It is no good asserting the truth of the Virgin Birth while denying the truth about marriage.
It follows from this that an individual who patterns his lifestyle on LGBT ideology, or who appears to do so, is not an appropriate person to teach the Christian religion, or lead a Christian community. And a vicar who does not tell the truth about Man cannot tell the truth about God.