Remorseless logic and a Bishop’s rest

So at least one Bishop has now made the decision to enact discipline with respect to a priest who has entered into a ‘gay marriage’. As Ian Paul rightly asserts, the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has now come to an end, and the Church of England is going to have to choose where it stands with regard to non-tradtional sexuality.

There is a remorseless logic to the situation that the Bishops now find themselves in. The remorseless side of things stems from the nature of the society that we now live within, which will consistently seek to assert pressure from the progressive side of the sexuality argument. The logic, however, is an internal one. After all, it was the acceptance of contraception at the 1930 Lambeth conference which has led directly to our present social understandings of sexuality. The Roman Catholic hierarchy recognise that the logic of accepting contraception leads inevitably to a much more progressive understanding of sexuality tout court, which is why they have held out against it.

I can see any particular Bishop resting safely on a traditional Roman Catholic understanding of sexuality. That much could be argued for, and we don’t have to go far to see how it could be argued for. To my mind, those who oppose modern sexual mores need to accept the internal logic of their position and accept that, if they are to reject gay marriage (for example) then they are also required to reject contraception and re-marriage after divorce and so on. There are people who have made that argument within the Church of England and it seems to me to be an honourable position to hold.

However, what of those who do not wish to accept such a stance? What might be a place of ‘Bishop’s rest’ – that is, how might a Bishop exercise due authority within his Diocese when it comes to questions of priesthood and sexuality? Is there a place to stand at the end of the progressive path?

I am concluding that there is, and I believe that the new substantive policy would rest upon: an acceptance that questions of sexuality and marriage are second-order issues; an acceptance of the authority of the individual baptised conscience; and an acceptance that we are called to exercise a radical non-judgement.

Practically, the outworkings of such a framework would mean a repeal of Canon B30 (which articulates the traditional view of sexuality) and an understanding that the sexuality of any particular priest is first and foremost a private matter for the priest themselves. I think that there would still be some room for the exercise of discipline over a wayward priest, but it would have to be on the grounds of either a) illegality (in which case the church disciplinary process would follow the secular one, as in other areas of misbehaviour) or b) bringing the church into disrepute. For the latter, an individual bishop would have to discern whether there was in fact clerical misbehaviour or whether there is simply a faithful position which is out of step with wider cultural mores (in other words, the Bishop needs to discern whether the disrepute arises from waywardness or a prophetic vocation).

Article 32 might be rewritten in the following form, to articulate the new perspective: “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from sexual relations: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to develop lawful sexual relationships at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.”

One last metaphor to assist contemplation: there is a remarkable sequence in Peter Weir’s ‘Master and Commander’ when the ship’s captain has to take the momentous decision to sacrifice the life of one crewmember. A storm has stripped away a canvas-filled mast from the main body of the ship, with the man on it, and the detached rigging has begun to work as a sea-anchor, and will eventually cause the entire ship to sink. The captain has to cut the ties to the lost mast in order to enable the ship itself to come right and continue to be a safe vessel for the other sailors.

I see the traditional view of sexuality within the Church of England as being that broken mast. Unless we cut ourselves free of it we shall all sink.

What we believe makes a difference

(Courier article)

I would like you to imagine an ideology that encourages a population of believers to move to a far distant country. When there, the ideology tells the believers that they are to work towards changing that country in ways that reflect the ideology, to displace the original inhabitants of that country and, ultimately, to ensure that the patterns of life that had previously obtained in the country are eliminated.

Am I talking about Islam? No, I’m talking about an ideology, born in native East Anglian soil and mothered by Christianity, called Puritanism, which motivated the Pilgrim fathers to establish a ‘city on a hill’ in North America, and which became incorporated into the self-understanding of the United States and which led in a consistent and logical fashion to the genocide of the native american population and the almost universal abolition of the previous civilisations.

Of course, I might also be talking about ancient Israel. Consider this passage of instruction given to Moses, when he was told that Joshua would take the Israelites into the promised land: “the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua will lead you across the river, just as the Lord promised. The Lord will destroy the nations living in the land, just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you” – the commands being, essentially, to eradicate all ‘foreigners’ from the land.

Such ideologies do not have to be religious. A quick glance at twentieth century history gives several examples of secular ideologies that were used to justify national expansion. My point is that ideologies have consequences, serious consequences. An ideology is simply the structure of values and beliefs which guide behaviour, and it has the longest lasting and widest ranging effect upon the nature of the world within which we live. If we are to continue enjoying the sort of common life that we have enjoyed in this nation for many centuries then we need to ensure that those ideologies which are hostile to that common life are brought out into the open and engaged with.

This is the background to the most important political issues of our time, which are tied in with questions of UKIP and EU, of immigration and Ofsted inspections. We need to have a better conversation. We need to talk explicitly about values, about what sort of society we want to live in. Now those who raise this point are normally belittled as closed minded and racist little Englanders, as opposed to the intellectually sophisticated metropolitan world citizens, our morally enlightened elite. This is a fatuous division, not least because it is actually the most progressive achievements in our society that are most at risk from unplanned changes. For example, equal rights for women and minorities are developments in our society which build upon deeply rooted principles in English common law. If you believe that a girl born in this country has the right to an education, to a career, to an independent romantic life and so on then that is a substantial claim, an ideological commitment. Such a commitment means, as a matter of simple necessity, that you are against those ideologies which would seek to remove them, ideologies which say that women are the property of the men of their family and that if the male authority is rejected, then the men are justified in carrying out ‘honour killings’ in order to enforce their will.

The challenge for our ruling class is that they are faced with a dilemma, for to be committed to one ideology rather than another is to say that multiculturalism is bankrupt. This is inescapable and inevitable. To my mind the central question is how much damage will the multicultural experiment be allowed to cause before our ruling class recognises the roots of our cultural malaise and commits to doing something about it. At least, I hope that is the central question. The longer the elite and their legions of useful idiot supporters continue to ignore and belittle such concerns, the more likely it is that the despair so many people feel about our political situation will turn toxic, and then we really will be in a cruel and unusual era.

Such a step will not be easy. For example, one of the most problematic elements of Islamist ideology is associated with the Wahhabi strand of Islamist teaching, which has grown over the last two hundred years or so, and which is based in, and backed by, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has financially supported the establishment of mosques which promulgate an ideologically extreme form of Islam which is, in no uncertain terms, hostile both to the more peaceable mainstream of Islamic thought and the long-established norms and mores of England. Can we expect, any time soon, any actions by our elite to take steps against this ideology, to stop the message that it broadcasts taking root? Well, watch for when we stop making money by selling armaments to Saudi Arabia, that will be the sign that our elite recognise that there are more important and enduring elements to ensuring the safety of the realm than worshipping at the idol of ‘increasing economic growth’. That is when we will know that they are serious in seeking to preserve British values in the British realm.

One last point. I do not believe that it is a trivial fact that the schools at the centre of the controversy over a ‘Trojan horse’ strategy in Birmingham were all ‘secular’ schools. The claim to secular neutrality is an insufficient grounding for preserving one way of life rather than another. If we are to preserve an English way of life then we need to strengthen and build upon all the elements of English culture. The rites and ceremonies of Englishness need to be resurrected and affirmed. That this ends up being an argument for an established Church of England is one possible conclusion. I shall write more about this another time.