The World, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Church’s Gluttony for Punishment

Saturday night’s Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio Five Live featured a discussion of the recent poll showing that for the first time a majority of Anglicans favour same-sex marriage. One guest on the programme offered the view that this poll did not really matter to the Church of England because it ran counter to what jesus taught. He argued that the Church’s well-documented decline was due to being too much like the world, not too little like it. I agree. But not for the reasons he would like.
I feel the Church is too much ‘like the world’ in its general attitude to power. It can do good things and make good pronouncements about the poor, certainly a much-needed viewpoint in the current political landscape. The Church should step in where Tories are abdicating the common good– thus protesting but also actually doing good in the real world.Yet its hesitant, halting and contradictory stances on women, its failure to promote black and ethnic minority figures, its extremely slow, underdeveloped, and sometimes seemingly-tokenistic attitude to disability, its new ageist approach in some dioceses to training only young persons for ordained local ministry, all point to a small-minded Church with a worldly view of power. This pattern also strengthens the suspicion that marginalization of LGBT persons is a mode of discrimination alongside the others. This is to say nothing of the arguably outdated turn to corporate management in an era when crowd-funding and all sorts of social and financial networking are the areas of growth. All of this is too much ‘like the world’.
The guest on the radio argued that Christ promises suffering to his followers and that adopting socially tolerant stances on gay rights is not thus fulfilling Christ’s calling. There are many points on which I would contest this assertion.
Yes, the church obviously loves to suffer because it has lately seemed to enjoy being shown to be intellectually and morally underdeveloped before a globalized world is not suffering. This creates cynicism in those who might tolerate the church’s imperial history if the church were actually doing something to help the marginalized. By not fulfilling the gospel the Church proves itself a glutton for punishment–sharp and deserved critique.
With its well-documented trends of trolling, Twitter may be the new Colosseum. And such a view of suffering, arguably lifted out of context, masks the real suffering that the Church’s approach to power enables and brings about. The Church is suffering increasing irrelevance and in fact is increasingly betraying the gospel. So yes the Church is too much like the world. It is time to rethink power and not just remember Jesus but let his radical power change how we understand ourselves.


Dr Stephen D’Evelyn
Branch Secretary, Casework Co-ordinator, Equality Rep (Disability)
University & College Union, University of Bristol branch
0117 331 0584

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