"This Could Be Its Finest Hour"

Here's an interesting article from The American Spectator.

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This Could Be Its Finest Hour

By Mark Tooley on 8.17.12 @ 6:09AM

The Church of England defends traditional marriage reverently, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.

The U.S. based Episcopal Church's recognition of same sex unions last month mostly excited a big yawn. More interesting is the resistance of its mother body, the Church of England, to Prime Minister David Cameron's attempt to install same sex marriage in Britain. The latter's opposition is more significant because it remains its nation's established church and still wields political and constitutional powers.

Episcopalians have often behaved as the established church in America. It once was the church of America's elites. But now below 2 million members and spiraling, the Episcopal Church no longer excites more than knowing smiles. Its affirmation of transgender clergy last month, at its General Convention, fulfilled stereotypes about modern, liberal Episcopalians.

The Church of England similarly often has a penchant for striving to be trendier than thou. But even as it presides over an increasingly secular Britain, it cherishes its role as senior church in the global, 80 million member Anglican Communion. And its few pockets of spiritual vitality in Britain often tend to be evangelical, often immigrant. Its second senior most prelate, the Archbishop of York, is himself a Ugandan and potentially the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

It's also true than in a secularizing country, the Church of England (unlike U.S. Episcopalians, who mostly just resent more numerous evangelicals) appreciates the threat to religious liberty under a regime of imposed same sex marriage. How would the established church disallow what the civil law requires? The church may have to disestablish, especially if it desires any continued leadership over global Anglicans.

British media quoted church officials dismissing government plans as "'half-baked,' ‘very shallow,' ‘superficial' and ‘completely irrational.'" Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu only slightly more diplomatically lamented that government proposals "have not been thought through and are not legally sound." The church's official response rejected the government's push with vigorous, point-by-point rebuttals.

One organizer of that response was Bishop of Leicester Tim Steve, who declared on his own: "Marriage is not the property of the Church any more than it is the property of the Government. It is about a mutually faithful physical relationship between a man and a woman." He warned, despite government claims of protection for churches, "If you do what the Government say they are going to do, you can no longer define marriage in that way. It becomes hollowed out, and about a relationship between two people, to be defined on a case-by-case basis." Imposed same sex marriage would precipitate the "gradual unravelling of the Church of England which is a very high cost for the stability of society."

In its official response, the church criticized the government's idea, which would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history." Marriage benefits society by "promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation." The church noted its past support for benefits for same-sex couples, and warned that redefining marriage for "ideological reasons" would be "divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships."

Compared to Episcopalians, the Church of England sounded like Southern Baptists, declaring marriage was instituted by Christ Himself for all people as a lifelong union of man and woman. It even quoted the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, hardly an arbiter of modern fashion. And it cited ancient words so recognizable to all English speakers: "The Church of Christ understands marriage to be, in the will of God, the union of a man and a woman, for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till parted by death."

"Many, within the churches and beyond, dispute the right of any government to redefine an ages-old social institution in the way proposed," the church noted, soundly more truly conservative than the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. "It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not a case of knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole."

The church, which is legally bound to conduct marriages to all British citizens and currently conducts one quarter of all Britain's marriages, wondered how its beliefs long could survive, even with ostensible protections for religious freedom. It also asked why the government would continue to allow civil partnerships for same sex couples after legalizing same sex marriage. And it asked how the new law would define adultery and consummation.

Rowan Williams steps down at the end of this year as Archbishop of Canterbury, no doubt partly due to his frustrations over schisms and divisions among Anglicans precipitated by the Episcopal Church over sex issues. He came to office with liberal views, but his liberal critics now chide him for supposedly "hardening" the church's resistance to liberalizing on sex. The church's defense of traditional marriage may have lasting constitutional implications for Britain. It may also turn out to be its finest hour.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.

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About Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

8 thoughts on “"This Could Be Its Finest Hour"

  1. This is wishful thinking from the American Spectator. The C of E is an Erastian-based church. It will do whatever Parliament commands it to do, no matter how many highly placed prelates pray "pretty please, sugar on top, don't make us do X." They may lose some laity and clergy in the process, but the SS C of E will continue chugging along until Parliament decides to dry-dock it altogether.

    1. Hear, hear. The established church cannot do anything but drift with the current; the best its officials can possibly muster is a delaying action, but in the end it is bound to capitulate.

      1. Concerning the thoroughly Erastian situation of the Church of England, please read this:

        http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/vexatiouslitigant/vex_lit_queens_bench_williamson.html

        not so much concerning this case, declaring the Rev'd Paul Williamson to be a "vexatious litigant," but the antecedent case, described in it, in which Williamson tried to halt or prevent the "ordination" of women in 1994, on the basis that it constituted a violation of both the Queen's coronation oath and the doctrinal standards of the Church of England. In effect, the judges declare the doctrine of the church of England to be whatever Parliament declares it to be.

      2. But the CoE has had its prophets who never went with the establishment like John Henry Newman for instance. We have to pray that God gives more Newmans to the Church of England.

        1. Yes, but these "prophets" were either thoroughly marginalized (like Keble) or driven to leave (like Newman). How does that fit with this silly and ill-informed article's conceit that the Church of England as a whole or as an institution is either opposed to SS or stands any chance of effectively resisting it — any more than its Erastian sisters in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and elsewhere have done?

  2. I liked the article. To anyone reading this piece, and is Anglican or Episcopalian (or any religion), you are welcome in the Roman Catholic Church, either the Anglican, Roman or any of the other rites. To those Episcopalians out there, please bring your Prayer Book devotion and hymnody with you.
    Although I'm a cradle Catholic, about 4 yrs ago, began to learn about my English Protestant heritage. And that led me to the Anglo Catholic movement.

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