As you will remember, 1534 was a seminal year in the life of the Church. It was the year when a compliant Parliament passed the Supremacy Act, which made Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England and thereby separated England from Papal authority. It was a “do or die” moment for the bishops and clergy. The vast majority elected to “do” the King’s bidding, and a few notable exceptions such as Thomas More, elected to die in defence of their faith.
Since then, the newly created Church of England has struggled to adapt to the times. They have kept one foot in the Holy Roman camp, whilst asserting their independence by trying to innovate. The result, if you’ll forgive the pun, has been a curate’s egg, and if you try and please all the people all the time, you risk pleasing nobody.
The Church has not improved its chances with the election as Archbishop of Canterbury of Rowan Williams who, on any view, has been out of his depth since Day One and swimming against the tide. In fairness, he was passed a poisoned chalice, and the impending schism between the Traditionalists and the Reformists is all but inevitable.
The two burning issues plaguing the Church are same sex marriage and the ordination of woman bishops. It is the first issue that has thrust its way into the limelight, with the Government, or its junior partner to be precise, advocating marriage for same sex couples in exactly the same way as enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Nobody suggests for a moment that an overpriced marriage blessed by the Church has any better chance of permanence and stability than a civil ceremony, but it’s intended to get the happy couple off on the right foot. The incantation that “those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder” is recited more in hope than expectation.
But the biggest issue for the Church of England over same sex marriage is the first of the three ordinands, namely that marriage was ordained for the procreation of children. It is this insurmountable hurdle that cannot be reconciled with the institution of marriage unless and until the Church agrees to abandon it.
Of course gay and lesbian couples can buy a baby or two or three, as some celebrities have done, but that simply begs the question. This is another seminal moment in the chequered history of the Anglican Church. The Church needs to decide if, as before in 1534, it will bend with the wind and compromise, or stand and fight for one of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
For my part, I find it extraordinary that the State in the form of the Government would want to involve itself in what is essentially the sole preserve of the Church. It is not without precedence, as Obama in his election year is supporting same sex marriages, but this may have more to do with his reelection than any high held belief.
God help us. It is at times like these that we need divine intervention. Too much Mammon and not enough God is a recipe for disaster.