Marriage and Christian Ministry in England and South Africa

Chris Sugden   Evangelicals Now April 2011

It is becoming clear that for some of the senior leadership of the Anglican Church in the Western world and South Africa, the issue of marriage between a man and a woman as God’s purpose for human flourishing and demonstrably the best setting for the care and nurture of children who are God’s gift and the fruit and expression of their union is now a lifestyle issue of personal taste and choice.

It was announced in February that the Church of England is dropping the requirement for clergy to disclose their marital status when applying for new posts. Just as it is not relevant to discover the marital status of applicants for a supermarket manager so details of clergy applicants will not include their marital or family status. Church officials say the changes have been introduced to mirror new secular employment and equality laws aimed at eliminating discrimination.

But, an appointment process also needs careful enquiry into ‘manner of life’ issues related to what the minister will teach by word and example about marriage and family. So sensitive enquiries must be made, and if clergy are not prepared for that they should not go into the ministry because it is a biblical requirement of ministers. The relationship of a clergy wife with parishioners is not just that of ‘another member of the congregation’. This is quite different from most jobs in the secular world, where employees’ spouses do not turn up at the office and do not get involved with employees’ work.

The omission of these questions will gradually result in a climate in which it is considered improper to ask any questions about marriage, civil partnerships or single status. Once we have adapted scripture to the circumstances of the age in one contested area, how is it possible to maintain the authority of scripture elsewhere?

In South Africa the House of Bishops issued a statement in February that: “Archbishop Thabo has taken a lead in bringing concerns to us from the dioceses in the Western Cape with regard to the pastoral care of those who have entered into civil unions with a person of the same gender or who are considering doing so…..we will continue towards creating guidelines in several areas of difficulty which are raised by the issue of civil unions…a draft for discussion is in development.”

Further, a priest of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has been defrocked because he questioned the sexual standards of his church and brought to light multiple cases of homosexual abuses by priests of young men going back to the 70s. The priest says he is appealing to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A statement from a South African Dicoesan Bishop says that “The Diocese confirms that he has a right to his personal beliefs and views.”   The Bishop also repeats the resolution of the Provincial Standing Committee in 2003 that says that “whether sexual intimacy between people of the same sex is right or wrong” is “being debated”, that some are “arguing passionately” for affirmation of faithful, monogamous and committed same-sex relationships” and “we need to listen to people of all orientations as we seek the heart and mind of Jesus Christ in this and all things.” He continues: “Homosexual practice is unbiblical. The [Anglican] communion is committed to a careful, sensitive and respectful discussion of these issues.”

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in Southern Africa has responded to the Bishops on this matter as follows:

“As you will know, sexuality is the touchstone in this Anglican fragmentation.  The issue is not sexuality per se, it is that it reflects an attitude towards God and his word which we have described above.  It reflects a rebellion against our creator and his ways which he gives to us because of his love for us, for our protection from our sinful selves.   We too agree with the Bishops that sexuality is not a dividing issue in itself, but a leadership in the church which chooses to ‘play at being god’ is a much more serious issue.

Care of people which encourages in them in behaviour which is unacceptable to God (which the Bible describes as sin) is not a pastoral role that God can endorse.   The biblical position for godly expression of sexuality is only within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman for life.   It concerns us deeply that our Bishops find it hard to call sin, sin.  We are answerable to God not to a human-centred ideology.  This Synod statement describes itself as the leaders speaking.   In this area, godly pastoral leadership for the church is lacking.   It matters not what the legal position may be in the seven states in which our Province is represented.   God’s standards call all laws into question where they do not line up with his.”

We see how some are regarding biblical views on marriage as personal views, irrelevant even to a vicar’s job, and the subject for careful, sensitive and respectful discussion rather than the word of God about marriage to which the Church is called to witness.  Parts of the Anglican Church are about conversation rather than confession.

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