The Church of England decided a few months ago to adopt what many regard as a compromise position on “same-sex unions.” While maintaining its prohibition of same-sex marriage, it will allow its priests/ministers to “bless” same-sex unions. At the same time, however, it will not mandate such blessings; the choice of whether to bless or not to bless such unions will be left to the individual priest/minister. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury – by virtue of that office the leader not just of the Church of England but also of the entire worldwide Anglican Communion – announced that, while he approves of this compromise, he will not himself bless any of these unions.
This might be cited as an example of the historic English talent for “muddling through,” which often involves taking positions that are practically viable though theoretically incoherent. This arrangement is a theoretically nonsensical compromise between, on the one hand, almost twenty centuries of Christian tradition and, on the other, the anti-Christian (or atheistic) spirit of the age. It’s a compromise that only an Englishman could be proud of.
Unpleasantly for the Church of England, however, nowadays the great majority of members of the Anglican Communion don’t live in England. They live in lands that used to be parts of the British Empire. They are especially to be found in Africa. While bearing “the white man’s burden” in the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, the English introduced many Africans to the benefits of Protestant Christianity, Anglican style.
But this is not the liberal variety of Christianity that flourishes today in the Church of England. No, it’s old-fashioned Christianity, the kind based on the Bible and on centuries of tradition. As a consequence, African Anglicans – still dwelling, it seems, in the heart of religious darkness, and not possessing the innate English gift for muddling through – are not yet persuaded of the goodness of homosexuality or of the Christian legitimacy of blessing same-sex unions.
As a consequence, not long ago a group of African Anglican archbishops got together and issued a denunciation of the Church of England’s decision to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. They charged the Church of England with departure from the teachings of true Anglicanism. In effect, they were saying, “We Africans are now the true Anglicans; you English are not.” It’s like George Washington claiming to be a better Englishman than King George.
I wonder if some African Catholic bishops, being orthodox, will soon issue a statement denouncing the German Catholic bishops who decided that their priests should be allowed to bless same-sex unions. And Pope Francis has just appointed his Argentinian friend Archbishop Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fernández has also argued that blessing “same-sex unions” may be possible so long as they don’t cause “confusion.”
Will African Catholic bishops, after chastising the Germans or Fernández, issue a similar statement regarding Cardinal McElroy of San Diego, who has recently called into question the ancient Christian idea that homosexual intercourse is mortally sinful, telling us that we 21st-century Catholics know much more about homosexuality than did ancient moral teachers (e.g., St. Paul).
“Liberal” or “progressive” Catholic circles have for some years now pushed to loosen up the ancient rules concerning sexual conduct, especially homosexual conduct. Mostly lay Catholics have been making this push, sometimes supported by priests. Recently, bishops have joined in.
There are two reasons, I suggest, for this liberal focus on homosexuality. For one, we feel a natural human sympathy for Catholics who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have a fixed homosexual orientation, yet are told by their religion – our religion – that they must live without sexual affection and companionship. For another, since Catholicism has always regarded homosexuality as a particularly extreme sexual sin – a sin that is not merely an offense against God but an offense against our animal nature itself – once you give the green light to homosexuality you will also have to give it to other sexual sins, e.g., contraception and other “sins” that liberals do not disapprove of.
Once you give your approval to the blessing of homosexual unions, you will next, at least if you are logical (which humans sometimes are), have to allow priests to bless premarital sexual unions and adulterous unions.
Of course, this may lead to some ticklish situations. For instance, suppose a good Catholic married woman decides that she would like to engage in an affair with a nice man she met at the library the other day. And suppose she finds an enlightened priest who is willing to bless her adulterous union. But let’s also suppose that her Catholic husband is not nearly as enlightened as herself, her intended partner, or the priest. The blessing will have to be done behind closed doors, with everybody sworn to secrecy.
What idiocy this is – this bending of the ancient rules regarding homosexuality! The would-be rule-benders usually have kind and bleeding hearts, and they believe (or pretend to believe) that they are acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Here’s a good rule of thumb: don’t trust anybody who tells you he or she is being guided by the Holy Spirit).
These progressive folks have the long and instructive history of liberal Protestantism lying before them – if only they would take the trouble to look at it. Once you begin, motivated by a desire to modernize your religion, dropping this or that ancient Christian doctrine, soon the entire structure of Christian faith and morals begins to collapse. And as it collapses, many church members who desire true Christianity, or something very close to it, abandon their now-heretical church.
Why would any Catholic who is not an idiot wish to repeat the disastrous history of liberal Protestantism? And how in the world did we end up with idiotic bishops in Germany – plus a few closer to home?