Uneasy Accommodations

England is embroiled in a debate over whether any religious premises, of whatever faith or denomination, should be free to celebrate a civil partnership with religious trapping or within its walls.While some would like to see the Church of England do this, the powers that govern that church seem dead set against it. But there also seems to be pressure against allowing even the faith-groups that want to do it, i.e., Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews, from doing so. This angst seems to derive from a sort of slippery-solipsism; that what is allowed to some today will be required of all tomorrow.

And indeed that sort of clamor after uniformity is a part of the Church of England's problem, particularly under Establishment, and particularly surrounding marriage. There was a time in England when the only legal marriages were those in the C of E (and the early exceptions were made for Quakers and Jews then, too!) And unlike the US, where, for instance, an Episcopal priest is free to refuse to officiate at any marriage he or she chooses, the parochial rights of English folk to be married in church even if they have absolutely no other connection than residence remains a sticking point.

However, the legislation permitting houses of worship to provide religious services or a venue for registering civil partnerships will no more require the Church of England to do so — and the act specifically guarantees the protection — than the General Synod measure permitting women bishops (when it is adopted and effective) will require the Roman Catholic Church in England to do the same. Permission is not requirement.

If (or should I say, when) Parliament passes a law for marriage equality, then the church will have to make a decision. It might then take a cue from Roland Allen, who over a century ago resigned his cure in protest  about having to baptize those he felt showed no real commitment to the baptismal promises, and the "sham marriage" tradition in English parishes -- that is, unchurched people exercising a legal right to use the church as decorative backdrop for "doing the baby" or for their nuptials. Surely that is a real problem, isn't it? And one well worth solving over a hundred years after Allen's resignation on principle.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t to Thinking Anglicans

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