Get a life, you journalists! I woke this morning to the dulcet tones of our avuncular local archdeacon, "Stormin" Norman Russell, and the dour Scots of Jim Naughtie going on about celibate gay bishops. Naughtie asserted that "those outside it thought the church was 'obsessed' with sex". As Norman fairly commented you won't find sex mentioned in everyone's sermons tomorrow; in fact it will be in very few. We'll be more interested in the fact that Jesus is Light, good news, for all the world, exemplified by the coming of the Magi whom we remember at Epiphany. The church is remarkably unpreoccupied with sex. Naughtie cited the controversy about women bishops to bolster his assertion - failing to see the obvious, that that was not to do with sex but with gender.
The truth is that the chattering classes are obsessed with sex, and love it when they can bring sex and religion into the same news story. Although it is a full-page headline in today's I newspaper, "Church lifts ban on gay bishops", it really is a non-news story in the big scheme of things. Certainly the House of Bishops seem to have issued a strange statement preempting a review set up to examine the issues of having bishops who are in civil partnerships. You can imagine journalists seizing on this juicy worm, can't you, and ringing up the usual suspects like Anglican Backwater and Affirming Stonewallers for predictable quotes - and there you have it: stir together, put out on the internet, and you have an instant no-effort, no-brain story. One more to add to the arsenal of anti-church myths. One does wonder what the bishops thought they were up to - whether they are using the gap between archbishops to rush in a change in policy, which neither the outgoing one nor the in-coming one is enthusiastic about. One wonders who the bishops were who issued the statement, other than the Bishop of Norwich, and one wonders who their PR advisers were. I also wonder whether it is more than a proposal for General Synod to consider at their next meeting, or whether it is the fait accompli that it sounds like.
However, let me not bang on about it, or Mr Naughtie will feel vindicated! Perhaps we Anglicans should follow the Orthodox pattern of permitting clergy to marry but having only celibate bishops.
The poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, when he was guest producer of the Today Programme, made a plea for more good news. He was, sadly, poo-pooed by John Humphris. But I agreed with him, and so let me finish with an article (from 22nd November) which I found today:
The Guardian described the General Synod as “a long and boring suicide note”. But before declaring the Church of England dead, here's a quick review of a few of the things the Church has done, is doing and is planning to do...
1. International development
The Church of England continues to be a voice against injustice and for the people around the world living in poverty. They continue to try and influence governments, work with churches here in the UK and overseas and with charities. With seats in the House of Lords, bishops continue to question the government about development, and stand up for the UK’s aid budget. Not to mention the numerous charities that individual Anglican churches are committed to supporting.
2. Paying a living wage
Yesterday's General Synod voted in favour of ensuring that all church employees are paid a living wage. The living wage is higher than the minimum wage, which at the moment stands at £6.19, outside London. By supporting the living wage, the Church of England is encouraging individual churches, diocese etc. to pay their employees £7.45 around the UK and £8.55 in London.
3. Women’s rights
The news from the General Synod may have created controversy concerning the role of women in the Church of England, but it was only at the end of October that bishops in the House of Lords were lobbying the government to fulfil its and the UN’s commitment to strive for gender equality around the world and to place women at the centre of international development and the fight against poverty. Historically too, the Church has stood up for women, providing some of the first free schools for girls and supporting Josephine Butler’s campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act.
One in five primary school children are educated by Church of England primary schools, and there are 190 Church of England secondary schools in England. This makes the Church of England the largest provider of schools in the country.
In 1807 the Slave Trade Act was passed largely due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, who was supported and backed by John Newton, a Church of England clergyman. But the fight against slavery is something the Church of England has continued to be a part of; as the Church and the individuals within it campaign against human trafficking.
6. Working with other churches
The Church of England is committed to keep working with other churches and promoting church unity. The Council for Christian Unity (CCU) supports both broader dialogue between churches and dialogue at a local level. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has also been involved in supporting the Fresh Expressions movement.
7. Interfaith dialogue
The Church of England is actively involved in trying to promote dialogue between religions. The Springfield Project at St Christopher’s church in Birmingham, for example, is the home of The Feast, a project where young people of Christian and Muslim backgrounds can come together, make friends and discuss their faith. They also run a playgroup for mothers and children called Seedlings which serves their local, multi-cultural community.
8. Youth work
Many individual Anglican churches are involved with youth work. In particular the church runs The Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade (The Brigade), a youth organisation which welcomes people from all faiths and none. There is also the Church of England Youth Council which meets twice a year and represents the young people in the church, and can send representatives to the General Synod.
9. Reducing their carbon footprint
The Church of England is committed to ‘Shrinking the Footprint’. They are running a series of campaigns to reduce the Church’s carbon footprint by 80 per cent by 2050, and by 42 per cent in 2020.
10. The individuals in the Church
In the words of Justin Welby after the announcement of his upcoming appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury: “The work of the Church of England is not done primarily on television or at Lambeth, but in over 16,000 churches, where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the job they have always done of loving neighbour, loving each other and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside the church a month. They are the front line, and those who worship in them, lead them, minister in them are the unknown heroes of the Church.”
(Lauren Belcher, Evangelical Alliance).