There was a very curious exchange in the Guardian article about Libby Lane, the first women Bishop in the church of England. The article is here:
In it, she is asked what seems to be an innocuous question. “would you like to be able to marry gay people?” On the surface it’s a simple enough question, and when you examine it more closely, it’s still a simple question. It’s simply asking whether she would like to be able to marry gay people.
And yet her only answer which is reported (other than the “I love gay people, me, honest I do” answer which every Bishop, regardless of their opinions, feels obliged to say) is that she is “obedient to the disciplines of the church”.
Now goodness knows how much scrutiny she feels under, and I don’t want to weigh in on this unfairly. But her answer I find more worrying than any opinion she could have come out with.
What disciplines are there in the church which require you not to state a personal opinion?
Either she is would like to marry gay people, or would not. Both are opinions she can hold with integrity. But to claim that obedience to the church requires her not to express her beliefs, is either a gross misreading of the canons of the church, or, worse, an example of a church which requires obedience of mind, as well as obedience of practice.
Surely the Church of England hasn’t got there?
I suspect, though, that Libby Lane is one of the many liberal clergy who feel a false sense of noble sacrifice in refusing to state their opinions. The debates have largely consisted of liberals, who are in favour of equal marriage, discussing how to live peaceably with conservatives, who are not. Liberals make the mistake of thinking that they represent one side of an argument. But they do not. Their noble sacrifice is sacrifice of not putting forth an opinion too stridently. What they’re actually sacrificing is the call to full humanity for gay people, who must, by now, be sick to the back teeth of being spoken about as though they are not people, but “an issue”.
This “noble sacrifice” for the sake of “obedience to the church” produces an unconscious dishonesty. It makes it almost impossible to have an honest discussion about equal marriage. What is substituted instead is a discussion on how we can be gracious, how we can struggle, how we need to trust in the church. And so we have silence where we should have opinion, a frosty cordiality (or worse, a sense of moral achievement in our lack of discussion) where we should have honest and genuine discussion.
To hold back from speaking one’s honest beliefs with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ cannot, surely be obedient to Christ, and therefore, one hopes, it must be disobedient to the church. How can people discuss, listen, and learn from someone who refuses to express an opinion? How can we speak honestly with one another when people refuse to speak at all?
If the church is the church which Christ set up, then to refuse to speak on a matter of justice… well, I don’t remember Jesus ever doing that.