With H/T to Christopher Johnson, I read this opinion from Andrew Brown and want to express my gratitude to Andrew for what he reveals about the unfolding Anglican schism (i.e. as TEC breaks up, as divisions occur in the Anglican Communion and now as the CofE looks like it is only being held together by a controversial paper from its bishops).
Andrew Brown is offering an explanation for 'Why the church's gay marriage schism is here to stay?' His specific focus is the contretemps within the CofE about the bishop's recent statement (links to which are in his article).
The thrust of the column is that conservatives are unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage and how that will is discerned. What he does not quite spell out is that (at least in his perspective of how liberals think) liberals are also unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage (it's flexible) and how that will is discerned (Scripture is something from which "it would be unwise to draw conclusions" while history, science and law give guidance of better quality than Scripture). Thus between the unbudgeable sides the schism will not go away. One might add, the only interesting question remaining about the C of E is whether the schism will result in formal separation or ongoing tension. Separate houses or separate bedrooms?(!)
In the course of his column he writes,
"What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that's not how the religious imagination works."
I suggest this reveals more the Andrew Brown is intending because it discloses an understanding of conservative thinking that is at odds with the way conservatives actually think. If we are going to misunderstand each other in this way, then of course there is going to be division amongst us. (No doubt conservatives misunderstand liberals and that also contributes to division).
I suggest that this is what conservatives think:
What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants is for men and women to marry in order to continue the fruitfulness of creation and for children to be born into a lasting stable loving marriage between father and mother. The covenant between a man and a woman in marriage is important enough for God to use it to illustrate his own love for Israel and Christ's love for the church. Conversely, the strength of God's commitment to Israel and of Christ's commitment to the church is an inspiring and instructive model for a husband and wife's commitment to each other. (Marriage is not the only relationship which shows the kind of love that leads us towards God, Scripture provides other examples, through familial love, and friendship). Whether Adam and Eve existed or not, it would be unwise to dismiss conclusions drawn from the scriptural narratives and reflections in which they feature as the religious imagination works from what has been given to us, especially that which is understood as being given by God as revelation to God's people. In particular, religious imagination works from asking whether what God wants and what the world wants (e.g. expressed through history, science and law) is compatible or incompatible seeks to develop a way of life (discipleship) which is primarily faithful to what God wants.
If Andrew Brown is representative of a liberal understanding of conservatives then we are in trouble because as long as we misunderstand each other then the conversation between us is going to be more than difficult. When we understand each other the chances of respectful conversation and mutually agreeable living with difference rises. It would help the CofE's future if more care was taken to clarify how each side thinks.
Presumption is the mother of prejudice and prejudice is the father of conflict.
I would prefer comments on the matter of whether we understand in each other well in the Communion today rather than on the many other issues Andrew Brown touches on re marriage and human sexuality (all of which have been given a good rehearsing here at ADU).