Let me state the obvious for a moment: the Church of England does not know what line to take on homosexuality. The traditional line, that it is contrary to God’s will, is opposed by most Anglicans. The clergy in General Synod showed their opposition last week by refusing to approve a report by the bishops that upheld the old line. But the minority that likes the traditional teaching is not for budging.
Does the leadership have the stomach to pursue a reform that will create a schism? No. Is a compromise possible? In theory, the Church could drop the ban on gay clergy and the ban on the blessing of gay unions, but retain its opposition to gay marriage. This makes theoretical sense to me, but in practice gay marriage has become symbolic of full equality and reformers wouldn’t settle for less.
Maybe another sort of compromise is possible. Maybe the Church can move to a position of official agnosticism. We do not know God’s will on sexuality, nor on marriage, it should say. Therefore various opinions, and practices, are allowed – but none is granted official status. The Church needs to develop a culture of reticence and evasion. This could be called assertive evasion – for it asserts that agnosticism is the right position.
How would this differ from a straightforward victory for the liberals? It would subtly differ. For the Church would make no official statement approving homosexuality, calling it an equally valid option. Bishops would have to agree to this policy of official agnosticism. Lesser clergy would be allowed to claim to know God’s will on this matter, but the Church’s official line would remain: ‘We do not know’. Is it possible? I do not know.