There’s been a shocked, wounded response on the part of pundits to the Church of England’s statement last week in response to the introduction of heterosexual civil partnerships. The Church observed that: ‘for Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity’. Just to clarify, the statement went on: ‘Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.’
In other words, the CofE restates the Christian understanding of sex. As in, the view shared by Catholics and Orthodox and by Christians generally over the last couple of millennia and regarded as business as usual until about fifteen minutes ago. Yet the appalled reaction of the commentariat goes to show that if you want to get people worked up about religion, mention sex. Perhaps the CofE could have made it even worse by observing that you shall not commit adultery either.
There was a hilarious headline to a piece in the Mail about it: ‘This Church edict on sex isn’t exactly Christian’ – ‘Christian’ in this context meaning being non-confrontational and generally non-judgmental. The Times described it as ‘fundamentalist grandstanding’. Giles Fraser, who is always worth listening to on Thought for the Day, sorrowfully observed this morning that instead of practising what it preaches, the CofE should preach what it practices – viz, accepting everyone regardless of orientation and irregular personal situations. And this of course is true: the Church is almost always welcoming to gay and straight parishioners, divorced and remarried; all it did was acknowledge that some of these relationships ‘fall short of God’s purpose’. It’s not exactly fundamentalist, is it?
The truth is that the Church of England, in common with other Christian denominations, is not obsessed by sex. For every statement like this which articulates the orthodox Christian view of sex, there are umpteen which bang on about debt (the organisation Christians against Poverty launched an app last week in Westminster to help people struggling with debt, to almost no media attention) or the environment or sex trafficking. But funnily enough they elicit no outrage nor indeed any attention whatsoever. It’s just when Christians mention sex that the commentariat perks up. Funny, that.