Towards a Kinder Church

Added about a year ago by Kevin Carey

GUEST BLOG: As part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth focus on injustice Kevin Carey, author of The Judas Church, gives a cry to action and reform for the modern Church.

The row in the Church of England over the status of same sex relationships, which has preoccupied us for the past decade, follows a dispute about the gender of bishops which took up the previous two decades, before which was a two-decade dispute about women priests. For the past half a century the Church of England has been obsessed with three narrow issuesKevin Carey which are not only trivial in terms of the Church but are microscopically so in terms of the world.

Sadly, then, nothing has changed since I published The Judas Church: An Obsession with Sex eight years ago. My strategy in writing the book was to analyse every verse of the Bible and the Apocrypha, identifying those which dealt with socio-economic justice, sex and gender issues and, as a benchmark, procedural justice; I then divided all these citations into those relevant to today and those which were anachronistic. People might dispute each call but they were all openly listed. My case was that there were, demonstrably, many more citations in our Scriptures relevant to socio-economic issues today than to sex and gender issues. I then went on to outline Western Christianity's poor record on social justice issues, particularly since the Protestant Reformation's obsession with personal salvation mirrored by Roman Catholic post Tridentine personal piety. On the other hand, I argued that Western Christianity had not been interested in marriage (one of the Church of England's first acts was to de-Sacramentalise it) until the mid-18th Century and that it was preposterously unhistorical to claim otherwise.

It is important to be clear what the issue in dispute really is. First of all, as marriage is not a Sacrament but is a mutual act by consenting parties witnessed by and confirmed in the words of an officially sanctioned prayer book, the only difference between a Marriage, a formal Blessing, and a prayer of encouragement is a matter of the words the Presiding Clergyman says; it is no more than that. Secondly, there's no rational justification for accepting lay same sex Marriages and Blessings but not their Clerical counterparts; it can't be all right for some and not for others. Thirdly, and typical of the Church of England, nobody has ever had the bottle to define "celibate" or, conversely, acts which breach celibacy. In summary, the history, the ecclesiology and the ethics are all shambolic and the recent Living in Love and Faith Consultation has been severely damaged by this obfuscation.

At the same time, both in countries where Anglicanism is strong and where it is absent, there is a common global crisis of growing poverty driven by a number of major factors - outside of the current war in the Ukraine - whose primary motor is the steady accumulation of global wealth into ever fewer hands which has, in turn, driven the debt and climate crises.

What I did not go on to say in the book, but which is now increasingly obvious, is that no matter how conclusive the arguments of Jesus may be in calling for socio-economic justice, these can no longer be satisfied in Western democracies by philanthropy; the fate of the poor is largely in the hands of the state, so Christianity badly needs a doctrine on tax and benefits policies. When I preached a sermon last year on Acts 2:44 saying that Christians would have to think very carefully before voting for any political party that simultaneously reduced taxation for the rich and benefits for the poor, I was reprimanded.

There might have been a time when it was possible to argue that those sharing a common understanding of the socio-economic message of Jesus could disagree about the political means represented by the two major political parties, but as conservative parties move to the 'right' that is ever more difficult to argue, particularly as the shift of wealth to an ever narrower point of the pyramid has become increasingly marked.

So, it turns out, the topics which were the twin pillars of my book and which jostle for attention in the Church, sex and gender issues on the one hand and socio-economic justice issues on the other, both lack coherent contemporary Church teaching. The powers that be are far too frightened of conservative minorities either to set current party political stances in a Jesus-shaped framework or to tell sex obsessed Evangelical extremists to take their obsession elsewhere so that we can get on with doing much more important things, like trying to re-orient our image with a population in sore need of the comfort and encouragement of Jesus. Taking these actions might make us temporarily a smaller Church, but we would certainly be a much kinder one.


Kevin Carey is the Chairman of RNIB, the UK’s leading blindness charity, and a Reader in his parish church. He has been a Member of General Synod, and is a chorister, published poet, and classical music critic. His book, The Judas Church: An Obsession with Sex, is being featured as part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth. You can get your copy here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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