by David Taylor
from Signs of the Times No. 59 - Oct 2015

I was delighted to find the July issue of Signs of the Times devoting space to this issue, because I have recently fallen out with the local vicar on just this subject.

As his pronouncements became ever more oppressive, I felt bound to point out to him that he was in possession of a house, a wife, a family, an income, a car, a wardrobe - all of which things Jesus insisted a disciple should not have.

He wasn’t at fault in having these things; but if he felt he had the right to adjust Jesus’ clear demands to be able to accommodate his needs, he had no grounds of complaint against others who did the same. Nor did he have the right to insist that other people’s accommodation should be the same as his own. As Paul points out in one of his better moments:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls (Romans xiv.4).

The idea that Jesus demands his disciples should also be missionaries is in any case questionable. In the normal way, the synoptic gospels and Acts make a clear distinction between disciples, who are the followers of Jesus, and apostles who are the ones entrusted with mission. It is admittedly not quite as clear cut as that in Luke: in ix.1 Jesus sends out the twelve on a mission, but then again in x.1 he sends out seventy (or seventy-two), and if that is to be trusted - though it occurs in no other gospel - that larger group must have been drawn from the disciples. And again in Luke - but again only in Luke - we have someone who is clearly seen as a potential disciple being instructed: ‘...as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. But apart from scriptural considerations, Mr Duffield is surely right to insist on the moral superiority of stressing ‘inclusiveness, soft boundaries, moderation, worship,’ in the Church of England.

The original disagreement arose from a discussion over what I saw as the Church’s appalling treatment of Canon Jeremy Pemberton. Naturally my interlocutor, who is of the Evangelical tendency, thought that the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline was entirely proper. I can think of one person in history who would have exploded with fury at the suggestion that church discipline could be held to justify an act of such uncharitable peevishness. And in fact the whole stance of the Church of England on the subject of same-sex marriage is likely to bring it into ever-increasing contempt.

It has nothing to do with morality; it is simply a church-political stance intended to pacify a group of zealots, who base themselves on claims that are so implausible that not only do the wider public not believe them, they do not accept that those making those claims themselves believe them.

How does the Church hope to widen its appeal when it not only gives shelter to, but even allows itself to be dragooned by, a party whose moral outlook is manifestly inferior to that of secular society?