Marriage needs protecting, says the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA). I quite agree. Marriage is a wonderful thing. It is a bond of love that helps us to live happy and fulfilled lives. It provides the sort of stability necessary for bringing up children, creating a mini-welfare state that enriches society and strengthens community. It gets my vote every time.
The problem is, with friends like the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), marriage doesn’t need any enemies. What the FCA is doing is associating marriage with the worst sort of narrow right-wing agenda and downright prejudice — and this has the capability of putting many people off. Listening to the likes of the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, I can imagine many thinking: “If that is marriage, I want no part in it.”
Perhaps the Fellowship ought to listen harder to that most popular of readings at the marriage service, 1 Corinthians 13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
I translate this roughly as: you can quote all the scripture you like, but if you do so without love or compassion in your heart, then people will hear you as saying something nasty, shrill, and cruel. They will not hear you preaching good news but will hear a hectoring religious obsessive, with a prurient interest in controlling others’ sex lives and bashing gay people over the head with an ancient text that knew nothing of stable same-sex relationships. And most people will run a million miles from all that.
Over the years, I have learnt that there are a handful of speakers that you definitely don’t want standing to support your favourite motion at the General Synod of the Church of England. Their backing is the kiss of death. When they speak in favour of something, everybody else moves against it. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is in danger of being like that to marriage.
Sure, it will have a few cheerleaders, a few posh-sounding ladies from Berkshire or grim-faced men in crumpled suits, whom you suspect would prefer to be speaking in favour of capital punishment and immigration control.
Yes, what I have just said is completely unfair. I apologise for the stereotyping. But when the medium is the message, that is precisely how they will be heard. They will suck the Christian understanding of marriage into a narrow religious ghetto, associating it with suburban 1950s curtain-twitching, thus making it even less popular than it is now.
(c) Giles Fraser is Anglican team rector in Putney and has recently been appointed a residentiary canon at St Paul's Cathedral. This article is adapted from his regular column in the Church Times, with grateful acknowledgment.