The Church of England is providing less moral clarity on the key issues of the day than most FTSE 100 companies, says this ex-Catholic ordinand’s wife. The Church must take its responsibility to teach its flock more seriously
I am the wife of an Anglican vicar in training and, sometimes, I bitterly miss the Catholic Church. But it’s not for the reasons you might think; it’s got nothing to do with theology or cathedrals. It’s got everything to do with moral courage and spiritual leadership.
When I was asked where I stood on an issue (for example, abortion) I could explain that, as a Catholic, I followed the teachings of the Catholic Church. It did not excuse me from doing my own thinking, but it did mean that my views were not taken as personal. To an abortion advocate, their disagreement was not with me as an individual but with the teachings of the Catholic Church, a global institution with over 1.3 billion members. I was protected.
When I moved to the Church of England, my experience changed completely. I found that when these questions came up, the tone of the conversation was much more vicious and personal. It took me a while to figure out why, but I understand now. Where the Catholic Church teaches clearly on what it believes, the Church of England stays silent.
The Reformation (rightly) sought to put Bibles into the hands of laypeople, to get them to read scripture themselves and study it together. But with this, they also delegated the responsibility of thinking and the job of theology to the ordinary person. Somewhere along the line, the Church stopped teaching on complex doctrine, history and ethics, and instead it became our responsibility as individuals to do it all. No wonder we are divided, and often feel overwhelmed in the modern world.
I can find more moral clarity from the FTSE 100 than I can from the Church
It is a beautiful thing for the Church to wrap its arms around the average person, to shepherd them and lift the heavy burdens from their minds; to teach them and to shield them.
But what happens when the teachers stay silent?
Well, the issue is no longer that I am a Catholic. Now the issue is me. I must be against abortion because I have internalised misogyny or some other personal bigotry that I’m using my religion to justify. The Church stays silent, protecting itself from attack, and I am expected to absorb the blows of culture. That is a heavy burden to place on one soul. I’m writing under a pseudonym precisely because I know this could compromise my husband’s career.
I want the Church to shield me, but instead it uses me as a human shield.
A heartfelt plea
The Church of England refuses to teach me on the key moral and spiritual matters of today. I am begging you for guidance but you will not provide it. I am left fumbling on a thousand issues and I am frequently overwhelmed. I am trying my best but there are too many questions, and even if I did nothing but read for the rest of my life, I would still run out of time.
And as I am trying to learn about gender and sexuality and abortion and race and Anglicanism, I have the added pressure of knowing that I alone will be under attack if the position I come to doesn’t align with the world’s teaching. Because you, the Church, have provided no teaching, you cannot be blamed for where I’ve landed. It is a neat little circle. Very convenient for you.
The Church of England refuses to teach me on the key moral and spiritual matters of today
You hypocrites. You should be the ones with sight, leading the blind so we do not fall into a pit.
Where is the shepherd? Where are the watchmen at the walls? Where are the moral and spiritual teachers?
A call for clarity
You are concerned with baptism but not catechesis, evangelism but not discipleship, seeker sensitivity but not the teachings of scripture, claiming that God’s moral law might put people off.
You will speak on the housing market but not on trans issues, on agriculture but not abortion. You will revert to broad and uncontroversial topics under the guise of teaching us the basics, but you will not address the questions you are actually asked.
The largest companies are outlining their stances on the key issues of the day. I can find more moral clarity from the FTSE 100 than I can from the Church. How is it that secular corporations display more moral fabric than the house of God?
You tell me that I don’t understand the complexity of Synod. But you are called to teach God’s people.
You tell me that it is the archbishop’s job to set out the Christian position on key matters. I will ask you what your job is when the archbishop fails to do so.
You tell me that I don’t understand the importance of Church unity. But unity is not a cover for moral compromise.
You tell me you need time. But you had plenty of time. What have you done with it? You are late, like the virgins who waited until the very last minute to purchase their oil.
You tell me that not every issue needs to be spoken on. I would agree. But staying silent to attract as many as possible is a politician’s compromise, not a spiritual communion.
Your silence does not serve the gay person who enters your doors believing it is a safe space and then gets a nasty shock when they share. Your silence does not serve the gay person who makes the daily sacrifice of celibacy, which you ignore or reduce to a ‘personal choice’. At most you champion them in private, calling them courageous and prophetic, but you do not stand by them in public; you simply watch while they are thrown to the wolves.
Your silence does not serve God. Your silence serves only yourself.
I am not asking you to constantly beat people over the head with controversial positions. I am simply asking you to teach me. I am prepared to spend my life serving your fractured house, but please – will the teachers of the Church stand up?