Sunday, 10 June 2012

Gay marriages and the Church

This is a guest post by Julian Mann

(Same sex-marriage in church may be coming to Denmark. What implications are there for the Church of England? Image: Rick Friedman, from here)

Archbishop Cranmer has unpicked confusing media reports that churches in Denmark are to be required to conduct gay marriages. He reports that the legislation just passed by the Danish parliament applies to the established church in Denmark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, not to all churches.

Clearly, this sounds very ominous for the Church by law established in England if Coalition plans to legalise same-sex marriage come to fruition. However, there is a significant difference between the status of Danish clergy and their Church of England counterparts.

According to the website of the Lutheran Church of Denmark, its pastors are employed by the government's Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs. Their status as government employees thus makes them uniquely vulnerable to a legalised same-sex marriage regime.

By God's grace, British clergy in the established churches - the Church of England and the Church of Scotland - are not on the government pay-roll. So, the application of the Danish same-sex marriage regime to the British national churches is not as straightforward as might appear.

The news from Denmark still raises disturbing issues for religious liberty and freedom of conscience in a fellow EU country. Under the Danish law, a Lutheran minister may refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony but his or her local bishop is obliged to arrange a replacement to take the service.

As Cranmer points out, the law assumes that the bishop will have no conscientious difficulty over same-sex marriage. But what would happen if he or she did? A jail sentence? A fine? Furthermore, what happens if the members of the local Lutheran church required to host the ceremony object? Will they be allowed the right of peaceful protest outside the church building?

One could imagine the UK Public Order Act being used to prevent parishioners from protesting if same-sex marriage were introduced here and the Danish model were imposed on the established churches of Britain.

Some Church of England bishops would have no difficulty in arranging liberal replacements for Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic clergy refusing to conduct gay marriages. But other bishops certainly would have a problem.

Under such a regime, faithful servants of Jesus Christ in the Church of England would need to brace themselves to pay the cost of conscience. Some clergy might consider the UK too hostile a place for Christian ministry. They might choose to shake the dust off their feet and preach the gospel elsewhere.

It would indeed be ironic if we saw Church of England ministers seeking asylum in the former Eastern Bloc countries, which are significantly less enthusiastic about gay marriage than the politically correct establishment of the UK.