Thursday, December 3, 2015

Like a candle in the wind

The Rev. Jeremy Pemberton was the first Church of England priest to contract a same-sex marriage.  It was legal after all.  Later he applied for a license to act as chaplain in a local hospital but the bishop denied the license because while what Pemberton did was legal, it did not comply with the Church of England's rules and requirements. As a result he was not employed and he took the diocese to a church tribunal claiming he was the victim of discrimination and that the Church of England approved of priests marrying whomever they chose to marry.  He cited Article 32 claiming it says “priests can marry who they want to marry.”  Of course he qualified that by saying that you obviously can’t marry people not legal for you to marry.  Pemberton insisted that Article XXXII of the 39 Articles says the priest can choose who to marry and nobody can tell him otherwise.

What was lost to Pemberton is that the Article was written against the practice of celibacy and did not say anything close to what he claimed.
BISHOPS, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.
The Article insists that clergy are not commanded to either a single, celibate, abstinent life but they are free (like all other Christians) ”to marry at their own discretion”. Who in their right mind would have presumed that the 39 Articles defined “discretion” here as same sex marriage or heterosexual marriage.  So the Tribunal came down against Pemberton who defied church law not in choosing to be married but in choosing to marry a same sex partner.

What is somewhat humorous in all of this is that for all the arguments, it is surely only a matter of time before the CoE will change its rules and allow clergy to marry anyone they choose.  So Pemberton is not so much a victim of discrimination as he is pioneer who will soon, with others like him, push the CoE to end up precisely where Pemberton is now.  Ah, I said humorous but I did not mean something that occasions giggles but laughable in the sad sense of a once great church body slowly dying by the surrender of faith and practice.  But, at least the CoE can take comfort in the fact that it is not alone.  It is slowly winding its way down the path so many other churches have gone and yet nobody seems to see the cost of betraying the Scriptures, the catholic tradition, and the natural order of God's creation.  What was the Elton John line, oh, yes, like a candle in the wind. 


Anonymous said...

The CoE has been a lost cause for a very long time. When they ceased to apply reason in a reasonably way, they lost it all. Now, they assume that words can be twisted in any manner, and mean exactly what they want them to mean, rather like Humpty Dumpty.

Anglicanism stands as a house divided. There are many Anglicans in Africa and some in North America that hold completely true to the historic Christian faith. There are others who have lost all faith and for whom the Church is nothing more than a country club. The latter would include specifically the Episcopal Church USA.

Continuing Anglican Priest

James Kellerman said...

The good news is that this is the first evidence that I have that anyone in the Church of England or the Episcopal Church (USA)--whether high church, low church, broad church, conservative or liberal--has read the 39 Articles during the past 50 years. The bad news is that this guy apparently didn't read the 39 Articles but skimmed over them instead. So I guess I still have yet to come across someone from the CoE or ECUSA who has actually read the 39 Articles, let alone intended to follow them religiously.

Anonymous said...

@ James,

For most Anglicans today, the 39 Articles are seen as a Reformation Era document, relevant to that time but perhaps less so today. They are not considered binding on anyone, as far as I know.

I have read them; they are in the BCP that I use daily. I don't think I have ever referred to them in a sermon or other teaching. They are yesterday's answers to yesterday's problems. It is foolish to think that they should be considered normative for today.


James Kellerman said...

Fr. D,

I purposely omitted continuing Anglicans (such as yourself) from my statement, since I would think at least some of them would have read the 39 Articles. But what has surprised me over the years is how traditionalists, whether of the Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical or North-Ender variety, have not had their thinking shaped at all by these articles. How could an Anglo-Catholic, for example, subscribe to Article XXVIII, which says, "The Sacrament of the Lordes Supper was not by Christes ordinaunce reserued, caryed about, lyfted yp, or worshipped"? How could an Arminian-leaning Evangelical subscribe to Article XVII on Predestination?

You are right to say that the Anglican tradition sees the 39 Articles as "yesterday's answers to yesterday's problems." That is a chief difference between Lutheranism and Anglicanism. Lutheranism sees its confessions as still relevant to today's problems, while Anglicanism thinks that theology has moved on to such a degree that its confessions can no longer speak anything worthwhile today. But I would venture to say that at least 95% of today's hot topics, including some that were unthinkable in the days of the ecumenical creeds or the Lutheran confessions, can be easily and correctly addressed by an attentive reading of those confessions.

Anonymous said...


I think that your last comment is rather revealing. Lutheranism is most certainly confessional, but Anglicanism is definitely not. The 39 Articles are not intended as a confession, and Anglicanism has no confessions per se.

When I was in the process of moving from Lutheranism to Anglicanism many years ago, I ask a priest about this matter. His reply was that Anglicanism is a creedal church (meaning that it is based on the three great ecumenical creeds) rather than a confessional church.

This is supported by a statement from one of the Archbishops of Canterbury (Fisher?) some years back to the effect that Anglicanism has no doctrines of its own, but rather only those of the undivided catholic faith.