What’s love got to do with it?

‘What’s love got to do with it’ sang the wonderful Tina Turner. Well, nothing if you believe the Church of England.

Whether or not the bishops of the Church of England intended the Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships to be released in the way that it was last week, the effect of its publication is that the cat is out of the bag.  Whether or not this was deemed business of the House that fell to the bottom of everyone’s inboxes and filing trays over Christmas, we know what ‘the Church’ thinks about sex and the only proper place for intimate sexual relationships to take place, that is, within marriage.  Of course, I know that this document was restating the classic teaching of the church and many of the things that were said were identical to the document released back in 2005.  However, I was naively hoping that we were a church prepared to engage, with imagination and generosity, with the reality that exists around relationships in our society.


For one reason or another I have watched the bio-pic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a few times on various flights I have taken (this all goes back to my ridiculous relationships with films that followers of this blog will be familiar with). I really enjoyed it and it reminded me of so many of the great songs that Freddie Mercury and Queen performed.  And some of their lyrics from one of the songs have been playing in my head

This thing called love, I just can’t handle it
This thing called love, I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love.

The word ‘love’ was completely absent from the statements that the House of Bishops have presented to the church over the years.  We just can’t handle it, this whole idea that people might actually love one another and that that love might find its expression in loving acts.  We just can’t handle it.  That is what I find so deeply disturbing.

The statement reiterates that

While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the Living in Love and Faith process and
elsewhere, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it

That, in fact, was the only place that the four-letter word ‘love’ actually appeared, in relation to the process in which we are engaged.  We await the publication of the report of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and all the study material that will be presented to us to engage with the issues.  But what we have to do is actually have the courage to talk about love.  Jesus does it all the time, the early church talked about it, but in all of this we seem to have forgotten that when two people commit themselves to each other, whatever the form of that commitment might take, it is probably, most probably because they love one another – and it is that which I want to be able to bless, the love that responds, echoes, re-echoes the divine impulse to love.  But at the moment I cannot and so I continue to argue that we must change and change as an institution as well as change our teaching.

So we issued a statement from Southwark Cathedral last week in response to the Statement and I am delighted that our Diocesan Bishop has endorsed it.  It simply says this

Southwark Cathedral remains committed to our values of radical, faithful inclusion.  It was therefore with sadness that we read the recently published statement from the House of Bishops following the introduction of Civil Partnerships for heterosexual couples.  Whilst we recognise the church’s teaching we also want to support and encourage people who are entering loving, faithful and stable relationships of all kinds and joyfully celebrate their love for one another.  We will continue to offer a pastoral and liturgical response to those from our community who ask for the opportunity to come to church around the time of their Civil Partnership or Marriage and, whilst keeping within the bishops’ guidelines will always make a generous response.  We wish it to be known that we believe that we are all loved by God regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, ability or sexuality and Southwark Cathedral will continue to remain as a beacon of light and hope for all who feel excluded by the church.

It’s a crazy little thing, this thing called love but as John said in his letter to the church

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4.8)

I know that the gospels use a variety of words for the variety of forms of love but I also know that it was out of love that all things came into being, that through love we have been saved and in love that we are held.  If I can reflect that love in all my relationships then surely that is a blessing that can be blessed.

Oh, and before I go, in the week when the United Kingdom was facing the greatest change in its governance and place in the world for half a century, the Church of England yet again takes its eye off the ball, ignores the nation and talks about sex! You couldn’t make it up!

God of love
may we love as you love us.

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