It is surprising, then, that the whimper [from the 2016 Primates Gathering] has occasioned such a hue and cry. On Thursday the Labour shadow cabinet minister and former Anglican priest, Chris Bryant, declared he had left the Church of England for good. The Church’s decision will one day ”˜seem [as] wrong as supporting slavery’ he tweeted. On Saturday the Times published a full-blown invective. The Church has no right, the editorial claimed, to maintain its traditional doctrine of marriage.
The outcry is indicative of a profound shift. Institutions founded on certain precepts to which its members are expected to subscribe shouldn’t be allowed to act on them if those precepts don’t square with a prevailing agenda. Back in 2013 advocates for same-sex marriage argued that the church’s beliefs about sexuality shouldn’t be imposed on the rest of society. That makes sense. But now the church is being told it shouldn’t hold those beliefs at all.
It is easy to overlook how ominous this shift really is. The conviction that organisations and communities cannot determine their own distinct ethos, their own rules for membership and their own criteria for leadership imperils the very survival of a pluralistic society. What is the point of institutions if they don’t have the freedom to organise themselves in the way they see fit?