3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

3MT : Love and Marriage

The people of England encounter the Church of England in precious few ways, and one of the ways leads the Church into mortal and spiritual danger: colluding in the worship of an idol.

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A bit of a kerfuffle in the British media over the weekend, a sideshow to what Ruth Gledhill, with characteristic understatement, is calling the “Summer of Schism”. A wedding was disrupted by, depending on what you believe, an ill-behaved toddler and worse behaved wedding guests, or (the line most newspapers and shamefully, the church authorities have taken) by the parish priest ordering the toddler and the protesting guest to leave the church. The Observer had a little fun with the story because the priest is named (snigger, snigger) David Cameron. The Archdeacon of Stoke, in the usual terrified response of the church to any possible bad publicity, muttered “It is a serious allegation. A wedding is a time of celebration and we want parents with children to feel welcome in church.”1 So, no prejudging the situation there then.

The responses in the vox pop organised by the BBC (Should children be banned from weddings?) seemed to be uniformly hostile to either a) the vicar or b) parents of badly behaved children. How dare these people spoil the most special day of a person’s life, the “big day”.

During Lent I published a 3MT on the fashion for weddings to become more and more expensive, more and more exemplary of a fantasy conspicuous consumption, more and more anti-human. I quoted, disapprovingly, a journalist interviewed on the Today programme, who had encouraged such gaudy displays. Imagine how thrilled I was to find, a few weeks later, a comment on this website from the same journalist who took umbrage against my criticism of her position: “it doesn’t take money to express yourself however if people choose to celebrate their big day by treating their guests to salmon rather than soup how can that be considered un-Christian”. Well, to continue the metaphor, refuting such a position is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel— it’s just not sport.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church actually had the courage to use the occasions of this particular occasional office to critique one of the overwhelming obsessions of our age, the narcissistic impulse to see ourselves in the face of another, an impulse which we call romantic love. Ben Myers is fierce in his condemnation of this impulse, which he calls “an idol”, which leads inexorably to “an abyss of violence and self-will, a voracious need to find my own image reflected in the face of another.”2

That might be going a little far for my tastes, but how else are we to understand such famous “sleb” weddings, such as that between Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes. When they married in 2003 it was a secret kept from the media (fair enough) but also their family and friends. A spokesman said “This tiny ceremony was an entirely private event, which is what they both really wanted. All their close friends and family now know and the couple are on honeymoon for another two weeks.”3 Which is what, technically, we can call entirely the wrong idea of what marriage is.

But imagine being the priest or prophet who begins to rebuke our society for such a muddle-headed and harmful picture of what marriage is! The Archdeacon of Stoke would soon emerge like, as Ben Myers says, “the comically odious Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice – that sycophantic clergyman who waits upon the pleasure of his exalted benefactress, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and is only too pleased to do her bidding whenever the opportunity arises.”

  1. Toddler ‘ordered out of wedding’, BBC News Online, 6 July 2008 []
  2. ‘Against marriage: or, why churches should stop performing weddings’ from Faith and Theology by Ben Myers. []
  3. Angelique Chrisafis ‘Mendes and Winslet in secret wedding’ The Guardian, Tuesday June 10, 2003 []

4 Comments

  1. Thanks. I nearly commented on this, and particularly the way in which the Archdemon seems to have prejudges the case in the media with precious few facts. I held back in the end, but I think you make a better job of raising it to general principles than I would have done!

  2. Thanks, great post!

  3. John Roundhill

    12 July, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Thanks another great post. Do keep on doing the audio. For those of us in the AD Generation the audio works well.

    Please keep those of us far way, up to date with Lambeth.

  4. Just discovered your blog. Very nice job! This particular post caught my eye, because the same day I read it, I had learned that the Bishop in the Diocese of California is directing his clergy to encourage couples to marry outside the Church! Undisciplined children are not the problem here (even though we have our share of them!) Evidently there are two concerns which lead to this directive; couples that marry and then never revisit the Church, and the issue of same-sex unions. Don’t believe the first “excuse”. The real issue is the with the second.
    The Episcopal Church leadership here in America is rapidly becoming such a mess of inclusionists (if that’s a word), that the only answer is to exclude! They don’t have enough conviction to say no to a gay or lesbian couple, but on the other hand, they are fearful of continuing to drive away the traditionalists. So their answer is “we’ll marry no one!” A least your Vicar friend is willing to stand for something!
    So now we’ll pass the responsibility of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Just the latest saga in the sad, slow demise of the Episcopal Church USA. Our leadership is making it so.

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