If, when faced with Jesus, Pontius Pilate famously posed the question, ‘What is truth?’, we can perhaps justifiably ask today, ‘What is love?’. Is it the unquestioning affirmation of life-style choices that have led to social fragmentation and a breakdown of order? That have left literally millions of lonely individuals incapable of forming committed and lasting relationships, and with spiralling rates of mental illness and addiction problems affecting both young and old alike (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06988/SN06988.pdf)? Or is it the defence of Christian values and traditional morality, which – though admittedly dismissed by many as outmoded – have, down the centuries, provided order and stability for both individuals and society, and kept us strong?
Somewhat perversely, it may be thought – given its divinely-appointed charge to uphold the faith and protect the flock – the Church of England appears to take the former view. In its latest report, Love Matters, commissioned by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and published in April this year, it aims to put forward a vision of the future based on what it calls ‘love-in-action’ (https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2023-04/H%26F%20report%20DIGITAL%20SINGLE%20PAGES.pdf). Focussing on families and households, the report’s expressed aim is to be inclusive and more accepting of diversity – in fact, it doesn’t just want to ‘accept’ but to celebrate diversity, recognising and affirming the legitimacy of all committed couple relationships, whether married, unmarried, in civil partnership, opposite or same sex … and everything in between. The report says it wants to see a more forgiving, kinder, and fairer society.
As might be expected, given the background to the report, much is made of the Christian call to unconditional love. Citing Paul, the report’s authors define love as ‘not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude … not irritable or resentful’. Rather, they say, love is patient and kind, putting up with all things. And they conclude, ‘(Love) is a commitment to give to – and promote the flourishing of – another person’. All of which is undeniably true, but the trouble is that at heart this is a policy document for social action. It is political. The call to honour God and obey His commands, as set down in the Bible – which is the essence of Christian belief – is not just absent, but denied. In particular, the exclusive monogamous union of one man and one woman in marriage for life is set aside as irrelevant. It is life-long commitment that must be supported, the report says, and marriage may well be seen as desirable towards achieving this end, but it is not of primary concern.
Harsh though it may sound, this is giving support to the belief system of a new religion – and that religion is, at core, hostile not just to Christianity, but to human flourishing and life. It is a doctrine that not just leaves people damaged and unhappy, but that denies them all possibility of redemption, because it locks them into sin, with no chance of escape. Endorsing the transient satisfaction of what men and women think they want, but which leaves them with only the ashes of broken dreams, is not love. It’s not even close. It’s a manifesto for oppression.
Is it really for this that our Saviour went head to head with Satan in that terrible struggle on the Cross? Is this the freedom for which He died?
Since that decisive battle two thousand years ago, the devil has fought might and main to reassert his hold. He can’t ultimately win, of course, as he knows only too well. It is beyond question that the Lord will return in glory, after every man, woman and child on the planet has been given the chance to hear the good news and repent, and so be saved. But during this time of dispensation, while judgment is delayed, Satan still holds power and his will, as ever, is to subvert and destroy. The call of the Church is to take the message of salvation out into the world, to be a light in the darkness and to uphold truth, while guarding the flock against attack.
It is time for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to recognise which side they are truly on. That of God, or of the devil. It must be one or the other. But it can’t be both.