Leading Article: Navel watching among the bishops

Click to follow
THE POOR old Church of England. Whatever it does, from women priests to gay vicars, it never gets it quite right. Maybe one shouldn't ask it to. The virtues of Anglicanism are those of its defects. It is a broad church that has always accepted a multiplicity of views from personal protestetantism to anglo-catholicism. The media may have found its indecision scandalous but, as the Established Church of England, it has enabled a wide variety of people to worship comfortably within its walls.

The danger of the bishops' vote on gays is precisely that it comes down on one side rather than the other. And the side of intolerance at that. No doubt the Archbishop of Canterbury was under considerable pressure from the overseas members to take a hard line on homosexuality. No doubt he felt the popular pull to show leadership. Just because the Church of England gets most of the attention doesn't mean that it is the only church suffering internecine quarrels over sex, gender and authority. Every religion, from the Jewish to the the Muslim, is facing extreme tensions between fundamentalists who insist that its beliefs are revealed and inviolate and the modernists who argue that belief is subject to interpretation.

The sadness of Wednesday's vote is not that it should have been taken, although one might have wondered whether it was really necessary for the meeting to spend quite so much time and energy on this particular issue. If the majority of Anglican bishops are on the side of a fundamentalist (and, it should be said, far from persuasive) interpretation of the Bible, then let them show their colours.

The real damage, however, is to the Church of England. In the end the Archbishop of Canterbury chose to go with the majority because it was they who were threatening to pull the house down if they didn't get their way. It makes institutional sense for a church that is retreating to concentrate on its own surviving members, but none at all to a church that once saw its duty as being open to all.