THINKING ANGLICANS

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement – episode 6

Updated yet again Saturday morning

First of all, a roundup of links on the story so far. Episode 5 was here. Earlier episodes all linked from there.

Since our original publication of Linda Woodhead’s article An error in the House of Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriage we had a follow-up in More about historical error in the House of Bishops statement.

And we have also reported that the LGBTI Anglican Coalition sends open letter to House of Bishops and Bishop of Oxford writes to his clergy on same-sex marriage.

Now the new items.

Today in the Church Times there is Sexuality ‘fudge’ sticks in critics’ throats by Tim Wyatt and Gavin Drake. This quotes the Archbishop of York:

Dr Sentamu, speaking at a meeting of Jewish and Christian students in Durham in the middle of last week, said that the Church of England’s position was that “a clergy person has a right, an expectation, to live within the teaching of the Church, but for lay people and others they should be welcomed into the Church.

“Immediately, when you say that, people say that I’m homophobic. You can’t win on this one. How can I, on one hand, uphold the teaching of sexuality as I see it in scripture, and yet, at the same time, say – this is Anglican fudge – that people’s sexual orientation cannot lead to discrimination because they’re human beings just like anybody else, and God loves them deeply?

“As far as I’m concerned, whatever the sexual orientation, gay people are people, and they need to be given the same protection.”

The story also reports that:

In addition, a group of 21 academics has stated that a statement in the Bishops’ guidance “is wrong”. The guidance suggested that the legalisation of gay marriage meant that, “for the first time” civil law and C of E doctrine of marriage diverged.

The academics, who include Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor David Martin, and Professor Linda Woodhead, call this “inaccurate and misleading”, arguing that the Church’s understanding of marriage has differed from civil law since at least 1857, around questions of divorce and second marriage.

In reply, the secretary to the House of Bishops, William Fittall, wrote this week that the bishops knew that canon law and statute law had not been identical for years.

He maintained, however, that the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex partners was of a different order of disagreement.

He also said that the point about a divergence between canon and statute law was not essential to the bishops’ theological case.

The full text of the letter, which has now been sent to all members of the House of Bishops, is available below the fold.

Update 1 The CofE Communications Office on Friday afternoon published Full Correspondence with Professor Linda Woodhead on Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance.

Update 2 Alan Wilson has published Who’s fooling who about history?

…It seems to me vastly unfair on those who struggled against Deceased Wife’s Sister marriages between 1842 and 1907 to suggest that a marriage setup that ran counter to Leviticus 18:18 should be a minor matter of “accidents” whilst one that potentially breaches Leviticus 18:24 should be a fundamental, matter of “substance.”

What really intrigues me about the whole rhetoric of “redefinition” developed by the Moral Majority on the West Coast in the 1990’s is how appealing it is to those who don’t want to allow gay people to marry, but how completely ineffective it has been with everyone else. Not only did it pancake seriously in both houses of the UK parliament, but all those right wing websites that swore to carry on the struggle after the legislation went through last year seem to have packed up and gone home. I wonder why?

Update 3 It appears that Update 1 left out one of the emails received by Linda Woodhead.

[Original article continues]

And there is an analysis of the Bishop of Oxford’s letter by David Pocklington here: Oxon Ad Clerum: Bishops’ Pastoral Statement

The Church Times also carries a very interesting article by Will Adam titled Breaking the rules on gay marriage but this is available only to subscribers.

The Bishop of Salisbury issued this statement: Bishop Calls Attention to Same-Sex Marriage Guidance.

27th February 2014
Dear Bishop,

Error in the Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriages

We write to alert you to the fact that an important statement in the Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriages issued on 14th February is wrong.

The guidance claims that: “There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer.” – House of Bishops, 14th Feb 2014, Appendix, para 9.

This is inaccurate. Civil law and church teaching have diverged before, on at least two occasions. The first was in relation to the marriage to a deceased wife’s sister, the second in relation to the remarriage of divorcees.

There has been a robust discussion of this topic between experts on ecclesiastical history, law and sociology which Dr Scot Peterson summarises here.

We are all in agreement that the statement in the Bishops Guidance is mistaken and misleading. Since it forms an important part of the case which is being made, we felt it was right to draw the mistake to your attention. We respectfully ask that it be corrected.

Our attempts to resolve this matter by writing to Mr Arora and Mr Fittall have failed. There is growing concern amongst the academic community about the situation.

Looking to the future, some of us are anxious to improve channels of communication with the Church, so that our research and scholarship can be used constructively. If you would be interested in a meeting to discuss this issue, we would be very grateful if you would reply to Professor Woodhead.

Yours truly,
Professor Callum Brown FRSE, University of Glasgow
Professor Arthur Burns, King’s College London
The Revd Dr Mark Chapman, Ripon College Cuddesdon
Professor Grace Davie, University of Exeter
The Revd Duncan Dormor, St John’s College, University of Cambridge
Professor Kenneth Fincham, University of Kent
Professor Sarah Foot, Christ Church, University of Oxford
Dr Matthew Guest, University of Durham
The Revd Dr Carolyn Hammond, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge (member of FAOC)
Professor Gerard Loughlin, University of Durham
Elizabeth MacFarlane, St John’s College, University of Oxford
The Revd Dr Judith Maltby, Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford
Professor Iain McLean FBA, Nuffield College, Oxford
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch FBA, Saint Cross College, University of Oxford
The Revd Professor David Martin FBA, London School of Economics
Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow (member FAOC)
The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, King’s College, University of Cambridge
Dr Scot Peterson, Balliol College, University of Oxford
Professor Alec Ryrie, University of Durham
The Revd Dr Robert Tobin, Oriel College, University of Oxford
Revd Dr William Whyte, St John’s College Oxford
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
Professor John Wolffe, The Open University, President of the Ecclesiastical History Society
Professor Linda Woodhead, University of Lancaster

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Andrew Wilshere
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Andrew Wilshere

Good grief, Sentamu gets worse. If we’re all entitled to the same protection because we’re all people, why do gay clergy who get married have to fear for their jobs, while straight clergy who get married don’t? To answer his question: it’s just possible that the Bible is a homophobic text. If he doesn’t believe in a homophobic God, he might need to modify his faith in the theological hermeneutic which places scripture in this absurdly elevated, and itself unscriptural, status.

FD Blanchard
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FD Blanchard

“Immediately, when you say that, people say that I’m homophobic. You can’t win on this one. How can I, on one hand, uphold the teaching of sexuality as I see it in scripture, and yet, at the same time, say – this is Anglican fudge – that people’s sexual orientation cannot lead to discrimination because they’re human beings just like anybody else, and God loves them deeply?” Where have I heard this one before? “I’m not a thug! I don’t beat people up, or want people to get beat up. I’m against discrimination against Those People. It’s just that it’s… Read more »

FD Blanchard
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FD Blanchard

I think both Archbishops would have a lot more credibility (on just about everything) if they published a strong, clear, and unequivocal condemnation of the legal persecution and extra-legal violence against gays and lesbians in Nigeria and Uganda; perhaps a statement like Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s recent letter.

I know that is far too much to much to ask, of course.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

So how does Nicholas Holtam, that nice, liberal bishop who supported equal marriage, respond to his colleagues’ marriage ban? A heroic stand against his colleagues, a guarantee that no one will be punished in his diocese?

No.

“The pastoral guidance notes the conflict created with Canon Law. Therefore if a person in holy orders contracts a same-sex marriage a complaint could be made against them, which would result in discipline for which the full range of penalties are possible.”

The Bishop of Salisbury is the first to threaten to punish gay priests for marrying. With friends like these …

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

There you are.

The Church of England has never believed that marriage is for life.

Two members of the Church House staff have sworn to it.

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

As one of the parties, my advice is to read the final letter in the string posted by Church House this afternoon (W Fittall to L Woodhead). Note that this string is posted by the C of E, not by us. Readers may form their own view on how the C of E centrally treats academic advice, which on this occasion was joined by a member of the College of Bishops

ian
Guest
ian

The pastoral guidance notes the conflict created with Canon Law. Therefore if a person in holy orders contracts a same-sex marriage a complaint could be made against them, which would result in discipline for which the full range of penalties are possible.

You know where you are in Salisbury then.

dr.primrose
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dr.primrose

“my advice is to read the final letter in the string posted by Church House this afternoon (W Fittall to L Woodhead).”

Which concludes (except for a couple of snotty PSs):

“Further exchanges are not going to get to get us any further.

“William Fittall”

Which, roughly translated, seems to mean: “We’re in power; you’re not. What we say rules the day; we really don’t care what you have to say. Go away and shut up.”

Is this what passes for “facilitated conversations” in the Church of England?

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

I just love the last line of Mr Fittall’s contribution. ‘We know we are right, you are wrong so there is no points in having this discussion any more. Even though one of the main planks of our argument has been discredited it doesn’t matter anyway, we are not going to change our minds’.

He is obvioulsy not one of those who agrees that when the facts change, he changes his mind too. Rather he epitomizes the statement that consistency is the last refuge of the un imaginative.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

David Pocklington is right question the timescale of three to four months in drawing up the papers for the ‘facilitated conversations’. But one might well ask also who is included in the ‘well chosen group’. Is this going to be another stitch up?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“How can I, on one hand, uphold the teaching of sexuality as I see it in scripture, and yet, at the same time, say – this is Anglican fudge – that people’s sexual orientation cannot lead to discrimination because they’re human beings just like anybody else, and God loves them deeply?” Archbishop Sentamu, in response, you can be HUMBLE enough to concede that *just maybe* your understanding of scripture isn’t as WISE *or* FAITHFUL as those who see no conflict between scripture and civil/ecclesial EQUALITY of all human beings, w/o regards to sexual orientation? Can you do that? Let go… Read more »

Jasper
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Jasper

Putting aside the rights or wrongs of the content of the guidance, the way the factual inaccuracy has been handled by both camps is the least edifying saga I have read in ages. The way the correspondence has been conducted and the petty snide remarks made should make all parties feel ashamed of themselves. Is it any wonder that church membership if dropping like a stone if Christians cannot disagree in a more constructive manner.

Nigel LLoyd
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Nigel LLoyd

‘The Bishop of Salisbury is the first to threaten to punish gay priests’ It is odd how the same text can be read so differently. I look at my bishop’s statement and I see the encouragement to pray with those marrying with a sense of joy. I see no threat, but a warning that clergy marrying could face disciplinary consequences. I cannot see that he is threatening to take any action, but pointing out that a local complaint raised against a priest would be fed into a system over which the bishop himself would have no power to override. He… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

The Bishop of Sarum seems to have changed his tune from liberal rhetoric to right wing prohibitions

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“The pastoral letter was carefully qualified: on the one hand, the archbishops of Canterbury’s and York’s cover letter conceded that ‘same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity, virtues the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage’; on the other, they said, ‘The Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.’ – Dr. Scott Peterson – And herein lies the rub: while the Archbishops speak of Same Sex relationships as being capable of “genuine mutuality and fidelity, virtues the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage”; they… Read more »

Turbulent Priest
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Turbulent Priest

It would also be helpful if he had pointed out to his clergy that if they rode a bike without a helmet they _could_ fall off and hit their head which _would_ have serious consequences. Why write in code?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“What more can [Holtam] do?” How about say, “This is wrong, so very, very sorry I couldn’t stop it, be assured that it has no effect in Salisbury. No priest will ever be punished for their sexuality on my watch. While I’m at it, ‘Issues …’ is now suspended in this diocese.”

How about that?

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

I think that publishing the correspondence with Prof Woodhead was I’ll advised.To champion Frank Cranmer against a bevy of first class academics and to brand them as liberals was just silly.Any bishop worth his salt will realise that to those interested the academics have put a spoke in the bishops wheel,that the Lambeth bureaucracy has a negative view of academics which will alienate a helpful constituency in the future, and that it would be wise not to rely on the preprepared crafts of Arora/Fittall in the future. If any bishops plan to make martyrs I fear they will simply cook… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

Aye, there’s the rub once you start to tinker with and change doctrine you can bet your bottom dollar – there will be trouble ahead.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Even Nigel Lloyd must be able to see a contrast between what his bishop (Sarum) has written and the gentler tone contained in the words of the Bishop of Oxford.

Nigel LLoyd
Guest
Nigel LLoyd

“What more can [Holtam] do?” How about say, “This is wrong, so very, very sorry I couldn’t stop it, be assured that it has no effect in Salisbury. No priest will ever be punished for their sexuality on my watch. While I’m at it, ‘Issues …’ is now suspended in this diocese.” I am not a lawyer, but I am uncertain that bishops could could simply suspend the clergy discipline system in quite this way. In the Salisbury Diocese we know our bishops views and we know that he could not stop the mess we seem to be in. As… Read more »

fr.rob
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fr.rob

‘Aye there’s the rub once you start to tinker with and change doctrine you can bet your bottom dollar – there will be trouble ahead’ Well, yes indeed, but that’s been the case throughout the history of the Church. But as Anglicans we believe that the Catholic creeds are sufficient statement of Christian faith. And so I assume that the Spirit may guide the Church into new doctrinal places, so long as they don’t conflict with those creeds. The truth is always beyond us and, in eschatological hope, ahead of us so in faith and hope we meet the trouble… Read more »

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

Nigel, Holtam could be unequivocal in his condemnation of the guidance while still fulfilling any CDM duties which arise. Or he could refuse to fulfil CDM duties in this matter and challenge people to complain to the ABC about him instead. This is what moral courage would look like. Instead, he has chosen to protect his own position.

Philip
Guest
Philip

I am genuinely puzzled by the inconsistent approach of the House of Bishops: we’ll follow the Bible when it suits us (gay relationships) and we won’t follow the Bible when it doesn’t (Women Bishops).
The issue (‘does what was written then still apply now’) is exactly the same in both cases.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“Is it any wonder that church membership if dropping like a stone if Christians cannot disagree in a more constructive manner.” The problem with “disagreement,” Jasper, is that people are being hurt by one side and not the other. How moral is that? What is in question is the full human rights and inclusion in the church of me and my LGBT brothers and sisters. I’m sorry, but the excluding and “disagreeing” side sound like the racists, anti-semites, and misogynists of the past. The hateful position does damage, look at Nigeria and Uganda, look at LGBT teen suicide in the… Read more »

John
Guest
John

The Bishop of Sarum seems to have changed his tune from liberal rhetoric to right wing prohibitions. Aye, there’s the rub once you start to tinker with and change doctrine you can bet your bottom dollar – there will be trouble ahead. Bit puzzled. But on the second post, why is same-sex marriage contrary to ‘doctrine’? (See also fr.rob above.) Here’s a question for you, Father David (and one which greatly exercised some of the Church Fathers): by what means/by whom does Jesus become ‘the anointed’ in the Gospels? And the answer is (just to relieve your perplexity): the woman,… Read more »

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

Cynthia: “The problem with “disagreement,” Jasper, is that people are being hurt by one side and not the other.”

Well said — the exact same thought occurred to me. To describe this situation as mere “disagreement” of the “what’s your favourite breakfast cereal” kind is disingenuous, and reflects badly on those making the description. It is a form of moral relativism, which, contrary to the beliefs of many conservatives, is not something that liberals generally go in for.

Nathaniel Brown
Guest
Nathaniel Brown

Nigel writes, “I am not a lawyer, but I am uncertain that bishops could could simply suspend the clergy discipline system in quite this way.” A very valid point. But isn’t it unfortunate that the C of E seems to have no bishops who are willing to stand up and break some rules? What would the church be like if even a few bishops had half the courage of martyrs, and would stand up for what is right and just? Instead, we will continue to see conferences, papers, probably more “listening,” silence on horrors such as in Uganda, and more… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“I am uncertain that bishops could could simply suspend the clergy discipline system in quite this way.”

For practical purposes, they could. The only threat that could be held over them would be disciplinary measures against them in turn, presided over by an Archbishop. The CofE would require a deathwish to attempt this, and the process would be such a bloodbath in prospect that no-one would dare try. “Archbishop suspends bishop in row over vicar who blessed gay couple”? Seriously? Outside Nigeria, where do you think that will play well?

Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

These bishops are doing a very poor job of pastoring their priests in that they do not care that current C of E policy would require punishing their LGBT clergy for exercising their legal right to marry.

More and more, I see the episcopate as the most disppointing order of the church. Maybe the Presbyterians were right to abolish it.

Gary Paul Gilbert

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“… I am uncertain that bishops could could simply suspend the clergy discipline system in quite this way.” No one’s asking him to, Nigel. For obvious reasons, canon law says nothing about same-sex marriages. To my knowledge, a statement from the House of Bishops has no weight under the Clergy Discipline Measure or the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure. Holtam is the sole bishop to mention discipline for good reason. If I’m wrong, and Holtam is forced to persecute gay clergy, why doesn’t he resign in protest? Obeying orders is no excuse. Would you defend a bishop who punished people for miscegenation?… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

What if I, as a transsexual woman, want to marry a partner, whether a male or a female? Where do Bronze Age religious edicts place me? And how *can* they place me, when our cultures and grasp of psychology are so totally different? The reality is: this is simply my life. And I have a right to marry the person I love, in the community of my faith. When people like myself demonstrate (in lived reality, not academic theory) that gender and sex organs are not analogous… that a woman is defined by something more than a vagina, for example…… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Thank you, Susannah, for your moving testimony of what it means to be a trans-gendered person. in a Church where individuals are said to be infinitely precious to God their Creator, society needs to get to grips with the fact that gender and sexuality are as variable in the spectrum as that of other creatures. Nature gives evidence of this. Selfhood is surely the only parameter of how a person should be expect to be defined – rather than be defined by the expectation of the binary ‘norm’. This is not just a matter of sexual definition. It is also… Read more »