Thinking Anglicans

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement – episode 8

Andrew Brown has published at Cif belief this report on the Bad History saga: Why the church’s gay marriage schism is here to stay in which he concludes:

…In other words, the conservative position today is that when the bible says (with Jesus) that a man can’t marry another woman while his first wife is still alive, that’s not about the nature of marriage; when it says (with Moses) that if his wife dies, a man can’t marry her sister, that’s not about the nature of marriage; but when it says (as it doesn’t, because this was too obvious to spell out) a man can’t marry another man, that really is part of the definition of marriage in the way that the others aren’t.

If this is what Fittall, Arora and the archbishops of Canterbury and York, deep down believe then their defence of the palpably silly makes sense. What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that’s not how the religious imagination works.

The point is that they can’t be convinced by arguments from science, from history or from the law about what marriage is. Their minds will only by changed by arguments from God and what God wants. Only if they see God at work in their opponents will they change. To see that, they would have to be looking for signs of it. I don’t think there is any immediate danger of that, on either side.

Jonathan Clatworthy has written Church teaching and the general understanding of marriage:

…To me, the House of Bishops’ claim is a typical example of a stance just too common to require any alternative explanation. ‘Conservatives’, of both the campaigning and the fence-sitting types, love to think that the way things were in their childhood was the way they always had been, all the way back to the beginning. This, for example, is what the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission did last April with their unpopular Men and Women in Marriage; but it is so common that we can all think of examples, not just in matters of religion. I very much doubt that the House of Bishops considered the Acts of 1907 or 1937 and judged that they did not invalidate the statement; they just assumed that the current change is the first such change ever.

They contrast ‘the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England’ with ‘the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law’. I think they mean two things: that the Church’s doctrine of marriage will diverge both from the legal definition and from ‘the general understanding of marriage in England’. (I am not sure; they might have meant ‘the general understanding of marriage in England as enshrined in law’, in which case ‘general understanding’ is only adding emphasis, not making an additional claim.) This post leaves aside the question of legal definition and focuses on the ‘general understanding’.

To judge whether the bishops are right we need an account of what this general understanding is, independently of the legal definition…

UNITE the Union had earlier published this:

Faith Worker Branch Executive statement in response to the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, 14.02.14

“We welcome the House of Bishops’ commitment to a process of conversations that will include profound reflection on the meaning, interpretation and application of scripture with particular attention to the lived experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and we would strongly urge the Bishops to pursue this as a priority.

We are concerned, however, that some aspects of the guidance, Paragraph 27 in particular, may discriminate against LGBT clergy in their pursuit of an authentic, loving and committed relationship that accords with their God-given sexuality, and which may as a result diminish their human right to enjoy that relationship.

We are concerned, too, that the vagueness of the guidance in Paragraphs 20 & 21 may unwittingly put clergy at risk of disciplinary action whilst attempting to minister appropriately in complex pastoral circumstances.

We affirm our support of all of our clergy members, and will continue to support and represent them in all aspects of their ministry, including any action taken against them as a result of the application of the Bishops’ guidance.”

The Bishop of Dorking delivered this speech to Guildford Diocesan Synod. Several people have commented that it contains echoes of what the Bishop of Oxford wrote earlier.

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Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

The point about Adam and Eve, if they existed, is that incest must have been necessary between their offspring since otherwise how would mankind have increased? There were, presumably, no other humans about since A & E were the first. Do the bishops, archbishops and their evangelical and African cohorts believe that this must thus allow incest? It seems to me rather obvious that, by their thinking, it must do. But oh no! That’s wrong.

JCF
Guest
JCF

+Dorking: “We were being watched. The Abp told us of his recent experiences in Sudan, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Even amid the carnage of war in the Sudan and in the Congo, he was constantly questioned about the Pilling Report. Later that day after our meeting he was just about to fly to Egypt to meet the Southern Primates – and he knew he would find a similar experience.” Well, as they say, “The Whole World is Watching”. But as there’s no evidence that “Sudan, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi” and (esp) “the Southern Primates” give a damn that we’re watching… Read more »

Revd Laurie Roberts
Guest
Revd Laurie Roberts

The bishop of Dorking still thinks there are ‘sides’ with ‘deeply held views’ which are ‘easily misunderstood’.

Did the bishop think this when they upheld slavery – their own holding of slaves – a s ‘biblical’ ?

No there are no ‘sides’, ‘just’ suffering people, calling out for true justice beyond our shores- around the world.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Richard Ashby raises a real point here for those sola scriptura conservatives in the Church who insist on the literal authenticity of Adam and Eve. If, indeed, they were the only human beings on earth, then Cain could only have married a sister. Who else would have been around if A.& E. were the sole human progenitors?

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

I am reminded of a dialogue sequence in “Inherit the Wind”:

Henry Drummond quotes Genesis “And Cain went into the land of Nod and Cain knew his wife.” Then he asks Matthew Brady: “Now where in hell did she come from?

Brady: who?

Drummond: Cain’s wife. Mrs. Cain. If Adam and Eve were the first people and Cain and Abel were their sons, where did Cain’s wife come from? You figure somebody pulled off another creation over in the next county?

[The above is from memory and may be somewhat paraphrased.]

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Evidence, from the statement of the Bishop of Dorking to the recent Guildford Diocesan Synod, of the perceived need of the H.o.B. to pacify the Gafcon and G.S. Primates; and in light of the fact that the ABC was due to fly off to speak to the Global South Primates; is it any wonder that the post-Pilling H.o.B. Statement was so devoid of sensitivity to those LGBTI people who really want their faithful, one-to-one relationships recognised by the Church. When actual Same-Sex Marriages are taking place in the community, this would surely be an opportunity for the Church of England… Read more »

dr.primrose
Guest
dr.primrose

“Inherit the Wind” was of course based on the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Cain’s wife came up in the actual trial when Clarence Darrow examined Williams Jennings Bryan: Q–Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife? A–No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her. Q–You have never found out? A–I have never tried to find Q–You have never tried to find? A–No. Q–The Bible says he got one, doesn’t it? Were there other people on the earth at that time? A–I cannot say. Q–You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration? A–Never bothered me. Q–There… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

Andrew Brown is usually one of the more sensitive commentators on religion in the British press, but I have to wonder whether he’s being willfully obtuse here. Very few Anglicans, I’d wager, are exercised about the question of whether Adam and Eve “really existed” (whatever that means!). What we are interested in is what the Genesis narrative says to us about the nature of humankind, the relationship of the sexes, and God’s intentions for human life. Where Genesis 1:27 says “male and female He created them,” and where Jesus quotes the same line to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:4, what… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“The Gay Marriage proposals were introduced out of the blue” Only if you were living in a cave. The proposal was in the Conservative “equality manifesto”, and was widely reported prior to the election. See, for example, the Daily Telegraph (I’m sure the bishop is aware of the publication) of 3 May 2010: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7673249/General-Election-2010-Conservatives-may-reclassify-gay-civil-partnership-as-marriage.html See, he doesn’t even need to read the article, the URL alone would have been sufficient. The quality manifesto said ”We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.” Not too hard to understand,… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

Is the time now right to begin the process of disestablishing the Established Church as the way the Church understands marriage is now so far removed from the way the State understands marriage? The difficulty is, if some of the comments on the T A Blog are taken into consideration, many within the Church support the State’s innovative understanding of the marriage bond.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“Entrenched prejudices are no substitute for hermeneutical hard work.” Best get on with it. The facts on the ground are that same-sex marriages start happening in 24 days’ time and that, as well as Quakers and other organisations that are fully supportive now, it is absolutely certain that within the year other churches will bless, perform, sanctify or otherwise get involved in such marriages, whether corporately or by the act of individual ministers. This summer, local newspapers and facebook pages are going to be full of happy, smiling couples, to which the vast majority of the population (even those who… Read more »

Simon Dawson
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Simon Dawson

RJB – you state “Liberals seem needlessly squeamish about engaging with the Biblical tradition (and the Church tradition) in a meaningful way. Unfortunately they therefore leave the field open for conservatives to claim that their interpretations are the only authentically ‘Biblical’ ones.” I understand your argument but I disagree with the detail. I think many Christian liberals have been engaging with these texts for a long time , and the shelves of bookshops and libraries are groaning with detailed analysis and exegesis exploring bible texts from a same-sex positive perspective. Many analyses point out that in ancient cultures androgyny was… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

” Entrenched prejudices are no substitute for hermeneutical hard work.”

While that is true, can we please stop pretending that this work hasn’t already been done and that people are just refusing to engage with it?

“The theological work hasn’t been done” has been the easiest argument to block any progress. And all one has to do is to shut one’s eyes and not look at the work that has been done.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Contrast +Dorking’s statement with the Ad Clerum from +Chichester:

“The House of Bishops’ Statement gives details of the disciplinary arrangements that will be followed, particularly in the case of ordination. The range of disciplinary action is evidence of the seriousness of this matter for us all, but also of its very personal and sensitive territory.”

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Bishop of Dorking ‘we worked hard to improve the original tone of the draft’. If that is true, what on earth did the original say?

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

For those with a taste for Hansard (I’ve been reading a lot, and even watching debates live, lately) there’s a hilarious piece of point-missing by Cranmer here: http://goo.gl/t4cMCF He quotes, at inordinate length (presumably he has a theological objection to hyperlinks) a debate in Westminster Hall about the The Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014 (http://goo.gl/OZN5k3). This provides for the use of forces’ chapels by those who are entitled to use more generally to perform same-sex marriages, subject to finding someone to preside (presumably one of the sending churches being willing to officiate). It… Read more »

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

@Richard Ashby

I have all along taken it for granted that the statement was out of the stable responsible for “the Church of England said”, “Church House has said”, and so on, and that the Bishops were being treated as a rubber stamp.

No names, no pack drill.

John
Guest
John

‘The difficulty is, if some of the comments on the T A Blog are taken into consideration, many within the Church support the State’s innovative understanding of the marriage bond.’ Indeed, we do, Father David. The figure of ‘supporters’ is somewhere in the 40 per cents; it will shortly be a majority (within a year or so). But nobody is being coerced here – except of course for thousands of gays in Africa, Russia and all over the globe, including our own fair land. So I think we should agree to disagree, while giving sufficient practical implementation to the liberal… Read more »

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

Martin Warner writes in his Ad Clerum: “We are also committed to ensuring that our affirmation of this view does not by any means convey the implication of homophobia, or condone it.” I am sure he and all the House are committed to that view. However, I have news for them. It is not for them to tell us what the implication of their view is. And the general public consider the Church of England’s stance over same-sex marriage, and the treatment of LGBT people in general to be institutionally homophobic. “Fine words butter no parsnips”. When they act in… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“We are also committed to ensuring that our affirmation of this view does not by any means convey the implication of homophobia, or condone it.”

“Separate but equal” has a nice ring to it, no?

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Erica ‘can we please stop pretending that this work hasn’t already been done and that people are just refusing to engage with it?’ I hope you don’t mean this. And I doubt any TA would stay in a church that produced a policy and demanded agree from all. I know there are those who will may never agree but following my article in the Pilling Report a significant number of people have shared how they have been longing for more informed and open debate but have simply not been in church environments – theologically or socially – where they have… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

RJB — as I noted on another thread, it is important to understand the actual tradition concerning the interpretation and application of texts rather than to assume that a reading we find congenial has always been employed. The case in point is Genesis 1:27, which in the tradition (including Jesus, Jewish sectarian writing contemporary with him, and in the early church) was not a proof text in defense of heterosexuality, but rather as evidence for the divine mandate to monogamy (in the early church, for life — that is, proscribing remarriage of widowers). A good essay on this subject is… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

John writes “The women issue is solved” . Well that’s an over optimistic statement if ever I read one. The General Synod may well have decided to commit the Church of England to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate but a significant minority within the Established Church certainly don’t recognise the validity of such an unscriptural and untraditional innovation. In going ahead with the novelty of adding women to the historic episcopate the Church has surely created not solved a problem of its own making, not least in its ecumenical relations. Alas, the issue is far from “solved”

John
Guest
John

Jeremy,

I have written to our bishop. Some friends will also do so. If you want the text of the letter, I’m on john.moles@newcastle.ac.uk.

John.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Rjb, the weight you put on Genesis presupposes biblical authority. If liberals do that, they’re fighting the battle on the opposition’s terms, and destined to lose. As Erika says, the work’s been done. It hasn’t made a bit of difference, frankly because it’s not that convincing: unsurprisingly, ancient texts do tend to favor the conservative position. The alternatives are to throw up our hands and say, “Gee, too bad,” or to argue that ancient creation myths have precisely zero hold on us today. I’m no more guided by Genesis than I am the Enuma Elish, and neither should anyone else… Read more »

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

The ad clerums give an insight into the nature of the discussion in the House of Bishops. In terms of corporate governance, the importance of the document as a policy statement and the potentially huge reputational risk for the Church, are borne out by the reaction to it over the last fortnight or so (making the women bishops saga pale into insignificance by comparison). It may be a cause of regret that Synod were not consulted about the matter, when there was every opportunity to do so if priorities had been different. Only a single day to fine-tune a proposal… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Fr. Ron Smith, Pat O’Neill and Dr. Primrose, “Inherit the Wind” is one of my favorite movies. Claude Akins’ portrayal of Rev. Brown is spot on, and scares the hell out of me. IF the Bible is to be treated literally, and IF, at one point, Adam, Eve, and Cain were the only three people on the planet, there is only one logical conclusion as to where Cain found his wife. Namely, Eve. Just like, if you carefully read the Genesis chapter one story, and verses from the Noah story, you come to the conclusion that, for the Biblical authors,… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Methinks Jeremy is talking a lot of sense. But then, who am I? Just another Anglican priest; who believes that God made Gays as well as Straights. And loves each one of us.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Andrew, if they use the CDM, a verdict requires a majority vote from a panel of five (judge, two clergy, two laity).

Since this is clearly a question of doctrine, the EJM is more likely. Making a verdict even harder to obtain: a panel of four assessors (two clergy, two laity) who must be unanimous.

I predict now, confidently, that no priest will be disciplined under either measure. More likely is bishops stripping away licenses of priests-in-charge. If done, this will, hopefully, be subjected to review in the courts.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Quite amazing! Literally hundreds and hundreds of comments on Gay marriage and a mere three comments, to date, on the Bishop of Manchester’s piece on Lent! Yes, I know Ash Wednesday was only yesterday but I will be surprised if many more comments are added to Bishop David’s article. This makes me think we are a Church which is losing its bearings and confused about where its true priorities lie. For the record, I wonder how many priests have actually been defrocked for “conduct unbecoming” since the Rector of Stiffkey’s humiliation way back in 1932 when a complaint was made… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Father David,

I thought we (including you and me) were committed to ‘mutual flourishing’? No one is more aware of the difficulties and inconsistencies of this than I am, but if you (and others) keep intoning the above, the outlook is poor (and, on a personal note, I have wasted an awful lot of time).

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David Runcorn,
I hope I did not say that we should not engage with the theology that has been done.

What I hope I said is that I am extremely tired of people demanding that we start doing the theology we can then all engage with.

Evangelicals could be pointed to Tobias Haller’s Reasonable and Holy.
And Alan Wilson has posted a whole selection of books people might want to read before they ask us to “do” the theology.

http://bishopalan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/resources-for-your-very-own-pilling.html

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“Only if they see God at work in their opponents will they change. To see that, they would have to be looking for signs of it. I don’t think there is any immediate danger of that, on either side.” – Andrew Brown – I guess the old adage is true, that “there is no-one so blind as he who will not see”. And, in this case, the male pronoun is definitely correct for the House of Bishops. However, in the less myopic environment of female Bishops, perhaps we can move on to more eirenic reality – in respect of intrinsically-faithful… Read more »

american piskie
Guest
american piskie

Fr David – yesterday’s liturgy did indeed induce reflections on priorities,and in my case on the events of the last few weeks and months. But I didn’t come away with any feeling that what is needed is any sort of moratorium! It seems clear to me that if the C of E is to preach the gospel effectively then the resolution of certain issues is now top priority; and this not just because the constant wrangling is so morale-sapping, but more importantly because the issues go to the heart of what gospel the C of E actually has to offer.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Father David, I notice that you have also commented here and not on the Lent piece. Maybe you could contribute something deep and meaningful over there?
I, personally, don’t make my own Lenten journey available for public dissection.

Father David
Guest
Father David

John, even with our joint commitment to “mutual flourishing” I think we have to be realistic about the future. The moment the first woman is consecrated to the episcopate we will have created a situation where the House of Bishops will be deeply divided and out of communion one with another, which is a tragedy.

John
Guest
John

Andrew,

Which diocese has been declared a witch-free zone?

Thanks.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

No diocese has been declared free of witches. One diocese, namely Oxford, has been declared to be free of witch-hunts. Not the same thing.

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

Ron –

Women bishops will be no panacea. It is sexist to imagine that they will. There is nothing inherent in being female that will save us from a leadership that is sexist, homophobic or anything else, per se. They will be good, bad, and indifferent. Just like the men.

John
Guest
John

Simon,

Thank you. Obviously I meant what you say.

Father David,

There will be a degree of impaired communion. The HoB will not thereby necessarily be ‘deeply divided’. I do not regard you and me (or similar ‘couples’ on TA or anywhere else in the C of E) as being ‘deeply divided’. Am I wrong?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

The HoB will be deeply divided about every single question people can ask. It’s the nature of a group of 70+ people to have a wide range of views on all things.

That does not mean that this difference has to be of overwhelming importance and that it has to result in a split or anything else needlessly dramatic.

Father David
Guest
Father David

John, I cannot think of any other issue over which the House of Bishops is more deeply divided than the ordination of women, so much so that there will not be full but impaired communion at the Lord’s board. In future episcopal consecrations will also highlight our sad divisions.

JCF
Guest
JCF

“they have been longing for more informed and open debate but have simply not been in church environments – theologically or socially – where they have been able to think this through with the integrity it needs. That is hugely frustrating. They are not trying to avoid anything.”

DavidR, we need to ALWAYS remember we’re not debating theology or sociology. This is not about “anything”.

This is about PEOPLE. People and their real lives/real *loves*.

Fr Jeffrey John (to mention only the most well-known gay Anglican) is not an abstraction.

Pete Broadbent
Guest
Pete Broadbent

@James Byron – just a point of clarification. A Priest in Charge is now in the same legal position as a Vicar under Common Tenure. It simply isn’t possible to “strip away” anybody’s licence. All clergy under Common Tenure, Freehold [and contract, though that depends on the employer] are in the same position with regard to security of tenure. The only exception to this are those specifically named in their SOP under Regulation 29 as being on qualified common tenure. Taking licences from clergy without due process (whether or not a bishop wants to do so) simply isn’t possible any… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Well said, Jeremy. I haven’t heard a peep from the eight “Participant Observers,” and I doubt I will.

I look forward to seeing female bishops stand, in all their purple splendor, and solemnly announce the Bible’s “clear teaching” for gay people. Mournfully tell their gay sisters and brothers in Christ how God wants them to lead sexless, self-hating lives.

Just as God wants them to become bishops.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“I look forward to seeing female bishops stand, in all their purple splendor, and solemnly announce the Bible’s “clear teaching” for gay people. Mournfully tell their gay sisters and brothers in Christ how God wants them to lead sexless, self-hating lives.” – James Byron – And I’m looking forward to the common sense that Women seem to have in greater abundance than most males. I’m not being intentionally sexist here, just telling the truth as I see it. I really think that this is why God is allowing women into the episcopate in our Anglican Churches. As a case in… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Father David,

Christianity is collapsing in the West. ‘Liberals’ characteristically see one reason for this as being the Church’s failure to be ‘liberal’ enough, ‘Traditionalists’ its failure to be traditionalist enough. The real reasons are much more profound and much more challenging. You and many other people here really need to get a grip.

John
Guest
John

Bishop Pete Broadbent,

Does this mean in practice that gay priests who wish to should simply go ahead and ignore the silly and divisive pastoral letter/advice? (I accept you might not use those adjectives.)

Father David
Guest
Father David

Dear John, perhaps you could enlighten us as to exactly what you regard as the profound and challenging “real reasons” why Christianity is collapsing in the West? I’d be fascinated to know your views. As to your timely and sage advice to get a grip! I immediately consulted Amazon and there I discovered a volume by Matthew Kimberley entitled “How to GET A GRIP”. I was keen to purchase the same until I read the sub title – ” Forget namby-pamby, wishy-washy self-help drivel. This is the book for you” as a staunch Traditionalist and neither “namby-pamby nor “wishy-washy” I… Read more »

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

TA comment threads, where pedantry meets sarcasm.

It’s enough to make me look fondly at the Quakers sometimes.

The Quakers embraced their fellow gay Christians, and did so quietly at the same time when God-fearing Anglicans were still jailing gay men and giving them electric shocks while dosing them full of hormones and calling it “treatment.” And those were the “respectable” Oxbridge people. The pious thugs just beat the crap out of them and said “Praise Jesus!”

After all, Leviticus, don’t you know …

Feh.