Thinking Anglicans

Cof E responds to GAFCON UK

Church of England press release

Secretary General responds to GAFCON UK

22 November 2016

William Nye, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, has today sent the following letter to the Revd Canon Andy Lines, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force in response to the briefing paper, ‘The Church of England and Lambeth 1:10’.

Dear Andy

I have seen a paper entitled, “The Church of England and Lambeth 1:10”, produced by GAFCON UK and dated 13 November, which is described as a briefing to GAFCON Primates. It purports to be an account of “the situation in the Church of England regarding attitudes and teaching on sexual ethics.”

The paper paints a significantly misleading picture both of the teaching and practice of the Church of England, and of Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. I am writing to correct some of the erroneous assertions.

Resolution 1:10 of Lambeth 1998

Resolution 1:10 is one of over 90 Resolutions approved by the Lambeth Conference in 1998. It expressed the will of that Conference. Like all Lambeth Conference resolutions, it is not legally binding on all provinces of the Communion, including the Church of England, though it commends an essential and persuasive view of the attitude of the Communion.

Resolution 1:10 sets out teaching on marriage, as being between a man and a woman, and teaching on abstinence outside marriage. It sets out teaching on homosexual practice. It commits the Conference to listening to the experience of homosexual persons, assures them they are loved by God, and condemns irrational fear of homosexuals. It says nothing about discipline within provinces of the Anglican Communion; the Lambeth Conference has no jurisdiction to do so.

The Resolution is an important document in the history of the Anglican Communion. It is not the only important resolution, from that Conference or others. It does not have the force of Scripture, nor is it part of the deposit of faith. The key elements for the Communion are those within the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral.

Teaching and practice in the Church of England

The teaching of the Church of England on matters relating to same-sex practice and unions is, and remains, as set out in the document issued by the Church’s House of Bishops in 1991, “Issues in Human Sexuality”. That document pre-dates the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and is consistent with the resolution 1:10 of the Conference. Subsequent refinement of the teaching by the House of Bishops, as in guidance documents issued when the British State introduced civil partnerships and then (civil) same-sex marriage, has not changed the fundamental substance of that teaching.

When the Government proposed to introduce same-sex (civil) marriage the Church of England argued against it, including in Parliament.

Previously in 2004 the majority of our bishops had voted for legalising civil partnerships when that legislation made its way through parliament.

English law now provides for same-sex civil marriage, and for Christian denominations other than the Church of England or Church in Wales to opt into providing same-sex marriage if they wish to. There is no provision in English law for same-sex marriage in Church of England churches. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – the Act of the UK Parliament which introduced same-sex marriage in England and other parts of the UK – expressly leaves intact the Church of England’s Canon which defines marriage as “in its nature a union permanent and lifelong … of one man with one woman”. And although the Act changes the definition of marriage in English law generally, those changes do not apply to any ecclesiastical law of the Church of England (Canon B.30).

At present, the House of Bishops is reflecting on conversations across the Church on same-sex issues. But at this point no change has been made to teaching, nor has there been any formal proposal to do so.

The great majority of the clergy and laity of the Church of England have adhered to the teaching and guidance as taught by the House of Bishops, which is consistent with Lambeth 1:10.

You describe a number of issues as being “violations” of Lambeth 1:10. For many of these, I would venture to suggest that they are not “violations” – though, as noted above, Lambeth Conference Resolutions do not provide a binding discipline on member provinces of the Communion. For example:

clergy in the Church of England are indeed permitted to enter into civil partnerships (which are legally not the same as marriage, and therefore have no bearing on the doctrine of marriage);

clergy in the Church of England are permitted to offer prayers of support on a pastoral basis for people in same-sex relationships;

churches are able to indicate that they welcome LGBTI people, just as they would welcome all people;

clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice.

There have undoubtedly been cases of people in the Church of England who have not kept to the teaching as set out in “Issues in Human Sexuality”. I will not comment on such individual cases. I do not believe it is appropriate to debate these publicly. What matters is not whether they are “violating Lambeth 1:10”, which as noted above has no binding legal force. What matters is the position under the Canons (for the clergy) and the broader law and teaching of the Church of England for the laity. It is not the case that no discipline has been applied to clergy who, in violation of their duties under the Canons, have entered same-sex civil marriages. How discipline in the Church of England is applied is a matter for the Bishops of the Church.

I hope that this will give you and readers of the paper a clearer picture of the state of teaching and practice in the Church of England.

Best wishes

William

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James Byron
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James Byron

Dear Gafcon,

We’re tough on “homosexual practice,” see if we’re not! We opposed same-sex (civil) marriage, see if we didn’t! We tried to impose our beliefs on everyone else in England and Wales, and heroically failed (surely you approve). Tilting at progress, yes sirs. Now it’s passed, we’re making life tough for those sorts, with discipline, discipline, discipline, you can’t deny it. We’re anti-homosexuality (in love) and archly request and require you to recognize our good works.

Kindest regards,
Mother Church

Kate
Guest
Kate

“clergy in the Church of England are indeed permitted to enter into civil partnerships (which are legally not the same as marriage, and therefore have no bearing on the doctrine of marriage);” So when church authorities say that LGBTI people should be content with civil partnerships because they are really marriages in all but name, they are talking out of the sides of their mouth because they insist civil unions are fundamentally different to marriage. So if the Bishops Reflection Group comes back and says the Church will bless civil partnerships that now manifestly is not a solution to the… Read more »

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

This is a useful rebuttal of the GAFCON paper, so-called, especially the charged language of ‘violations’. I don’t recall a previous Secretary-General intervening in such a way on a comparable megaphone statement. Of course it can itself be criticised, depending on one’s viewpoint and where the emphasis is placed. This is suggestive of the way forward. Parties (or those who think they are parties) to the debate are not going to be able to get away with publishing such tosh in the wider Anglican Communion, particularly at a sensitive time when the House of Bishops is reflecting on the conversations.… Read more »

Fr Andrew
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Fr Andrew

“civil partnerships (which are legally not the same as marriage…)”

Of course, legally, nor are same-sex marriages – there is no requirement for consummation nor is adultery grounds for divorce. You’d have thought the bishops’ bedroom police would be right behind it.

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

This is actually quite a strong, if politely worded, rebuff to GAFCON – and makes the point that Lambeth 1.10 is not binding, giving the Church of England as well as other Anglican churches the ability to move forward legitimately on inclusion.

Fr John E. Harris-White
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Fr John E. Harris-White

How very friendly they are with each other. On first name terms.
Not much distance sadly between them.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

This is a brilliant letter. It states very firmly, and for the first time, as far as I’m aware, that Lambeth 1.10 is not Canon law, that it also includes a section on listening to gay people and assuring them that they are loved by God, and that civil partnerships are accepted in the CoE (something the GAFCON letter appeared not to know, seeing it “outed” civil partnered people). In all our disgust with the Valentine Statement, we often forget that the Pastoral Guidelines actually include a lot conservatives really detest. It’s good to have that pointed out. It would… Read more »

Iain McLean
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Iain McLean

The legislative history is more complicated than Mr Nye makes it sound. I may need more than one post to explain. First, 2004 and civil partnerships. I re-post something I wrote for the Guardian which has been posted here before: “The main Lords debate on the civil partnership bill took place in June 2004. Richard Harries, then bishop of Oxford, did indeed signal Church of England support for civil partnerships. But his efforts were contradicted by the five conservative bishops who spoke on the other side. Going by the bishops’ contributions to debate, the score is 5/3 against. Going by… Read more »

Jayne Ozanne
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Jayne Ozanne

I for one am keen to give credit where credit is due. This is a strong and, for the Church of England, relatively quick response from the Secretary General to GAFCON – the like of which we have never seen before. I am particularly glad that he has chosen to emphasise the following points: i) clergy in the Church of England are permitted to offer prayers of support on a pastoral basis for people in same-sex relationships ii) clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice. Both these points need not have been made,… Read more »

Iain McLean
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Iain McLean

Legislative history II. Mr Nye writes: “When the Government proposed to introduce same-sex (civil) marriage the Church of England argued against it, including in Parliament “ But the bishops did not simply **argue** against it. The majority who voted supported a wrecking amendment by Lord Dear which was more comprehensive than that of Lady O’Cathain six years earlier. The Dear amendment would have ended all discussion of same-sex marriage without further debate. Only the resounding defeat of that amendment in the Lords made progress and compromises possible, including religious freedom for those denominations (like mine, the Society of Friends) who… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“This … makes the point that Lambeth 1.10 is not binding, giving the Church of England as well as other Anglican churches the ability to move forward legitimately on inclusion.”

So why has the Archbishop of Canterbury asked TEC representatives to stand aside because TEC acted unilaterally? Seems to me there’s a large dollop of hypocrisy in the statement in relation to TEC and in relation to same sex couples.

Rev Drew Tweedy
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Rev Drew Tweedy

I agree with Anthony and Savi. It is encouraging that Mr Nye is calling out the falsehood of GAFCON’s claims. Lambeth chapter 1 verse 10 is not scripture and is not even binding on any church. I’m surprised that some people read this statement as “trying to cosy up to GAFCON” or being “friendly”.

David
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David

It is surprising that Nye does not mention the voice of Synod on this matter, in 1987. I believe the website gives a better perspective than this letter. https://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/marriage,-family-and-sexuality-issues/human-sexuality/homosexuality.aspx

David
Guest
David

This letter fails to acknowledge the moral force of Lambeth I.10 as acknowledged by the primates. See para25 of the Windsor report
But the primates unanimously upheld the resolution as the standard of Anglican teaching on the matter in their statement of October 16, 2003:
“We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues.”

Jeremy
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Jeremy

At the end of the 2d-to-last paragraph, Nye should have added two more words: “of England.”

Iain McLean
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Iain McLean

oops small correction. the Dear amendment was offered in 2013- nine years, not six, after O’Cathain.

Fr Andrew
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Fr Andrew

@erika. RE consummation. Indeed you are correct. However in some circumstances non-consummation may be grounds for annulling an other-sex marriage, while it is not for a same-sex one; same, adultery is not considered grounds for divorce in same-sex marriages unlike other-sex. IF CPs allowed the bishops the fig leaf (albeit a transparent one) of pretending that same sex couples don’t have sex, there seems to be an equally large one here, made of the same fine cloth as the Emperor’s new clothes (and smelling just as bad). Can anyone detail for me what the precise legal differences are between CPs… Read more »

Jayne Ozanne
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Jayne Ozanne

I believe one could now argue that this letter has put to bed any question as to whether this is a first order issue or not…William Nye couldn’t have stated his four ‘for examples’ if it were…

Scot Peterson
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Scot Peterson

Erika and Fr Andrew, These debates (initiated by opponents of same-sex marriage) really irritate me. Adultery (in English common law) is an act that requires both a penis and a vagina. The presumption is that the parties to a SSM would not ordinarily be unfaithful in an act involving both: faithfulness requires more than not committing adultery, and that is true of all committed relationships. Consummation is a question of fact, to be tried with evidence, and (as a colleague has pointed out), is ‘nothing less, but emphatically nothing more, than the penetration of a vagina by a penis to… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Fr Andrew, “adultery” is not considered grounds for same sex divorce, but adultery is considered to be “unreasonable behaviour” and as such again grounds for divorce. I don’t think we need to read too much into the fact that Parliament has wisely not tried to define “sex” for same sex couples. If you define sexual intercourse as the one act same sex couples cannot engage in, then of course the rest of your legal wordings have to take that into account. It does not amount to a legal difference in any meaningful way. Having been civil partnered and converted that… Read more »

Neil Patterson
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Neil Patterson

Following Scot, Erika & Andrew:

My understanding is that by committing the act of intercourse with someone of the opposite sex as Scot describes it (unlikely but surely not unknown), a partner in a same-sex marriage does commit adultery in the sense of providing a valid grounds for divorce. Equally, I think it is generally accepted to be true in that sense only that Bill Clinton ‘did not have sexual relations with that woman’!

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

The logical question must be: if marriage is defined by the CofE in traditional terms (as the author makes clear it is) and excludes a priori same sex couples (which he says it does) what is constituted by pastoral generosity and such for same sex couples? Is it generosity, e.g., predicated on the relationships not being marriage but rather belonging to a category of sexual relating that remains sui generis and distinctive of married sexual relating? Is this the point the author is seeking to make? Then again, how is this category of same-sex relating (is it intended to be… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

Very pleased to see this in the letter: “clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice.” Those with sufficiently long memories will recall that the principal reason for denying the episcopate to Jeffrey John was not the fact of his civil partnership (which was within the bounds set) but the fact that he was advocating for something contrary to the teaching of the church.

It would appear that this “raison de n’être pas” has reached its sell-by date.

Fr Andrew
Guest
Fr Andrew

“Having been civil partnered and converted that partnership to marriage, I am not aware of any difference at all.’ This is what I had thought. So, my partner and I could go tomorrow and convert our CP into a marriage and… precisely nothing would change in the nature of the relationship either experientially or legally: there would be no new legal rights or obligations conferred by signing that paper (or however it is done). All that would change would be the name applied to the union. Oh, and my bishop would feel entitled to discipline me. Or withdraw my licence.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Neil, I agree with Scot, this conversation is silly. Of course same sex couples can be sexually unfaithful, and of course they can divorce when that happens. Just like they can divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. Just try to imagine what would have happened if Parliament really had tried to expand the definition of adultery. Where do you start? Where do you stop? And it would then also have to apply to straight couples, who are capable of every single sexual activity gay couples are capable of. To say that there is a legal difference in marriage because… Read more »

Scot Peterson
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Scot Peterson

May I qualify what I wrote above to say ‘*Consensual* sex (or the absence of it) is not something that courts should be involved with.’ This should not include non-consensual sex, which is clearly in the province of the criminal law.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Christopher, what is even more confusing is that it is entirely possible for a couple who are both physiologically male to marry in the Church of England providing one of them has a female birth certificate. Of course if both had female birth certificates, the Church would not allow that. It truly does pass understanding that what matters to the Church is legal sex and not physiology. The whole situation is theologically bankrupt. Someone asked the difference between a civil union and a marriage. One difference is that a civil union can be converted into a marriage, but not vice… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Not entirely happy to be your companion in “even more confusing” but do hope we can have some light shed. No point in constantly having to do strange exercises to understand things comprehensible more directly.

One could come away with the sense that the point is to defer saying something clear. And to keep on deferring…

Brian Ralph
Guest
Brian Ralph

I am amazed to find the divorce law in the UK to be so backward as to mention adultery. Never been of much interest to me but in Australia and NZ, the only grounds for divorce is irreconcilable differences ie living apart for Australia 1 year, NZ 2 years. I know this came into force in the 70’s in Australia, not sure about NZ. So Australia is only backward in not allowing SSM, in other ways it is ahead of the “mother”country. Of course, as I always say. “NZ 2 hours ahead in time, light years ahead in social reform”.

S Cooper
Guest
S Cooper

James Byron is right. The Church of England has leapt at the opportunity to let gafcon know that they’ve nothing to worry about with the mother church. Court cases prove that.

Now, anyone for a global, liberal communion? Or are more years of hypocrisy really worth it?

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“I am amazed to find the divorce law in the UK to be so backward as to mention adultery” Divorces for adultery aren’t as common as they once were. It’s hard to prove, and usually even if you suspect that your partner has committed adultery, the relationship within which that alleged adultery occurs will usually be unreasonable behaviour in its own terms, without a detailed discussion of who penetrated whom and with what. As the grounds, or indeed the “innocence” of one party or the other, have no necessary bearing either on maintenance or custody, it is less and less… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

I suggest the key question is “What does the Church of England believe about these issues of human sexuality?” And the answer is: it believes many things, and is divided down the middle. I find it insufficient to equate “the bishops” with the Church of England as a whole; or to propose that the teaching of the Bishops can be equated with the agreed teaching of the Church as a whole on this matter. Although William is refuting Andy on the Lambeth 1998 1:10 issue, he is then (theologically) exonerating by suggesting that though Lambeth cannot legislate doctrine in England,… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Susannah, William Nye is quite new to his job, might you be attributing to him the statements of his predecessor, William Fittall?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

One reason for having adultery and unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce is that you can then divorce after 3 months and don’t have to live apart for 2 years first (5 if the divorce is contested).
I know couples who have agreed for one of them to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery just because of that. In reality, neither had had an adulterous relationship.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

One important point made by the Sec. Gen. is that Lambeth 1:10 has no legal status incumbent on any Provincial Church of the Anglican Communion that chooses not to abide by its recommendations. They are just that – recommendations, not Canon Law.

Similarly, any Gafcon pronouncement has no legal status in any other Anglican Provincial Church. Once these realities are understood, Gafcon Provinces will need to decide whether – or not -they are willing to live with the decisions of other Provinces on the way they deal with gender and sexualiy issues.

Susannah Clark
Guest

Gah! You’re right, Simon. I was confusing William Nye with William Fittall. Very careless of me: I apologise for the misrepresentation, and withdraw: “William does have a track record of representing just one ‘side’ in the sexuality debate…”

I stand by the non-personal side of what I wrote, but should not have wrongly attributed positions and views to William Nye.

Michael Skliros
Guest
Michael Skliros

The two sides in the current same-sex stalemate are divided not by what view one takes of a smattering of Bible passages but by a time gap of roughly 20,000 years. Jonathan Haidt’s elephant-and-rider analogy, to describe how human beings make choices, is a brilliant one. The lumbering elephant (our unruly emotions) is prevented from following inappropriate devices and desires of the heart by the tiny rider (representing cool reason) sitting atop with a light cane. The snag is, Haidt points out, that we are realising more and more that we act and choose on instinct, and only then invent… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Michael, thank you for that comment! I would say, though, that some of your instinctive responses are also shaped by culture. In African countries male friends holding hands and walking arm in arm is as common as women doing the same in Europe. There is no instinctive revulsion, because people have not been surrounded by a culture in which this is considered to be repulsive. As for passionate kissing, I find it quite unpleasant in public regardless of who is involved. For me, it’s just one step of public intimacy too far. The revulsion boundaries in Muslim countries are set… Read more »

Andy
Guest
Andy

GAFCON UK have responded to the letter from the secretary-general … http://gafconuk.org/news/secretary-generals-letter-shows-why-gafcon-uk-needed