Protests planned at synod over marriage and sexuality report

Today’s Church Times carries a lot of relevant material.

News report: Madeleine Davies Critics of Bishops’ sex report plan a Synod protest vote

THE House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships (News, 3 February) is a “morally reprehensible document that needs to be rejected by the Synod”, the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler, said on Wednesday.

Describing it as a “betrayal of trust” that left “weapons on the table”, he expected a “very close vote” after the take-note debate scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening.

“If it is defeated, that is a clear signal to the House of Bishops that Synod is unwilling to progress in the direction they are taking,” he said. “If it is a narrow vote, the Bishops would be very unwise to continue down this course, because the whole of the Church’s wider agenda will be subsumed into a conflict that will last for the next period of the life of the Church. That would be a disaster.”

The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of York, the Ven. Cherry Vann, said on Wednesday that she was “very aware of deep unhappiness about this report from across a wide spectrum of the Church”. Conversations with clergy and laity in the diocese of Manchester, and emails from people beyond, indicated a “strong call” for the Synod not to take note…

There are two comment articles. I strongly recommend that you read each of these all the way through, to get their full import.

Andrew Davison Everything hinges on three words

…What I have said so far draws on what the report says about the Bishops’ meetings, where the line in the sand concerned the law and doctrine of marriage. Skip forward in the report, and this principle morphs to “proposing no change to . . . law . . . or doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships” (§26). That shift is important because, in the next paragraph, this phrase limits what is up for consideration, not least by theologians.

…until it is clear what the Bishops take as immovable, we cannot go forward. Is it marriage, as laid out in Canon B.30, or the entire jumble of central-office convictions about anything to do with sexuality? The report suggests the former. The emphasis on marriage as the red line emerges from the account of the Bishops’ group; it is reiterated in relation to liturgical practice (§39); it is what they want to uphold ecumenically (§60); and it is also where the report ends, with an annex devoted entirely to questions of marriage…

Malcolm Brown The pain lies in facing hard truths

…But, however much the Bishops bear the brickbats with resignation, much comment on their recent Synod paper (GS 2055) underestimates the extent to which the Bishops and, indeed, the Church of England are bound by law in ways that severely limit their scope for manoeuvre.

Start with the law on marriage. The annex to the Bishops’ paper is not mere detail. It sets out the legal framework that would govern any attempt to change things as they are.

For there to be any move to same-sex marriage, canon law would have to change. That law cannot be changed without substantial majorities in each of the Houses of Synod. The Bishops have been accused of lacking pastoral concern (and worse), but how pastoral would it be to initiate a long process with all the continued pain it would cause with no serious likelihood (in the present state of the Church) of success?


  • Kate says:

    Malcolm Brown exhibits much of what is wrong in the Church of England. Take two examples.

    Firstly, he argues that nothing can be done because of Canon Law. Since when did obedience to Canon law take priority over following a loving God? Render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s but render unto God that which is God’s. The second half is important: in the service of God, earthly law is irrelevant. Nor is it correct. It would be entirely possible to approve a liturgy for all marriages and just require same sex couples to pop down the registry office as well until statute law catches up. The appeal to law is a very weak excuse.

    The second example is his argument that remarriage after divorce is allowed on the basis of forgiveness and that those remarrying after divorce are repentant in a way which same sex couples aren’t. It is precisely the opposite. Someone who remarries permanently sets their face against the teaching on the permanence and indisolubility of their first marriage.

    The arguments against same sex marriage are getting more and more spurious.

  • Gareth P says:

    I am picking out David Walker’s response for particular comment, because I imagine he was one of the bishops who will have been uncomfortable with the House of Bishops statement. His acknowledgement, that we are not where we want to be, brings a necessary shot of realism to people like me who think the House of Bishops have got it seriously wrong.

    Yes, there is pain and anger. No, the Bishops haven’t listened. Yes, the political composition of the Synod is unlikely to approve a change in pastoral practice (if not doctrine). And No, the Church Commissioners don’t have enough resources to bail-out the C of E when the conservative evangelical lobby takes its collective cheque book elsewhere.

    Nonetheless, I hear in David Walker’s response echoes of Bonhoeffer to Bethger, while making the Nazi salute, that now is not the time force the issue. The time will come, and that may be sooner than we think. But, when you have a House of Bishops (almost) full to bursting of theologically lightweight technocrats and accountants, hell-bent on institutional survival, who appear to have a rapidly deteriorating sense of the Church being at the service of the nation; and liberal bishops being too frightened (or ill-equipped) to voice an alternative, theologically imaginative, narrative; David Walker has a point.

    This is not justice. It is yet more kow-towing to bullying and blackmail, which will do nothing to dissolve the culture of dishonesty and secrecy. But isn’t that why we pray ‘Thy kingdom come’? David Walker’s response is not what I had hoped for at all. But it may be telling me something I need to hear at this precise moment.

  • Jeremy says:

    “the Bishops and, indeed, the Church of England are bound by law in ways that severely limit their scope for manoeuvre.”

    That law is in place because Parliament was given the impression that the CofE wanted it.

    But if Synod rejects the report, then either the “quadruple lock” will rightly be smashed in this Parliament, or it will become an issue at the next election.

  • Barry says:

    Gareth, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. However, despite its threatening waving of the collective cheque book, I don’t see the conservative evangelical lobby going anywhere. Why should they? They have the benefits of belonging to the Church of England (Establishment, churches, pensions), they are allowed to disregard official liturgies, they can promote biblical fundamentalism and ignore Anglican tradition, and there is a collection of bishops too scared to stand up to them.

    I would add that not only is the Bench of Bishops composed of “theologically lightweight technocrats and accountants, hell-bent on institutional survival,” it is also lamentably deficient in historians.

  • Following up on the quotes in the news article from Simon Butler, here’s a link to his blog article published today on Via Media News:
    The Anti-Testimony (on reading the House of Bishops’ Report)

  • Savi Hensman says:

    I find Malcolm Brown’s argument highly unconvincing. If it were the case that the bishops could not propose consideration of any possibility that could not immediately get a two-thirds majority in all houses, this would surely have blocked many of the developments that have taken place in recent decades? Besides the bishops emphasise that it is for them to formulate teaching on the doctrines of the church (para 67), so the notion that they could not even express any views on doctrinal matters because these might not get overwhelming support from clergy and lay representatives is baffling.

    This report was produced against a background in which only about a fifth of British Anglicans agree with the official Church of England line that same-sex relationships are invariably sinful. The bishops have set out their intention to hold fast to this line and indeed produce a teaching document to make their position clear, including reminding those who have married a same-sex spouse that their marriage is unlike – presumably less holy than, or unholy in comparison to – Holy Matrimony (para 34). This is very different from admitting that there is no clear consensus on marriage and relationships.

  • Pam says:

    Kate, I understand your disappointment and anger. I’ve often felt the same way about how the Church operates. Your words, though, about divorce and remarriage are ones I cannot agree with. Marriages fail (even same-sex marriages will fail) and there should always be room for a fresh start. And there is with our loving God.

  • Lauri Roberts says:

    It is hardly surprising to know that church teaching kills lgbt.

    But it goes unowned by the said Church—

    I wonder if this will appear on Thinking Anglicans even ?

  • James A says:

    Andrew Davison for President. An excoriating – yet profoundly necessary – analysis of the sloppy thinking, emotional illiteracy, and, more worryingly, the bunker mentality that pervades the H of Bs at present. Welby and Sentamu should hang their heads in shame for presiding over this catastrophic shambles.

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