Wednesday, 31 August 2005

civil partnerships: some more considerations

First a couple of links:

I should have included this article by Simon Barrow earlier, but here it is: Civil Partnerships are a Blessing which links to a number of relevant earlier articles by him.

And the issue of Civil Partnerships and the CofE has now reached the Isle of Man.

The following CofE press office summary of the Pastoral Statement by the House of Bishops may be helpful in analysing the reactions of overseas primates and others, including those of Peter Akinola and also Bernard Malango and Drexel Gomez.

1. The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships, issued in July, does not change the Church of England’s position on same sex relationships.

2. It upholds the historic teaching of the Church that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life and is the proper context for sexual activity. Hence, sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or same-sex, fall short of God’s purposes for human beings.

3. It remains the view of the House of Bishops that clergy are expected to live according to the Church’s teaching.

4. The Pastoral Statement was issued by the bishops to offer guidance to the Church of England in response to legislation passed by the British Government and coming into force in December.

5. The Church’s approach to civil partnerships reflects the fact that they will not be marriages, nor based on the presumption of sexual relations between the two people making the legal agreement.

There have been a number of comments about how a policy in this matter can be enforced. What is important to remember is that, because there has been no change in policy the following paragraph from Issues (1991) also still applies:

5.18 In the light of this judgement some may propose that bishops should be more rigorous in searching out and exposing clergy who may be in sexually active homophile relationships. We reject this approach for two reasons. First, there is a growing tendency today to regard any two people of the same sex who choose to make their home together as being in some form of erotic relationship. This is a grossly unfair assumption, which can give rise to much unhappiness, and the Church should do nothing that might seem to countenance or promote it. Secondly, it has always been the practice of the Church of England to trust its members, and not to carry out intrusive interrogations in order to make sure that they are behaving themselves. Any general inquisition into the conduct of the clergy would not only infringe their right to privacy but would manifest a distrust not consonant with the commission entrusted to them, and likely to undermine their confidence and morale. Although we must take steps to avoid public scandal and to protect the Church’s teaching, we shall continue, as we have done hitherto, to treat all clergy who give no occasion for scandal with trust and respect, and we expect all our fellow Christians to do the same.

(Thanks to a letter writer in last week’s Church Times for drawing attention to this point.)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 31 August 2005 at 12:06pm BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England

"Secondly, it has always been the practice of the Church of England to trust its members"

Amen, amen, and alleluia!

This, my friends, is a *true charism* of Anglicanism. God bless, and keep it!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Thursday, 1 September 2005 at 3:54am BST

Given the CofE's official position since 1987 (that homosexual sex falls short of the ideal, and is to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion) the plain meaning of this section was that clergy should be trusted *to obey the teaching of the church* - not to do what they felt was right for them!

I might add that the members of the church are also *supposed* to live according to the church's teaching... though the HoB seem remarkably quiet about this at the moment..

Posted by: Dave on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 12:31am BST

A plain reading, as they say, of the Issues document can leave nobody in any doubt that what they mean in para 5.18 is what they say in para 5.18.
Of course, you are free to reject the teaching of the House of Bishops, if you wish.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 2:52pm BST

Blind trust? In the churchwarden who is helping himself from the collection plate? Trust-absolutism is like any other absolutism: insufficiently thought-through.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 3:04pm BST


I'm confused by your response. You seem to be disagreeing with Dave's comment, but I am not sure about your grounds for this. (I'm not meaning to be sarcastic here--I'm just a bit befuddled).


Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 6:18pm BST

Steve, yes I am disagreeing with Dave's comment. My grounds are like this.

First, Dave is ignoring the point that the purpose of the 1991 statement was to establish a new benchmark to replace the 1987 motion, which the bishops were not prepared to retain.

But Dave says, as I understand him, that he wants the bishops to abandon their 1991 position, and tell lay members of the CofE that they are forbidden to enter into sexually-active same-sex relationships. Full stop/period.

The bishops clearly did not do that in their 1991 document. And as they are not changing their policy, it follows that they are not doing so now.

This may be upsetting to those who believe that all homosexual acts should always and everwhere be forbidden to Christians. But nevertheless that is not what the bishops said in 1991.

In case para 5.18 wasn't clear enough, earlier today I republished para 5.23 which in my opinion restates the position just as clearly. This is posted above the item containing this comment.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 6:30pm BST

Simon, since when has the House of Bishops had the authority to REPLACE a motion of General Synod?

I don't disagree that that was their intention in 1991. The fact that they have been allowed to continue to assert that their position as Bishops is the position of the church amazes me. But it does not make it the case. I agree with Dave

"....clergy should be trusted *to obey the teaching of the church* - not to do what they felt was right for them!"
Amen to that.

Posted by: Neil on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 7:31pm BST

Thanks for the clarification and for republishing 5.23. As you note, given the language used, nothing seems to have changed.


Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 8:34pm BST

Let's not forget that the General Synod did pass a further motion on this subject in 1997. The resolution reads as follows:

That this Synod
(a) commend for discussion in dioceses the House of Bishops' report Issues in Human Sexuality and acknowledge it is not the last word on the subject;

(b) in particular, urge deanery synods, clergy chapters and congregations to find time for prayerful study and reflection on the issues addressed by the report.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 9:07pm BST

Dear Simon, thanks for posting 5:32. I would have taken it to mean that whereas some christian homosexual people believed that living in a monogamous sexually active relationship was ok, and they are welcome to attend church (but their relationships are not officially approved of), clergy who experience themselves as homophilic were not allowed to live in any such sort of sexual relationship, as it is against the nature of God's creation and clergy must embody the churches truth and display His transforming power (into the correct nature of things). That's how I read this:

"It is, therefore, only right that there should be an open and welcoming place in the Christian community both for those homophiles who follow the way of abstinence, giving themselves to friendship for many rather than to intimacy with one, and also for those who are conscientiously convinced that a faithful, sexually active relationship with one other person, aimed at helping both partners to grow in discipleship, is the way of life God wills for them. But the Church exists also to live out in the world the truth it has been given about the nature of God’s creation, the way of redemption through the Cross, and the ultimate hope of newness and fullness of life. We have judged that we ourselves and all clergy, as consecrated public and representative figures, entrusted with the message and means of grace, have a responsibility on behalf of the whole Body of Christ to show the primacy of this truth by striving to embody it in our own lives."

To highlight the point, I might ask why, if 1991 had been intended to admit monogamous homosexual sexual relationships for laity, the HoB then failed to come up with any form of blessing for such relationships? And why many CofE Bishops voted for Lambeth 1:10 in 1998 which restated that homosexuality is incompatible with scripture (like the GS 1987 resolution)?

Isn't the recent hearking back to the 1991 statement just another attempted bit of "revisionism"? After all, even the CofE website's assessment of the church's official position seems to take a harder line (excerpts from ):

" December 1991, the House of Bishops published a statement Issues in Human Sexuality (CHP 1991). This endorsed the traditional Christian belief that the teaching of the Bible is that heterosexual marriage is the proper context for sexual activity between two people. It went on to declare that what it called 'homophile' orientation and activity could not be endorsed by the Church as:

'... a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, Tradition and reasoned reflection on experience, even including the newly sympathetic and perceptive thinking of our own day, make it impossible for the Church to come with integrity to any other conclusion. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.'

It also argued that the conscientious decision of those who enter into such relationships must be respected, and that the Church must 'not reject those who sincerely believe it is God's call to them'. Nevertheless, because of 'the distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration' the clergy 'cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships' (Some Issues 1.3.19-20)"

I suppose we are into a discussion of what was meant by "rejection" in a circumstance where the person is "living in sin"..

Posted by: Dave on Thursday, 8 September 2005 at 5:21pm BST

The House of Bishops does not make doctrine for the Church of England. That responsibility is entrusted to the General Synod, which includes some bishops, representatives of the clergy and LAITY.

And General Synod's last word in this subject was in 1987. If it was permitted to debate it again, it would affirm Lambeth 1.10 of 1998.

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 8:55am BST

General Synod had another debate in 1997. This debate concerned the 1991 document.

The situation concerning the making of doctrine in the Church of England is more complex than the passing of a General Synod motion. This matter is covered by the Constitution of the General Synod, and in particular Article 7.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 10:20am BST

Yes, Simon, but the motion in 1997 does not state that IHS is either policy or doctrine in the Church of England. As I recall the Bishops vetoed all attempted amendments which would have clarified what was happening. And "the last word" on the subject may well be conservative rather than radical.

Nor does the House of Bishops have power to make doctrinal declarations or changes on its own. It has some powers of revision and of veto, but not of acting unilaterally. The etymology of "synod" means "coming together" to make decisions: not one House announcing them from a hotel somewhere.

If the House of Bishops wants to make changes it has to come to Synod with a motion - which it seems afraid of doing. It might lose.

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 1:30pm BST

Yes, I am about to publish an account of what happened at the 1997 debate as a new item.

The motions of 1987 and of 1997 have the same status as each other.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:00pm BST

And in practical terms, it is understood that gay people in relationships can be part of the Church.

I think there is very little chance of that being changed, particularly given the established status of the CofE and the passing of the CP Act.

Of course, this will be the issue which causes Akinola and the conservatives to walk out, hence all the kerfuffle now - but I think a wish to restrict gay laity couples in relationships from the church is something which only a minority would support

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 3:09pm BST

"The motions of 1987 and of 1997 have the same status as each other."

Yes, but they are about very different things. The 1997 vote simply speaks about commending Issues for study: nowhere does it contradict 1987.

And it is likely the new Synod will be even more Conservative-Evangelical than the last one, the Catholic wing having largely drifted away since 1992.

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 7:47pm BST

I would have said that this last Synod was less Conservative-Evangelical than the one before.Traditionalist catholics may well have had fewer, but the wider Catholic wing hasnt drifted away and you dont meet many Conservative-Evangelical women priests---this time they will be an even more significant element of the electorate.Who knows?? but I dont see any solid grounds for believing the Conservative-Evangelical representation will necessarily be greater. Perry Butler London

Posted by: perry butler on Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 9:50pm BST

Possibly Alan Marsh and Perry Butler are at cross purposes, or possibly not.
Did Alan Marsh mean to refer to "Conservative Evangelicals" as a subgroup of "Evangelicals" or did he mean to refer to conservative persons and evangelical persons in a wider sense?

The most common usage I encounter myself is that "Conservative Evangelicals" equates broadly to members of Reform and of Church Society, that is one thing.

This is a very small segment of the total evangelical constituency within the CofE.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 10:04pm BST

Try "conservatives and evangelicals".

You need to remember that the vast bulk of those being ordained these days come from that stable, and the clergy electorate is therefore more conservative and evangelical than ever; and the biggest congregations by and large, which produce both electors and candidates, are also conservative and evangelical.

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Monday, 12 September 2005 at 11:33am BST

Dear Alan, I certainly hope you're right about the next Synod! Some sort of brake on the HoB (which seems to me too much like "New Labour at Prayer"!). But when will we finally get away from disproportionate liberal domination of the HoB and church hierarchy?!

Posted by: Dave on Monday, 12 September 2005 at 11:10pm BST

Looking at the election addresses, I dont think Alan Marsh's comments are true for London or Southwark. We shall see wait expectantly for the results! The Church of England is littered with ex-evangelicals. The Rector General of the Society of Catholic Priests (Affirming in attitude) says in his address "I was brought up within conservative evangelicalism......" There is a lot of movement and it seems to be mostly one way. You must also remember over half the clergy of the C of E are trained on courses. These do not have a "party" flavour nor, in my experience are they full of conservative evangelicals.
Perry Butler London.

Posted by: perry butler on Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 3:54pm BST

It's always hard to generalise from what happens in London or Southwark, I agree!

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 5:57pm BST

Two things that worry me about the election are;

1. that, on the whole, evangelicals seem much aware or less interested than liberals in ensuring that their voices are represented (maybe with exception of the most conservative: Reform and the Church Society).

2. The large successful churches do not get a proportionate vote. So three almost-empty churches with 50 each on the electoral roll can outvote somewhere like HTB with 3000+ people attending each week!

Posted by: Dave on Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 7:06pm BST

To clarify for readers, who may not know this:

The electorate for the lay seats on General Synod is the lay members of the Deanery Synods. Individual parishes are allocated deanery synod seats on a sliding scale, related to electoral roll numbers, but the scale ensures that (almost) every parish gets some representation, and there is an upper limit beyond which no more seats are allocated, regardless of the electoral roll total. So my cathedral parish for example has "only" seven deanery synod seats, which is much less than a linear allocation would provide (our roll is over 1300).

The electorate for the clergy seats on General Synod is the clergy members of the Deanery Synods.
All active parish clergy are members of a Deanery Synod (and also some other clergy are). So parishes are represented in proportion to their clergy numbers, which again will favour small one priest parishes.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 11:36pm BST

Dear Simon, thanks for explaining this more thoroughly. I think that GS elections are probably a complete mystery to many folk in the pews. I would add that the electoral weighting is not only capped, but also on a curve, so that even the larger churches below the cap don't get a proportionate number of electors compared to the smaller ones.

Given that the average evangelical CofE church has (I believe) something like twice the electoral roll of the average liberal CofE church, the election of lay members to GS is hardly representative!

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 18 September 2005 at 10:27pm BST
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