Wednesday, 7 September 2005

civil partnerships: another dose of IHS

First, some responses from readers of the Church Times in recent weeks:

5 August Bishops’ pastoral statement on civil partnerships

19 August Civil partnerships: the Bishops’ statement and Archbishop Akinola

26 August The Bishop of Worcester on the Bishops and the Civil Partnership Act

2 September Evolving morality and the nature of the perceived threat to marriage

Second, another extract from the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality, this time from the summary section at the end. The bishops insist that their more recent statement does not change their policy. So this summary shows what has been the de facto position in the Church of England since 1991.

5.23 Let us try to sum up the essential points of the guidance we are seeking to give in this chapter. The Church in its pastoral mission ought to help and encourage all its members, as they pursue their pilgrimage from the starting-points given in their own personalities and circumstances, and as they grow by grace within their own particular potential. 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. But we also wish to stress the Church’s care for and value of all her clergy alike, and that where the Church’s teaching results for any ordained person in a burden grievous to be borne we, the bishops, as pastors to the pastors, will always be ready to share in any way we can in the bearing of that burden.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 10:18am BST
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Categorised as: Church of England

I would agree with that analysis. I think the problem is that 1991 remains, but society moves on. So, the church remains behind - which is their right, but it clearly then has an effect on how they are regarded, dependent on whether their views are regarded as justifiable and credible.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 5:26pm BST

This language is striking (and not just for the noble, but ultimately futile, intention on linguistically promoting the more holistic "homophile" instead of the singularly-obsessive "homosexual"---for describing a person oriented, intimately, to persons of their own sex).

"those homophiles who follow the way of abstinence, giving themselves to friendship for many rather than to intimacy with one"

Are *heterosexuals* ever faced with quite such a distinct choice? "Friendship for [or with] many, rather than to intimacy with one"? Because I could *swear* that my many, married heterosexual friends . . . ALSO have *many friends*! ;-/

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 8:38pm BST

"but society moves on"

Merseymike, the assumption you seem to make is that society gets progressively better. That is arguable.

Posted by: Robert on Thursday, 8 September 2005 at 9:17am BST

Indeed, but as a liberal modernist, I believe it to be so.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 8 September 2005 at 9:18pm BST

If anyone requesting baptism was known to be "living with" someone and not in a CP, wouldn't the church want assurances that they were committed to living according to it's teachings? So why the exemption if they are in a CP ?

The HoB will be accused of "discriminating" on grounds of sexuality for upholding the church's teaching about the right context for sexual behaviour. And everyone knows what we believe anyway. So why worry about asking laity about their behaviour?

Maybe worried about the government's response if seen to treat people differently if they are in a CP compared to in marriage ? OR is the calculation that churches won't get sued or prosecuted for teaching something, but that we might for acting on it??!!

ps I notice that the government has timed the introduction of CPs so that they will start just before Christmas (21/12 I think).. Is this accidental, or deliberately rubbing it in christian's faces ?!

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:11am BST

No, Dave, I think it would be dependent on the church.

I was confirmed as an adult, and of course the church knew I am in a gay relationship. It made no difference. This would be the case with most CofE churches, I'd say. There is no barrier to either baptism or confirmation for gay people in relationships, as much as Anglican Extreme, Reform et al would like it to be so. No doubt this will be the case in the Former Anglican Protestant Evangelical Church of Akinola (c. 2006).

And given that many of the Government and opposition members who voted FOR CP's are Christians, why would they wish to 'rub it in their face'?

Anyway, we have set the date and booked everything for our ceremony!

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 9:13am BST

Merseymike's answer deals with same-sex couples. Let me reply in relation to the more general question that you ask.

In the UK, millions of heterosexual couples live together before, or without ever, getting married. The vast majority of couples who do get married, whether by Civil Marriage, or in the Church of England, already live together at the same address. The Church of England does not (cannot) refuse to marry these people for that reason.

The same applies to individuals, or couples, who seek baptism. Many of them are living together without being legally married. What the bishops are demanding in their Pastoral Statement is *precisely* that the same standard be applied to all who come for baptism.

That standard might vary a bit between parishes, as has been discussed here in the past.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 10:04am BST

Dear Simon, I'm happy with the same standard for all.. that sex outside male-female marriage is sinful and should be met with a call to repentance and compassion. Whether the sin is heterosexual, homosexual or any other variation doesn't make any difference to me.

Marrying people from the parish who are "living in sin" is rather a different scenario from a couple who are church members (who should have been disciplined for living together anyway.. though most priests seem reluctant to do or even say anything..) But if they ARE willing to discipline members according to church doctrine, then why should the Bishops tell them to exempt people if they are in a CP ?

Dear Mike, The issue is not being in a CP, but whether the relationship includes sex - which is sinful according to CofE doctrine, and the Scriptures etc. Many christians are sympathetic to the need for legal arrangements between people who are not in a married relationship, even though we think homosexuality is sinful..

The trouble with the new date for starting CPs is that the media will probably spend most of Christmas focussing on CPs, feeding on the strong emotional responses of different groups of churchgoers... and moving the public conciousness further away from wanting to identify as a christian society (and making it even more socially unacceptable to be open about your Christianity). It just seems to me like the politicians abusing a Christian festival for their own ends... disestablishment ?

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 3:55pm BST

Dear Dave, the Church of England is not a "membership" church---most of us just don't think like that. I remember 25 yrs ago an American resident asking me if my parish church was a membership church--I had never heard the term before and couldn't make sense of it; every person in the geographical parish is in some sense a "member" of the parish church, with some rights to the church and my ministry....thank goodness!! One of the reasons for the decline of the C of E in my lifetime is the growth of a kind of "sectarianism" and gathered church mentality it seems to me...too many clergy seem to have ceased to want to keep a broad section of the English people in touch with the Christian religion. I wouldnt have seen much point in being ordained into a "denomination"

Posted by: perry butler on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 7:24pm BST
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