Friday, 7 December 2012

Church of England responds to PM’s same sex marriage statement

The Church of England has issued this response to the statement made David Cameron reported here.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on same sex marriage today, the Church of England issued the following statement.

It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole. Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted. Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.

The proposition that same-sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute. To that extent, the Prime Minister’s claim that he supports same-sex marriage from conservative principles is readily understandable. However, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation.

To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged. To argue that this is of no social value is to assert that men and women are simply interchangeable individuals. To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships.

We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage.

Given the absence of any manifesto commitment for these proposals - and the absence of any commitment in the most recent Queen’s speech - there will need to be an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with these proposals and make them a legislative priority.

We welcome the fact that in his statement the Prime Minister has signalled he is abandoning the Government’s earlier intention to distinguish between civil and religious marriage. We look forward to studying the Government’s detailed response to the consultation next week and to examining the safeguards it is proposing to give to Churches.

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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

If I understand the CofE's response correctly--and it's a bit hard to follow--the response assumes what it is trying to prove.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 6:37pm GMT

Who writes this stuff? Why can't the "Church of England" speak in plain English? The response is rubbish.

June Butler

Posted by: Grandmère Mimi on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 7:21pm GMT

I find it bizarre that the powers-that-be in the C of E seem to consider it appropriate to issue statements such as this without any consultation with members or Synod debate. As per their previous statement on the subject, this is neither representative of the membership at large nor in my name.

Posted by: Phil Groom on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 7:23pm GMT

Excuse me - have I missed something? Who is this omniscient, anonymous, quasi-pontifical being from the Church of England who can make such immediate pronouncements on behalf of us all?

Posted by: Jenny Petersn on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 7:48pm GMT

As an American and Episcopalian who has visited England (and France) almost every year for forty years, I feel our Mother Church this season is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of generous Christianity.
First women bishops are voted down, and now the Church of England issues another statement against gay marriage. Is the C of E trying to remove itself from the lives of the people of England, leaving it as a tourist attraction for those interested in great English architecture?

Posted by: Andrew on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 7:54pm GMT

"It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole."

I'm waiting for Church House to tell us how the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole. Please Church House (and you are not, of course speaking on behalf of the whole Church), tell us how your particular Christian conviction will be defended against the experience of tens of thousands that covenanted gay relationships (marriage by any other name) are a blessing not only to the couple themselves but to their families, friends, colleagues, straight and gay, and to their congregations. They experience them as beneficial. You have some explaining to do.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 8:02pm GMT

"However, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation."

Good Lord! Deliver us!

This "distinctiveness" is why the CoE can't have WB's without caveats? Right? This thought process is all related.

I think that what the PM was actually saying is that because the CoE isn't making any sense, it's better for him to just move forward.

I really, really, do not want the new ABC to get on our case in TEC, as Rowan did. The theological mindset is lame and out of sorts within your own society. Good luck working it out. Wow! My prayers will be with you.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:22pm GMT

This response from 'the Church of England' (but of course it isn't, really) is quite incredibly stupid and irresponsible. The C of E, as everybody knows, suffers from a situation of 'too many chiefs and too few Indians'. It is dreadful that the chiefs, by and large, are so stupid and by their stupid and irresponsible antics make things so much worse for the rest of us.

A very 'liberal' posting. Inconsistent with advocacy of 'space' for 'anti-WO' Anglicans? I don't think so: such people are generally relaxed about gay issues.

Posted by: John on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:26pm GMT

What a crock. But it certainly did not come from 'the Church of England.'

Its anonymous author had not the integrity to sign his statement.

And yes, I am sure it would be a 'he' in all 'his' wondrous distinctiveness and complementarity.

We need to hear from the synods, dioceses, and General Synod asap.

My advice would be to 'stop digging' !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:31pm GMT

American Episcopalians used to brag about their connections to the Church of England. Now we try to hide those. I'm sorry, but I would be embarrassed to be a member of the Church of England after something like this. Seriously, putting out a press release saying that the reason to continue a homophobic and bigoted approach to marriage is because it continues to affirm the differences between the genders. At least they are being honest: the reason that they don't want the gays to get married is because it might put ideas of equality into the heads of the ladies. Best to keep the gays in the closet so the womenfolk won't want out of the kitchen. Shameful. There is no other way to describe this than shameful. Oh, wait, yes there is. The better word to describe this is "immoral." There is absolutely nothing of Christ in these Pharisees.

Posted by: Dennis in Chicago on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:39pm GMT

Reminds me of Tertullian's Apology, his early 3rd Century defense of the faith. It is not in the empire's interest (the common good) to persecute the Christian Church. We shall see.

Posted by: Jonathan Edwards II on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:55pm GMT

I am a Church of England priest, and am appalled at this statement. I abhor the supposed "logic" of this all-too-rapid response to the Prime Minister's statement, find the theology of it, where there is any, flimsy, cheap, and embarrassing, and the consequences and conclusions of it, shameful. Why should the nation continue to enshrine privilege and position of a Church in the House of Lords so set on discrimination, and so weak in its capacity to speak with any intelligence to issues such as this one. Good Lord, Deliver us!

Posted by: James on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:04pm GMT

Dennis in Chicago.

I'm neither going to brag nor hide my relationship to CoE. I will be worshipping there this summer and I love the people I encounter. We in TEC have been there (albeit 40 years ago w/ women, and that was before my adult lifetime...). And our conscience has led to schism, which isn't great, though I think going with conscience was the only way we could go...

I would like to hear a much more robust, theologically sound exegesis from my CoE sisters and brothers. All of the Oxbridge folks and academics that I know are quite liberal and I am rather familiar with the strong theological position of the liberals. From the conservatives all I've heard is lame theology, indulgent bigotry (the "distinctiveness" of the genders), and a fall back on centuries of oppression as justifying continued oppression.

Maybe we're not seeing conservative theological positions that make sense because discrimination isn't actually a rational process? And every educated person knows that one can cherry pick Scripture for whatever they want to justify.

Interestingly, in Bristol there's an Anglo-Catholic parish that welcomes gay men but not ordained women! How I would love to see that explained!

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:24pm GMT

'the Church of England issued the following statement'

The Communications Office at Church House, Westminster, email: cofe.comms@churchofengland.org

Why not drop them an email and ask by what authority they have issued this statement.

Surely ++Rowan is not behind this?

Posted by: Jonathan Edwards II on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:48pm GMT

Really this is just rehashed and warmed up nonsense that one cannot take seriously. It really is garbage of the first order. Some one is actually paid to write this stuff.

A 'dilution in the meaning of marriage' wah?

'Change the nature of marriage for everyone' ??????

The pontificating on the manifesto is bizarre. Presumably the Bible (whose injunctions to be subject to the higher powers, also called God's ministers even when they were neither democratic nor Christian) has a theory about mandate that has now become a core doctrine of the Church.

The House of Commons is a democratically elected Chamber, and on a Christian reading, has the duty to look after the people, including, from time to time, amending acts of discrimination to make society fairer and attend to injustice.

I didn't read that Henry VIII sought a mandate from the people in creating the Church of England as it now is.

Some people do hold this purer form of electoralism (they generally don't also hold to the right to have reserved seats in an unelected legislature at the same time) such as Switzerland and some US States. Whatever the arguments for and against (I am against because I don't believe minorities should be subject to the untrammeled will of a potentilly tyrannous majority) such political musings are not well attested in the Bible or Christian doctine generally. This is the danger of the Established Church thinking itself higher than it is when it is riddled with gender discriimination and is unable to solve its own problems.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:49pm GMT

After all of the pretentious lecturing that the Episcopal Church has received from C of E types (especially after the ordination of +Gene and over marriage and gender equality) it might be time for the Episcopal Church to question our ties to the CofE. Most of those ties are nothing more than old pretensions to add a little English respectability to one's church. The country club at prayer with ties to England and all that. We have finally begin to bury the country club at prayer part of our identity. Perhaps now it is time to question the "ties to England" part of our identity. We wanted connections to a fantasy based on Anthony Trollope and Barbara Pym novels. Now we see that we have been fighting to keep ties to a band of misogynists and bigots. It might be time to let it go.

Posted by: Dennis in Chicago on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:51pm GMT

1. This statement is not the view of the CoE. Whoever wrote it should reveal their identity.

2. The statement is intellectual gobbledygook.

3. The statement, to the extent that it expresses anything, expresses heteronormativity. In other words, it's logic is circular: it assumes what it seeks to assert.

4. It's embarrassing, I find myself increasingly embarrassed by our established church -- from sexism one week to homophobia the next. Why don't we be done with it and ask Ian Paisley to become Archbishop of Canturbury?

Posted by: JC on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:57pm GMT

"To change the nature of marriage for everyone"

I'm married. I fail to see how my marriage is changed one iota by other people being allowed to marry.

Dressed up in fake-intellectual clothes, this statement is simple bigotry. It manages to drag sexism into a debate on sexuality, and shows that the CofE is absolutely committed to pandering to evangelical bigots rather than behaving with Christian charity. Disestablishment cannot come too soon, so that it can be made quite clear that the CofE only speaks for its own narrow-minded bigots, and not for the vast, decent majority of the population.

Posted by: Political Realist on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:58pm GMT

"Maybe we're not seeing conservative theological positions that make sense because discrimination isn't actually a rational process?"

Exactly! Bravo, Cynthia!

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 11:39pm GMT

Why is maintaining the "distinctiveness of the genders" indulgent bigotry Cynthia?

Posted by: William on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 12:07am GMT

Cynthia: Maybe we're not seeing conservative theological positions that make sense because discrimination isn't actually a rational process.

Yup.

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 12:10am GMT

Anyone else see this as further tipping the scales toward disestablishment? As representatives of the established church, CofE priests are required to marry any resident of their parish unless they have a living partner after divorce, the relationship is forbidden by law, or one or both of the individuals are too young. Once gay marriage is legal, how can the CoE justify remaining established (available to everyone without distinction) while refusing to marry a significant proportion of their parishioners? Yes, the refusing remarriage after divorce clause provides a precedent for saying "society accepts this but we cannot," but surely this will add greatly to the sense that the CofE cannot continue to hold a privileged position in a society with which it is so out of touch.

Posted by: Charity on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 12:22am GMT

When it is absolutely clear that the Church of England is completely divided on the issue of gay sex etc, how can it be right to publish such a polarised statement, thereby completely failing to represent one half of the actual Church of England?

It's dishonest and a misrepresentation of the views of the Church of England as a whole.

At the very least, the statement should say "While there are widely divergent views within our Church, and serious theological arguments for and against gay sex and gay marriage, which can be held with sincerity, one section of the Church of England believes..."

...because that is the truth.

It is impossible to make such a polarised statement and represent that polarity as what members of the Church of England actually believe.

Posted by: Susannah on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 12:40am GMT

"Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society."

Spare me. Homophobia, is homophobia, is homophobia, is homophobia.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 3:14am GMT

"Interestingly, in Bristol there's an Anglo-Catholic parish that welcomes gay men but not ordained women!" Cynthia

Gay men may be gay, but they are still men.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 4:31am GMT

If I were CofE I would be very interested in knowing exactly how these instant statements were whipped up on such short notice, without (as noted above) consultation. Why are anonymous statements purporting to present official Church positions and the reasons behind them allowed in the first place? If some nameless bureaucrat at 815 purported to do the same for ECUSA, there would be blood.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 4:54am GMT

Doesn't the much trumpeted argument with regard to "justice" and "equality" when employed in the women bisjops debate equally apply here? If not, why not?

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 6:18am GMT

Questions from a simple parishioner.

So if there is as this article suggests a fundamental biological difference between men and women as far as marriage is concerned there how is there no apparent difference as far as bishops are concerned?

Furthermore, if men and women are so different biologically is it to do with genitalia or what else might it be?

Is procreation as natural as this article makes out, I thought most births were technologically supported in one way or another these days?

Posted by: clairejxx on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 6:52am GMT

Who is this "Church of England" who can issue instant unsigned statements supposedly in the name of the whole Church without consultation or any taking of responsibility for what is said? The lameness of the statement which is so devoid of any real theology that it can only fall back on repetitive insistence on the old saw of "gender complementarity," ought to be evident to every thoughtful Christian and to PM David Cameron, who I hope will ignore officious ecclesiastical obfuscation and stupidity and move ahead with his plan. Some day the Church will be ashamed of contributions to bigotry like this one.

Posted by: James Lodwick on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 7:30am GMT

It is saddening to read so many of the comments above to what seemed an excellent response from CoE, speaking for the organism in society which is the Church of Jesus Christ.
It seemed to me that the statement was helpfully explicating what God Himself declared when He made us 'male and female'. And it was to precisely such a statement that Jesus Himself referred when questioned about marriage.

Posted by: william on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 8:52am GMT

The argument that opposite sex marriage is complementary is an evil thing to be fought everywhere. It leads almost instantly to the argument that there are fundamentally different roles for men and women, and that takes you straight to Bristol Uni CU not allowing women to speak without a male chaperone. It is, I repeat, an evil argument. Marriage is about a union of support, not a differentiation of sex roles.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 9:07am GMT

In another post somewhere I wrote I was against disestablishment and thought it would not happen for a long time.

I wasn't factoring in the Church launching its own kamikaze mission - might need to review my prediction if this is sustained.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 9:29am GMT

Well of course we are male and female - as any fule do no. And God intended that and intended that many would marry and have babies. That does not mean that he did not also intend that some would marry their own sex, and some would marry and not have babies, and some would not marry. Goodness - God can have more than one idea at a time!

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 10:27am GMT

Whoever produced this statement must know that C of E opinion on this is deeply divided, and so be writing disingenously.
In October our diocesan synod in Ripon & Leeds declined to support a private member's motion endorsing the view that marriage is between one man and one woman etc.

Posted by: Mike Benwell on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 10:50am GMT

Suddenly the complementarity and essential differences between men and women makes an appearance. I remember meeting Professor Ann Loades years and years ago who said how desperately the Church of England needed a new Christian anthropology. In the absence of this, the argument against gay marriage is built on sand.

Posted by: Hilary Cotton on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:04am GMT

The line about complementarity sounds very like the line that Malcolm Brown, Director of Ministry and Public Affairs, used when he was trying to defend the C of E's position last time they made a statement. I imagine that Malcolm wrote the statement and had it signed off by William Fittall, as Secretary General. I can't imagine that there was wider consultation although it would be helpful to know if there was.
Seems to me that this is a classic example of clutching at straws. There are no strong arguments from the Bible or tradition to maintain the gender basis for marriage; companionship has a far stronger theological basis. So they're stuck with this notion of complementarity, which if you push it too far has all sorts of unintended consequences ...

Posted by: Giles Goddard on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:43am GMT

I would like to know by what authority the Church of England issues this statement. Which bits of the church were consulted? They are certainly not speaking for me when they write like this.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 12:17pm GMT

This statement, sad as it is, reminds me of TS Eliot's lines from Section I of The Waste Land:

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

Posted by: jnwall on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 1:22pm GMT

Dennis and Hannah have identified the CofE's current problem.

Discriminating against women, discriminating against gay people . . .

The Church of England is beginning to look like an institution that is not merely out of touch, but actively evil.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 1:27pm GMT

William asked "Why is maintaining the "distinctiveness of the genders" indulgent bigotry Cynthia?"

Because, William, this is a classic excuse for oppressing people, both women and LGBT persons.
Women are "different," therefore they can't fulfill their callings to ordained ministry (or WB's w/o humiliating caveats), or conduct orchestras, or make the big bucks with Fortune 500 companies or fill half the seats in Parliament or the US Congress, or make equal pay for equal work... And on and on.

Because, William, precisely who is doing the "maintaining" of these distinctions? Answer: the more powerful against the less powerful. And they do it to keep their power. And it is OPPRESSION. Women are called to ministry, to leadership of all sorts, we have women with fantastic skills who aren't allowed to fulfill them for the benefit of all, because some jerks are busy "maintaining" the "distinctions."

It is indulgent bigotry on the part of people invested in the status quo, and the status quo is oppressive.

The language of oppression is the same. If you substituted "distinction of the genders" with "distinction of the races" how do you think that would go over?

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 5:32pm GMT

William wrote: It seemed to me that the statement was helpfully explicating what God Himself declared when He made us 'male and female'. And it was to precisely such a statement that Jesus Himself referred when questioned about marriage.

First of all, God is not male. God made male and female in the likeness of God. That is the second creation story.

Could you pull up that statement you're referring to about Jesus talking about marriage? It isn't in my Bible. Jesus definitely has harsh words for the Establishment for excluding and demeaning people. Those words are worthy of a good close look.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 5:35pm GMT

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." Isaiah 5:20

Posted by: William on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 9:48pm GMT

While I would agree with those who call to have identified those who authorised the unsigned statement from "the Church of England" in response to the Prime Minister's comments on (so-called) "same-sex marriage" [who, in particular, are the "we" in the statements, "we believe" and "we welcome"?], I wholeheartedly endorse the post of William at 8.52 am.

Marriage, by definition, is a relationship between a man and a woman. William is right to point to what Jesus said in Matthew 19 vv 4-6. To redefine it, as the Government propose (without any electoral mandate) is rather like saying that you can have a three-wheeled bicycle or a two-storey bungalow. A tricycle and a two-storey house are valid constructs, but they are different from a bicycle and a bungalow. Otherwise we are in the ‘Through the Looking Glass World’ of Humpty Dumpty, where a word “means just what I use it to mean—neither more nor less.”

While we await publication next week of the Government's formal report of the consultation on 'Equal civil marriage’ and their response to it, it is significant to note that the opponents of change (as evidenced by the signatories to the petitions on the c4m and c4em websites) outweigh those in favour by a margin of roughly 10 to 1. (As I write this post the figures are 618,654 to 63,661).

It is significant, too, that the Government, by proposing to allow churches to conduct same-sex marriages, appear to have appreciated that the distinction made in the consultation paper between ‘civil marriage’ and ‘religious marriage’ is not tenable (a point I made in my letter in The Times on 15 March 2012.)

It is worth recalling what was said by Baroness Scotland of Asthal when the Civil Partnership Bill was before the House of Lords in 2004: “This Bill does not undermine or weaken the importance of marriage and we do not propose to open civil partnership to opposite-sex couples. Civil partnership is aimed at same-sex couples who cannot marry. However, it is important for us to be clear that we continue to support marriage and recognise that it is the surest foundation for opposite sex couples raising children.” (Hansard, HL 22 April 2004, Col 388)

Civil Partnership provides equivalent legal rights to marriage for same-sex couples. There is no need, and no mandate, for changing the definition of marriage.

Posted by: David Lamming on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:17pm GMT

William, are you calling discrimination good?

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:58pm GMT

Puts me in mind of Mark Chapman's analysis that the failure of WB legislation was due to the unwarranted meddling of the archbishops, thereby undermining and discrediting the process (and themselves at the same time), and setting a course for disaster.

Given the lack of transparency about authorship of this latest statement, the only thing we can presumably say for sure is that the archbishops signed off on it. Again, it seems that their actions are only succeeding in undermining and discrediting any possibility of the Church of England being a serious contender in the public square, and diminishing their personal authority within the church as well.

If the Church of England of England is going to start issuing pseudo-magisterial statements, the archbishops are going to have understand that the buck will be stopping with them in a way that it hitherto has not.

Posted by: Samuel Denyer on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 12:06am GMT

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." Isaiah 5:20

Indeed. Thankfully, the overwhelming message of Isaiah is justice. And we have the word and example of Jesus Christ, making even clearer the notion not to judge, to love one's neighbor (gay or straight, male of female) as oneself, all those examples of him breaking taboos to talk with and heal women, and his harsh words for the Establishment. Discrimination doesn't hold up very well in the light of Christ, I think.

Posted by: Cynthia on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 12:23am GMT

" based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole."

so just a prudential political assessment? In the RCC the resistance seems to be based on nonnegotiables of Natural Law.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 12:26am GMT

When one chooses to use Isaiah 5:20 as a point of argumentation, William, I would think one ought to know it's much like pointing a finger (in that "three fingers point back at you").


To add to what Cynthia said (re "distinctiveness of the genders"): in many if not MOST people, "gender" (which has to do more w/ sex-ROLE than sex chromosomes) is NOT "distinctive". To assert "distinctive genders" then becomes method of rigid enforcement (which XX person is "too masculine", which XY person is "too feminine")---and grabbing the reins of Power-Over to play Judge/Jury/Executioner of such distinctions.

"In Christ, There is No Male or Female"

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 5:31am GMT

If I were to rule the world for a few minutes (I know - perish the thought) I would wave my magic wand and decree that whoever wrote the Bishop's statement and all these exclusive Christians be required to work in a well known Prison. It is a Therapeutic Prison. They would be required to work three sessions a week for one year in close proximity to murderers, rapists, and paedophiles. They would listen in on the small group sessions led by a first class tough love psychotherapist. The sessions are designed to 'let the crazy out'. They would be required to keep total silence and pray. Those who develop serious listening skills may then be called upon to give spiritual direction. Then as a member of chaplaincy they will discover just what vulnerable is and how insecure they are in their faith in the midst of a prisoner descending into his own personal hell. They will sense how physically insecure and spiritually insecure they are as they discover their own demons. Those who survive six sessions with any degree of humility will then be allowed back into the group sessions where their body language and every word is taken into account. Then any prisoner may call upon them for a one hour private conversation – it will be interesting to see which of them sits in the middle of the room or cowers next to the panic button. I can guarantee you all these individuals will leave after one year with either a completely different vision of God and his all encompassing love or - they will go completely crazy. They will discover just how dangerous their moral law over the law of love is. They will never again be enabled to define a person by their sexual identity because they will either have been in close proximity to pure Love and infinite Truth or they will have lost their own identity to utter madness. It is the 'do you love me,? do you love me,? do you love me?' call. For the moment they don't but they will not be allowed to escape this call forever. I can definitely guarantee this and I do have quite a bit of prayerful patience in this regard – no choice type of patience.

+ Rowan spent a significant amount of time talking to prisoners – not hobnobbing with the governors or senior staff just present to and deeply interested in the prisoners. The fruits of his ministry were evident to chaplaincy staff for a long time thereafter.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 5:40am GMT

You quote Isaiah, William:

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

I second that quote as being apt here. Of course, we each place evil and the good in very different locations.

So, how are we to decide between us? I'd offer: Look to love, and the requirements of love. All societies dig deep channels for love, to control it, to tame it. But finally love overflows all such constructions, and at the flood-tide is the deep driver of our history, washing away tradition and habitus that would constrain and diminish it.

The clear requirements of love seem to me in this case to be to encourage adults to love as best they might that they might love best and thus increase love in the world. Surely, love also asks that we not maintain distinctions that we have grown to realize are unreasonable. Unreasonable distinctions divide us and diminish love.

Love's the thing, the one constant, the true measure. How do you see your position in the light of its requirements, William?

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 9:02am GMT

Very, very thought-provoking, Rosie.

I was Assistant Governor at Maidstone Prison with responsibility for the sex offenders regime (it is one of the national centres for sex offenders) and in that capacity I resolved to listen to the narratives and experiences of each of the inmates in my care, on an individual basis.

To thois end, I interviewed every single inmate, on average for 2 to 3 hours, with tea or coffee, and light refreshments, provided - one inmate each afternoon.

A significant number had hysterical amnesia, and/or were in complete denial about their offences - although their list of preconvictions sometimes strongly suggested their behaviour was compulsive.

These were (are) people who have wrecked not only other people's lives - in acts of violation - but have also been driven by perverse psychological compulsion to such an extent that (combined with wrong decisions and actions) they have wrecked their own lives too.

(continued...)

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:06pm GMT

(continued...2)

It finished for ever any supposition that sexuality is a cerebral function that operates only at a conscious surface level. It was quite clear that sexuality flows deep below the surface of our lives, sometimes repressed, then spilling out in sometimes bizarre and fetishised expressions.

It was also clear to me that sexuality is hard to pin down, or control by legislation, and that harmful behaviours required mercy as well as justice, because if you just lock them all up "and throw away the key" for years on end, then the mythologies and compulsions just deepen, and make future victims more likely on release.

After completing my research and carrying out extensive research of psychotherapeutic regimes in other countries, I submitted a 100+ page document of suggestions and recommendations to the Home Office, pointing out that for 125 sex offenders at that time there was a single (statistical) psychologist who was doing research on breakages and damage carried out by prisoners.

Within a week I had been transferred to a different role, with no contact with the sex offenders.

I resigned in protest.

(continued...)

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:08pm GMT

(continued...3)

What I'm really saying, is that "the Church of England" which releases stereotypical statements on gender and sexuality is really simplifying a field of huge complexity, asserting one heteronormative model, ignoring gender fluidity, assuming a binary model (of somplementarity) works for all, and presenting as fact the very myths and stereotypes and generalisations that can leave individuals 'out of touch' with how sex and gender operates, and out of touch with themselves.

As regular correspondents here may know, I later undertook my own journey of psychotherapy and raw and difficult exploration of gender, transitioning from male to female, and finding a way out of repression, and way towards wholeness and deep happiness (and ordinary life), not by roleplay in one gender or another, but in the exploration of personhood, with traits and expressions that fluidly cross gender boundaries asserted by moralists.

In my experience, both with the sex offenders I listened to, and in my own unwrapping of sex and gender, to look for wholeness and authenticity, the controlling narrative of moralists and dogmatists, who assert one model, one normality, and try to squeeze everyone into that model, *their* model... is inadequate, dangerous and life-diminishing.

(continued...)

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:09pm GMT

(continued...4)

Sexuality and gender are far more fluid, far more diverse and spread across a spectrum, than theories of 'complementarity' would suggest. For many people, sex and gender expression is not a polarised and 'normalised' binary, where all women like doing women's stuff, and all men like driving trucks and doing men's stuff (or exercising 'headship!)...

...rather, sexuality and gender are often a range of expressions, scattered and untypical, and hard to pin down within the model of 'men' and 'women' as opposites, which seemed the cultural limit of psychological understanding in Israel two to three thousand years ago. In perpetuating that heteronormative 'myth' - as "the Church of England" did this week in its statement - I fear it is perpetuating a facile, authoritarian 'normality' that fails to acknowledge diversity of orientation or gender identity, and fails to acknowledge the diversity of opinion and psychological awareness in the *real* Church of England today.

If we turn ordinary decent faithful committed and intimately loving people (like gay and lesbian couples, devoted to each other) into "offenders"... which is basically the 'vilification' that fundamentalist dogma executes... and if we deny diversity of experience, identity, integrity... then we "lock away" parts of people's lives that should be growing, open and celebrated and whole, in the context of our religious and social communities.

(continued...)

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:11pm GMT

(continued...5)

The *so-called* "Church of England"'s statement this week is extraordinary in its crass simplification, and it's authoritarian, top-down assertion of what "we" believe about sex and gender. In representing simply one polarised view, with zero reference to diverse opinion or expressions of integrity, it is simply perpetuating the myths.

And perpetuation of myth leads the way of repression, and diminution of lives, and becomes a mandate for injustice against "the others" who don't fit the heteronormative stereotype.

Well I don't fit stereotypes either. At the level of daily life I lead an ordinary life as a female nurse, just getting on with my work, spending time with family and friends, doing daily chores, sometimes staying in convent (because I am exploring vocation to become a nun). It is life in a female presentation, with female physicalities, but it still has loads of diversity of gender expressions. I play football each week. I like testosterone-style expressions and moods sometimes. I don't feel I have to "fit" some biblical stereotype of what a woman is.

On the other hand, and in conclusion, there is another biblical stereotype which opens up the issues of gender and sexuality: the 'gender' of God.

We are told - in our creation myths - that we are made in God's image: male and female in the image of God. And this God who we are 'like' is neither all male nor all female, but knows, feels, and expresses everything it means to be female, everything it means to be male, while also transcending gender as well.

(continued...)

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:13pm GMT

(concluded...6)

This 'normality' of God should open us up, and disclose to us, how much of life and spirituality is 'shared' and 'spread across'. There is male and female in us all, because humanity contains the germ and model of God's own fluidity and diversity.

God, the Holy Trinity, who offers us the model of eternal sharing, relationship, and love... opens up to us (if we are willing to open up) the prospect of community, not controlled by rigid demarcation of genders, but drawn together by shared personhood, and givenness, and fidelity in love and tender care.

In our Church's 'growing towards wholeness', a wholeness that finds unity and community in a diversity of personhood... and away from simplistic moralism which can make 'sex offenders' of anyone who won't conform to a cultural norm... my hope is that we also open up to more of the unfolding disclosure of the living God.

If I was to be very conforming and 'morally good' and do exactly what Mr "Church of England" says (whoever that non-transparent author may be)... tell me, who should I marry (if I wasn't living a chosen life of chastity)... as a woman with a transsexual past, should I marry a man (or would the Church say we were both gay)... or should I marry a woman (in which case we are surely lesbians)... or

...does it matter at all, if I tenderly care for that person, want to share with and serve that person all my life?

And that's just me, one person, who frankly fits no heteronormative model at all. The *real* Chuirch of England is full of diverse expressions of sex and/or gender, of diverse opinions... but in all this...

There is personhood.

That personhood, like the personhoods of God, is far more diverse and complex and fluid and beautiful... and hard to label or control... than the *so-called* "Church of England" saying there is only one normality.

That "Church of England" - as Rosie rightly suggests - is in urgent need of psychotherapy, and needs listening to, but also needs to listen... to the *real* voices and their sincere lives and their genuine authenticity in the image of God.

Posted by: Susannah on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 1:14pm GMT

While I agree with those who call to have identified those who authorised the unsigned statement from "the Church of England" in response to the Prime Minister's comments on (so-called) "same-sex marriage" [who, in particular, are the "we" in the statements, "we believe" and "we welcome"?], I wholeheartedly endorse the post of William at 8.52 am yesterday.

Marriage, by definition, is a relationship between a man and a woman. William is right to point to what Jesus said in Matthew 19 vv 4-6. To redefine it, as the Government propose (without any electoral mandate) is rather like saying that you can have a three-wheeled bicycle or a two-storey bungalow. A tricycle and a two-storey house are valid constructs, but they are different from a bicycle and a bungalow. Otherwise we are in the ‘Through the Looking Glass World’ of Humpty Dumpty, where a word “means just what I use it to mean—neither more nor less.”

While we await publication next week of the Government's formal report of the consultation on 'Equal civil marriage’ and their response to it, it is significant to note that the opponents of change (as evidenced by the signatories to the petitions on the c4m and c4em websites) outweigh those in favour by a margin of roughly 10 to 1. (As I write this post the figures are 618,765 to 63,673).

It is significant, too, that the Government, by proposing to allow churches to conduct same-sex marriages, appear to have appreciated that the distinction made in the consultation paper between ‘civil marriage’ and ‘religious marriage’ is not tenable (a point I made in my letter in The Times on 15 March 2012.)

It is worth recalling what was said by Baroness Scotland of Asthal when the Civil Partnership Bill was before the House of Lords in 2004: “This Bill does not undermine or weaken the importance of marriage and we do not propose to open civil partnership to opposite-sex couples. Civil partnership is aimed at same-sex couples who cannot marry. However, it is important for us to be clear that we continue to support marriage and recognise that it is the surest foundation for opposite sex couples raising children.” (Hansard, HL 22 April 2004, Col 388)

Civil Partnership provides equivalent legal rights to marriage for same-sex couples. There is no need, and no mandate, for changing the definition of marriage.
[397 words]

Posted by: David Lamming on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 2:16pm GMT

Susannah - Impressive. This conversation should continue and I pray that it will be widely read.

The Archbishop's Council could clearly do with employing you. 'I submitted a 100+ page document of suggestions and recommendations to the Home Office, pointing out that for 125 sex offenders at that time there was a single (statistical) psychologist who was doing research on breakages and damage carried out by prisoners.'

I suspect some of your suggestions and recommendations could apply to The Church of England who employ a faceless individual to compose and publish a lazy, ill informed, knee jerk statement on what is a fundamental issue in the life of the world wide Church. They clearly do not wish to be informed by either their members or wider professional expertise that is God given.

I have become impatient to the point of raging against the theology of Creationists. I am of the opinion that their extreme views drive some people underground and their 'Adam and Eve' and 'Sheep and Goats' theology creates paedophiles. Their interpretation of 'original sin' perpetuates what they most fear. How many more sham marriages, paedophile priests, suicides, overflowing refuges, prisons and psychiatric departments does the Church of England require before they engage in well informed dialogue on the subject of sexual orientation? I am not talking debates that get put into fancy files and dusty drawers with a 'been there done that' attitude. I am talking debates that produce reasonable legislation and freedom for those they presently choose to imprison whether they be women priests or members of the LGBT community.

I will never forget one prisoner saying to me 'Rosie, I was banged up long before I committed an offence.' I believe the Church of England is banging people up long before they commit an offence and none of the posturing that goes on in the name of God should be ignored by our nation's government or press. I write as someone who has a child within that was abused. I have freely and unconditionally forgiven my abuser. It was not my experience of the Church of England that helped me to do this at the age of 23. No, it was rather their stuffy pious limitations that propelled me to the source of limitless love from the age of seven. Kids ask questions of God and right now they are receiving sinful, fearful teaching as I did all those years ago. God prays and speaks through wounded, enlightened people but many members of the Church of England have yet to fully realise the value of this. Keep protesting Susannah.

I hope this conversation is not ignored because it concerns 'Prisoners for the Lord's sake'.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 5:41pm GMT

Making "the fruitfulness of procreation" an essential in definition of marriage is out of step with Anglican practice. I critique this in more detail at www.katav.co.uk

Posted by: John McKeown on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 6:08pm GMT

I am a friend of a Ex-prisoner - a former leader of the Hell's angels, who has been a chaplain for 30 years, and he has certainly been through the wars listening to such men,as murders, rapists, child soldiers. He does not think it is therapy that heals these men, but God's love, and certainly not the love of money. Many of them have personality disorders and therefore in medical terms are untreatable. It was the Lord who delivered him from the pit. He knows the depravity of man and his fallenness - and it is His love and the renewal of a man's mind that release him - not simply therapy. The Holy Spirit is transforming you character to be more Christ like and therefore you life reflects HIs morality - which is love for Him. Remember Jesus said those who love Me will follow my father's commands - so that is also about love.

Posted by: David Wilson on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 9:16pm GMT

"Love's the thing, the one constant, the true measure. How do you see your position in the light of its requirements, William?"

Love is indeed the true measure Peter. The problem is, how do I love? What does love look like? The only satisfactory answer I can get is by contemplating the crucified Christ. I see in the cross, total self-abnegation and abandonment to the will of the Father. Our motives are so mixed and tinged with selfishness, that surely the only way to truly love is to die completely to self. I believe that all the great religious traditions including our own teach this truth. This is why I have great difficulty accepting the received wisdom of our age. What many people call love is often just gratification. Without the element of dying to self and crucifying our will, I don't believe that pure love is possible.

Posted by: William on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 9:16pm GMT

Responding to the Prime Minister's statement on the abolishing of slavery today, the Church of England issued the following statement.

‘It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of slavery is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole.

Our concern is for the way the meaning of order in society will change for everyone, slave or free, if the proposals are enacted. Because we believe that the inherited understanding of slavery contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.

The proposition that to end slavery can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute. To that extent, the Prime Minister's claim that he supports its abolition from conservative principles is readily understandable. However, the uniqueness of the system is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of slave and free. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the total mastery of free-man over slave, which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of unquestioning obedience.

To remove from society this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which status is explicitly acknowledged. To argue that this is of no social value is to assert that slave and freemen are simply interchangeable individuals. To change the nature of this established arrangement will for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious gains given the rights already conferred on some, but not others.

We believe that reconfiguring society to abolish slavery will entail a dilution in the meaning of civilization for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of slave and free from the social and legal definition of property and ownership.

Given the absence of any manifesto commitment for these proposals - and the absence of any commitment in the most recent Queen's speech - there will need to be an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with these proposals and make them a legislative priority.

We welcome the fact that in his statement the Prime Minister has signalled he is abandoning the Government's earlier intention to distinguish between slave and unpaid hireling. We look forward to studying the Government's detailed response to the consultation next week and to examining the safeguards it is proposing to give to slaveowners.

Posted by: mark nicholls on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 9:27pm GMT

William wrote: This is why I have great difficulty accepting the received wisdom of our age. What many people call love is often just gratification.

The example of gay men in the 1980's ministering to their friends who were dying of AIDS was a pretty strong example of selfless love. As are the examples of one gay couple after another caring for each other in need, "just gratification" indeed! Do you know any gay couples, William?

And you make yourself the judge William? Really. You are going to judge all LGBT people and be so strong in your judgement as to support blocking the human rights of LGBT people? And the liberal churches that would like to proceed with their conscience? You personally feel that your judgement is so unerring?

Scary. Really. But I guess that is the intrinsic nature of discrimination. It is irrational, based on highly subjective opinions, disconnected to reality, and the judger feels entitled to oppress others based on this. Fortunately, I believe this to be a minority view that won't last another decade in the US and UK (Canada seems to have put it behind them already). Praise God!

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 1:33am GMT

David, on that basis we don't need doctors because God heals the sick - I agree that Jesus Christ can indeed transform lives, and I saw that myself in prison, but therapy is a realistic and important part of the help and support that should be offered to sex offenders in prison.

The issue of sex offenders - in the context of this thread - seems to me to be the way their compulsions and behaviours demonstrate the deep-seated nature of sexuality, which is far more than a 'chosen lifestyle', and to reflect that for all of us, sexuality operates at a deep level and is fluid and complex.

The simplistic statement of the so-called "Church of England" fails to reflect this complexity and diversity of viewpoint, experience, and expression: in this case, in relation to sexual orientation.

When the Church 'others' the desire of LGBT couples for married life, behind that lurks a vilification of a real and decent sexual expression, entirely as legitimate as that of heterosexual couples, and in no way on a par with sex offenders.

The problem is with the dogma, the stereotyping of marriage, of gender, of sexuality - when actually sex and gender and marriage can be diverse, decent and life affirming.

In each marriage, heterosexual, lesbian or gay, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit can bless and sanctify the fidelity, the care and the intimate love of the married couple.

The *real* Church of England includes all kinds of sexual partners whose integrity of love is inadequately represented in the recent statement. Nor is the reality of diverse views on marriage within our church represented in the statement.

The statement is inadequate and does not speak for the reality of the actual Church of England.

Posted by: Susannah on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 6:55am GMT

David, Susannah has already responded to your comment wisely. I witnessed healings to wonder at during my time in chaplaincy and I saw tranformation. Two of the ex prisoners are now quite famous for their transforming work among prisoners. I wouldn't rate my chances now of reaching many prisoners. They do read newspapers. As far as I am concerned the Church of England has continued to place me in an impossible position. I might as well walk around with a big placard proclaiming myself as a 'Danger to Health'. Our ministry in hospitals has already been restricted and it is no surprise to me that educational establiishments ban us because we are not enabled to proclaim a wholesome Gospel message. Educators are not stupid and they have no desire for mindless indoctrination either. Like any other profession we get respect when we have shown competency and respect to others. The wages of discrimination are ridicule and rejection. My whole being is now ridiculed and rejected and I believe I understand why this is the case. Divine Love has high standards and at present we are prevented from fully witnessing to this higher authority.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 12:17pm GMT

Has anybody else "dropped a line" t'other Comms Department of the CofE? I am still awaiting a reply.

Posted by: Commentator on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:39am GMT

William: "What many people call love is often just gratification. Without the element of dying to self and crucifying our will, I don't believe that pure love is possible."

I don't believe in pure love, either -- only in the messy relationships between fallible people. Those get pure enough to inspire ideas of God, despite the evidence offered by tsunamis, earthquakes, and other disasters to nature's indifference to the film of life on Earth.

William's view reflects a great blind spot in church teaching -- biology, sexuality, are simply absent. People who don't conform to the majority orientation are asked to deny their desires, crucify their wills, so the church won't have to face the great gaping hole in its teaching. (As left-handers were until recently forced to change hands because, of course, everyone is right-handed, present evidence to the contrary.)

I spent years offering my deviant desires to God, feeling guilty for my sinful urges. The constant need for forgiveness for who one is DOES keep one in thrall to the religious establishment. I finally realized that biology had more to teach me than theology. That, and people living constructive, productive lives outside the dogma.

You aren't supposed to stifle yourself to confirm the tradition -- you're supposed to blossom, develop, and LOVE. Yes, it's gratifying. What a crabbed view to suggest something wrong with finding gratification in love.

Posted by: Murdoch on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:48pm GMT
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