Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bishop of Salisbury writes to Lord Alli

Diocese of Salisbury press release: Bishop restates gay marriage is an endorsement of the institution of marriage and “a matter of justice” which begins thus:

The Bishop of Salisbury writes today that “The possibility of ‘gay marriage’ does not detract from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people. Indeed the development of marriage for same sex couples is a very strong endorsement of the institution of marriage.”

In a letter delivered to Lord Alli at the House of Lords, Bishop Holtam believes that civil partnerships have been a natural precursor of gay marriage being recognised in law: “Open recognition and public support have increased in civil partnerships those very qualities of life for which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. It is not surprising this now needs recognition in law.”

Replying to a letter from Lord Alli of Norbury who requested that Bishop Holtam clarify his position on the issue as a member of the House of Bishops for members of the Upper House, Bishop Holtam stresses that this issue is about justice: “In the current debates it is striking that within the Anglican Communion one of the strongest supporters of same sex marriage is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. From his experience of the racism of Apartheid he sees same sex marriage as primarily a matter of justice.”

Bishop Holtam states: “there are a variety of views within the Church of England where we are experiencing rapid change similar to that in the wider society. This is complex to express, partly because there are those who see this issue as fundamental to the structure of Christian faith.”

In his letter the Bishop of Salisbury also observes that the church has adapted its approach to marriage in light of social change including the widespread availability of contraceptives so that couples may choose to have children; the acceptance of divorce and possibility of marriage in church after divorce so that not all marriages are lifelong, and the acceptance of couples living together before marriage by a Church that still teaches sexual relationships are properly confined to marriage…

The full text of the letter from the Bishop of Salisbury to Lord Alli is available below the fold. It is also on the Diocese of Salisbury website (link in press release), and on the Daily Telegraph website.

Press reports:

Telegraph Edward Malnick Opponents of gay marriage like supporters of apartheid, says senior bishop

Daily Mail People who oppose gay marriage are like Christians who used the Bible to support apartheid and slavery, says senior bishop

Lord Alli of Norbury
House of Lords
London SW1A 0PW
29 May 2013

Dear Waheed,

Thank you for asking me to set out why I am sympathetic to the possibility of equal marriage and have a different view from that stated in the Church of England’s response to the Equal Civil Marriage consultation. That response from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in June 2012, written in consultation with the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops, was prepared under the pressure of the government’s absurdly short period for consultation on a major legislative social and legal change. The Archbishops affirmed what the Church has always taught (with Judaism and Islam) that marriage is a gift of God in creation, the lifelong union of a man and a woman. A subsequent document has been produced by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission on ‘Men and Women in Marriage’. That this is ‘for study’ indicates a discussion continues to run within the Church of England. This was acknowledged in a recent briefing from the Church of England to MPs for the Commons Report stage which stated: “the Church of England recognises the evident growth in openness to and understanding of same sex relations in wider society. Within the membership of the Church there are a variety of views about the ethics of such relations, with a new appreciation of the need for, and value of faithful and committed lifelong relationships recognised by civil partnerships.”

You, as a gay Muslim, will not be surprised that there are a variety of views within the Church of England where we are experiencing rapid change similar to that in the wider society. This is complex to express, partly because there are those who see this issue as fundamental to the structure of Christian faith. It is also complex because of the worldwide nature of the Anglican Communion in which what might be said carefully in one cultural context (for example, the USA) can be deeply damaging in another (for example, parts of Africa). Change and development are essential in the Church, as they are in life, and part of the genius of a missionary Church is its ability to root the good news of Jesus Christ in varied cultures in every time and place. One of the difficulties now is that globalisation and communication mean it is much more difficult for Christianity to develop in this culturally sensitive way. There has been a very uncomfortable polarisation of views even in our own country.

Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly. For example, the widespread availability of contraception from the mid- twentieth century onwards took several decades to gain acceptance for married couples by the Lambeth Conference in 1958. The newer forms of the Church of England’s marriage service have since recognised that the couple may have children. Over the last fifty years the Church of England has come to accept that marriages intended to be lifelong can break down and that on occasion marriage after divorce can be celebrated in the context of Church. It is also the case that most couples now live together before they marry. This happens without censure from the Church which continues to conduct these marriages joyfully even though the Church’s teaching is that sexual relationships are properly confined to marriage.

The desire for the public acknowledgement and support of stable, faithful, adult, loving same sex sexual relationships is not addressed by the six Biblical passages about homosexuality which are concerned with sexual immorality, promiscuity, idolatry, exploitation and abuse. The theological debate is properly located in the Biblical accounts of marriage, which is why so many Christians see marriage as essentially heterosexual. However, Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience. For example, before Wilberforce, Christians saw slavery as Biblical and part of the God-given ordering of creation. Similarly in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church supported Apartheid because it was Biblical and part of the God-given order of creation. No one now supports either slavery or Apartheid. The Biblical texts have not changed; our interpretation has.

The pace of change with regard to same sex relations has been considerable. The Wolfenden report (1957) and Sexual Offences Act (1967) decriminalised homosexual acts in private between men aged over 21 years in England and Wales. This received cautious support from the Church of England at the time. The changes they introduced are now unchallenged and wholly welcomed.

At the co-educational North London Grammar School I attended from 1965-72, there were 2 effeminate gay lads in my year who were no threat to the rest of us but who were regularly beaten up just for being different. At times school for them must have been a brutal experience. What they went through was unkind and unjust but I don’t remember a teacher intervening on their behalf. I am thankful things have changed and we now have a greater sense of equality and fairness. In the current debates it is striking that within the Anglican Communion one of the strongest supporters of same sex marriage is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. From his experience of the racism of Apartheid he sees same sex marriage as primarily a matter of justice.

When the proposal for civil partnerships was debated in 2004 the Church of England was largely hostile. I am grateful that in the Archbishops’ opposition to equal marriage they have expressed their support for civil partnerships and I hope this will help the Church of England towards affirming these relationships liturgically. Like the Archbishops now, I used to think that it was helpful to distinguish between same sex civil partnerships and heterosexual marriage. Many in the churches think the commonly used description of civil partnerships as ‘gay marriage’ is a category error. However, the relationships I know in civil partnerships seem to be either of the same nature as some marriages or so similar as to be indistinguishable. Indeed, the legal protection and public proclamation which civil partnership has afforded gay relationships appears to have strengthened their likeness to marriage in terms of increasing commitment to working on the relationship itself, to contributing to the wellbeing of both families of origin, and to acting as responsible and open members of society. Open recognition and public support have increased in civil partnerships those very qualities of life for which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. It is not surprising this now needs recognition in law.

The possibility of ‘gay marriage’ does not detract from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people. Indeed the development of marriage for same sex couples is a very strong endorsement of the institution of marriage. The ‘quadruple locks’ contained in the Bill provide extraordinarily robust protection for those religious bodies, including the Church of England, unwilling or unable to conduct same sex marriage without accusation of being homophobic.

This subject provokes strong feelings but in most churches a variety of views will be found. I hope this letter helps to say briefly why there is a greater variety of views within the Church of England than can be expressed in the formal statements of the Church or House of Bishops. At its best the Church is committed to the Spirit of God leading us into all Truth in what is a complex period of social change.

Yours sincerely,

+Nicholas Sarum
The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam
The Bishop of Salisbury

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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

Well I think this is wonderful.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 10:22am BST

My Diocesan Bishop, +Nicholas Holtam, has my full support for his position on 'gay marriage'. I warmly endorse his thoughtful analysis and quiet leadership in matters of human sexuality with which the Church of England wrestles.

Robert Key
Chair, House of Laity, Diocese of Salisbury.

Posted by: Robert Key on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 10:33am BST

I think that it is a shame that the transcript of +Nicholas Sarum's letter carried on this site doesn't include the italicised emphasis on the word "may" in the third paragraph "that the couple may have children" that appears in the copy on the Salisbury diocesan website.

Posted by: RPNewark on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 10:34am BST

At least one brave affirmation of Same-Sex Marriage in the C.of E. House of Bishops. Would there were more!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 12:05pm BST

My error in publishing, now corrected RPNewark.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 12:09pm BST

"The possibility of ‘gay marriage’ does not detract from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people."

Gay marriage does not detract from straight marriage at all.

[sarcasm on]

Unless you think that God has a limited supply of this thing called marriage, and that if gays get married, there might not be enough marriage for everyone else.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 2:09pm BST

Awesome.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 4:36pm BST

Come on you church leaders.... a bit of public support for the Bishop of Salisbury if you agree with him....I suspect he may be getting a lot of hate mail and abuse.....he gives great encouragement to people like myself.

Posted by: Robert Ellis on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 4:52pm BST

It's really encouraging that the Bishop of Salisbury has written this.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 5:39pm BST

Bravo, My Lord.

Posted by: Feria on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 7:03pm BST

I agree with Robert Ellis: come on guys, bishops, senior clergy, give Sarum a bit of support and like-minded fellowship. If he can say it, you can too.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 8:53pm BST

"Telegraph Edward Malnick Opponents of gay marriage like supporters of apartheid, says senior bishop"

"Daily Mail People who oppose gay marriage are like Christians who used the Bible to support apartheid and slavery, says senior bishop"

Good to see the rightwing British press are providing their usual Fair & Balanced coverage. {sarcasm/Off}

Seriously, thank you Bishop Holtam. If you are receiving unfair, hyperbolic spin from predictable quarters, at least *some* of us Anglicans can see your proclamation of the GOOD News in response to Lord Alli.

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 9:13pm BST

Thank you, +Nicholas. Thank you.

Posted by: Charlotte on Thursday, 30 May 2013 at 10:46pm BST

At last! A bishop prepared to speak up for what is right and good and fair-minded! Of course he is being attacked by the Daily Mail! (He must be doing something right.) Compare and contrast with the weasel words of the Bishop of Leicester.

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Friday, 31 May 2013 at 1:16pm BST

As a CofE priest who entered into a civil partnership recently with my partner, I'm pleased that the Bishop of Salisbury has put his head above the parapet on this issue. There are many Anglicans in England who would support Bp Nicholas, and many who don't see what all the fuss is about. My partner and I have received huge support from both past and present congregations and also from those on the very fringe of our current church.
I have never made a choice about my sexuality or about falling in love - the only choice I've made is to declare publically my commitment to someone who is very dear to me.
Let's get on with proclaiming Christ's Gospel!

Posted by: Shaun on Friday, 31 May 2013 at 10:06pm BST

I'm pleased that the Bishop of Salisbury has joined in this debate.

I am troubled however that he suggests that the possibility of ‘gay marriage’ might detract from heterosexual marriage if homosexuality is a choice.

I disagree. Same-sex marriage only detracts from heterosexual marriage if it is an immoral state of being and a means by which gay couples bring harm upon the lives of straight couples and of wider society. I don't believe it does and that's why I'm in favour of it.

How one becomes straight has no bearing on one's capacity for living a moral life. How one becomes gay has no bearing on that either.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Saturday, 1 June 2013 at 4:04pm BST

I am proud to have a bishop who is courageous and honest.If the bench had more of his ilk we would be in a very happy place!

Posted by: Jeremy Ames on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 9:49am BST
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