Friday, 21 February 2014

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement - episode 4

The Bishop of Norwich has issued a letter to his clergy, but to date I have not been able to find it on the diocesan website. So here is a local copy of it.

The Suffragan Bishop in Europe has published a guest article on his blog by The Revd Canon Dr Jack McDonald.

Christian Concern has issued a lengthy letter to its supporters urging them to write to their bishops. See ACTION ALERT: Challenge Bishops and Archbishops to tell the truth about marriage.

The Barnet and Potters Bar Times reports that the Parish of St Mary’s in East Barnet to make stand against Church of England leaders on same-sex blessings.

…Members of the St Mary’s Church council now plan to meet and formulate a statement in response to the House of Bishop’s latest refusal to be moved on the subject.

Church rector James Mustard said he expects his parish to release the statement in the coming weeks and says it is an important subject for the image and ministry of his church in the area.

He said: “The feeling is that this ongoing prohibition on blessing same-sex couples is harmful to our relationship with the community, whether they come to the church or not.

“I think it is important that churches in favour of supporting same-sex couples with blessings should speak out, and we’re preparing to issue a statement opposing the House of Bishops’ decision.”

This week’s Church Times has several items:

News articles by Madeleine Davies
Bishops’ same-sex-marriage statement provokes anger and defiance and
Disobedient clergy risk rebuke

…On Tuesday, the Revd Will Adam, Vicar of St Paul’s, Winchmore Hill, in north London, who edits the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, said that it could be argued that clergy had to comply with the prohibition on same-sex marriage because they had sworn the oath of canonical obedience.

If defiance was deemed to be a doctrinal offence, the case would have to be taken up by the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. “It’s a panel who are, or have been, very senior judges or diocesan bishops. So it’s pretty big. Would a bishop be brave enough to bring such a case?” He said that it had met only twice since it was established.

A case could be brought under the CDM, Mr Adam suggested, if the offence was defined as sexual misconduct. The House of Bishops was on “pretty safe ground” with regard to equality legislation, he believed, given the exemptions that applied to religious organisations…

Leader Comment: Same-sex marriage

…Given their consistent opposition to same-sex marriage, the St Valentine’s statement was predictable. It would help greatly, though, if it were acknowledged for what it is: a holding position. We do not think it will hold for long; nor can it, unless congregations feel no responsibility for what is clearly a pastoral disaster, or are willing to be seen as “akin to racists”. Archbishop Welby spoke of “courageous Churches”. It ought not to take courage to treat LGBT people more lovingly. But perhaps courage is precisely what the Bishops lack, since to treat someone lovingly is to treat him or her equally.

Letters to the Editor: Gay marriage: the Bishops and public opinion

…We do not all agree about same-sex marriage, nor about how the Church of England should respond. But we are all of a mind on this: if the Church of England is serious about intentional evangelism to a generation that regards us with a mixture of apathy and contempt, and if we are to reverse our fast institutional retreat from relevance in the life of this nation, we need urgently to change the tone and manner of our discussions on matters relating to human sexuality…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 9:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

At the bottom of the Bishop of Norwich's letter is the slogan 'committed to growth'. Are they blind? Do they not see just what the so called 'Pastoral statement' is doing to the Church, to faithful Christians and to those who are looking in from the outside? Who on earth would join the cofe at the moment?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 9:50am GMT

"Do they not see just what the so called 'Pastoral statement' is doing to the Church, to faithful Christians and to those who are looking in from the outside?"

Yes, they see. Yes, they know. No, they do not care.

The House of Bishops had a choice: pandering to their conservative friends in GAFCON or being a relevant force in the England of 2014. Of course, that some of the House of Bishops have married divorcees and presumably would take umbrage at being referred to as adulterers or bigamists is an irony, but not one that worries them overmuch; the reason they don't see the change of policy on divorce as being a fundamental change (even though Jesus was very critical of divorce) is that it's convenient to them not to.

It would appear the House of Bishops would rather see an isolated CofE filled (or, actually, not filled at all) with obsessive cranks fulminating about buggery than a vibrant, challenging church concerned with poverty, equality and justice. Which is a shame for everyone in England, because a large, organised, moral force for justice is A Good Thing, even if the underlying religious basis isn't your cup of tea. But being counter-cultural doesn't mean sneering at people's relationships, it means challenging, it means speaking truth to power. Having the crude sexual politics of a Jim Davidson routine doesn't make you counter-cultural because the Guardian criticises you for it; it just makes you an ignorant bigot.

A very good way to calibrate your moral compass is to ask "What do the Quakers think?". When the Quakers speak out, governments listen. They may not agree, and that is right and proper in a democratic society where there are many voices. But governments listen, and give weight and consideration to what Quakers say. It is is almost impossible to think of an occasion when Quakers have been on the wrong side in a moral argument, and that gives their thoughtful, considered and ultimately humane responses huge influence.

The Church of England should be like that: thoughtful, humane, just. Instead, it is turning into a bunch of sex-obsessed cranks for whom the only thing that matters is not the decency of a man's soul, but precisely where and how he uses his penis. The Quakers sorted out same-sex marriage a generation ago, and are now getting on with peace and justice. Would the CofE could be as decent.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 11:28am GMT

I think the level of public dissent - expressed by different categories of Anglicans - from the 'pastoral' is a new thing - and an enormously heartening one.

Posted by: John on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 2:05pm GMT

The only real loser in all this will be the Church of England. I would imagine that a largely secular UK is indifferent to its internal battles between its various factions. The bishops clearly prefer appeasing the conservative factions, GAFCON, and all that right wing money from America to leading the cause for justice in its home country. The Church's archaic stand on sexuality will only confirm its quaint status in the minds of the ever more secular young who already see it as a bastion of superstition and bigotry. As Interested Observer rightly points out, the future of the Church at this point will be an isolated bastion of sex-obsessed cranks.
And what of LGBT Anglican Christians? It's not like there aren't alternatives out there to the Established Church ("The Episcopal Church welcomes you!"). An Anglican church encroaching upon the territory of another Anglican church?! There are precedents. Just ask the Nigerian bishops and the Rwandan bishops (and the English bishops who either turned a blind eye or cheered the encroachment).

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 2:05pm GMT

'Disobedient clergy'? We are all of age.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain) on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 2:53pm GMT

For once, the Bishops are being decisive, distinctive and clear about the scriptural teaching of the church and sanctity of marriage. Good on them!

Posted by: Benedict on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 4:00pm GMT

Benedict, I'd like to have a conversation with you about scriptural teaching and slavery, women's ministry, divorce, polygamy, usury and not forgetting shellfish eating.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 4:36pm GMT

Christianity, a religion founded by celibates convinced that the world was about to end, is a rotten family values religion. If societies and states are really interested in the family as an institution and in procreating future generations of loyal citizens, then they should bring back the ancient Roman religion of hearth and ancestors where the family and the home were quite literally sacred. It has everything a domestic moralist could possibly want, even a virginity cult.

Saint Paul made no secret of his contempt for family life, that marriage for him was at best a grudging concession to human weakness until the Second Coming.

The ancient Romans saw Christians as traitors and blasphemers, as a living assault on everything they valued including the sacred home and family. Philhellene Romans coined the term a theoi (without gods, "atheists") to describe the early Christians.

I say we should embrace that radical heritage.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 4:59pm GMT

I believe the bishops of the CofE have been anything BUT "decisive,
distinctive and clear". It is high time for transparency regarding their positions on human sexuality and same sex marriage. We will eventually know the individual positions of the bishops and it will reveal a great deal about those who hold homophobic mindsets and prejudices. I believe the Church is The People of God and not the hierarchy alone. We will learn much about the bishops of the CofE in the weeks to come. We must apply pressure for transparency. The hour has arrived to engage those bishops who stand for full inclusivity of the LGBT communities. Those bishops who wish to continue homophobic prejudices need to be known. They need to be held accountable and this involves telling the truth.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 5:07pm GMT

"For once, the Bishops are being decisive, distinctive and clear about the scriptural teaching of the church and sanctity of marriage. Good on them!"

I especially love how committed they are to Jesus's clear teaching on divorce. What a model of theological consistency. {Sarcasm off}

TEC welcomes you. And I hear that our clergy pensions are better than yours. Come on over.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 5:47pm GMT

People, this is *really* not an alright situation. This is no longer a slow evolutionary process: the episcopal letter has precipitated matters and brought them to a head.

It is totally NOT alright for priests like Andrew Cain at Kilburn, to be persecuted because - like billions of other people - they love someone and want to be married to them.

Quite rightly he is not going to cancel his wedding plans, and this epitomises the reality of all gay and lesbian couples who are supposed to be 'welcome' in the Church of England.

Do we stand by and talk theory, while he gets sacrificed for love? There has to be collective support for people like Andrew, and many others, both clergy and lay people seeking blessing.

Proactive collective action is needed by groups like LGB and TI Anglicans, to contact relevant bishops in advance and in support of PCCs and priests of conscience.

And truly, networking has to begin, linking PCCs around the country in a coalition of conscience. The episcopal letter has precipitated crisis (for innocent, decent people's lives) and has to be withdrawn or re-written.

I don't feel - even here - the urgency and vulnerability of people like Andrew and other priests like them's situations are being fully recognised. Are you just going to let him be fired? PCCs need to declare UDI over this issue, and collectively, because one by one, people can be singled out and 'made an example' of.

The episcopal letter is a bridge too far. This isn't theory. This is people's lives.

What a terrible witness to lesbian and gay people in our communities, if a priest gets removed because of love like theirs.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 6:32pm GMT

On his Facebook page Bishop Alan Wilson reports that the bishops are receiving anonymous letters containing humbugs!

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 7:59pm GMT

I note from another thread that, at the time the bishops' statement was published, Justin our Abp was in Cairo, in the middle of a meeting with the Primates of the Global South. It's all very well displaying the eirenic qualities for which he was selected, in trying to repair a schism which has in effect already occurred, but not if it means tailoring domestic guidance to meet the needs of those on the other side of the schism but which, as the CT leader rightly points out, will be a disaster pastorally at home.
I can't square the bishops' statement with the much more open-minded contents of ++Justin's address to GS a few days earlier, and I wonder if he is already a prisoner of his own constituency. I wonder also if, having been a bishop for such a very short time, he has ever needed to engage seriously with any constituency other than his own.
In all the savage criticism of his predecessor ++Rowan which has been levelled in these pages, being a prisoner of his own constituency is not one which can justly be made. Indeed ++Rowan bent over so far backwards in an attempt to satisfy his opponents that he ended up alienating many of his own supporters.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 9:06pm GMT

The bishops are clear enough that gay sex is wrong full stop, regardless of context. What is not clear is how many bishops, clergy and laity actually believe that to be true; or indeed on what basis it can be presented and defended to a generation who tend to think of sex as neutral in itself, where moral judgements arise from contextual considerations such as freedom, consent, intention, relationship and so on. The Pastoral Guidelines, which I suspect are well-intentioned, nonetheless offer the traditional closet and "don't ask, don't tell". That would be a godsend in Uganda; entirely inadequate in UK.

Posted by: David Oxley on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 10:00pm GMT

The Archbishop of Canterbury told the House of Lords:

"It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same-sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage." (Hansard House of Lords, 3 June 2013, column 953)

So, in the interests of clarity, which bit of the Pastoral Letter or Appendix explains how the Church of England addresses that imperative, please? Where is the bit in which the Church of England recognises and supports with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage the faithful and stable same-sex marriages in its midst?

Because I can't find it.

Posted by: badman on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 10:46pm GMT

"The bishops are clear enough that gay sex is wrong full stop, regardless of context."

If that's the case, why don't they stand up and say so, in terms? "As a formal statement from the House of Bishops, all of you gay people should stop doing all of that gay stuff, because it's wrong in every way. You are sinners, and until you repent, you are not welcome in the Church of England". They can all sign, with their names ("When I write something I sign my name": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP3owlMdxls) Then everyone will know where they stand (which is to say "in roughly 1920") and can make appropriate arrangements. It would be clear, honest and forthright. There could be no accusations of disingenuity, writing between the lines, dog-whistles, coded message: the CofE would make its position clear, and people could respond appropriately.

Of course, the obvious consequence would be that the CofE would schism, pretty much immediately, and the government and most of the UK population would side with the schismatics, not with the bishops. The rump CofE would be left looking like the Raft of the Medusa but without the luxurious appointments, and all their new friends in Africa wouldn't avail them much over the complete financial collapse of the CofE. But at least they would be honest.

As it happens, I don't believe for a second that all, most or probably even many bishops _do_ in fact believe that gay sex is wrong in all contexts, so the situation would never arise: the letter would never be published, because the House of Bishops would never agree to it. But it would be fun to watch them discuss it.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 21 February 2014 at 11:50pm GMT

The Archbishop of Canterbury will only support civil partnerships because they are separate and unequal. He did not recommend marriage equality in the following: "It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same-sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage." (Hansard House of Lords, 3 June 2013, column 953)

But if he wanted to give same-relationships and the same dignity and legal as marriage, then he would support equal marriage rather than second-class status.

Jesus preached the Kingdom but we got stuck with a church run by straight or closeted white males.


Gary Paul Gilbert


Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 2:21am GMT

The Bishop of Norwich quite genuinely seems to think the statement represents progress. It is astonishing how warping to one's perceptions it is to be a member of an institution as profoundly homophobic as the House of Bishops for too many years.

Posted by: The Rev'd Mervyn Noote on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 6:09am GMT

The various episcopal letters need to be read carefully. +Norwich writes "Clergy are required to fashion their lives
and ministries in
accordance with the Canons of our Church (including Canon B30 on marriage) which
is why the House believes contracting a same sex marriage conflicts with the Canons and disciplines of
the Church in a way entering a civil partnership does not."

Note "the House", not "I".

He then goes on to qualify the letter in various other ways too.

+Lincoln doesn't even seem to go as far as this. On the other hand, we hear that other bishops are portraying this as a much tougher line.

If +Norwich and +Lincoln feel such a need to be apologetic about the document, should they not consider putting their hands up and saying that they wished it had not been issued? They would gain, not lose, respect for doing so.

Given the variety of interpretations that the document is given even by those who signed up to it, and even in the first few days after its publication, it seems unlikely that it will be any sort of focus for unity for very long. If the bishops are supposed to provide leadership, this isn't it.

The recent letter to the Church Times signed by fifty young clergy seems rather more encouraging in its tone and approach. Lions led by donkeys?

Posted by: Turbulent priest on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 6:23am GMT

"Note "the House", not "I""

Ah, collective responsibility.

If a Bishop finds the House of Bishops making statements he profoundly disagrees with, if he is honourable he will resign and go back to being a parish priest (it isn't as if there's a shortage of empty posts, after all), just as a minister who disagrees on principle resigns and goes back to the back benches. Keeping the status and salary while whispering "but I don't agree really" is dishonest and dishonourable. If a member of the House of Bishops disagrees with the statement and hasn't resigned, they're simply prioritising their income and nice house over their principles. So Kremlinology about Bishops' pastoral letters are entirely worthless: either they agree with the statement, every word, or they have resigned. There is no other position that is honourable.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 8:49am GMT

On the other hand, Interested Observer, no MP has to resign because the vote in the Commons went against his own wishes. The result will still be what "the government" decided.

There is nothing dishonourable about your vote not prevailing.
What is dishonourable is to vote in favour of something you don't support when no-one can see how you voted, and then try to distance yourself from it in public.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 10:52am GMT

"... I don't believe for a second that all, most or probably even many bishops _do_ in fact believe that gay sex is wrong in all contexts ..."

I disagree here, Interested Observer: there's reason to believe that a substantial majority of bishops think that gay sex is always wrong. It's the mainstream Open Evangelical, Broad Church and Anglo-Catholic position, certainly in the bishops' generation. They'll put different emphasis on it, no doubt; many will turn a blind eye, and live and let live. That might be humane, but it's different in kind from affirming gay relationships.

In any case, even if I'm wrong about their personal opinions, do they matter when the bishops are willing to set them aside in the name of unity?

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 11:01am GMT

"On the other hand, Interested Observer, no MP has to resign because the vote in the Commons went against his own wishes."

MPs are not bound by collective responsibility. The voting takes place openly, and the parliamentary whatever party are not expected to speak with one voice. "The Conservatives" (ie, all the conservative MPs) do not speak ex cathaedra, and do not issue statements of policy, for the simple reason that they do not have a single policy. You are confusing parliamentary parties with cabinets. You don't get to be a member of the cabinet, or the shadow cabinet, and agree in public but then distance yourself from the decision.

MPs have resigned the party whip in protest at particularly egregious issues. But as they are not bound by collective responsibility, it's usually a more general protest.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 12:13pm GMT

Thank you, Interested Observer, but would you say it was wrong for a member of Cabinet to remain a member of Cabinet if a decision went against their wishes?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 2:56pm GMT

Must be nice to live in an absolutist world.

In the real world, when bishops collectively issue a 'pastoral' which most of us here rightly find objectionable and will in our various ways challenge and defeat, it is of some advantage that some of the bishops don't believe it either, because they will find it harder than those who do believe it to sack their 'disobedient' clergy.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 3:19pm GMT

"would you say it was wrong for a member of Cabinet to remain a member of Cabinet if a decision went against their wishes?"

Yes: that's what collective responsibility means. They either agree, at least in public, and defend the policy, or they take their objections to the back benches. What they can't do is remain part of the cabinet and whine in public that they don't support the decision.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 5:14pm GMT

"it is of some advantage that some of the bishops don't believe it either, because they will find it harder than those who do believe it to sack their 'disobedient' clergy."

I'm not sure it is an advantage to many.

What it allows is for the House of Bishops to continue to scare those that take their pronouncements seriously, and to continue to sack some clergy who look like they won't make too much of a fuss, while backing away from confrontation with people who have the media savvy to make life difficult. A situation in which "rules" are promulgated, enforced when it's painless, but then excuses are found to ignore breaches that have the look of being difficult cases, is extremely dishonest. Not least to the people who don't marry because they're frightened of what is in fact an empty threat.

If bishops disagree with the statement of the House of Bishops, they should say so. They should have the courage that they demand of others, the principles they expect of others and the fortitude they praise in others. If gay couples are supposed to have the strength to be celibate, then bishops should have the strength to speak honestly, without fear or favour. Either bishops support the statement, in which case their position is clear, or they do not, im which case they should clearly and unambiguously distance themselves from it and take the consequences.

What appears to actually be happening is that bishops are publicly siding with the statement, but making dog whistle noises behind their hand (to mix a metaphor) that they don't really support it, and that if it comes to it they won't enforce the "rules". That's great for those that can hear the dog whistle, and are willing to chance their arm on the bishop sticking to his covert word. But those are the people who would probably be willing to challenge the ruling anyway.

This allows bishops the best of both worlds: they keep their salary and perquisites, but can plausibly claim when the dust has settled that they were on the winning side all along. When the House of Bishops lose (as they will), some bishops will be very quick to say that they opposed the measure and were fighting to oppose it from the inside, or some such nonsense. How about they oppose it now, in public. If half the House of Bishops resigned, or indeed half a dozen, the issue would be resolved within months. As things stand, it will continue to lurch along, zombie-like, until eventual collapse. But the long drawn-up death of CofE homophobia will leave the church as a shell (for readers who recall the cold war, as though it's been hit by a neutron bomb, leaving buildings standing but everyone dead). Schism and splits now would be far less damaging.


Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 6:22pm GMT

Well, strictly speaking they have not not supported the decision. The decision does not make any mention of specific sanctions, it only says that it will be expected for priests to comply.
And all they're really doing is to say "we're very unlikely to do anything about it if you did not comply."

I still can't work out what any of them actually think.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 22 February 2014 at 6:38pm GMT

The Church of England changed its historic dogma on Christian Marriage when it allowed the legal process of divorce and re-marriage to become part of the Institution. Arguably, this was already bypassed in England by the Church's accommodation to the needs of Henry XIII. How, then, could the prospect of celebrating the marriage of an intentionally-monogamous, loving, same-sex couple be considered a betrayal of the Church's teaching on marriage? Marriage has been proven to be not only the proper basis for procreation, but also 'for the mutual comfort and support' of the couple concerned. Is that not a godly objective?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 23 February 2014 at 9:51am GMT

"If gay couples are supposed to have the strength to be celibate, then bishops should have the strength to speak honestly, without fear or favour."

Like the way you framed that, Interested Observer.

If any diocesans are reading this, please, come forward and state your personal views, and how you'll be enforcing the marriage ban. Let's know where we all stand.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 February 2014 at 2:59pm GMT

James Byron - 'It's the mainstream Open Evangelical, Broad Church and Anglo-Catholic position'. I am really not convinced this is true in any of these groups. Certainly not what you are calling 'Open Evangelical' here. Things are changing very fast. What is your evidence?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 23 February 2014 at 4:54pm GMT

For what it is worth, my feeling is much the same as David Runcorn's. The essence of the matter is rather simple: prolonged exposure to gay couples convinces most (non-gay) people that traditional Christian teaching on the matter just doesn't describe reality and that on this, as on other matters (I don't say all other matters), St Paul was just off his head (though naturally not everybody wants to admit this).

Posted by: John on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 10:36am GMT

To answer David's request for evidence:-

I've run through Open Evangelicalism before (short version: positions of prominent OE people & organizations: Fulcrum; Tom Wright; HTB; Andrew Goddard; Spring Harvest; Pete Broadbent, etc).

Anglo-Catholicism & Broad Church can be inferred from the overwhelming 1987 Higton vote in Synod, the suppression of the Osborne Report, 'Issues in Human Sexuality,' & its imaginatively titled sequel 'Some Issues ...,' organizations like Forward in Faith, & again, prominent individuals like Rowan Williams and Graham James. Williams famously rowed back on his previous affirmation of gay relationships.

I did specify "in the bishops' generation." Views are undoubtedly changing. Problem is, the current leadership aren't.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 2:53pm GMT

James Byron Well please don't go back to 1987 for my own views on this, or very else for that matter. And a bishop on our patch is 43 - so I wouldn't judge him by his views in the 1980's either. I don't think this is the way to read the tea leaves.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 3:20pm GMT

Has anyone told Christian Concern that their picture caption seems to have the two archbishops the wrong way round?

Posted by: Peter Dyke on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 4:59am GMT
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