Saturday, 3 May 2014

Bishop of Gloucester on Church's attitude to homosexual people

At the Gloucester Diocesan Synod this week, the bishop, The Right Reverend Michael Perham, delivered his presidential address. In this he reflected on the House of Bishops’ Statement in January on Same-sex Marriage and on the Pilling Report, the report of the Working Party on human sexuality, for which he was a member.

The diocesan press release contains a major part of what he said: Bishop Michael addresses the Church’s attitude to homosexual people.

The full text of the address is available on the diocesan website, but only in WP format; however it is also reproduced as a web page at the Inclusive Church site.

I strongly recommend reading the full text of the address before commenting on it.

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I find this terribly sad.

Once again, the greatest pain of the "gracious restraint" that is asked for (demanded?) is expected to be offered by those of us who are gay. Once again there's no engagement with any of the civil/human rights issues which have been fundamental to the equal marriage campaigns.

The fact that I know Michael Perham to be deeply caring towards his gay friends does nothing to mitigate my sense of disappointment that he feels unable either to engage with those issues directly nor indeed to articulate them for himself.

Liberal,straight, moderate, otherwise good-hearted bishops calling for yet more delay are responsible for so much pain in this area.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 3:51pm BST

"Gracious restraint" is the fall back position of the tortured liberal who doesn't have the courage of (in this case) his convictions. It is the clarion call of those who would say - I don't mind if the rules change but don't expect me to put myself out to work for that change. We have heard it so many times over so many issues that the words have an almost old fashioned ring to them. As so often with ecclesiastical leadership, where there's retirement there's hope.

Posted by: Disgraced on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 4:57pm BST

The press release omits the beginning of this statement which can be found in the Inclusive Church report:
"In my view parliament has done our society no favours in hurried legislation on what it calls 'equal marriage'. I have said publicly before that I believe such a fundamental change in our understanding of marriage would have emerged better from the careful deliberations of something like a Royal Commission that would have produced the philosophical, scientific, legal and moral arguments for change and that would have made it easier for the Church to engage and to bring biblical and theological elements into a proper national debate. However we are where we are..."

Of course, the possibility that the government would introduce equal marriage (not "equal marriage") was known to anyone who had engaged with their equality manifesto. The debate included a full public consultation and the customary number of Readings in both Houses. It was won by an overwhelming margin with overwhelming public support.
And I suggest that society has comprehensively engaged with the philosophical, scientific, moral and legal arguments for change. It's the church that has comprehensively refused to engage with them and has instead, even in Pilling that was issued a full 7 months after the equal marriage vote, given the Core Issues Trust the same weighting as the Royal College of Psychiatry. This is not remotely confidence inspiring.

With that background, is “gracious restraint” anything other than “can our gay priests please just put their lives on hold for a few more years or a decades longer while the rest of us tries to work out what to decide about you”?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 5:48pm BST

I whole heartedly agree with +Kelvin.

From MLK's Letter from the Birmingham (Alabama) Jail:
"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

We are there. CoE is so late to the conversation that you are very far beyond reasonably asking for "gracious restraint." You missed that boat by a decade or two.

More from MLK's Letter from the Birmingham (Alabama) Jail:
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."

Welby has rightly identified the perception that homophobia is being equated with racism. It’s true that in the west many of us can “pass,” but that is no excuse to refuse justice and we must think about LGBT persons being persecuted in much of Africa.

Homophobia exists when LGBT people are not treated equally under the law nor equally included in the church. There is no such thing as "not being homophobic" but merely believing that LGBT people must accept a separate and unequal solution.

Biblical authority as an excuse for homophobia does not hold up under any scrutiny. Do we have separate and unequal treatment for divorcees? For people who oppress the poor, the widows, and the orphans? For adulterers? For people who wear mixed fibers? For thieves? For people who dishonor their mothers and fathers?

I'm not equating being gay with being a sinner along the lines of adulterers and thieves and whatnot. In this case, I'm pointing out the absurdity of singling out LGBT people for exclusion when the Bible has so much more to say about other human endeavors, most especially our treatment of the poor.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 5:49pm BST

Bishop Perham calls for a period of "gracious restraint," "a cool and calm period in which to explore the issues," "a time to listen very carefully to the experience of gay and lesbian people," a time "to listen very carefully to what the world and medicine and science can tell us about homosexuality," and so forth.

Doesn't Bishop Perham realize how hollow his appeal is? Even the infamous 1998 Lambeth Reolution I.10 promised, "We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons."

And yet it's taken 15 years or so for the Church of England even to promise to start a series of "facilitated conversations," which (in my understanding) haven't even started yet.

The Church of England should have been having this period of listening and exploring during the last 15 years. Having "restrained" itself from doing what it should have been doing during that period, why should it reasonably expect the the supporters of marriage equality for all (including the ordained and for all celebrated in church) to continue their "restraint" for some indefinite (apparently lengthy) period into the future?

I apologize for making this perhaps too personally directed. According to the diocesan website, Bishop Perham is in a long-term marriage. I find it increasingly distasteful for any person called to the ministry of marriage to insist on a period of "restraint" for others who are also called to the same ministry of marriage to which he was called and to which he was not "restrained" from accepting. Jesus does have harsh words about people placing heavy burdens on others that they are themselves not willng to bear.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 6:12pm BST

Every time someone asks for gracious restraint I think of Rosa Parks being asked to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus, and I wonder if they would have said the same to her.

Jesus was not one for gracious restraint in the face of religious injustice either.

Posted by: Tess on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 6:42pm BST

Marriage delayed is marriage denied.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 6:48pm BST

St Paul's Cathedral is hosting retired bishops at Sunday Evensong during May to preach on 'What I want to say now....' Watch this space, I suppose.....

http://www.stpauls.co.uk/News-Press/Latest-News/What-I-want-to-say-now-retired-bishops-speak-out

Posted by: peter kettle on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 8:19pm BST

We'll said Bishop Perham, a splendid Swan Song. I totally agree with you that Parliament has rushed through this legislation and totally changed society's long held concept of marriage thereby doing itself and society at large no favours.
Your constant mantra of "Gracious restraint" is one that we all need to hear and heed, although I think you put too much hope and trust in the "facilitated conversations". Thank you for this gracious contribution to the ongoing debate. May you enjoy a long, happy but hopefully fairly active retirement.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 8:21pm BST

When Michael says that he regrets “the path the Pilling Report set before us seems to have been obscured somewhat by the introduction of same-sex marriage and the inevitability of a bishops’ statement in response to that…”
…that in turns ‘obscures’ the fact that the bishops’ statement in the form it took was by no means ‘inevitable’, and the statement itself (rather than same-sex marriage) pre-empted the process of facilitated discussion that Pilling had proposed.
In short, it queered the process, by laying down a default (with implication of sanctions) when a key point in Pilling is that, actually, there is NO uniform position at all, and therefore the bishops’ action was partisan and one sided.
Michael says that the bishops’ statement recognised “that there needs to be room for conscience”. What of the conscience of PCC’s and local churches that in good faith believe that all marriages should be celebrated, blessed, and acknowledged in the community of the local church? What of the conscience of the priest whose partner he or she respects, cares about, and wants to marry – as is their civic right – because the priest requiring celibacy of their partner is unnatural and perverse? How are these things “room for conscience”?
I appreciate that Michael is (effectively) admitting the bishops got things wrong – but he is apologising for the ‘tone’ not content. The trouble is, it is the content… the trampling of people’s good conscience… that is the problem. He claims there were bishops who *didn’t* agree with the content (and I believe him), but instead of speaking out, they signed up for the “collective decision”. In doing that, they collaborated in imposing one set of values on the consciences and good values of the other half of the church.

(1 of 3 - continued...)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 9:06pm BST

(2 of 3 - continuing...)

Gracious restraint, which Michael calls for, could operate in a different way altogether, in the spirit of indaba: we could let those who wish to marry, marry; we could let those church communities which wish to celebrate and bless gay marriages, celebrate and bless them, at least in terms of services of welcome and blessing; and we could let those churches that disagree, disagree and pursue ministry *their* way, in the context of their specific community. And in a ‘unity in diversity’ we could exercise grace towards each other, even while disagreeing. That kind of gracious restraint would not force anyone to act against their consciences. The bishops’ statement does.
Yes, “facilitated conversations… need space”, but the bishops’ statement has already crowded out the ‘clean slate’ and the non-partisan starting point, by asserting an ‘imperium’ from above.
Although Michael says that same-sex marriage broke on the scene after the main work of the Pilling report was done, it was already happening elsewhere and could be foreseen. Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that transgender couples have been in same-sex marriages for years, and transgender people formed part of the Working Party’s meetings, where their same-sex marriages were raised, but no mention is made of trans people in Michael’s talk until the very final sentence.
Telling gay people, and specifically priests, that they should not marry is not “affirming the presence” of gay and lesbian people, it is negating their lives. The impulse to welcome is admirable, and I recognise that in Michael’s words. However, this is not theory, this is people’s lives, their intimate lives, this need – like all other couples – for tender sex… and as such, the ‘terms of welcome’ are profoundly damaging.

(2 of 3 - continued...)

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 9:08pm BST

(3 of 3 - continuing)

The question of whether, in fact, it is ‘homophobic’ to deny a whole class of people sex because their orientation differs from yours, is contentious. Behind the gracious is the more brutal logic: ‘Your kind of sex is wrong, our kind of sex is right, only our kind of sex can exist inside marriage, and as sex outside marriage is wrong, you’re not allowed sex anyway.’ The whole principal and logic of the prohibition could be said to be homophobic in essentially regarding gay sex as outside God’s laws… it is being cast outside the city gates, to coin an evocative phrase. It is the ‘phobia’ of the ‘other’ that, actually, doesn’t belong: that outlawing of a class of people (because they *love*, for goodness sake) and seeking to prohibit and dominate their lives with the values of the privileged class. By all means, hold those views if it is your conscience, but show ‘gracious restraint’ in allowing other good Christians to exercise their consciences and actually flourish, and stop dominating their lives.

Let us reflect on the unnaturalness of what is being demanded. Will all the bishops stop having sex with their partners in solidarity with the LGBT members they ask to waive sex for “two years” in what they call ‘gracious restraint’ but which could reasonably be called cruel and unnatural demands? Wouldn’t it be better, and more human, to allow sexuality during these 2 years (though we’ve been waiting 20 years since Windsor), and at the end of the process, if the church *really* wants to get rigid, let people stay or leave, depending on the final decisions taken? In short, the ‘indaba’ method that Michael seems to favour: remaining in communion with one another, whether some priests marry or not, because our union is only, ever, in Jesus Christ. And respecting that, although we have divergent consciences, we can exercise our differences with grace not imposition.

Michael, you say we should not rush the process, but I would argue that it was the bishops’ statement that was impetuous, contrary to indaba, and threatening sanctions instead of accommodating difference and diversity.

Sincerely, Susannah

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 9:10pm BST

Others have rightly pointed out that the argument that people should just wait a few decades places the burden on LGBT people, while leaving Bishops with a much easier life.

However, people seem to have missed what to me is the single nastiest comment in the whole screed.

"In my view parliament has done our society no favours in hurried legislation on what it calls “equal marriage”."

It's not "what it calls equal marriage". It's "equal marriage". It was often asked, in the run up to the passage of the legislation, what nasty form of words people who claim that they would "never recognise" "false marriages" would use to refer to the relationship their dinner-party companions had entered into. And here we're seeing it: the sneer, the flick of the fingers forming quotation marks.

It's telling people that their marriages are fake, and then proceeding to claim that he would never intentionally offend someone who was gay. I hope that the CofE are happy as a fringe cult, because if this is the best its leadership can come up with, that's exactly where it's headed.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 3 May 2014 at 11:12pm BST

Christianity was a fringe cult in NT times, IO; it has done some of its best work from that position.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 4:16am BST

I, too, noticed the vampiric quotation marks in "equal marriage." It is as if the Bishop of Gloucester had placed the idea of marriage equality under house arrest because he thinks it threatens the social order.

Parliament took a long time to pass marriage equality legislation but recognized the longstanding injustice, whereas the Church of England, alas, has not!

For the moment, the registrar's office is a much better deal than the Church of England for same-sex couples and their straight allies.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 5:25am BST

"To those among clergy and ordinands contemplating entering a same-sex marriage I would say, “Might you hold back while the Church reflects?” Gracious restraint."

As a marriage affects no one but the marrying couple (or if it does, certainly no more so than the couple living together, w/ or w/o a Civil Partnership), I can only imagine the reply will be "No Deal: we've been *ungraciously restrained* long enough!" And I agree with that.

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 6:37am BST

Good on +Michael! This is one of the most outspoken, open and honest pieces I have read from the English house of bishops. I think he is right - even though I would question the way he has put it. He is right to say that in the cause of justice, the church's hand has been forced by the state. That is not a bad thing, but as the church is playing catch up and has always done its theology in this way: slowly, carefully, often frustratingly, albeit causing great pain. Is it not unreasonable to ask the church to seek to chart a way forward on this together?

Posted by: Tim S on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 7:16am BST

'marriage affects no one but the marrying couple'
What an extraordinary statement - no significance then for children, family, friends, community, social cohesion, faith and vocation ....?
I hope I have misunderstood here. This is exactly why the discussion about marriage in our social context needs more careful thought. Same-sex marriage joins an historic, evolving, heterosexual social institution that is deeply vulnerable, socially unsustainable for many and feels unsupported. If it enables the more careful debate and social transformation we need so much the better.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 9:22am BST

'He is right to say that in the cause of justice, the church's hand has been forced by the state. That is not a bad thing.'

It's not bad in that _someone_ is providing momentum for justice. In this case, the 'someone' isn't the state; it is, surprisingly enough, society itself. Or in other words, the prospect of the 2015 election. Cameron would not have pushed the issue if he hadn't thought it was not only right, but also politically palatable.

And there's the rub. Shouldn't the CofE have been the leader? Shouldn't the church be leading society on justice issues, rather than the other way around?

Or has the church now abandoned moral leadership to the learned philosophers in the Commons?

It's a sad commentary on the CofE when it has to be led to the water of justice for the downtrodden... and led by a Tory Government too.

Does the CofE do the right thing only when the right thing becomes popular?

Or is the CofE a craven follower only on justice for LGBT people? And why might that be?

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 11:20am BST

Jeremy is right, it's not the state which has 'imposed' SSM in a 'rushed' way on the church. Social attitudes have shifted towards acceptance with every new generation.

And 'society' is still one-third Anglican.

'We' have brought about this change, including we the church. Half of us to be accurate, but more in younger generations.

I note rather sadly that Bishop Michael's address is almost word for word what the bishops said to supporters of women's ordination. 'Both sides of the debate are angry with us, so we must be doing something right.'

One thing the leaders of the church are VERY bad at is learning from history, even recent history.

If I was one, I would be looking at the process by which the completely disastrous 'Pastoral Statement' (in substance as well as tone) came to be issued, and reporting the 'lessons to be learned' so they are never repeated.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 2:46pm BST

I wouldn't describe any of it as 'nasty', but I do think it's poor stuff. The equivalence in 'The weekend of the first such marriages I wanted to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, recognising what a wonderful moment it was for them, and to weep with those who wept, recognising how for them a deeply held belief about marriage was being undermined' shows a lack of discrimination. 'As for in my view parliament has done our society no favours in hurried legislation on what it calls “equal marriage” ' and the sequel, he seems to have no understanding of the separation of church and state and the absolute duty of the latter to treat all its citizens equally. In the civic sphere, the equality argument is decisive, and has, as everybody knows, persuaded lots of not naturally liberal American Republicans. Our bishops generally have a weak grasp of elementary logic and morality. It's shameful.

Posted by: John on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 4:39pm BST

A more even-handed approach to "gracious restraint" would be to ask that ALL married or partnered members of the Church of England make a commitment to live in celibacy until such time as the church has had adequate time for reflection.

Posted by: Nina Saint on Sunday, 4 May 2014 at 5:52pm BST

It's perhaps as well the Holy Spirit did not accede to the possibility of 'gracious restraint', when She was sent upon the disciples at Pentecost. There may never have been a Church if God had followed this sort of advice from human beings.

"Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with the fire of your Love!"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 5 May 2014 at 1:49am BST

Yes, Interested Observer, the sentence "In my view parliament has done our society no favours in hurried legislation on what it calls “equal marriage” says it all. The Bishop of Gloucester claims he doesn't want to contribute to homophobia, but implying the marriages of same-sex couples are fake does precisely that. His putting "equal marriage" in quotes makes the term sound scary or at least fake. It is merely a term parliament uses, he says. Church leaders have privileged understanding of the meaning of the laws of England, apparently.


Gary Paul Gilbert


Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Monday, 5 May 2014 at 2:46am BST

Higher up this thread, I critiqued the *content* of Michael Perham's talk.

However, moving from content to a more personalised assessment of his intent and goodwill, I would like to add the following comments.

I believe that Michael's intent was undoubtedly gracious, and that his proposals were the outcome of prayer and goodwill.

And grace really matters in this affair which divides our Church.

I have said in previous threads, that I believe that grace towards one another matters as well as content and views. Indeed, I am open to the possibility that the real test and challenge for us all, may be about the growth and maturity needed to work through how to respect one another's consciences with grace and love.

As an advocate of 'unity in diversity' - which I think has been such a trait and challenge and growth point in Anglicanism's history - I believe that we need to return, again and again, to the eternal reality of our union in Jesus Christ, whatever our differences.

And therefore we need to avoid alienation or the demonising of opponents. I don't even like the objectification I feel creeps in when we refer to other Anglicans simply by their surnames. I try to use their personal/first names.

I honestly believe that Michael is an influence for change and acceptance of diversity, in the House of Bishops. I am grateful he is there, to challenge, to suggest 'indaba', and to maintain grace.

My critique of Michael's recent talk was quite incisive and critical. I didn't spare him by retreating to niceties.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge his goodwill, his good intent, and the graciousness and kindness that is pretty evident behind the words I disagree with.

We need *grace*. We need to respect that there are different views in this serious debate, which is about people's lives, but is also about how we deal with difference in the life of the Church.

I have previously advocated that conscience on *both* sides of this divisive issue needs to be respected and protected. And we need to recognise the sincere faith, and prayer, and grace, of people whose views we strongly disagree with.

The vision of the Church of England that I have is of a diverse community, where tension can actually become a growing point, if only it opens us to the grace and forgiveness of God.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 5 May 2014 at 1:56pm BST

Thank you Susannah. This is very helpful. However painful this discussion, in fact the more painful it is, we are lost without grace.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Monday, 5 May 2014 at 7:11pm BST

Susannah,
one of the problems is that nothing ever changes until people ignore appeals to be nice.

I wish it were different. But reality is, and this goes for all major social debates, that those who don't want change only ever give ground if they have absolutely no other option.
Discussions alone never effect change, they only ever result in pleas not to move so fast and to allow more time for this discernment or that.

And so, with a heavy heart, I believe that the only way the church will move on this issue is if priests roundly ignore threats or pleas and just go ahead and get married.

Yes, we need grace, and I'm very happy to accept different views. But this cannot mean that those with a different view about our lives also have the power to shape those lives according to their wishes, while we in turn have no power at all.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 5 May 2014 at 7:28pm BST

Somehow, Susannah, I'm not seeing that it is "graceful" to demand an extraordinary sacrifice of others, when he's clearly not willing to walk the sacrifice himself. He is asking for cheap grace.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 6 May 2014 at 3:11am BST

A poor piece, I thought. 'Weeping with those who wept' strikes a very false equivalence. And he shows altogether insufficient awareness of the jurisdictions of church and state. The equality argument is decisive in the civic sphere. In seeming to challenge the state's jurisdiction, he's even worse than Welby. As between Susannah and Erika/Cynthia, I don't think Susannah is denying the need for 'direct action' by liberals (which I too wholeheartedly support), while maintaining gracious relations with everybody else (which I also wholeheartedly support). I do of course also think that we need a bit more 'give' here (as elsewhere) from traditionalists, that 'give' consisting in tolerance of different beliefs and practices (the latter absolutely essential). I know it's hard for them, but liberals also have been 'giving' generously in that sense.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 6 May 2014 at 9:53am BST

One common view on the civil rights battles of the 1950s was that it was just a bunch of uppity (insert epithet here) and if only they'd calm down, things would be a lot easier.

The bishop is essentially telling black people to stay at the back of the bus, and definitely not get involved in a boycott, because the white folk know what's best and in the end will give some modicum of justice, while avoiding upsetting the Klansmen. Every time people like him open their mouth, the CofE's moral authority becomes more and more soiled, because he's much more interested in the interests of the oppressors than the oppressed. He believes that people who are upset by others' marriages are more important than people being denied marriage.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 6 May 2014 at 10:24am BST

Our children and our families tell us they are not willing to be treated as illegitimate.
I believe I might have had a small degree of sympathy for this man if the Pilling Group had been composed of a good proportion of gay people. That would have been reasonable and inspired a different response.

One suspects that as long as people like William Fittall continue their dark influence on affairs we will get even more of the evil nonsense found in the bishops' statement. There is no light there to inspire grace!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 6 May 2014 at 12:05pm BST

A century ago, the church's message to single people who loved each other was, get yourselves to church as fast as possible and get married. Precisely because the church knew that such people often would not restrain themselves.

Today the Church of England's message to its own LGBT members and clergy who want to marry in church is very different: 'Stop--give us a moment, or a year or two, while we discuss the matter.'

We can speculate about why LGBT people are being singled out for such treatment. But let's also think about what is going on in more pastoral terms.

LGBT church members and clergy seek the sacrament of marriage for themselves and their families. As a sacrament, marriage is an outward and visible sign of God's grace. People who want to get married in church know that God's grace is exactly what they need more of.

Yet the Church of England is urging that LGBT people 'graciously restrain' from seeking God's grace?

I always thought that denying someone a sacrament is done only after careful deliberation, only with respect to a 'notorious' person, and only after consulting with or notifying the bishop about the particular case. The Church of England has known for centuries that to deny someone communion is a very serious matter.

So even per the rubrics, it seems very wrong to deny a sacrament to an entire class of people. Especially when the sacrament in question would make many lives, to use the traditional language, much _less_ 'notorious.'

But alas, it seems that LGBT people can't marry in church because they are impure. And why are they impure? Because, of course, they have not been married in church.

Logic aside, let us also think of it in parable terms--in Jesus' terms, which are literally pastoral.

If the sheep want to enter into the fold, does the good shepherd bar the gate against them?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 7 May 2014 at 10:03am BST

David,
re your comment about the effect of marriage on society - is that really the effect marriage has in particular, or is JCF not right that any formalised committed relationship has this effect?

The CoE submission to the parliamentary consultation process about the future of civil partnerships seems to suggest that the only difference is that one can continue to pretend that CPs aren't sexual relationships.

Many of us have always believed CPs to be equal but different marriages, designed to keep gay people in a lesser space but affirming them in relationships that are indistinguishable from marriage.
To that extent, equal marriage has changed nothing that the Civil Parntership Act hasn't already changed a decade ago.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 7 May 2014 at 12:50pm BST

Thanks for this thoughtful response Erika.
In what I understood him to say JCF’s comment laid bare what I think is a missing dimension in these discussions.
As a society we have largely privatised love and now routinely assume the freedom to make our own arrangements for the living of it. I am concerned that the present Christian debate is infected with some of these same assumptions. But the vision of marriage as essentially private choice is not, I think, as Christian as we assume. Hence my response to JCF.

No society in history has not recognised the need for a special safeguarding place, a committed vocational context, for the conception, nurture and rearing of children for the continuity and flourishing of the whole society generation to generation. These contexts – marriage and family – continue to be varied and evolving. But there is surely a wisdom in the way that have often been guarded by a strong conservatism, a degree of social consensus and sanctions (‘a way of life that all should honour’ etc). This reflects their both importance and their vulnerability.
Now when the Changing Attitudes website contains ‘Fifteen theological arguments for equal marriage’ it concerns me that the only mentions of children are all negative - you don;t have to have them (in fact having no children is commended as responsible due to global over-crowding!). The context is the distancing in definitions of marriage from the requirement to procreation. I agree with the need for wider definition but there is no positive vision here for family or wider community in the understanding of same-sex marriage. There is only limited engagement with theology in fact.
I know of and admire varied patterns of family and parenting by same-sex couples. So this is in no way a comment on commitment or ability to be found there. But if equal marriage is to make society stronger (Cameron) there is a wider social vision and challenge in relation to marriage and its theological underpinning that needs much more careful engagement within church and beyond it. I know that lies behind some of the Bishop of Gloucester's concerns here and I agree with him.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 9:09am BST

Interested Observer, I can see how satisfying you find it to compare Michael Perham to a complacent white Southerner, happy for Jim Crow to last forever. But the unacknowledged difficulty here is that a huge amount of the obstacle to change in the Church of England - of the truly passionate opposition to an inclusive theology of sexuality - is coming, not from white/heterosexual moderates who can be conveniently bashed over the head with Martin Luther King, but from other gay Anglicans. From Anglo-Catholic clergy who want what they do on Hampstead Heath to remain a sin; from - a much larger group now - quantities and quantities of 'same-sex-attracted' evangelicals, frightened and deeply embedded in lives of denial, who think their faith and even identities are threatened. What is happening is as much an argument within LGBT Anglicanism as it is a piece of top-down anti-LGBT oppression. If you could talk to these people, and change their minds, that would be a help. But of course it would be *difficult*. Far easier to kick your liberal, heterosexual allies, and to call them racists.

Posted by: Francis on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 10:21am BST

David,
that is fascinating, I had not been aware of the CA comments on children.
They are astonishing considering that many of us have children, either from previous marriages or as a result of fostering and adoption or step parenting.

One of my arguments for marriage equality has precisely always been that our families need the same recognition and protection as straight families and that our children should not be seen as having somehow lesser parents.

Of course, that argument is muddied by the fact that the Children and Adoptions Act that gave gay single and partnered people equal opportunities to look after children predates the Civil Partnership Act by two years.

Strictly speaking, children aren't a necessary part of marriage any more than marriage is a necessary condition for having children.

And not just in law, the church has long accepted children as flower girls and paige boys at their parents wedding and single parents or cohabiting parents.

As church and society we're really only still saying that "should you want children it would be preferable if you were married".

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 2:05pm BST

I have been struggling for days with responding to this speech. It is obviously sincerely heartfelt and well intentioned, yet symptomatic of all that is bitterly alienating and frustrating about the Church at this time.

As a queer Anglican (and not "gay [or] lesbian" -- it happens that I'm both bisexual and in a same-sex relationship) I feel like we have engaged in patient conversation for enough decades. Calls for "gracious restraint" now just make me angry. Kyrie eleison, but I no longer have patience for endless talk, for being pathologised, for mutterings about "tradition" and "orthodoxy" from those who are quite selective about their orthodoxy when it suits them.

Sorry, but I'm not going to be graciously restrained any more. I will live a life of discipleship as best I can (not necessarily all that well but we do what we can); I will take comfort in the sacraments, but the institutional Church has lost any legitimacy to impose discipline as far as I'm concerned. I am grateful to be resident in a province that is a bit less timid about these things than the CoE (ACSA - which people tend to forget is also "African Anglicans") but fundamentally we do see the same moral cowardice here much of the time.

Lord, have mercy on us all.

Posted by: Halford Dace on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 2:46pm BST

"What is happening is as much an argument within LGBT Anglicanism"

Wow. Really? Are anti equality LGBT Anglicans really a big part of the opposition?

That doesn't resemble the movement towards inclusion in TEC. Some LGBT Episcopalians might be indifferent, but the vast majority want equality and inclusion. Of course, North Carolina just found itself with an anti gay, tea party Republican politician who used to be a drag queen. So I guess anything is possible.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 4:49pm BST

David Runcorn, here in the US, a lot of gay couples have children. There have been studies, children of same gendered couples do just as well as children with heterosexual parents. The only actual damage to children occurs with discrimination, when things like healthcare, inheritance, school issues, and whatnot come up.

The actual damage caused by discrimination is a compelling reason for equal marriage and inclusion in the church.

+Michael deserves having MLK's words thrown at him. The infuriating part of CoE's attitudes is caused by a. decades of foot dragging; and b. this imperial idea that England has to proceed cautiously as it invents this strange new thing, while other Western cultures are decades ahead of England (not only the US). There is something about the combination of ignorance and arrogance that is particularly exasperating.

By the way, MLK wasn't just writing about complacent Southern white moderates, he was referring to all moderates who were asking blacks to accept injustice for the sake of keeping whites comfortable.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 5:00pm BST

I find Nina Saint's suggestion both spiritually and morally acceptable. Here is a grace that all can embrace and that makes a proper opportunity for discussion.

I have always argued that out of a sense of spirit-filled grace we should stop ordaining married bishops until the Church came at least to a point where we can agree to disagree.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 9 May 2014 at 8:10am BST

I don't find Nina Saint's suggestion acceptable.
The suggestion would have merit if we were talking about marriage in church and if we were saying that the church should not marry anyone at all until it has sorted out its theology on marriage.

But we are talking about a civil right and the church has absolutely no moral right to tell any of its priests whether they may make us of the legal possibility to enter into civil marriage. It simply exceeds their authority over their priests.

I sincerely hope that any test case will show that they don't have the legal right to do this either and that whichever poor couple finds themselves being dragged through disciplinary proceedings will be thoroughly vindicated.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 9 May 2014 at 9:41am BST

"This is exactly why the discussion about marriage in our social context needs more careful thought."

But the legislation has been passed. The time for attempting to stop it has gone. There is no plausible world in which the legislation is repealed, no matter what Anglican Mainstream fantasise.

Had the CofE engaged with the debate, rather than announcing the end of the world and assuming that would be enough to ensure the bill's failure, it might have been able to debate any and all of those issues. Instead, the CofE issued an increasingly hysterical sequence of pamphlets ramping up the doom-laded predictions, and then collapsed when it found that not even the House of Lords was listening. Welby had his chance for "discussion" and "careful thought" and blew it. What the CofE does internally is a matter for itself, but society at large isn't listening anymore.

You don't get to shout "DO AS I SAY OR YOU ARE ALL MAD" and then, after being ignored, claim that you have insightful and sensible things to say that people really need to hear.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 9 May 2014 at 11:31am BST

'The time for attempting to stop it has gone'
Unless 'Thinking' Anglicans is now itself under suspicion to urge more careful thought is not an attempt to stop anything. It is to play a part is how this all proceeds from here (and yes, the CofE has been embarrassingly clumsy and horribly off the pace in every way on this issue).
'The legislation has been passed.'
So what? Not for the first time society has led the church rather than the other way round. But it is quite another matter to imply that a piece of rushed parliamentary legislation contains a full and sufficient statement of Christian belief and practice on this or any other topic.
'society at large isn't listening'. This is new? It is the challenge Christian thought and presence always faces, in any part of the world. (and yes the CofE has a lot of seriously hard work to do to earn the right to be heard as wise and good news on this one).
As to the CofE's 'increasingly hysterical sequence of pamphlets ramping up the doom-laded predictions' - er must have missed something here.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at 6:49am BST

The real problem, of course, is that few in the church are willing to admit that marriage does not qualify as one of those things that meets the test of Vincent's canon ("always believed, everywhere, by all"). Yet it acts is if that were the case, talking about biblical "definition" where one in fact finds myriad "descriptions" and a long and controverted history of reflection as to what constitutes marriage, and a longer series of equally contesting regulations concerning who can marry whom.

Had they approached the latest proposal (adopted by the state) as simply one more variation in an ongoing symphony, perfectly at harmony with much of the foregoing (though clearly dissonant with much of it as well) there might have been some productive dialogue and thoughtful engagement. But the pretense of a monolithic and unchanging "institution" from the time of creation even to this day is risible to anyone familiar with the Bible or the human history which that Bible in part records, to say nothing of the pilgrimage of the institution of marriage under the church's care.

Marriage is not a proper subject of dogmatic theology, but at most of moral or pastoral theology. There is no core doctrine concerning marriage, and it is doubtful that the subject warrants a doctrine at all. The creeds and classical Anglican catechism are silent on it. The Articles refer to it as an estate allowed, and available to clergy as they see fit. There is no doctrine of marriage, only rules, laws, rites and ceremonies -- all of these, as the Articles also remind us, subject to amendment by the church.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at 8:51pm BST

If I can find a company that can handle the required high resolution, I think I shall have a tee-shirt made containing Tobias' posting. It's some of the wisest, in every sense, words I've ever seen on the topic.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 11 May 2014 at 12:45pm BST

My thanks too Tobias H - a really helpful mix of history, theological reflection and practical wisdom. Am chewing long and hard on it.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 8:05am BST

Counterpoints need to be raised to many arguments on this page. I want to address as many as I can since A. no one seems to be arguing the conservative view and B. it is impossible to address all in one sitting. Firstly everyone should note that 'gracious restraint', while unappreciated on these pages, actually serves the interests of the 'pro' argument. Many on these pages have taken this opportunity to hone arguments for their cause which they will use to sway many lay people. Additional it is important to remember the Christian church has officially held a very consistent view on homosexuality for some 2000 years. SSM and ordination of gay clergy have only been on the table in any meaningful way for only a very few. Pushing back against the idea of 'gracious restraint' will, and perhaps rightly, be seen as another bullying tactic by 'pro' activists. What would be ideal is that both sides would use this time to learn how to better frame their arguments and therefore, through understanding of scripture and sound reasoning, properly decide the matter for the sake of future generations of Christians within the CoE.

Posted by: Andrew F. Pierce on Friday, 16 May 2014 at 2:30pm BST

The Bishop presents an exceptional definition for the term Homophobia "... that is, hostility to homosexual people". Unfortunately by this definition any opposing view, regardless of source or intention, can be (and often is) viewed as hostile. This means anyone who takes the 'conservative' view (such as the Bishop of Birkenhead, who was singularly identified for taking the conservative view) is subject to immediate classification and labeling as a 'homophobe'. Such labeling undermines any debate because the mud of 'homophobe' sticks wherever and whenever it is thrown in public discourse. By forwarding such a definition the Bishop has, intentionally or not, most dangerously lowered the bar so far as to prevent the debate he says he wants all to make space for.

This brings me to another similar point. I have seen the point raised that the impact of a message (verbal or non-verbal) is somehow divorced from and of greater significance than the intent of the message as meant by the person sending it. (This was first used, to my knowledge, as part of race relations training in the US--I would accept correction on this.) This position removes any imperative for the recipient of a message to make any attempt to understand or appreciate the point of view from whence the message is sent. The end of this is that, if a message is contrary to what the recipient wants to hear then the impact is negative, offensive and therefore inherently hostile. The result: speak against SSM and be a 'homophobe' regardless of the basis for your comment or the context in which it is given or the genuine love for Christ and the church behind the message. There is also a grave danger that this definition (and it appears to be widely accepted and applied) will lead to bullying and intimidation.

Posted by: Andrew F. Pierce on Friday, 16 May 2014 at 4:17pm BST

A few years ago a retired Irish politician explained on the radio " ... my moral compass is the law of the land ..." meaning the legislature defined for him what was right or wrong. This statement in and of itself suggests the politician is not a Christian (or at best, is a very misguided one). Neither Christ nor the apostles looked to civil authorities to define right from wrong--nor did they instruct the church to look to them. They didn't even look to church leaders to provide personal opinions about right or wrong but instead called for them (each other) to focus on 'rightly dividing the Word ...' Any appeal to civil law for justice in the church is essentially calling on the unjust to judge the saints. The unjust pass their laws without any apparent regard to God or any so called 'higher power' (or at best with a mere nod to the sensitivities of those who claim a belief in one). What rightful authority do they have over the church? Is there any measure of the laws they pass other than the opinion of the people. Is their judgment preferred simply because it suits or pleases a person? Certainly recent laws do change the environment within which this period of reflection must take place but otherwise they should have no bearing on the conversation or the decision itself. For example, if the state defines the age of legal consent as 17 does that mean Christians discuss the right to allow consensual sex for anyone 17 or over? If the state decides there is no legal barrier to extra-marital affairs and therefore they are of no interest to it, does that mean Christians discuss the right to 'love freely' and without regard to marriage? Of course not. The position of the state in these matters does not inform Christian doctrine. It is our responsibility to understand the scripture in its full context and to follow wherever it takes us giving only to the state (Caesar) what belongs to it.

Posted by: Andrew F. Pierce on Monday, 19 May 2014 at 1:05pm BST
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