The main editorial article in today’s Observer refers to the Friday press conference.
Gay marriage: a joyous day for respect and love
…Inevitably, also in the anti-gay marriage campaign are traditionalists in favour of “natural” marriage. They argue, along with the Catholic church and the Church of England, that the Bible refers to marriage as the union of man and woman for the purposes of procreation. Clergy in the Church of England are prohibited from marrying same-sex partners. Faith and equality have yet to cohabit successfully in the established church. On Friday, the bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, lambasted his superiors for hypocrisy. “There are partnered gay bishops telling their partnered gay clergy you shouldn’t marry your partner, Fred,” he said. Colin Coward, of Changing Attitude, a liberal pressure group in the church, is optimistic of movement. “I am already fielding inquiries from people who want to know if they can get married in their local church… the Church of England will be forced to face up to that reality.”…
Paul Vallely writes in the Independent that The church has lost its way on the road to gay marriage
Ding-dong the bells are going to chime. Or perhaps more accurately, since gay marriage became legal in England and Wales, ding-ding. Or dong-dong.
Not that the bells in question are in churches. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church are doctrinally opposed to the idea of same-sex unions, though at least seven clergy couples are preparing to marry in defiance of their bishops.
But the loudest clerical voices are opposed. The executive secretary of something which likes to call itself Anglican Mainstream was darkly blogging last week to the effect that recent floods and storms are God’s verdict on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. If that’s the mainstream, it doesn’t bear thinking about what might be found on the C of E’s wilder shores…
Kelvin Holdsworth wrote The sacrament lottery.
Benny Hazlehurst wrote Will the sun still rise tomorrow?
Gillan Scott wrote Gay marriages are here and this is what I’m celebrating.
And Rachel Muers has written about Quakers (Same-Sex) Marriage and the State.
The Guardian editorial on Monday morning: Gay marriage: fair do concludes this way:
…The greatest difficulty is faced by the Church of England, which is legally obliged to marry almost everyone in this country – but is now legally forbidden to marry gay and lesbian people no matter what the wishes of an individual priest or congregation may be. This is not an issue on which it can or should come to a single mind. It may always be divided over it but the great majority of the church is not homophobic and recoils from those churches abroad which are.
The archbishop of Canterbury – a reasonable opponent of gay marriage, not gay people – called last week for the church “to continue to demonstrate, in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being”. He means it, but he may not be widely believed or heard. In the last 20 years the church has behaved with an unattractive cowardice over the issue. Now that it is trying to be humble and brave, few people care. Unfair, perhaps, but not undeserved.
Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury was in Bury St Edmunds. See this report, with video, from the Bury Free Press what he said there: VIDEO: Archbishop of Canterbury addresses same-sex marriage during visit to Bury.
…Addressing the complexities the Church of England faces on the issue to an audience of 900 guests in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, he said: “We’ve a huge responsibility here for Christians all around the world.
“It’s complicated because throughout history the scriptures teach and the church is understood that sexual activity should be within marriage and marriage is between a man and a woman and to change our understanding of that is not something we can do quickly and casually. It has to be done with profound thought and not just because as there is there’s a very clear majority in this country in favour of gay marriage.
“Parliament has spoken very clearly and we accept that and that’s right and proper.
“We have to be those who are faithful to the tradition we’ve inherited and adapt and change as each generation comes along in a way that’s faithful to the God who loves us and we do that in the context of the whole church.
“It is unbelievably difficult, unbelievably painful and unbelievably complicated.
“I haven’t got a quick one-liner that solves the problem - I wish I had and I would dearly love there to be one but there isn’t.”
He continued: “The church does look very bad on this issue to many people in this country particularly younger people and we’re mugs if we think anything else.
“We need to be really blunt about that. We need to listen to them but we need to listen to Christians around the world and we need to listen to each other and in the discussions rather than shouting that one side’s homophobic and the other side’s betraying the gospel - we need actually to listen to each other as human beings.”
Some other items:
The Church Times had a leader titled: Room to manoeuvre. It concludes:
…So, what can be done? The most immediate prospect is an outbreak of small-arms fire, as liberals attempt to counter the House of Bishops’ negativity by expressing their welcome for same-sex marriage in various ways, perhaps not all legal. Similarly, we can expect conservatives to reassert traditional views of marriage, quietly supported by a significant proportion of churchgoers who remain uncomfortable with the new definition of marriage.
These are more than mere skirmishes, and the Bishops find themselves with little room to manoeuvre. The time and energy needed for the facilitated talks is running out, undermined by the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in society at large, and the damage being done to the Church’s pastoral reputation every time a couple is rejected or a potential ordinand is turned down. If meaningful dialogue is to take place as it ought, a new interim position needs to be forged that takes a more realistic view of the new terrain. The half-hearted homophile passages in the Bishops’ pastoral guidance should be revised, and the reluctant concession about prayers for couples in civil partnerships needs to be strengthened and extended to same-sex marriage. The Church’s reservations about the equivalence of gay and straight relationships needs still to be acknowledged; but some of the pressure would be off. And then the Church might learn how to disagree well rather than, as at present, obnoxiously.
And there was also this news report: Gay-wedding day dawns as Church remains clouded.
Both the Bishop of Buckingham and the Dean of St Albans have written for Pink News:
Bishop of Buckingham: Allowing gay people to marry enriches the public understanding of marriage
Five more diocesan synods voted on the Women in the Episcopate legislation today: Bristol, Hereford, Lincoln, Norwich, Portsmouth.
So far I have heard that four (Bristol, Hereford, Lincoln and Portsmouth) have voted in favour by large majorities (in Hereford’s case unanimously), making a total of 24 in favour and none against.
All five voted in favour, making a total of 25 in favour and none against.
So a majority of the 44 diocesan synods have now voted in favour, and the legislation will definitely return to General Synod for final approval in July.
The next votes are in Blackburn (3 April), Southwell & Nottingham (5 April) and Worcester (30 April).
Detailed voting figures for all dioceses are here.
Catherine Fox writes about Power and Passion.
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes concludes her series in The Guardian on George Herbert with We don’t read the Bible to learn more, but to be fed.
Karen Swallow Prior writes for Christianity Today about Hannah More: The Most Influential Reformer You’ve Never Heard of.
David Keen blogs about Latest Church of England Attendance Stats: Making mud seem clear.
[I covered the release of these statistics here.]
Andrew Brown at the Guardian has written two items:
Archbishop of Canterbury signals end of C of E’s resistance to gay marriage. The money quote in this is:
“I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being.”
…Meanwhile, although Anglican conservatives mostly recognise that the battle has been lost in wider society, it makes them more determined that the Church of England should not change. This is increased by the fear of alienating African churches, which have taken an increasingly homophobic line in the last decades.
The resulting position is one of exquisite embarrassment. Very few in the church are not embarrassed by the antics of anti-gay campaigners. Their numbers include the General Synod member Andrea Williams, who last year urged Jamaicans to keep homosexual acts criminal, and linked homosexuality with paedophilia - or Andrew Symes, an Oxford vicar who wrote on his blog that he believed the winter flooding was in effect part of God’s just punishment for sexual permissiveness.
At the same time these people are plugged into a large and active network of African conservatives, who hope and pray that the Church of England will break up over the issue and leave the liberal rump (as they see it) to wither.
Meanwhile, the wider world simply cannot understand the fuss, and every statement by a bishop or archbishop suggesting compassion or understanding for the liberal position simply increases the pressure on the present compromise, which has left the Church of England prevented by government ministers from holding gay marriages…
John Bingham at the Telegraph wrote: Clergy should defy Church’s ‘morally outrageous’ gay marriage ban, says bishop
The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, said priests should be “creative” to get around restrictions on blessings for same-sex couples and that gay clergy who wish to marry should do so in defiance of the official line.
He also claimed that several current serving bishops are themselves in gay partnerships, and urged them to publicly acknowledge their status for the sake of “honesty and truthfulness” and even consider marrying.
Joined by an alliance of seven retired bishops, he condemned the Church’s position on gay marriage as “morally outrageous” and said it made him “ashamed”…
Ruth Gledhill at The Times (subscription required) has written Bishop defies Church to back clergy in same-sex marriage
A bishop has backed clergy who want to enter into same-sex marriages in defiance of the Church of England’s ban.
The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Rev Alan Wilson, said that in spite of the official line that gay clergy cannot get married, there were gay bishops in the established Church who were in partnerships themselves, and called on them to “come out”…
The statement from the Bishop of Salisbury (already mentioned in the comments on earlier threads) is here: Bishop Congratulates and Prays for Same-Sex Couples Getting Married
The Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, has congratulated same-sex couples who will be getting married from tomorrow and assured them of his prayers.
Bishop Nicholas said:
“Tomorrow, the first same-sex civil marriages will take place in this country. This is a new reality being undertaken by people who wish their relationships to have a formal status which embodies a commitment to them being faithful, loving and lifelong. These are virtues which the Church of England wants to see maximised in society. I therefore congratulate those who are getting married, assure them of my prayers, and wish them well in all that lies ahead.”
1. The Church of England teaches that marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others for life. To say that this can now apply equally to same sex couples has proved controversial, though Parliament voted for the new legislation by unexpectedly large majorities. The Church of England has not changed its understanding of marriage and is unable to conduct same sex weddings. However, it recognises that new circumstances have arisen and that change has happened very quickly. There is a spectrum of views among the members of the Church of England which is preparing for a two year discussion about sexuality.
2. Recent Church of England guidance on same-sex civil marriage supports lay people who enter into that new possibility. It can be expected that some people doing so will want support and prayer from Christians that their relationships will be loving, faithful and lifelong. Church of England clergy are not presently permitted to enter same-sex marriages.
3. In England and Wales there are something like 7,000 Civil Partnerships a year and a similar number of same sex marriages can be expected. This is less than 3% of the 240,000 heterosexual marriages that take place each year. There are about 118,000 divorces a year.
The Dean of Durham has published a blog article: Equal Marriage: crossing the threshold. Here’s an excerpt:
…Fourthly, let me acknowledge the pain and anger of gay people who continue to feel excluded by the church’s stance on equal marriage. The recent guidance from the House of Bishops has not reassured them, and it’s now clear that some bishops were far from comfortable with the advice they had issued. However, I do not think that this represents a stable position. As equal marriage becomes accepted by society and, as the indications are showing, by the majority of lay people in the church, we shall see a shift in the official stance. In time, the church will accommodate itself to this development, and recognise that by blessing same-sex marriages and even solemnising them, it is affirming the principle that covenanted unions are fundamental to the way we see (and more important, the way God sees) human love. Precisely the same happened with the remarriage of divorced people in church, and with female bishops. It takes time for change to be received and its theological significance understood: not much comfort to those asking the church for recognition now, but in time I believe we shall get there…
The Camden New Journal carries a letter Same-sex weddings with our blessing signed by many clergy in Camden expressing support for same-sex marriage. The letter is reproduced in full below the fold.
THIS week, and for the first time, gay and lesbian couples will be celebrating their wedding day in many venues across Camden.
Some will have waited many years for this moment to celebrate the love that they have found in each other; and for all there will have been opposition and struggle at times. Their wedding day will be a time of joy and happiness as they make vows, declare their love, and rejoice with family and friends.
As members of the clergy of the Church of England in Camden we want to offer our congratulations to them and their families and friends and our very best wishes to them for many happy years of married life together.
Marriage brings strength to both partners in good times and in bad, so that they may find strength, companionship and comfort and grow to maturity in love. Marriage is a way of life that is holy and is a sign of unity and fidelity which all should uphold and honour. In the marriage service of the Church we begin the service with these words: “God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” 1 John 4:16 – we pray for all those who are marrying this year – that they may find rich comfort and blessing in each other for the whole of their life together.
REV MARJORY BROWN
St Mary’s, Primrose Hill
REV ANDREW CAIN
St Mary’s, Kilburn & St James West Hampstead
REV CHRIS CAWSE
Holy Cross, Cromer Street
REV ANNETTE FRITZ-SHANKS
Emmanuel, West Hampstead
REV BOB HANSON retired
REV JENNIE HOGAN
Chaplain, Goodenough House, WC1
REV ROSS HUTCHISON
St Mary’s, Kilburn & St James, West Hampstead
REV DAVID JOHN
St Cuthbert’s, West Hampstead
REV JONATHAN KESTER
Emmanuel, West Hampstead
REV PAUL NICOLSON
St Saviour’s, Eton Road & St Peter’s, Belsize
REV DAVID PEEBLES
St George’s, Bloomsbury
REV DAVID RUSHTON
Chaplain, Royal Free Hospital
REV ANNE STEVENS
New St Pancras, Euston Road
REV PIPPA TURNER
Chaplain, Royal Veterinary College
REV MARK WAKEFIELD
St Mary’s, Primrose Hill
REV ALYSOUN WHITTON
Emmanuel, West Hampstead
REV CLAIRE WILSON retired
The Cutting Edge Consortium and the LGBTI Anglican Coalition have issued a joint press release and are holding a press conference today to announce a statement signed by a number of religious leaders expressing support for same-sex marriage.
The full press release is copied below the fold. The statement itself is quite short:
We rejoice that from tomorrow same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales.
As persons of faith, we welcome this further development in our marriage law, which has evolved over the centuries in response to changes in society and in scientific knowledge.
We acknowledge that some (though not all) of the faith organisations to which we belong do not share our joy, and continue to express opposition in principle to such marriages. We look forward to the time, sooner rather than later, when all people of faith will feel able to welcome this development.
Press Release EMBARGOED until 11 am Friday 28 March 2014
CUTTING EDGE CONSORTIUM
LGBTI ANGLICAN COALITION
Religious Leaders Support Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
A number of religious leaders have signed the statement below. A press conference and photo-call will be held at Friends House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ at 11 am on Friday 28 March 2014.
We rejoice that from tomorrow same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales.
As persons of faith, we welcome this further development in our marriage law, which has evolved over the centuries in response to changes in society and in scientific knowledge.
We acknowledge that some (though not all) of the faith organisations to which we belong do not share our joy, and continue to express opposition in principle to such marriages. We look forward to the time, sooner rather than later, when all people of faith will feel able to welcome this development.
List of Signatories
* denotes Friday attendance expected
Revd Steve Chalke
Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism*
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches*
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain *
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism*
Revd Sharon Ferguson, Senior Pastor, MCC North London*
Rt Revd Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham*
Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, former Bishop of Oxford
Rt Revd Richard Lewis, former Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich*
Rt Revd Peter Selby, former Bishop of Worcester
Rt Revd John Saxbee, former Bishop of Lincoln
Rt Revd Michael Doe, Preacher to Gray’s Inn, former Bishop of Swindon*
Rt Revd David Gillett, former Bishop of Bolton
Rt Revd Stephen Lowe, former Bishop of Hulme
Very Revd Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans
Very Revd Jonathan Draper, Dean of Exeter
Very Revd Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely
Very Revd Lister Tonge, Dean of Monmouth
Very Revd Mark Beach, Dean of Rochester
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The Cutting Edge Consortium is an alliance of faith-based LGBTI-supporting organisations, trade unions, and others united in challenging faith-based groups to promote equality and human rights.
More information at https://sites.google.com/site/cuttingedgeconsortium1/about-us
2. The LGBTI Anglican Coalition provides UK-based Christian LGBTI organisations with opportunities to create resources for the Anglican community and to develop a shared voice for the full acceptance of LGBTI people.
More information at
3. If you are planning to attend the press conference on Friday it would be helpful to let Anne van Staveren at Friends House know. Annev@quaker.org.uk.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry) answered questions in the House of Commons yesterday, including this one on Same-sex Marriage (Priests).
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the Church of England’s policy is on priests entering a same-sex marriage; and what guidance has been given on what would happen to a priest who did so.
Sir Tony Baldry: Clergy and ordinands remain free to enter into civil partnerships. The House of Bishops in its pastoral guidance distributed on 15 February said that it was not willing for those in same-sex marriages to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry—deacon, clergy or bishops—and that
“it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives”.
As with any alleged instance of misconduct, each case would have to be considered individually by the local diocesan bishop.
Mr Bradshaw: In light of the recent Pilling report, does the right hon. Gentleman believe it would be sensible if a hard-working, popular priest got married with the full support of his or her parish and congregation and was then disciplined, sacked or defrocked?
Sir Tony Baldry: The situation is clear. The Church of England’s understanding of marriage remains unchanged: marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and under the canons of the Church of England marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. The canons of the Church of England retain their legal status as part of the law of England and I would hope that no priest who has taken an oath of canonical obedience would wish to challenge canon law and the law of England.
In an exchange on Twitter yesterday, Peter Ould asked “Who gives Tony Baldry MP the steer on what to say in response to questions in the Commons?” and churchstate (the Church of England Parliamentary team) answered “Process in a nutshell: we make suggestions after consulting senior colleagues & specialists. He then decides what to say.”
The Church of England issued this press release this afternoon.
Bishop Peter Ball to be prosecuted
27 March 2014
The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, Chair of the Churches National Safeguarding Committee said today:
“We can confirm that the Crown Prosecution Service announced today that Bishop Peter Ball will be prosecuted for misconduct in public office and indecent assault. The church has been working closely with Sussex police throughout this investigation. The full police and CPS statements are now available. The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all. But we can never be complacent. We would like to urge any victims or those with information to feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.
We have also put support systems in place for all those affected in anyway by today’s charges. Should anyone have further information or need to discuss the personal impact of this news the Church has worked with the NSPCC to set up a confidential helpline no. 0800 389 5344. Although we cannot comment on this case any further at the moment, lessons must be learnt and it is our mission that all our churches are places of safety and joy, of justice and the enrichment of life.”
Some press reports:
Madeleine Davies Church Times Bishop is charged over sex-assault offences
BBC Former Bishop Peter Ball faces sex offence charges
Sandra Laville The Guardian Church of England bishop charged with indecently assaulting two young males
The bishop was originally arrested in November 2012, as we reported at the time.
Comments are closed for this article.
The Church Times article by Will Adam which was previously subscriber-only is now available to all: Breaking the rules on gay marriage.
PICTURE the scene: the Bishop’s post is being opened, and among the invitations, job applications, and clerical outfitters’ catalogues are three troubling pieces of correspondence.
The first is from the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, informing the Bishop that an ordinand in training, who is in the process of looking for a title post in the diocese, has entered into a same-sex marriage.
The second is a letter of complaint from a group of parishioners that the Vicar of X has just used the form of service for prayer and dedication after a civil marriage from Common Worship: Pastoral Services to bless a same-sex marriage in church.
The third is from the churchwarden of Y to say that the Rector has just come back from holiday with the news that the trip was a honeymoon, and a new (same-sex) spouse has moved into the Rectory.
What is the Bishop to do?
This week’s Church Times carries a report by Madeleine Davies headlined Bishops start quizzing their clergy.
Gay clergy have this week been describing the ramifications of the pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage, issued by the House of Bishops last month. Bishops have begun meeting gay clergy, at least five of whom are reported to be planning to marry…
And there is a report in the Camden New Journal Two Camden vicars to defy Church of England ban on blessing same-sex marriages.
…In what could become a test case, the Rev Anne Stevens, of St Pancras New Church, in Euston, and Father Andrew Cain, of St James’s in West Hampstead and St Mary’s in Kilburn, will campaign for the law to be changed.
Blessing services will be offered at St Pancras church, with prayers and thanksgiving at St James’s, when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 comes in on March 29.
Under the act there is a “quadruple lock” that prevents the marriages or blessing the marriages of gay couples in the Church of England.
More Camden churches are expected to follow their lead with a letter signed by local clergy due to be released next week…
Andrew Symes has written at Anglican Mainstream Same sex marriage – are we allowed to pray about it? Try to ignore his comment about the weather.
There is a very interesting exchange of views about the Pilling report between Sean Doherty and Malcolm Brown.
See A Response to the Pilling Report and then A response to Sean Doherty’s KLICE Comment on the Pilling Report The latter explains quite a lot about how the report was written.
Updated Monday evening
In the continuing saga of the Bishop’s Palace at Wells (previous episode here), the Bishop’s Council of the diocese of Bath & Wells has formally objected to the Church Commissioners’ decision to house the Bishop elsewhere.
A news story on the diocesan website states:
At a special meeting on Tuesday 18 March, members of the Bishop’s Council of the Diocese of Bath & Wells unanimously agreed to lodge a formal objection against the Church Commissioners’ decision to move the Bishop of Bath & Wells out of the Palace in Wells and into temporary accommodation in Croscombe.
A spokesman for the Diocese says: “On 27 February this year we were given official notice by the Church Commissioners about their decision to move the Bishop to The Old Rectory in Croscombe. We were advised of our right to object within 28 days and we are taking the opportunity to do so. We now await the outcome.”
The Church Commissioners have issued this statement:
Statement from Church Commissioners on Wells Palace
24 March 2014
The Church Commissioners have received from the Bishop’s Council of the Diocese of Bath and Wells a formal objection to the proposal to move the residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells from Wells Palace to Croscombe.
At a meeting of a committee of the Board on 21st March it was agreed to forward the objection to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England who will in due course rule on the matter.
The Commissioners welcome the opportunity to present their case to the Council.
Seven more diocesan synods voted on the Women in the Episcopate legislation today: Bath & Wells, Birmingham, Bradford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Oxford and Peterborough.
We await the results from Bath & Wells, but the motion was approved by large majorities in the other dioceses.
We await precise voting figures from Lichfield, but t The motion was approved in all seven synods.
So far 20 dioceses have voted in favour and none against. At least 23 dioceses must vote in favour if the draft legislation is to return to General Synod in July.
The next diocesan synod votes will be on 29 March in Bristol, Hereford, Lincoln, Norwich and Portsmouth. If approved by those synods it will have passed the threshold of more than half the dioceses, guaranteeing its return to the General Synod.
Detailed voting figures for all dioceses are here.
Rachel Held Evans blogs on Patriarchy and Abusive Churches.
Peter Stanford in The Independent offers Ten more commandments: How to save the Anglican church.
Malcolm French blogs that The Anglican Communion Hasn’t Failed.
Tom Brazier blogs that There are no rules.
Christopher Whitmey writes about Managing Diocesan Finances.
Updated Tuesday evening
There is an article in today’s Church Times by Mike Higton titled Gay-marriage debate: it’s all about gender. This is available only to subscribers, but his two earlier blog articles were linked in one of our many posts here about responses to the recent Bishops’ statement on same-sex marriage.
For convenience here again are those earlier links:
More recently, Mike has started writing about the earlier CofE document Men and Women in Marriage.
Here are the links to his next two articles:
…The report is explicitly presented as a follow-up to the 2012 document. In the Foreword, the Archbishops say that it aims to provide a ‘short summary of the Church of England’s understanding of marriage’ and, more fully, that
It sets out to explain the continued importance of and rationale for the doctrine of the Church of England on marriage as set out in The Book of Common Prayer, Canon B30, the Common Worship Marriage Service and the teaching document issued by the House in September 1999 [The reference is to Marriage: a Teaching Document from the House of Bishops of the Church of England, Church House Publishing]
That description could be misconstrued, however. Our report did not provide an evenly balanced summary of all the main things that the Church of England has wanted to say about the nature and purpose of marriage, but was an attempt to set out more fully the background in the Church of England’s thinking to the specific arguments made in the debate about same-sex marriage. So nearly everything in the report is (as the title says) about the necessity of marriage taking place between a man and a woman – and about ‘how the sexual differentiation of men and women is a gift of God’ (§3). Other topics (including such central topics as faithfulness and public commitment) appear only briefly, and only insofar as they relate to that central topic.
Like the original response to the government consultation, then, this is a report about gender – specifically about the importance of gender difference to marriage, but also more broadly about the wider importance of gender in society. And that’s where my analysis, spread over the next two or three posts, is going to focus.
…I said in the previous post that I ask was going to take seriously the Archbishops commendation of this report for study, and ask what agenda it suggests for further deliberation. In this post, I am going to point to a central facet of the report that I think should provide some shared ground between those who accept and those who reject its conclusions – before turning to a range of questions that the report’s detailed arguments have raised for me, which I think provide an agenda for further deliberation.
I am very aware that saying ‘We need to discuss x!’ can be a way of saying ‘You all need to agree with me about x, and if you thought just a little more clearly, you would do!’ It can also be a way of saying ‘None of you have been thinking about x. I am the first person to whom these ideas have occurred. Bow before me and my brilliance!’ So let me say right away that I know that good, rich, complex and interesting work has been done on all the questions I am about to raise – and that some of it has been done elsewhere by people involved in the writing of this report. And let me say that I do not think that further deliberation will lead to agreement, or even that it will lead to a general drift towards more liberal (or less liberal) conclusions. I have thoughtful, intelligent, well-read friends who occupy all sorts of different positions on these matters, and many of them know a very great deal more about them than I do.
Here, as elsewhere, my hope is not for consensus, but for a better quality of disagreement – and for more helpful public expressions of those disagreements…
The third article in this series is now available: Desire and Discipline. It’s long, but worth reading through. It concludes:
…I am writing these posts not because I’m an expert in this area (I’m not), but because I happen to find myself standing on the overlap between two worlds – an academic world in which these questions and insights in relation to gender have rightly become unavoidable, and a world of church report writing in which they barely appear on the agenda. All I’m doing, in effect, is saying to the latter world, ‘Hey, you should talk to these other people, because they taught me everything I know about this, and they’re really worth listening to!’ So if you’ve got this far, and want to find the good stuff – well, go and read Susannah Cornwall, Rachel Muers, Sarah Coakley, Steve Holmes, Eugene Rogers, Christopher Roberts, Rowan Williams, Beth Felker Jones, James Brownson, for starters. They don’t all agree (to say the least), and they won’t all back up what I’ve said above, but they’ll certainly change how you approach these questions.
Here is the full text of the letter mentioned in a news item in the Church Times today. That news item, North-London PCC votes against Bishops’ same-sex marriage guidance, is available only to subscribers.
To the Bishop of St Albans
from the Rector, Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council of East Barnet.
1. In partnership with our bishops, we are committed to upholding the Established ministry of the Church of England in this parish. We believe that the church exists for the benefit of all: people of all faiths and none.
2. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people, and others who do not identify as heterosexual, live in our parish, as they do in every parish in the land. [note 1] The Church of England’s bishops stand firmly against homophobia. [note 2] It is implicit, therefore, that the church exists for everyone, to enfold the lives of all into our parish communities and incorporate them into the Body of Christ, whatever their sexuality.
3. The ongoing prohibition upon the public blessing of same-sex couples implies that the church has reservations about those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. It suggests that the church does not cherish them so much as fully to embrace them. We believe this is at odds with the bishops’ firm rejection of homophobia.
4. The House of Bishops states “the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute” and it wishes to see virtues of “genuine mutuality and fidelity” in all relationships “maximized in society.” [note 3] This implies that same-sex relationships can be positive and can contribute to the common good.
5. By limiting our ability publicly to bless and recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, the House of Bishops implies that the church does not view them as positive and does not wish to encourage them. We believe this contradicts the bishops’ desire to see the virtues of these relationships maximized in society.
6. If we cannot publicly recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, we do not believe we can fully incorporate people in these relationships, or those who might enter into these relationships, into the community of faith. We believe this is
dissonant with the mission of the church.
7. We urge the House of Bishops to adopt the Pilling Report’s recommendation that “a priest with the agreement of the relevant PCC should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same-sex relationship in a public service.” [note 4]
2 March 2014
1 2011-12 Integrated Household Survey, Office for National Statistics
2 “We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained. We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.” Statement from College of Bishops, 27 January 2014
3 House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance, 14 February 2014
4 The Pilling Report, Church House Publishing (2013), pp. 149
The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis back Anglican-Catholic anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis have given their backing to a ground-breaking ecumenical initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking.
The agreement to help eradicate an injustice affecting up to 29million people was co-signed on March 17th by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, Archbishop Sir David Moxon; the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo; Dr Mahmoud Azab on behalf of the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt; and Mr Andrew Forrest, the founder of the large international philanthropic anti-slavery organisation from Perth, Western Australia “Walk Free”.
The joint statement by the Global Freedom Network signatories, which underscores the searing personal destructiveness of modern slavery and human trafficking, calls for urgent action by all other Christian churches and global faiths. The Global Freedom Network is an open association and other faith leaders will be invited to join and support the initiative…
The Anglican Centre in Rome and the Vatican have issued press releases.
Major Faith Initiative to Combat Slavery
New Initiative by Global Faiths to Eradicate Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking by 2020
The second of these includes the text of the statement.
The initiative has attracted media attention around the world.
Tim Wyatt Church Times New interfaith body will tackle slavery
Christopher Baker and Helena Liu The Guardian Will Andrew Forrest convince Australia’s billionaires to open their wallets?
Robert Mickens, Mark Brolly and Liz Dodd The Tablet Faiths unite against human trafficking
James MacKenzie The Star (Malaysia) Muslim and Christian leaders unite to combat modern slavery
Stoyan Zaimov Christian Post Europe Catholics, Anglicans and Muslims Unite in Global Freedom Network Aimed at Eradicating Slavery
The Nation (Pakistan) Initiative by Global Faiths to Eradicate Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking by 2020
Peter Sherlock The Conversation The Global Freedom Network reminds us that with acts of faith comes responsibility
Sydney Morning Herald editorial Andrew Forrest’s inspiring role in fight against slavery
Church annual statistics for 2012: Almost 1,000 Occasional Services each day of the week and no significant change in attendance over past decade
The Church of England today released its annual statistics for 2012.
Overall in 2012, on average 1.05m people attended Church of England churches each week showing no significant change over the past decade. Figures for all age average weekly attendance show around 1 in 5 churches growing, and just over this number declining with 57% remaining stable.
In 2012 the Church of England conducted over 356,000 services of baptism, wedding and funerals at an average of about 6,700 each week - almost 1,000 per day - marking the rites of passage in people’s lives in communities across the country. Last year the Church of England baptised almost 140,000 people (2,700 per week), performing around 56,000 marriages in (1000 per week) and conducted 160,000 funerals (3,000 per week).
Christmas and Easter services continue to attract higher numbers with services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day attracting around 2.5m people and services at Easter attracting 1.4m people.
The 2012 statistics also suggest that around 38,000 people who had not previously attended church were welcomed in to a worshipping community in 2013, compared to just over 19,000 who died or who left due or illness. Nearly 23,000 joined a church due to moving into an area compared to 18,500 leaving because they moved away.
The 2012 figures also show that more than 100,000 young people aged 11 to 25 attended activities connected to the Church in 2012. Around 28,000 adults work voluntarily with young people aged 11-17 and around 2,000 are employed to do.
Dr Bev Botting, Head of Research and Statistics for the Archbishops’ Council said: “These statistics for 2012 show that weekly attendance over the past decade has not changed significantly. The introduction of cleaner data and more rigorous methodological approaches and analysis means these figures provide a clearer picture of Anglican churchgoing in the decade to 2012.”
Do you catch clean, or do you catch dirt? Any fule do no that you catch dirt. If you sit next to Mrs Streaming Cold on the bus, before you can blink, you feel that wretched tickle at the back of your throat. If a cockroach crawls over your bread, it has made it dirty.
It is very easy to catch germs, and it is very easy to become unclean. We have an entirely well-based fear of contagion. It has kept us safe from sickness and plague. No wonder we trust it. It has protected us from moral and social contagion too. You don’t believe in moral contagion? Um. Well done. Only, ask anybody who is trying to get their teenager out of a downward spiral of behaviour. It is the friends who are encouraging each other in ever more destructive behaviour that are the first targets for action. Consult the various proverbs and comic verses. If you sleep with dogs you catch fleas. You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses (at which, the pig got up and walked away).
Dirt works like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. You can’t pass heat from the cooler to the hotter (try it if you like but you far better notter). No amount of sitting next to Mr Sports Coach on the bus will let you catch a six pack.
So it is that the unclean are shunned, like cockroaches. In Samaria, a woman who knows what she is comes to the well in the burning heat of mid-day. She does not need it pointed out again that she is a cockroach. She does not need the skirts drawn aside, she does not need the comments. She makes the pure unclean, just by being there. Jesus meets her, speaks to her as though she were not a cockroach, to be shunned. He asks care from her, and offers her cool water. Water from a deep well of pure.
In a remarkable story, layered with sparkling meaning, Jesus does one more remarkable thing. He makes clean pass to dirty. They touch. He does not become unclean. She becomes clean. The normal course of life is reversed in a transformation as remarkable as a resurrection.
What we consider clean and unclean has changed in my generation, in more than one instance most remarkably so. The principle remains. It is possible. It is possible to move towards what you think is wrong and impure, and to transform it by love. As I have prayed for poor Fred Phelps this week, I have been acutely aware of that. To me, he represents all that is most unclean. Yet he is an old man, dying.
This illustrates what love cannot do. Love cannot compel. I do not imagine Fred Phelps will have a death-bed conversion. Nor is the contagion of love a matter of hanging around to sort out the problems of others. Jesus is not derailed from his mission, he is not still in Samaria a year later, sorting out the upbringing of those children in one family with five different fathers. In a period which had no word or concept for ‘clear boundaries’, Jesus had astonishingly appropriate boundaries.
None of this should detract from the challenge of this story. Love, the disinterested love of our fellows on this earth, is the ultimate clean, and it does not work like the Second Law of Thermodynamics after all. You can catch clean, and you can pass clean on. We really ought to try it. Because, if that is not true, our faith is in vain.
Rosemary Hannah is a writer and historian living near Glasgow.
The Diocese of South Carolina led by Bishop Mark Lawrence has issued this press release: Diocese Formalizes Worldwide Anglican Ties
The Diocese of South Carolina has been formally recognized as a member in good standing of the Global Anglican Communion.
On Saturday, March 15, the Diocese’s 223rd Annual Convention unanimously accepted an invitation to join the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA) and temporarily enter into a formal ecclesiastical relationship known as provisional primatial oversight from bishops in the Global South.
The convention’s nearly 400 participants supported clergy and delegates as they voted to create a task force to explore more permanent affiliation options for the diocese. The task force will offer recommendations at the next Convention, which will be held next March.
Local critics of the Diocese’s 2012 separation from The Episcopal Church had said the disassociation would isolate the Diocese from the Global Anglican Communion. While the Diocese has maintained many informal relationships with organizations that are part of the communion, this formal primatial oversight arrangement makes clear that the Diocese is officially part of the greater Anglican Church.
“There’s an African proverb that wisely states ‘If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together,’ said the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, 14th Bishop of the Diocese, in his address to the Convention. “This will give us gracious oversight from one of the largest Ecclesial entities within in the Communion; one which includes Anglicans from a diverse body of believers from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, the Indian Ocean and many, many others.”…
The Charleston Post-Courier reported this: Diocese of South Carolina accepts provisional oversight from Global South primates.
Another press release says: SC Court of Appeals Denies TEC Appeal
SOUTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS DENIES TEC APPEAL, BLOCKS DENOMINATION’S STALLING TACTICS
Justices prevent TEC from using legal maneuver to delay court proceedings
CHARLESTON, SC, March 18, 2014 – The South Carolina Court of Appeals today rejected an appeal that would have delayed a trial in the Diocese of South Carolina lawsuit to protect diocesan and parish property from seizure by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its local group, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC).
The Court decided that TEC and TECSC could not appeal a lower court ruling on the process to be used in discovery.
The Court of Appeals effectively said it will not tolerate legal shenanigans to delay a trial to decide whether the denomination may seize South Carolina property, including churches and the diocesan symbols. In asking the Court of Appeals to dismiss the action, the Diocese of South Carolina argued that TECSC is appealing a court order that is “unappealable”.
South Carolina’s Court of Appeals justices agreed…
Press release today from Number 10.
Suffragan Bishop of Lewes: Richard Charles Jackson
The Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Richard Charles Jackson to the Suffragan See of Lewes.
The Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Richard Charles Jackson, MA (Oxon) MSc, Diocesan Advisor for Mission and Renewal, in the Diocese of Chichester, to the Suffragan See of Lewes, in the Diocese of Chichester, in succession to the Right Reverend Wallace Parke Benn, BA, on his resignation on 31 August 2012.
Reverend Richard Charles Jackson
The Reverend Richard Jackson (aged 53), studied first at Christ Church, Oxford and then at Cranfield Institute of Technology. He studied for his ordination at Trinity College, Bristol. From 1994 to 1998 he served his first curacy at Lindfield in Chichester diocese. From 1998 to 2009 he was Vicar at Rudgwick, in Chichester diocese, and was also Rural Dean for Horsham from 2005 to 2009. Since 2009 he has been Diocesan Advisor for Mission and Renewal.
Richard Jackson is married to Deborah and they have 3 children. His interests include hill walking, carpentry and motorcycling.
The Chichester diocesan website has more about the new bishop: New Bishop of Lewes Appointed.
Continuing the soap opera, but broadening out a little from the bishops statement.
David Pocklington Clergy, same-sex marriage and (quasi-) law
This is a good summary of recent discussion on the legal issues affecting CofE clergy who choose to enter a same-sex marriage.
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Sex and Marriage
The controversial thing about same sex marriage - as distinct from same sex relationships, same sex civil partnerships, or even plain old same sex sex - is that if sex takes place within marriage, it isn’t sinful. Not all marriages (or other relationships) involve sex, of course. But it is the sex that is controversial.
Those who take an unhealthy interest in other people’s sexual sin have had a mantra - all sex outside of marriage is wrong. Marriage good, all other sex bad, is meant to be the rule. (Its a rule few people observe, but the point of this sort of rule is idealism rather than realism).
And that, of course, is why the idea of a couple of the same sex marrying each other, if you think gay relationships are always wrong, is a problem. Thats why the Church authorities - who argued vigorously against Civil Partnerships when they were first mooted - are now desperate for clergy in those partnerships to stay there, rather than get married.
Tom Brazier A promise is a promise
This is not a post about same sex marriage and the church. But I want it to be read by those who are talking about same sex marriage and the church. I especially want it to be read by @notsuchgoodnews, @MirandaTHolmes, @kateboardman, @StLCowley, @churchnw6, @StPancrasChurch, @changingatt and others who possibly disagree with me. Because this is something we should be discussing…
Church Times Gavin Drake Westminster rules on gay marriage in shared churches and chapels
Sam Norton Where is the redeeming grace?
There is one aspect of the conversation about gay marriage and so on which is really starting to become clear to me, which is, put simply, that to get from a conservative premise to a conservative conclusion you need to resort to some distinctly ungracious arguments…
Updated Saturday evening
Four more diocesan synods voted on the Women in the Episcopate legislation today: Carlisle, Ely, St Albans, Winchester.
At the time of writing I have not seen the result from Carlisle, but the other three all voted in favour by substantial majorities.
All today’s results are now available; all four dioceses voted in favour by substantial majorities. So far 13 dioceses have voted in favour and none against. At least 23 dioceses must vote in favour if the draft legislation is to return to General Synod in July.
The next diocesan synod votes will be on 22 March in Bath & Wells, Birmingham, Bradford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Oxford and Peterborough.
Detailed voting figures for all dioceses are here. I have added running totals of the voting figures to the bottom of this table.
George Day writes for and about Fulcrum: Where are we and where are we going?
Anglicans Online has published these two essays.
Steve Caruso Lost in Translation — Aramaic in the Context of Christ Looking at Gallilean Aramaic, the language Jesus actually spoke. It is almost extinct.
Pierre Whalon Surviving Death? Thinking about what it means to die.
Andrew Brown writes for The Guardian that Showing that a story isn’t factually accurate doesn’t diminish its truth.
Tony Benn died yesterday. Some reactions:
Benny Hazlehurst Tony Benn - RIP
David Robertson Christian Today Tony Benn – Lessons for Christians, Politicians and Secular Humanists
Giles Fraser The Guardian RIP Tony Benn: he encouraged us
Christopher Howse has been to Cork for The Telegraph: The ugly duck’s loveliest creation.
This conference has been postponed until Saturday 1 November, more information to follow
The fourth national conference organised by the Cutting Edge Consortium will be held
on Saturday 5 April.
The conference theme is Equality and Religious Freedom - Equipping Activists for a Changing World.
Oscar is a small red-haired bundle of endearing energy who peers at the word through John Lennon glasses so thick that when you read a map you can see people waving. Terminally incapable of sitting still, his presence at a school assembly is likely to bring to naught the most carefully crafted presentation. Exactly what he feels about it all is hard to tell, since his speech is all but incomprehensible and he’s clearly got ‘a problem’, but whatever it is, he’s clearly finding life rewarding. Oscar would never, ever fit into a flow-chart on classroom (or Church) management, and rather would stand there injecting his subversive presence into the situation with his face-wide grin.
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus rather reminds me of Oscar. Nicodemus appears, grave, thoughtful, cautious, articulate, informed, to find out what this Jesus character might be about. What he gets has more in common with Oscar’s subversive smile than the Senior Common Room conversation that Nicodemus might have hoped for. Jesus’s enigmatic phrases — ‘being born from above’, ‘the wind blows where it chooses’ — leave Nicodemus’s formulæ in tatters, so much so that Jesus asks impishly, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?’
The longing so clearly present in Nicodemus’s opening statement is to try and understand how Jesus, this God-sent teacher, fits into his, Nicodemus’s, world-picture. The succeeding sentences demolish any hope of making sense of Jesus through such a lens, much as Oscar demolishes assemblies, not by being disruptive but by refusing to fit the expected pattern. The talk is of mystery, of inexplicable, unprompted acts of God, of a universe which cannot be constrained, neither by Nicodemus’s interpretative matrix nor even by his hopes. Consequently, Nicodemus must either leave his old lexicon behind, or else never acknowledge the new reality he has glimpsed, a decision whose outcome we are left to imagine for ourselves.
This encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus is a rebuke to every dream of an all-embracing systematic theology, even to those vain attempts to come up with definitive explanations of how Calvary and Redemption interact. We approach Jesus with our painstakingly worked out hypotheses and theories, only to realise in the moment of encounter that they miss the point almost entirely, that our understanding is almost completely unlike the truth, and that we have to choose between returning to something we now know to be more idol than deity or accepting that our carefully-laid foundations have yet again proved inadequate. ‘Are you a teacher of ordinands, and yet you do not understand these things?’
There is something profoundly disorientating yet also profoundly liberating about Oscar so clearly rejoicing in something far more important than what we think we’re doing so worthily and well. He brings us up short against another reality which we’ve missed, despite our dogged preparation. Thus too the subversive Christ: we can either ignore him as an unfortunate impediment to our carefully calculated blueprint of God’s grace, or welcome his invitation to something far richer and greater. Whether our love affair is with the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation or the Enlightenment, perhaps a useful Lenten self-denial might be to allow Oscar’s Christ to amble around the over-ordered schoolroom of our souls — and surprise us.
David Rowett is vicar of Barton-on-Humber in the diocese of Lincoln.
Updated twice on Tuesday evening
The soap opera continues.
Bosco Peters has written Rethinking marriage? He concludes this way:
…By the 1928 marriage rite, wives obeying their husband had gone, and with it the biblical submit-and-subject wording. In only one prayer was the allusion retained that in marriage “is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].
Because the union of Christ and His church is an unbreakable union, Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery comes together with marriage-is-indissoluble. Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.
New Zealand Anglicanism shifted from a firmly-held “marriage cannot be dissolved” to “a couple when getting married should intend to stay together”. ALL references to Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery were completely removed from the three different rites available for getting married in the 1989 New Zealand Prayer Book. Even the Church of England’s own Common Worship rite has removed all but the tiniest single vestigial allusion (quoted above) to what was clearly once a dominant biblical paradigm for marriage.
What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.
In the discussion about whether gender difference is essential to marriage it is clear where the inner logic of the trajectory of Christian marriage changes leads, and that the Church of England bishops’ statement is on the wrong side of that trajectory.
Andrew Goddard has written an article in two long parts for Fulcrum:
The divisions within the Church of England and the multiple challenges it faces in the light of the advent of same-sex marriage have become even clearer and more serious in the weeks since the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance. In what follows I explore three areas where the bishops have been criticised and offer a defence of their stance…
This second part turns to highlight three areas of ambiguitiy, unclarity or inconsistency before concluding with some thoughts on the challenges we now face…
He concludes with this:
…One reason that further practical guidance is unlikely from the House of Bishops is that some of its members do not personally believe that the church’s doctrine of marriage as being a union of a man and a woman is true and something which “most benefits society” (para 8). Others, although personally convinced of such a view, are concerned about the implications – in church and wider society – of following that commitment through in church teaching and practice. Those concerns will have been deepened by the strength of criticism they have faced for upholding the teaching and following it through even to the extent they have done.
The sad reality is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Although it is reported that only one bishop voted against the guidance, it is also being claimed that a significant number, even a majority, are not personally happy with it. The reactions to the guidance make clear just how extensive the divisions are in the wider church and thus how difficult the environment for the facilitated conversations is going to be. They also perhaps highlight two areas where the conversations need to focus their attention but which were largely unaddressed by the Pilling Report:
(1) What doctrine of marriage should the Church have and how should it then bear faithful witness to that in ordering its own life and in mission in a wider society which recognises same-sex marriage? and
(2) What is to be done, what new church structures may be needed, so that those who find themselves unable to accept the conclusions on the doctrine of marriage and its practical implications can faithfully bear witness to their understanding of marriage without undermining the mind of the majority or condemning the Church of England to continuing destructive conflict over this issue?
Giles Fraser has written Gay clergy marriages: the final chapter of the Anglican Communion fiction.
…All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages. As the bishop of Buckingham explained: “If a member of the clergy wants to marry, I may like or not like the match, but I have no legal power to stop them marrying.” And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.
Peter Ould has published CDM or EJM? in which an anonymous correspondent who has “considerable experience in the exercising of the Clergy Discipline Measure and the processes before it and who has a firm founding in Ecclesiastical Law ” writes that:
…There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned. That Act of Parliament acknowledges that the law of the Church diverges from that of the state in such matters, and expressly permits the Church to act independently where marriage discipline is concerned. Even if Church legislation directly contradicts the law of Parliament, the Act expressly allows for this.
The House of Bishops has expressly stated that it will not allow the clergy to enter into same-sex marriages. This statement forms part of the discipline of the Church, since the House of Bishops is the teaching authority for the Church, and its members administer the CDM. All of the clergy in office have signed the Declaration of Assent and have taken an oath of canonical obedience. The latter commits them to obeying the canon law of the Church of England, including the lawful directions of their bishop where he has authority to do so.
There can therefore be no doubt that a CDM tribunal will rule that a same-sex marriage by one of the clergy constitutes conduct unbecoming, just as surely as if the minister concerned had committed adultery or some other act of immorality of a sexual nature. This is not a matter of doctrine but of morality…
But do read the whole article.
Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream has written for the American Anglican Council: Gay marriage and the Church’s response
…But also among those holding to a conservative position there are divisions. Should Christian sexual ethics be explained outside the community of faith? Should Anglicans protest against gay marriage outside registry offices, or the teaching of homosexual practice in schools? Could it ever be right (even if not canonically appropriate) to refuse sacraments to those who have entered a same sex marriage against pastoral advice? Should people with same sex attraction be enabled to seek skilled help to change if they so wish? What about the future of the Church – would it be a good thing to participate in facilitated conversations? Are there any circumstances in which it might be the best thing to form a separate Anglican administration, either linked to the Church of England or not? Is GAFCON the solution? All of these questions separate the confessing C of E Anglicans…
Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post reports: Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of dispute over Episcopal Church’s property in Va.
Seven years after 15 conservative Virginia congregations made global news by breaking away from the Episcopal Church — and refusing to give up tens of millions of dollars in property — the Supreme Court on Monday ended the complex legal dispute by declining to take up an appeal by the last remaining plaintiff.
The Falls Church Anglican, a 2,000-member breakaway congregation, had asserted that the nearly 300-year-old sprawling property belonged to the Anglican group because the Episcopal Church “left” its umbrella Anglican tradition by becoming more liberal in interpreting scripture and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy…
Mary Frances Schjonberg at ENS reports this way: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Falls Church Anglican case. This article contains many links to earlier documents.
More than seven years after a majority of clergy and members of several Diocese of Virginia congregations declared they had left the Episcopal Church and the question of ownership of the property involved began to be litigated, the U.S. Supreme Court refused on March 10 to hear the appeal of the last congregation still at odds with the Episcopal Church and the diocese.
The court gave no reason for deciding not to review a 2013 ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirming an earlier circuit court ruling that returned The Falls Church property to loyal Episcopalians to use for the mission of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. The court’s decision was included in its March 10 order list and was one of 121 requests for review that it refused.
All that remains in the case is for the Diocese of Virginia to request an order from the Fairfax Circuit Court releasing to the diocese more than $2.6 million that was in the Falls Church’s bank accounts at the time of the split and that the court has been holding in escrow during the progression of the case…
We received word today that the United States Supreme Court has denied our church’s petition for certiorari and declined to hear our case. This means that the long legal process in which our church has been involved since we were sued by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2007 has come to its end.
We have pursued this legal process out of the conviction that it is one of the ministries that God has entrusted to our church and out of our desire to be faithful to God’s calling to see it through to the end. We are grateful that our nation’s civil justice system allows us this recourse and we thank the Supreme Court for its consideration of our petition.
We will keep praying for the many churches and dioceses that remain embroiled in lawsuits over their property with The Episcopal Church or other denominations. We will continue to pray for clarification of this area of law, which has become increasing convoluted and confusing for the lower courts since the Supreme Court last addressed it in 1979…
A.S. Haley has published Heartbreaker: U. S. Supreme Court Denies Falls Church Petition.
The Crown Nominations Commission held its second meeting to consider the See of Hereford on 25 and 26 February, and was unable to make a choice. The Commission will reconvene in May and June. The news was announced in this press release published on the Hereford diocesan website.
Archbishop of Canterbury
March 7th 2014
From the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Diocese of Hereford
Vacancy in the See of Hereford - meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission
An update from the Archbishop of Canterbury - Chair of the Commission
Many of you will have been keeping the Crown Nominations Commission in your prayers last week, for which many thanks. It is good for those of us undertaking this work to know that we are being prayed for.
We thought it important to provide an update on the progress of our deliberations which are still continuing. The Commission has had two meetings. Following interviews, we did not feel able to make a choice as to whom God is calling to be the next Bishop of Hereford and felt that we needed more time to discern the next stages for mission and ministry in the Diocese. Taking time over appointments is important and the Commission is utterly committed to finding the right person to be your Bishop. We are therefore making arrangements to reconvene on 1 May and 6 June 2014.
As ever, I will be keeping the whole diocese in my prayers.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury
Anglican Mainstream has published an email sent by the EGGS Committee to the members of EGGS. EGGS is the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, and the names of the committee members are shown here. The full text of the email is copied below the fold.
The BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday broadcast this morning carried a segment which discussed the legal implications for clergy who enter a same-sex marriage. The Bishop of Oxford was among those interviewed, along with the expert legal journalist, Joshua Rozenberg. The 10 minute segment begins about 35 minutes into the broadcast.
Dear EGGS member
I am writing on behalf of the EGGS committee to offer a brief response to the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter and Appendix released on February 15th.
We welcome the Archbishops’ pastoral letter of 15th February and note the divergence to which the Statement refers between the general understanding of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England. In view of this significant change we believe that the House of Bishops is increasingly called to inhabit a prophetic role in articulating Scriptural patterns for human flourishing to our society and culture, and we assure them of our prayers and support as they do so.
We applaud their call and commitment for the church to be a welcoming community. We are grateful for the clear indication of agreement in the House that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged. We are encouraged that the Statement recognises the consistent teaching of Canon B30, the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship in this regard. We welcome the indication that clergy should not enter same-sex marriages and that those in same sex marriages cannot be ordained. We also welcome the advice that pastoral discussion with those entering same-sex marriage needs to include an exploration of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it.
At the same time as expressing our thanks, we wish to note the following concerns:
We are concerned that the Appendix says nothing about the position of lay people holding a bishop’s licence or commission.
We believe that such lay ministers, who along with ordained ministers should offer an exemplary lifestyle, should be expected not to enter into same-sex marriages, and those who have contracted same-sex marriages should not be licenced or commissioned.
We believe that the guidance in respect of acts of worship after a civil same sex wedding (Appendix paragraphs 19-21) is unclear. The distinction between a service of blessing and informal prayers is a distinction without reasoned theological difference and likely to lead to confusion at parochial level. The implication that it is acceptable for clergy informally to pray for God’s blessing on a relationship which departs from the church’s teaching (Appendix paragraph 21) seems at best counterintuitive, and we would have wished for clearer indication that those departing from the church’s teaching on this (or any other matter) should be encouraged to reconsider their ways. Many evangelical churches will of course continue to pray for people’s spiritual and physical needs in the context of all kinds of relationships : this is not to be confused with an endorsement of these relationships.
While affirming that everyone should be welcomed in our churches, we continue to believe that appropriate sacramental discipline should apply to those who choose to enter into any sexual relationship other than within marriage between a man and a woman.
The ‘sharp’ end of the challenge to respond to requests for recognition of same sex marriages is going to be at parochial level – and we are concerned that the guidance offered is insufficient in this regard.
We look forward to the conversations of the coming months as an opportunity to explore how a biblically orthodox perspective on human sexuality is good for all society and for each child, woman and man. We pray that in exploring this together we may be re-energised by the clarity of Scripture and the vision it offers for human flourishing.
Please pray for our Archbishops and Bishops in their leadership: that God will give them the ‘knowledge of His will …. that we may live lives that please Him in every way’ (Colossians 1).
Rev John Dunnett
On behalf of the EGGS Committee.
As I reported here the current legislation on Women in the Episcopate was sent to dioceses promptly after last month’s meeting of General Synod. The first diocesan synod votes were held a week ago, and so far nine dioceses have voted; all were in favour of the legislation.
I have compiled a table of the voting figures here which I will update as further votes take place.
David Emmott starts his new blog Campaign for Fair Rants with Becoming human.
David Walker writes for The Guardian The church has no choice but to act when faced with the reality of poverty.
Graham Kings writes for Fulcrum Life, Justice and Peace through Mission and Dialogue.
Ted Olsen writes for Christianity Today The Bible in the Original Geek: Inside the world of the new Bible coders—and how they will change the way you think about Scripture.
Richard Fidler of ABC has been in conversion with Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Jody Stowell asks Why are we so afraid of women bishops?
If God is love, then can God also be love, heat and passion? - Part 3 of the George Herbert series by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in The Guardian.
Giles Fraser writes in The Guardian Secular Lent is a pale imitation of the real thing. I’ll have nothing to do with it.
Mention the word ’ wilderness’ these days, and the images which come to mind may well be filtered through the lens either of the Romantic movement, which began to find the wild places and the uninhabited lands not life-threatening but life-enhancing, or that of a more recent sensibility, a conservation movement which seeks to preserve some parts of the earth as (nearly) untouched by human intervention, and finds in that a powerful good. Our remaining wildernesses are no longer fear-filled, distant from all that is humane, encouraging, civilised, as they were for so many generations and are still for some cultures and in some parts of the world. They have largely lost their edge of danger; rather than places of threat, they are seen as places of a strange and powerful beauty. For us, the children of a comfortable, largely urbanised society, they have become the settings for adventure or recreation. If they are places of challenge, it is often a very carefully orchestrated challenge, a battle for survival created as a source of entertainment employing the enmeshed forces of media and celebrity.
So we still have stories of ventures into the wild, often solitary; expeditions into the rainforests of the Amazon, treks across the Antarctic, solo crossings of the oceans in small boats. These are our narratives of risk and heroism, these are the tales of individuals deliberately placing themselves where their very survival may be at stake. In these stories of our own time and culture we can still hear an echo of the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. They are stories of the testing of the human spirit, they involve separation from the norms of daily life, the conscious placing of the self in danger, the denial of comfort, the need for inner strength, for great reserves of courage. However, at the heart of most of these stories is (in the tradition of the Romantics) the individual him or herself, asserting or proving a practical, emotional, and even spiritual self-sufficiency - however fulsome the tributes to the back-up teams at the end.
When we listen to the accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, especially those in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we hear something different. We hear not about self-sufficiency, but about dependence: dependence on God as the source, sustainer, and shaper of life. If we move on a few centuries, to those other seekers-out of the wild places, the desert fathers and mothers, we learn not only about dependence on God, but dependence on each other. The physical and spiritual battles fought in the deserts of Egypt by those men and women of the 4th and 5th centuries are known to us because their struggles were so often resolved through conversation and exchange, through what was shared.
Whatever the wild places, of body, mind, or spirit, we find ourselves in this Lent, may we have the wisdom and the courage to recognise that we can’t flourish, or even survive on our own; may we allow ourselves to depend and trust on and in God’s sustaining presence, and to allow others to help make that presence known to us.
Canon Jane Freeman is Team Rector of Wickford and Runwell in the diocese of Chelmsford
Christians come to Lent from one of two directions. Some of us approach from the past. We look to the season as a time for penitence. We reflect and repent from previous sin. We acknowledge our individual and corporate failings. We give up, even if only for a few weeks, things that have distracted us from our holiness, or have become idols. Some of us approach from the future. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. We form spiritual disciplines which we hope might be landmarks on the lifelong journey we call sanctification. We commit ourselves to charitable works that might in time become habitual. We abstain from good things in order to appreciate them more richly later. Maybe, if we are experienced and sophisticated in our approach, we try to do a bit of each; to focus on both past and future.
These two approaches broadly reflect two metanarratives with which we approach life and faith: the myths of regress and of progress. To the regressive Christian, “Change and decay”, linked forever in the Hymn Abide with me, act as synonyms. The constant shortening of human lifespan recounted in the Book of Genesis is clear evidence that things only get worse. The first few chapters of Paul’s letter to Rome depict a process of degradation against which the Church of God must stand, rescuing whom it can, while it may. By contrast, to the progressive Christian, decay is the consequence of not changing enough, or not sufficiently quickly. Luke’s account in Acts of the gospel reaching out to begin its conquest of empire, offers a view of an ever advancing Kingdom. It’s a destiny towards which, like Paul’s athlete, we must run, and run at our fastest. If a traditional hymn is needed, let it be From Glory to Glory advancing.
Of course, these characterisations hugely simplify reality. We are all a mix of progressive and regressive. But the balance between the two can be very different in each of us. So here’s a challenge for Lent. Try to live it in the opposite myth to your natural preference. If you are a progressive, then let a backwards facing Lent be a way of broadening your sympathies, deepening your understanding of others, so as to grow in holiness. If you are naturally regressive then face forwards. Find something in the world to embrace and enjoy. Maybe force yourself to eat at least one piece of chocolate very day.
That’s a hard ask; for most of us hard enough if not too hard. But, for a minority who have the motivation and the strength, maybe there is, to quote St Paul again, a better way still. Live this Lent neither looking to the past or future. Live it deeply in the present moment. Fast not to improve yourself, nor to express regret; fast simply because Jesus did. Take up or give up such practices as you choose, not because they will help you to achieve some goal, but simply to mark out this season as distinct, as a time set apart. A time for God to use in whatever way God wants.
David Walker is Bishop of Manchester
Andrew Brown has published at Cif belief this report on the Bad History saga: Why the church’s gay marriage schism is here to stay in which he concludes:
…In other words, the conservative position today is that when the bible says (with Jesus) that a man can’t marry another woman while his first wife is still alive, that’s not about the nature of marriage; when it says (with Moses) that if his wife dies, a man can’t marry her sister, that’s not about the nature of marriage; but when it says (as it doesn’t, because this was too obvious to spell out) a man can’t marry another man, that really is part of the definition of marriage in the way that the others aren’t.
If this is what Fittall, Arora and the archbishops of Canterbury and York, deep down believe then their defence of the palpably silly makes sense. What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that’s not how the religious imagination works.
The point is that they can’t be convinced by arguments from science, from history or from the law about what marriage is. Their minds will only by changed by arguments from God and what God wants. Only if they see God at work in their opponents will they change. To see that, they would have to be looking for signs of it. I don’t think there is any immediate danger of that, on either side.
Jonathan Clatworthy has written Church teaching and the general understanding of marriage:
…To me, the House of Bishops’ claim is a typical example of a stance just too common to require any alternative explanation. ‘Conservatives’, of both the campaigning and the fence-sitting types, love to think that the way things were in their childhood was the way they always had been, all the way back to the beginning. This, for example, is what the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission did last April with their unpopular Men and Women in Marriage; but it is so common that we can all think of examples, not just in matters of religion. I very much doubt that the House of Bishops considered the Acts of 1907 or 1937 and judged that they did not invalidate the statement; they just assumed that the current change is the first such change ever.
They contrast ‘the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England’ with ‘the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law’. I think they mean two things: that the Church’s doctrine of marriage will diverge both from the legal definition and from ‘the general understanding of marriage in England’. (I am not sure; they might have meant ‘the general understanding of marriage in England as enshrined in law’, in which case ‘general understanding’ is only adding emphasis, not making an additional claim.) This post leaves aside the question of legal definition and focuses on the ‘general understanding’.
To judge whether the bishops are right we need an account of what this general understanding is, independently of the legal definition…
UNITE the Union had earlier published this:
Faith Worker Branch Executive statement in response to the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, 14.02.14
“We welcome the House of Bishops’ commitment to a process of conversations that will include profound reflection on the meaning, interpretation and application of scripture with particular attention to the lived experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and we would strongly urge the Bishops to pursue this as a priority.
We are concerned, however, that some aspects of the guidance, Paragraph 27 in particular, may discriminate against LGBT clergy in their pursuit of an authentic, loving and committed relationship that accords with their God-given sexuality, and which may as a result diminish their human right to enjoy that relationship.
We are concerned, too, that the vagueness of the guidance in Paragraphs 20 & 21 may unwittingly put clergy at risk of disciplinary action whilst attempting to minister appropriately in complex pastoral circumstances.
We affirm our support of all of our clergy members, and will continue to support and represent them in all aspects of their ministry, including any action taken against them as a result of the application of the Bishops’ guidance.”
The Bishop of Dorking delivered this speech to Guildford Diocesan Synod. Several people have commented that it contains echoes of what the Bishop of Oxford wrote earlier.
Updated Monday lunchtime
Update According to the Daily Monitor Church ready to split from England on homosexuals
The Archbishop of Church of Uganda (CoU) has responded to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, saying Uganda is ready to break away from the Church of England if its views on homosexuality are not respected.
Addressing Christians at St Andrews Church, Bukoto yesterday, Archbishop Stanley Ntangali said the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York John Sentamu recently wrote to him, saying the Church of England was concerned about the CoU’s anti-homosexuality stand.
“I have written back to Archbishop Sentamu. I told him it does not matter even if we do not work with them because the Church of England is a product of repentance and USA is founded on Christian values but they seem to have become spiritually blind,” Bishop Ntangali said…
And AFP reports, via the Telegraph Uganda church warns of Anglican split over gay law
“The issue here is respect for our views on homosexuality, same sex marriage as a country and church. If they are not willing to listen to us. We shall consider being on our own,” Uganda’s top Anglican, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, told AFP.
“Homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture, and no one in the leadership of the church can say legitimise same sex unions or homosexuality,” he said, urging the “governing bodies of the Church of England to not take the path advocated by the West”.
“If they do we shall have no choice but to be on our own,” he said.
[Original article started here]
The most recently published statement by the Church of Uganda on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality legislation appears to be in this statement dated 30 January:
The Church of Uganda is encouraged by the work of Uganda’s Parliament in amending the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to remove the death penalty, to reduce sentencing guidelines through a principle of proportionality, and to remove the clause on reporting homosexual behaviour, as we had recommended in our 2010 position statement on the Bill. This frees our clergy and church leaders to fulfill the 2008 resolution of our House of Bishops to “offer counseling, healing and prayer for people with homosexual disorientation, especially in our schools and other institutions of learning. The Church is a safe place for individuals, who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing.”
The Church of Nigeria has recently published this letter sent to the Church of Uganda, commending it for its position on homosexuality.
And there is this news story from Nigeria itself in the Daily Post: Anglican Church in Nigeria subjects members to oath denouncing homosexuality
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has introduced a clause in its constitution subjecting members, who intend to hold positions in church, to take an oath of allegiance to God denouncing homosexuality.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the public denunciation took place in Abuja on Sunday at St. Matthews, Maitama, during the swearing-in of new members of the Parish Church Council (PCC).
The Vicar of the church, Ven. Ben Idume, who administered the oath to members of the PCC, said the church recognised that those with such sexual orientation needed help and counselling.
“But they would not be allowed to hold any position in church,’’ he said.
The legislation is significant because it applies to members of the laity, clergy and house of bishops of the church.
It also banned bisexuals from holding any church office.
The text of the vow reads: “I declare before God and his Church that I have never been a homosexual/bisexual or (have repented from being homosexual/bisexual) and I vow that I will not indulge in the practise of homosexuality/bisexuality.
“If after this oath I am involved, found to be, or profess to be a homosexual/bisexual against the teachings of the Holy Scriptures as contained in the Bible.
“I bring upon myself the full wrath of God and subject myself willingly to canonical discipline as enshrined in the constitution of the Church of Nigeria, so help me God.’’
KENYA does not need a new law on gay relationships as the constitution clearly outlaws homosexuality, Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Eliud Wabukala said yesterday.
Wabukala was responding to journalists’ questions on the sidelines of the Anglican Development Service meeting at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi.
He said whereas Uganda’s Parliament and President Yoweri Museveni accepted a law that penalised lesbian gay bisexual transgender relationships, “Kenya’s constitution clearly outlaws” them.
“As the Anglican church in Kenya we are very clear when it comes to matters of relationship which should be between two opposite sexes,” Wabukala said.
He said the church will not accept anything that is not allowed in scripture.
Wabukala faulted those who support the human right of LGBTs. He said human rights are not the same as rights.
“Human rights and rights are different. Human rights have no values while rights have values.”
“Just like Uganda has been guided by the constitution, Kenya has a more clear constitution on the relationship.”
On the other hand, the archbishops of New Zealand have published this: Archbishops: Pray for Uganda.
…Dear Friends and Colleagues in Christ,
Anglicans throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia continue to wrestle with divergent views on many aspects of human sexuality, and on a Christian response to the marriage or blessing of same gender couples in particular. However, we believe that all Anglicans are united in condemning homophobic attitudes or the persecution of people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Many of us will have seen reports this week (eg: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-26320102 ) that Uganda’s President has signed into law a bill that toughens penalties for gay people.
This new law includes the provision of life sentences for certain of these new ‘crimes’, and the legislation appears to have been passed with the encouragement of Uganda’s Joint Christian Council – which includes the country’s Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican bishops.
We recall Resolution 1:10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which encouraged Anglicans throughout our Communion “to minister pastorally and sensitively to all, irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals…”
We note with dismay these developments in Uganda, and encourage you to remember that country, those placed further at risk by these laws, and those who lead the Church and the state in Uganda, in your prayers…
Continuing from here…
Mike Higton has written two long articles discussing what’s going on in this debate about the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance. They should both be read in full, but here are some excerpts to give you the flavour:
…look back again at the Church’s ‘Response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation’ – which I assume can be taken to represent the views of at least some of those responsible for the current Pastoral Guidance. The section on ‘The Church’s understanding of marriage’ is the heart of the report, and before it gets to the two brief paragraphs on civil and religious marriage and their possible divergence, it has thirteen paragraphs that make a rather different point. The centre-piece of this part of the Response is the other paragraph that is put in bold, paragraph 13:
We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage.
My suggestion – which I can only make very sketchily here, but will fill out in a subsequent post – is that, for at least some of those who have rejected Linda’s criticism, this is the central issue, and its centrality is so obvious, so luminously blatant, that to pretend that other aspects of the Church’s definition of marriage might be as central – especially issues about which there has been all sorts of complex and detailed disagreement for as long as we’ve been a church – can only be deliberate obfuscation, akin to the claim that the whole structure of the Bishops’ argument should be called into doubt because there is a misplaced semicolon in a footnote somewhere.
In other words, I think I can see that, for someone who inhabits the views set out in that Response to the government consultation, the criticism that Linda and her colleagues made, and that I like them would like to see taken seriously, must look like such a stark case of missing the point that it can only be a deliberate missing of the point…
… I assume that it is not unfair to think that something like this thinking is being expressed both in the House of Bishops’ promulgation of their Pastoral Guidance, and in its defenders’ reaction to the question posed by Linda Woodhead. And, as I suggested in my previous post, I think grasping this point helps to make sense of their reaction.
We are, such a person might think, dealing in this debate with a fundamental structure of creation, and of society – and of our law’s relation to that. We might all agree that questions about fidelity and mutuality go as deep as this question of gender complementarity, but nothing else comes close. In particular, questions about remarriage after divorce and questions about the precise circle of people you can’t marry are clearly not even in the same league as this question. We are dealing with a fundamental structure of creation, and therefore with the very possibility of flourishing in a society that has to live in harmony with creation. That’s clearly what was really being said when the bishops talked about there having been no fundamental divergence between civil and religious understandings of marriage until now – and all this fuss over secondary details is a mischievous smokescreen. It’s all about gender – and this criticism from the likes of Woodhead, her colleagues, and now Higton – well, it dramatically misses that point.
Have I got that right? Is that a fair representation of the source of the impatience with Linda’s question that I’ve been hearing? I realise I’m putting words into mouths here, but I hope I haven’t slipped into caricature?
Phil Groom has written Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu which is also very long, and worth a read.
Linda Woodhead The crisis of religious authority
George Athas ABC Religion & Ethics Did the camel break the Bible’s back? Nice try, but no
The final part of the Church Times Church Health Check looks to the future. Three of the articles are available to non-subscribers.
Linda Woodhead A remedy for an ailing Church
David Goodhew and Bob Jackson Can we grow? Yes we can
Martyn Percy It’s not just about the numbers
Rachel Mann Church Times Distracted by instant messages
Giles Fraser The Guardian If religion exists to make raids into what is unsayable, musicians penetrate further than most