Comments: Cof E responds to GAFCON UK

Dear Gafcon,

We're tough on "homosexual practice," see if we're not! We opposed same-sex (civil) marriage, see if we didn't! We tried to impose our beliefs on everyone else in England and Wales, and heroically failed (surely you approve). Tilting at progress, yes sirs. Now it's passed, we're making life tough for those sorts, with discipline, discipline, discipline, you can't deny it. We're anti-homosexuality (in love) and archly request and require you to recognize our good works.

Kindest regards,
Mother Church

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 22 November 2016 at 9:18pm GMT

"clergy in the Church of England are indeed permitted to enter into civil partnerships (which are legally not the same as marriage, and therefore have no bearing on the doctrine of marriage);"

So when church authorities say that LGBTI people should be content with civil partnerships because they are really marriages in all but name, they are talking out of the sides of their mouth because they insist civil unions are fundamentally different to marriage. So if the Bishops Reflection Group comes back and says the Church will bless civil partnerships that now manifestly is not a solution to the problem because the Church still would not be recognising that we are married before God. Put another way, they regard any same sex couple in a civil partnership as living in sin.

In trying to cosy up to GAFCON, Nye has just made LGBTI members of his own church feel worse than they already did.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 22 November 2016 at 10:58pm GMT

This is a useful rebuttal of the GAFCON paper, so-called, especially the charged language of 'violations'. I don't recall a previous Secretary-General intervening in such a way on a comparable megaphone statement. Of course it can itself be criticised, depending on one's viewpoint and where the emphasis is placed. This is suggestive of the way forward. Parties (or those who think they are parties) to the debate are not going to be able to get away with publishing such tosh in the wider Anglican Communion, particularly at a sensitive time when the House of Bishops is reflecting on the conversations. The Primates to whom the GAFCON note is addressed can do what they like with it but are now on notice that it lacks any kind of authority or credibility.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 12:22am GMT

"civil partnerships (which are legally not the same as marriage...)"

Of course, legally, nor are same-sex marriages – there is no requirement for consummation nor is adultery grounds for divorce. You'd have thought the bishops' bedroom police would be right behind it.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 7:38am GMT

This is actually quite a strong, if politely worded, rebuff to GAFCON - and makes the point that Lambeth 1.10 is not binding, giving the Church of England as well as other Anglican churches the ability to move forward legitimately on inclusion.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 8:03am GMT

How very friendly they are with each other. On first name terms.
Not much distance sadly between them.

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 8:04am GMT

This is a brilliant letter. It states very firmly, and for the first time, as far as I'm aware, that Lambeth 1.10 is not Canon law, that it also includes a section on listening to gay people and assuring them that they are loved by God, and that civil partnerships are accepted in the CoE (something the GAFCON letter appeared not to know, seeing it "outed" civil partnered people).

In all our disgust with the Valentine Statement, we often forget that the Pastoral Guidelines actually include a lot conservatives really detest. It's good to have that pointed out.
It would now be a helpful next step to lobby that ordinands no longer have to sign up to Issues as if it represented the official view of the CoE.

As an aside, Fr Andrew, there is no requirement for consummation of straight marriages either. Asexual people can and do get married, just like people with disabilities that do not permit consummation. Rather, non-consummation, if unexpected and not known in advance, is one reason for dissolving a marriage, if the duped partner wants to dissolve the marriage. If they don't, it remains legally valid.
The law about this is largely used in the context of illegal immigration and sham marriages.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 9:26am GMT

The legislative history is more complicated than Mr Nye makes it sound. I may need more than one post to explain.

First, 2004 and civil partnerships. I re-post something I wrote for the Guardian which has been posted here before:

"The main Lords debate on the civil partnership bill took place in June 2004. Richard Harries, then bishop of Oxford, did indeed signal Church of England support for civil partnerships. But his efforts were contradicted by the five conservative bishops who spoke on the other side. Going by the bishops’ contributions to debate, the score is 5/3 against. Going by the bishops’ votes, it is 6/1 against. Six bishops voted for a successful wrecking amendment in the name of Lady O’Cathain, which made the bill unworkable. Only the Commons’ insistence on rejecting the O’Cathain amendment made it possible to enact civil partnerships"

It is true, as posted in a later comment on that thread, that the bishops voted against the O'Cathain wrecking amendment when offered a second time. But if the Commons had not done what they did, there would have been no civil partnership act - not then anyhow.

Comments on later votes in another post.

Posted by Iain McLean at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 10:00am GMT

I for one am keen to give credit where credit is due. This is a strong and, for the Church of England, relatively quick response from the Secretary General to GAFCON - the like of which we have never seen before.

I am particularly glad that he has chosen to emphasise the following points:

i) clergy in the Church of England are permitted to offer prayers of support on a pastoral basis for people in same-sex relationships

ii) clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice.

Both these points need not have been made, but in that they have been it is a strong indication, in my mind at least, of where things are going.

I believe this letter is proof that GAFCON UK have made a serious error of judgement and have over-played their hand. A line has been crossed, which can only help encourage the House of Bishops to be firm and clear in their thinking as they meet this week.

Posted by Jayne Ozanne at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 10:06am GMT

Legislative history II.

Mr Nye writes: "When the Government proposed to introduce same-sex (civil) marriage the Church of England argued against it, including in Parliament "

But the bishops did not simply **argue** against it. The majority who voted supported a wrecking amendment by Lord Dear which was more comprehensive than that of Lady O'Cathain six years earlier. The Dear amendment would have ended all discussion of same-sex marriage without further debate. Only the resounding defeat of that amendment in the Lords made progress and compromises possible, including religious freedom for those denominations (like mine, the Society of Friends) who wished in accordance with conscience and theology to conduct same-sex marriages, while preserving the religious freedom of those denominations who did not..

Posted by Iain McLean at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 10:13am GMT

"This ... makes the point that Lambeth 1.10 is not binding, giving the Church of England as well as other Anglican churches the ability to move forward legitimately on inclusion."

So why has the Archbishop of Canterbury asked TEC representatives to stand aside because TEC acted unilaterally? Seems to me there's a large dollop of hypocrisy in the statement in relation to TEC and in relation to same sex couples.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 10:53am GMT

I agree with Anthony and Savi. It is encouraging that Mr Nye is calling out the falsehood of GAFCON's claims. Lambeth chapter 1 verse 10 is not scripture and is not even binding on any church. I'm surprised that some people read this statement as "trying to cosy up to GAFCON" or being "friendly".

Posted by Rev Drew Tweedy at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 11:36am GMT

It is surprising that Nye does not mention the voice of Synod on this matter, in 1987. I believe the website gives a better perspective than this letter.,-family-and-sexuality-issues/human-sexuality/homosexuality.aspx

Posted by David at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 11:39am GMT

This letter fails to acknowledge the moral force of Lambeth I.10 as acknowledged by the primates. See para25 of the Windsor report
But the primates unanimously upheld the resolution as the standard of Anglican teaching on the matter in their statement of October 16, 2003:
“We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues.”

Posted by David at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 12:10pm GMT

At the end of the 2d-to-last paragraph, Nye should have added two more words: "of England."

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 12:11pm GMT

oops small correction. the Dear amendment was offered in 2013- nine years, not six, after O'Cathain.

Posted by Iain McLean at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 12:26pm GMT


RE consummation.

Indeed you are correct.

However in some circumstances non-consummation may be grounds for annulling an other-sex marriage, while it is not for a same-sex one; same, adultery is not considered grounds for divorce in same-sex marriages unlike other-sex. IF CPs allowed the bishops the fig leaf (albeit a transparent one) of pretending that same sex couples don't have sex, there seems to be an equally large one here, made of the same fine cloth as the Emperor's new clothes (and smelling just as bad).

Can anyone detail for me what the precise legal differences are between CPs and marriage that the C of E thinks are deal clinchers? Obviously the name is different but in what other legal ways?

Posted by Fr Andrew at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 1:33pm GMT

I believe one could now argue that this letter has put to bed any question as to whether this is a first order issue or not...William Nye couldn't have stated his four 'for examples' if it were...

Posted by Jayne Ozanne at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 2:21pm GMT

Erika and Fr Andrew,

These debates (initiated by opponents of same-sex marriage) really irritate me. Adultery (in English common law) is an act that requires both a penis and a vagina. The presumption is that the parties to a SSM would not ordinarily be unfaithful in an act involving both: faithfulness requires more than not committing adultery, and that is true of all committed relationships. Consummation is a question of fact, to be tried with evidence, and (as a colleague has pointed out), is 'nothing less, but emphatically nothing more, than the penetration of a vagina by a penis to a sufficient depth and duration to please the trier of fact'. (Green 2011) Both have to do with private issues that should be beyond the cognisance of the law. Marriages (of all kinds) should be dissoluble when they have broken down with no hope of reconciliation; and marriages should be valid unless formal, public requirements are not met. Sex is not something courts should be involved with, and those who think they should are either obsessed with legal technicalities or exhibit excessively prurient interest in such matters (or probably both).

Posted by Scot Peterson at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 2:31pm GMT

Fr Andrew,
"adultery" is not considered grounds for same sex divorce, but adultery is considered to be "unreasonable behaviour" and as such again grounds for divorce.

I don't think we need to read too much into the fact that Parliament has wisely not tried to define "sex" for same sex couples. If you define sexual intercourse as the one act same sex couples cannot engage in, then of course the rest of your legal wordings have to take that into account.
It does not amount to a legal difference in any meaningful way.

Having been civil partnered and converted that partnership to marriage, I am not aware of any difference at all.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 2:33pm GMT

Following Scot, Erika & Andrew:

My understanding is that by committing the act of intercourse with someone of the opposite sex as Scot describes it (unlikely but surely not unknown), a partner in a same-sex marriage does commit adultery in the sense of providing a valid grounds for divorce. Equally, I think it is generally accepted to be true in that sense only that Bill Clinton 'did not have sexual relations with that woman'!

Posted by Neil Patterson at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 3:06pm GMT

The logical question must be: if marriage is defined by the CofE in traditional terms (as the author makes clear it is) and excludes a priori same sex couples (which he says it does) what is constituted by pastoral generosity and such for same sex couples?

Is it generosity, e.g., predicated on the relationships not being marriage but rather belonging to a category of sexual relating that remains sui generis and distinctive of married sexual relating? Is this the point the author is seeking to make?

Then again, how is this category of same-sex relating (is it intended to be undefined when it comes to pastoral care?) different than the same-sex relating clergy are supposed to adhere to if in civil marriages?

It is hard to follow the logic. I get that the author doesn't want to say X or Y (same sex relating is wrong) but it is less clear what he is saying logically given the above.

I am not advocating for anything but trying to understand what is being said, so please can the focus be on the logic of these various distinctions. I am confused.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 3:08pm GMT

Very pleased to see this in the letter: "clergy and laity alike are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice." Those with sufficiently long memories will recall that the principal reason for denying the episcopate to Jeffrey John was not the fact of his civil partnership (which was within the bounds set) but the fact that he was advocating for something contrary to the teaching of the church.

It would appear that this "raison de n'être pas" has reached its sell-by date.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 3:38pm GMT

"Having been civil partnered and converted that partnership to marriage, I am not aware of any difference at all.'

This is what I had thought. So, my partner and I could go tomorrow and convert our CP into a marriage and... precisely nothing would change in the nature of the relationship either experientially or legally: there would be no new legal rights or obligations conferred by signing that paper (or however it is done). All that would change would be the name applied to the union. Oh, and my bishop would feel entitled to discipline me. Or withdraw my licence.

So what is it that makes all the difference? What is it that CP is missing, legally, that marriage has that means so much to the C of E? What is that legal 'X factor' that makes one OK for me and one beyond the pale?

Surely we can't be approaching schism over different ways of spelling the same thing?

Do we live in a Jonathan Swift satire? I think we do.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 3:41pm GMT

I agree with Scot, this conversation is silly. Of course same sex couples can be sexually unfaithful, and of course they can divorce when that happens. Just like they can divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

Just try to imagine what would have happened if Parliament really had tried to expand the definition of adultery. Where do you start? Where do you stop? And it would then also have to apply to straight couples, who are capable of every single sexual activity gay couples are capable of.

To say that there is a legal difference in marriage because one of the grounds for *dissolving* a marriage is, for technical reasons, slightly different, is ridiculous.

Equally ridiculous, getting back to the Nye letter, is the assertion that civil partnerships are different to marriage. This is a convenient piece of fiction the CoE has invented in order to be able to allow priests to seek the legal protection of civil partnerships.
It did that by stipulating that these unions are not necessarily sexual, and that for priests, they must not be sexual.

Only someone as sex-obsessed as the church could jump from "we cannot define sex between gay people" to "civil partnership do not include sex in the same way marriage does" to "civil partnership are not like marriage".

It's all based in the misunderstanding that sexless marriages are voidable, not void!

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 3:50pm GMT

May I qualify what I wrote above to say '*Consensual* sex (or the absence of it) is not something that courts should be involved with.' This should not include non-consensual sex, which is clearly in the province of the criminal law.

Posted by Scot Peterson at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 4:18pm GMT

Christopher, what is even more confusing is that it is entirely possible for a couple who are both physiologically male to marry in the Church of England providing one of them has a female birth certificate. Of course if both had female birth certificates, the Church would not allow that. It truly does pass understanding that what matters to the Church is legal sex and not physiology. The whole situation is theologically bankrupt.

Someone asked the difference between a civil union and a marriage. One difference is that a civil union can be converted into a marriage, but not vice versa. So, if the upshot is that blessing civil unions but not marriages was permitted the route for LGBT Christians would be to get a civil union blessed then immediately apply to have it converted into a marriage. Again that theologically means not blessing marriages would be a theological nonsense.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 4:31pm GMT

Not entirely happy to be your companion in "even more confusing" but do hope we can have some light shed. No point in constantly having to do strange exercises to understand things comprehensible more directly.

One could come away with the sense that the point is to defer saying something clear. And to keep on deferring...

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 6:51pm GMT

I am amazed to find the divorce law in the UK to be so backward as to mention adultery. Never been of much interest to me but in Australia and NZ, the only grounds for divorce is irreconcilable differences ie living apart for Australia 1 year, NZ 2 years. I know this came into force in the 70's in Australia, not sure about NZ. So Australia is only backward in not allowing SSM, in other ways it is ahead of the "mother"country. Of course, as I always say. "NZ 2 hours ahead in time, light years ahead in social reform".

Posted by Brian Ralph at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 7:42pm GMT

James Byron is right. The Church of England has leapt at the opportunity to let gafcon know that they've nothing to worry about with the mother church. Court cases prove that.

Now, anyone for a global, liberal communion? Or are more years of hypocrisy really worth it?

Posted by S Cooper at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 8:56pm GMT

"I am amazed to find the divorce law in the UK to be so backward as to mention adultery"

Divorces for adultery aren't as common as they once were. It's hard to prove, and usually even if you suspect that your partner has committed adultery, the relationship within which that alleged adultery occurs will usually be unreasonable behaviour in its own terms, without a detailed discussion of who penetrated whom and with what. As the grounds, or indeed the "innocence" of one party or the other, have no necessary bearing either on maintenance or custody, it is less and less common for divorce to be claimed on the basis of adultery.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 10:51pm GMT

I suggest the key question is "What does the Church of England believe about these issues of human sexuality?"

And the answer is: it believes many things, and is divided down the middle.

I find it insufficient to equate "the bishops" with the Church of England as a whole; or to propose that the teaching of the Bishops can be equated with the agreed teaching of the Church as a whole on this matter.

Although William is refuting Andy on the Lambeth 1998 1:10 issue, he is then (theologically) exonerating by suggesting that though Lambeth cannot legislate doctrine in England, the assertions in 1:10 on sexual conduct have been upheld anyway through other avenues, and effectively received as "the teaching" of the Church.

William does have a track record of representing just one 'side' in the sexuality debate, in statements that have maintained "the Church believes this"... when in fact the truth and reality is that only a PART of the Church believes the assertions made at Lambeth.

The other (and growing) half of the Church of England believes that the assertions are not acceptable, nor the earlier holding position of "Issues", nor the to-down attempts to impose doctrinal uniformity via the Valentines 'pastoral' letter, nor the marginalisation of dissenters implied at the recent Primates' Meeting.

William Nye still writes as if there is a status quo. There isn't. The 'teaching' of the Bishops has imposed the conscience of one half of the Church on the other half.

There is little to commend or congratulate in the ground that William takes - and has for a long time taken - on these issues.

It boils down to top-down authoritarianism, the disciplining of dissent, and the domination of one conscience group by another conscience group. It remains wholly unacceptable, and he also seems to be sustaining a "cloud-cuckoo-land" fantasy that "the Church believes such-and-such" when what he should be saying is (in truth) "a diminishing PART of the Church of England" believes what I say.

Until individuals, PCCs, priests, and local church communities have a right to exercise good conscience at variance with what is being imposed, there is no justice and respect for LGBT people.

The "bishops teaching" as it stands, asserts a false uniformity and it has to change to something less authoritarian and top-down controlling of people's sincerely held views, and their intimate private lives.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 11:53pm GMT

Susannah, William Nye is quite new to his job, might you be attributing to him the statements of his predecessor, William Fittall?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 9:13am GMT

One reason for having adultery and unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce is that you can then divorce after 3 months and don't have to live apart for 2 years first (5 if the divorce is contested).
I know couples who have agreed for one of them to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery just because of that. In reality, neither had had an adulterous relationship.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 9:43am GMT

One important point made by the Sec. Gen. is that Lambeth 1:10 has no legal status incumbent on any Provincial Church of the Anglican Communion that chooses not to abide by its recommendations. They are just that - recommendations, not Canon Law.

Similarly, any Gafcon pronouncement has no legal status in any other Anglican Provincial Church. Once these realities are understood, Gafcon Provinces will need to decide whether - or not -they are willing to live with the decisions of other Provinces on the way they deal with gender and sexualiy issues.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:23am GMT

Gah! You're right, Simon. I was confusing William Nye with William Fittall. Very careless of me: I apologise for the misrepresentation, and withdraw: "William does have a track record of representing just one 'side' in the sexuality debate..."

I stand by the non-personal side of what I wrote, but should not have wrongly attributed positions and views to William Nye.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:39am GMT

The two sides in the current same-sex stalemate are divided not by what view one takes of a smattering of Bible passages but by a time gap of roughly 20,000 years.

Jonathan Haidt’s elephant-and-rider analogy, to describe how human beings make choices, is a brilliant one. The lumbering elephant (our unruly emotions) is prevented from following inappropriate devices and desires of the heart by the tiny rider (representing cool reason) sitting atop with a light cane.

The snag is, Haidt points out, that we are realising more and more that we act and choose on instinct, and only then invent reasons (maybe sometimes “the Bible says . .”) to support those impulses. The elephant does the choosing; the rider simply does damage limitation: our 21st century intellects are largely at the mercy of stone age instincts.

When humans first started congregating in villages, conformity was essential, both for survival from predators and for success in hunting, as we see in animal behaviour today. In those times, anyone odd: the mentally damaged, those who were left-handed (Latin: left = sinister), or attracted to their own gender, or freethinkers – particularly freethinkers – threatened the safety of the tribe and had to be driven out of the village. Not much has changed!

This is where we stand today. Researches into human sexuality, pioneered by Kinsey, Masters & Johnson et al, have shown beyond reasonable doubt that same-sex attraction is a small but perfectly normal part of both human and animal behaviour, like all other scatter diagrams in nature. With humans, it is reckoned to arise from psycho-sexual causes just before or after birth. Our prehistoric instincts, though, are unconvinced – in which I include myself: I am perfectly comfortable with same-sex liaisons and would happily perform marriages for them if licensed to do so, but I recoil strongly at the sight of two men kissing passionately, or being hit on, and if my hand brushes another man’s on a shop counter I instinctively whip it away faster than light.

Those two attitudes are separated by 20,000 years. Leviticus has nothing to do with it.

Posted by Michael Skliros at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:43am GMT

thank you for that comment!
I would say, though, that some of your instinctive responses are also shaped by culture. In African countries male friends holding hands and walking arm in arm is as common as women doing the same in Europe. There is no instinctive revulsion, because people have not been surrounded by a culture in which this is considered to be repulsive.

As for passionate kissing, I find it quite unpleasant in public regardless of who is involved. For me, it's just one step of public intimacy too far. The revulsion boundaries in Muslim countries are set at a much higher level.

If we really look at our animalistic instincts without taking cultural conditioning into account, we would probably tolerate public same sex affection just like animals do.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 11:44am GMT

GAFCON UK have responded to the letter from the secretary-general ...

Posted by Andy at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 5:49pm GMT
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