Comments: Opinion - 4 February 2017

Superb blog by the Dean of Leicester:

“The gap between the publicly stated positions of the Church of England and the reality of life on the ground will grow. Conservative talk of exercising more discipline or legal sanction in the light of such freedoms against LGBT people will mostly not happen because of cost and because of the huge PR fallout caused by such actions – the majority of society would find such action incomprehensible.”

Comparing the challenges to the Good Friday Agreement he writes:

“A decision to move forward through a genuine coexistence of different views on sexuality could be possible without anyone actually having to change their view; provisionally agreeing to disagree. Our own version of ecclesial Power Sharing is needed.”

Exactly. Making love the priority. Seeking grace, not to impose fake uniformity where there is no consensus, but to co-exist, and serve together, and find unity even in our differences and diversity.

This is the route that is crying out for exploration, but it wasn’t even mentioned in the Bishops’ Report. It ought to be possible, instead of top-down domination of conscience, to allow local priests and churches and PCCs the space and grace to express their conscience and local service in a diversity of ways. Instead of concepts like the 'Anglican Covenant' or threats of 'sanctions' by Primates, we need to recognise the reality that there is no uniformity in the Church of England, and accept that this is not a zero-sum game, where only one view can prosper. We need to prioritise love and grace and co-existence, and *allow* diversity of conscience in our Church.

There is not just one uniform way in the Church of England. That is spin and a deception.

The Dean refers to Walter Brueggeman, who reflecting on the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible wrote, “It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.” (The Prophetic Imagination, 2001, p40).

Thank you, David Monteith. May God bless you, heal you, inspire you, and may you and your partner know grace, love, dignity, real happiness and flourishing.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 12:07pm GMT

Over at Theoreo, Andrew Lightbown writes,"It is not clear why episcopal unity has become the altar on which distributive justice has been sacrificed."

To the contrary, it is all too clear, although Andrew may be too polite to connect the dots explicitly.

The bishops of the Church of England are trying to preserve Canterbury's Communion role. And they are doing so at the expense of thousands of English people who wish to be married in church.

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 12:41pm GMT

Being extremely disappointed that the bishops have produced something so inadequate, I am deeply grateful for the intelligence and good sense of the blogger who wrote 'So, what was the point of all that'. The bishops should read her and take note.

Posted by Flora Alexander at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 1:11pm GMT

Jeremy is right on the button with his analysis of 'Anglican Alternative Facts'.

REAL FACT: At least half the members of the Church of England accept and affirm gay and lesbian sexuality, reflecting the acceptance that society at large has developed.

ALTERNATIVE FACT: The Church of England believes such and such (as is often said, as if their is a uniform position on human sexuality - there isn't - the attempt to impose uniformity was rejected when the Anglican Covenant was voted down.

ALTERNATIVE FACT: The bishops believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. Well, we all know that bishops have diverse views on this, but the diverse views were suppressed from the Report. So much for transparency.

ALTERNATIVE FACT: ACC 13 accepted the Primates Report last year. This was a classic example of spin doctoring and (false) alternative facts, where the truth was demonstrably misconstrued.

ACTUAL FACT: The ACC received (digitally or physically) the Report of last year's Anglican Primates' Meeting. They did not accept or mandate the Primates' Report (which, let us remember, threatened consequences and sanctions for non-compliant Provinces). The ACC resisted doing anything else but 'receiving' the papers to read them.

ALTERNATIVE FACT: Justin Welby, who attended the ACC 13, issued a statement saying that the ACC by "receiving" the report were ... moment of spin and sleight of hand... accepting what the report said. This was simply not true. It was Alice in Wonderland. And the people who'd led ACC 13 issued a repudiation of Justin's statement, saying that there was NOT an acceptance (and therefore mandate) of the Primates' Report.

To be honest, Justin is not an unintelligent man. It is obvious he was paying word games over the term "received" to placate his fellow conservative Primates. But as Jeremy points out, and David Monteith alludes to it in his article too, we are in danger of having false realities parachuted on us: where alternative facts are spun to try to push through agenda for political purposes.

And as the Dean of Leicester warns, that runs the risk of deepening divides in the Church, because the spin accentuates the gap between fiction and lived reality.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 1:12pm GMT

The lived reality is that half the Church of England has no problem with lesbian and gay sexuality. The lived reality is that there is no uniform position on these issues. The lived reality is that lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, gender queer, and non-binary people are being marginalised in the Church, sanctioned, faced with consequences, for... living according to the law of the land, loving, serving, sharing with other Christians, and generally being as moral and decent as anyone else.

Society increasingly 'gets' this. These are not 'alternative facts'. These are lived realities, and our actual lives. Lives accepted by more and more people in the Church.

The Bishops are out of order and out of step. The recent Report 'spins' the idea that there is a uniform position being put forward, and that it is the position of the Church. The Church is made up of its members. The bishops' 'spin' does not reflect the actual reality of what the Church believes.

As the Lewis Carroll character said: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

The world of alternative realities.

Meanwhile people's lives go on being diminished in the Church. I work in a school which is incredibly accepting to lesbian, gay and trans pupils - all of whom we have. If these young people are growing up in Anglican families, and being told in Church that their sexuality or gender is a sin, is invalid, is not allowed... how incredibly harsh and damaging.

And when a man works in a hospital serving the sick and frightened, and does his work well and with love and diligence... should his orientation have any bearings on the love he shows, the comfort he gives?

We are dealing with unrealities here...

We are dealing with attempts to impose one claimed reality on other people's beliefs and lived realities. The Church, in reality, believes differing and divergent things. THAT is the truth. But corporate managers are trying to impose their will politically, demanding their conscience should overrule another person's conscience.

This will not hold.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 1:19pm GMT

Thanks Flora (that's my blog you commented on). I'm still somewhere unpleasant, between upset and angry, about the waste of time and money caused by diocesan SCs, but on balance I think the effort I put into preparing and attending and blogging about it all was helpful in that it made me engage rather than seeing all this as 'not my problem'. And it made me think: a lot!

Posted by Helen King at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 3:49pm GMT

As an ardent letter-writer, Letters to the Church Magazine struck a chord. There was some fine grammar in there. I have in my possession a small tome called "the little green grammar book" by Mark Tredinnick. It'll help a great deal, I think.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 8:44pm GMT

Rather remiss of TA not to mention that Helen King wrote the Shared Conversations reflections. It could easily have been mistaken for Andrew Lightbown's work.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 9:00pm GMT

Ah, Archdruid Eileen. The Wee Worship Book. Is that related to the Book of Exodus?

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 9:03pm GMT

Jeremy - think I was trying to mix politeness with a bit of irony!

Posted by Andrew Lightbown at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 9:13pm GMT

I've added Helen King's name to her piece.

Posted by Peter Owen at Saturday, 4 February 2017 at 11:10pm GMT

Andrew--Understood.

I tend to be more direct. (Especially if I have lost patience.)

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 3:52am GMT

Andrew Lightbrown says "I understand that some (perhaps even many) bishops are not happy with the report"

This is cowardice of the most abject sort. To stand alongside a document, but then leak out unattributably that you might not actually stand alongside it, is moral cowardice. It is the act of men who are frightened of the consequences of doing right, but are afraid of even appearing afraid, so attempt to be brave in secret in the hope of salving their conscience.

My Dutch neighbour's parents, who are of the wartime generation, had a mordant line: "everyone we know says they were in the resistance, but most waited until 1946 to join". The bishops are engaged in that sort of cowardice, the cowardice that dare not even admit fear: they want to claim to have been brave when no-one can see.

There is no such thing as a bishop who is secretly opposed to this document. Their silence is support. If they want to oppose it, they can show the "moral courage" they are so fond of talking about and do so. Until then, they are just collaborators. Don't want to be called a homophobic bigot? Stop acting like a homophobic bigot.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 10:55am GMT

Okay Interested Observer,

Then let's not stop at Bishops. What about priests who are strongly LGBT-affirming, including those who post here?

Is it morally courageous to submit to the line the Church Establishment takes? If in all good conscience they believe that lesbian and gay people should have their marital relationships blessed in church, like any heterosexual marriage, then do they do that... before the whole church community? And to go one step further, if in all conscience they believe it is morally wrong to deny gay and lesbian people marriage in church (regardless of the law), are they willing to go ahead and marry couples who, simply, love each other?

I personally feel that it is not only bishops who are colluding with abusive authority by conforming to their dictats. Indeed, in a way, I have greater respect for conservative priests who oppose gay marriage, because at least they are being true to their conscience and principles.

In the case of priests who believe in LGBT marriage, if they are not prepared to ACT on their consciences, then LGBT people take the hit.

It is entirely feasible for a network of priests, of PCCs, or local churches, to organise and resist, and to synchronise their resistance as a group action, so it's not just isolated individuals who can get more easily picked off.

Everyone 'says' that this is wrong, and offends their conscience, but actually acting on your conscience - that Rosa Parks moment of courage - is a different matter. Yet if you believe something in faith and conscience, shouldn't you stand by that conscience, and demonstrate it?

I repeat my question, asked several times before on this forum. Where is the priest who will publicly, boldly marry my girl and me? I was baptised in the Church of England, confirmed in it, worshipped in it from childhood as a chorister, grew up in it, came to living faith in it. It has nurtured my family. It is my Church.

Yet every single priest in the land is prepared to exercise discrimination, and decline to marry me and everyone like me, while continuing to marry heterosexual couples. How can that be right? How can that be brave?

I look for a priest - for a network of priests - who will simply say 'I will no longer discriminate'.

But there is no-one there.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 2:46pm GMT

"This is cowardice of the most abject sort. To stand alongside a document, but then leak out unattributably that you might not actually stand alongside it, is moral cowardice. It is the act of men who are frightened of the consequences of doing right, but are afraid of even appearing afraid, so attempt to be brave in secret in the hope of salving their conscience."

For Christians, it should not be about salving conscience it should be fear of judgement by the Lord and distress at causing Him distress. I think we all dread the question, "So you realised that the Church policy on same sex marriage is causing suffering, so what did you do about it?" It is a frightening enough question for those of us who are lay, but terrifying for ordained individuals who will have to explain why they put job security ahead of marrying couples when Jesus laid down His life to save those clergy. Bishops who know they are wrong should be trembling in dread. I don't think saying, "off the record, in private, I expressed certain doubts" is going to help any. I suspect that sounds as bad to the Lord as it does to us.

Of course we can be forgiven if we repent. Can one repent without changing behaviour?

I have a lot of time for liberal Christianity but, in down-playing the terror of divine judgement and the agony of knowing our sinful nature causes Him distress, I think liberal Christianity can cause people to view moral ambiguity as something that we can get away with rather than considering how it all appears to God.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 4:48pm GMT

Couldn't agree more, Interested Observer.

If the bishops wholeheartedly swung behind the report out of a belief in collegiality and unity, then much as I'd disagree, I could at least respect their integrity, as I can respect the integrity of evangelicals who take a position against their own inclinations.

To instead swing behind it in order to get on, while simultaneously undermining it safe behind a cloak of anonymity, is contemptible.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 5:04pm GMT

"...in down-playing the terror of divine judgement and the agony of knowing our sinful nature causes Him distress, I think liberal Christianity can cause people to view moral ambiguity as something that we can get away with rather than considering how it all appears to God."

A statement most catholic Christians will embrace as the Gospel, its threshold and its promise, under the Cross of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday blessings.

Posted by cseitz at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 6:01pm GMT

"And to go one step further, if in all conscience they believe it is morally wrong to deny gay and lesbian people marriage in church (regardless of the law), are they willing to go ahead and marry couples who, simply, love each other?"

Susannah, the issue is not willingness per se, but ability. A marriage is a legal contract. If I conducted a marriage service for you and your girl in my church, it would be a celebration of your love, but in the eyes of the law it wouldn't be a marriage. It's not the case that we'd be 'breaking the law' but you'd still be married: you would not be married.

I imagine you would find many clergy willing to do a service of blessing after a civil marriage; but being legally married in a C of E church can only happen when the law changes. I guess that what the 'quadruple' lock is there for: so if people did defy their bishops on this, which many might, the bishops still win and nobody is actually married.

I absolutely agree that there is a need now for challenging actions, but I can't see that performing a ceremony that would have no force in law is it.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 8:45pm GMT

Susannah,
affirming priests have their hands tied behind their backs, they cannot legally marry you in their churches. But if you are looking for a full service of blessing, yes, there are quite a few who have publicly stated that they have offered them and will continue to do so.
Most can be found via the Changing Attitude page on Facebook.
If you're seriously looking into this, email me (Simon can give you my address) and I will try and help you find someone for you.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 11:24pm GMT

True about the legal effect, Fr. Andrew, but is there anything stopping priests from conducting marriage services for same-sex couples? It wouldn't have legal weight, but it'd be a powerful symbolic challenge to the church's unjust and oppressive teaching.

Susannah's correct about strength in numbers. If there's a network of rectors (with freehold, for added protection) marrying same-sex couples, deposing them all wouldn't be practical, even if it's legal.

Equal ordination in TEC was driven by grassroots rebellion against the official teaching. With the last slender hope of change from above now closed off in the CoE, it's clear that, if LGBT Anglicans ever to be treated as equals in England, the same strategy must be pursued there.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 5 February 2017 at 11:43pm GMT

"Susannah, the issue is not willingness per se, but ability. A marriage is a legal contract. If I conducted a marriage service for you and your girl in my church, it would be a celebration of your love, but in the eyes of the law it wouldn't be a marriage. It's not the case that we'd be 'breaking the law' but you'd still be married: you would not be married."

Hindus cannot marry in temple either so what they do is have a quiet civil ceremony (to tick the law box) with a couple of witnesses, then a religious ceremony which everyone attends and which the couple regards as their wedding even if legally they were married a few days earlier. So I think that you could marry same sex couples in the same way. The reference to the quadruple lock is a cop out.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 3:40am GMT

"If I conducted a marriage service for you and your girl in my church, it would be a celebration of your love, but in the eyes of the law it wouldn't be a marriage."

And? There are many religious marriages that take place which do not result in a legal marriage, and people simply stop off at the registry office on the way to or from the temple/meeting hall/gurdwara/mosque/etc (or not, which is a whole other, and somewhat unrelated, issue). I suspect that for those couples, the ceremony in their place of worship, even if legally empty, is the spiritually and emotionally more important.

It seems a handy excuse: "I won't perform a ceremony of marriage because you need a couple of forms that I can't sign". Claiming that things which are in all regards bar the paperwork marriages cannot take place seems a convenient way to keep the peace, and a distinction that your local mosque appears able to live with.

There is nothing stopping a CofE minister from performing a full marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple, other than their unwillingness to challenge the prevailing climate (all that stuff about "counter-cultural" and "speaking truth to power" appears to be selectively employed).

Yes, its legal effect would be zero, but the same is true of many church services that nonetheless are welcomed by all involved. The happy couple would have to drop in to a slightly grim civic building on the way home to sign a couple of forms, that's all. Sure, there is also the risk that the celebrant would be sacked or otherwise disciplined, but if the argument is "I won't marry same-sex couples because I need to put food on the table" people would appreciate the honesty.

In other news, restaurants in the Balti Triangle mostly don't have premises licenses, but having to drop in to an off-license on the way isn't a reason for drinkers not to enjoy the fabulous food.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 9:46am GMT

The protection of the freehold is, however, on the way out. No one who has taken up a post since 1 February 2011 has the freehold. That's six years ago now, and means that a quite large percentage of clergy hold office under common tenure, not freehold. Inevitably that it is going to affect the recently-ordained more than those who were ordained a long time ago, and (in general) the younger more than the older.

That probably gives them significantly less protection.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 11:11am GMT

Interested Observer. Nobody's making excuses here, nor attempting to hide behind legalism. The time is very definitely for action, but accusing on-side clergy of cowardice will move us forward not one inch. I would suggest reading what was written rather than imputing motives which are not there.

The suggestion of Susannah's was about marriage not about a service after a civil marriage. They are two different things and what LGBT should have the right to is nothing less than the former.

There are many clergy who would do the equivalent of 'stopping off after the registry office' or Kate's Hindu Temple example, as Erika suggests. That has been occurring for at least 20 years in my experience, no doubt longer.

But what LGBT people want from the Church is equal marriage not a sort-of symbolic marriage. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, it was a real seat on a real bus, not a symbolic seat on a symbolic bus.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 11:41am GMT

"There are many religious marriages that take place which do not result in a legal marriage, and people simply stop off at the registry office on the way to or from the temple/meeting hall/gurdwara/mosque/etc"

The comparison is good but not exact. The difference, of course, is that where everyone who wishes to be married in hall, gurdwaras etc. must go to the registry office first to contract a legal marriage, that isn't the case in the Church of England. Opposite sex couples do not have to go to the registry office first.

I don't think LGBT couples should be satisfied with anything less than full equal marriage- I won't be.

If it were the case that a SSM in a C of E church was legally valid, even if not approved of by the Church, even if the bishops had threatened discipline, excommunication or whatever, then go for it regardless of episcopal consequences. The action would have a tangible effect and real power. But that isn't the case, and what you're asking for is for LGBT couples to go for something less than heterosexual ones.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 11:56am GMT

"If it were the case that a SSM in a C of E church was legally valid, even if not approved of by the Church, even if the bishops had threatened discipline, excommunication or whatever, then go for it regardless of episcopal consequences. The action would have a tangible effect and real power. But that isn't the case, and what you're asking for is for LGBT couples to go for something less than heterosexual ones."

Not less. Jesus taught us to look at the fruit not doctrinal detail. Applying His teaching, the couple would have been married before God and in the presence of the parish and would have a legal marriage. It is less in form only, but not in substance and, according to Gospel teaching, we should concentrate on substance not form.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 1:11pm GMT

I hesitate to come into a thread after some 30 comments, and interrupt an interesting debate, but I would like to draw attention to the outstanding (as usual) article by Savi Hensman.
It's a bit long, but her first-class review and history of an Anglican approach to biblical interpretation deserves wide notice.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 7:41pm GMT

Having perused the common tenure/freehold situation, the new system appears to be functionally similar to the old freehold rules. While new rectors are employed under common tenure, provided the living hasn't been suspended, they can still hold freehold positions. Bishops can't fire them at-will, or run down the clock on a fixed contract: they have to prove misconduct before a tribunal.

It's not risk-free, but if enough rectors sign on, may be viable. Something to explore further, at least.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 8:04pm GMT

Just to be clear, I have not yet taken time to read, "Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations." I'm not likely to get to it anytime soon. Given the long list of things one wishes to read, there just isn't motivation to read a report by bishops from elsewhere in The Communion, especially one that has been panned by folks in the know before the ink has even dried.

However, I did read carefully the excellent article linked here by Savi Hensman, Sexuality, Gender and Disrespect for Scripture. The article in terms of its general applicability (and beyond its specific application to the C of E bishops' report) is first class in terms of the sweep of its research and analysis. Thanks so much for making it available.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 6 February 2017 at 9:48pm GMT

Rod,
I would read it because it is the position the Archbishop of Canterbury clearly intends to adopt not just in England, but as an Instrument of Communion.

James,

I just wish just one diocesan bishop would break ranks and then everyone in his/her see could rebel with impunity.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 7 February 2017 at 2:53am GMT

I've finally got around to reading Savi Hensman's excellent article. I believe God speaks to each of us, individually, through the Scriptures. It's not the only way God speaks to us but interaction with Scripture is central to my relationship with God. It's intensely personal - to pray and to read Scripture, to think about my particular situation in relation to what God is saying to me. The words 'authority' and 'obedience' are important in a classroom. God's Word is more than that. Obedience without love and authority without warmth: I don't want or need to go there.

Posted by Pam at Tuesday, 7 February 2017 at 7:54am GMT

Yes, Savitri's little compendium is excellent, but does it not invalidate the letter-writing campaign? If bishops and synod representatives do not take any note of such well presented criticism, what's a letter going to achieve? Mine's ready but I'm not sure I'll send it.

Posted by Lorenzo at Tuesday, 7 February 2017 at 9:17am GMT

Re Kate, "I would read it because it is the position the Archbishop of Canterbury clearly intends to adopt not just in England, but as an Instrument of Communion."

I suspect there is little chance of Archbishop Welby's control politics fronted as "evangelical" theology becoming ascendant in Canada going forward.

Notwithstanding, reading the report is not going to tell me anything new, not politically, not theologically. The spoiler alerts are everywhere.

I've just recently dusted off an old classic, published in 1969, Naming the Whirlwind, by Langdon Gilkey. Reading it now, the book is in one sense a period piece. Yet, Gilkey was remarkably prescient. His insights on religious language remain insightful.

I think those who wish to make theology a surrogate for controlling others, and using reports and policies produced by ecclesiastical bureaucracies to do so, are discovering that religious language, as rational and internally coherent as it may seem to its propagators, is received as largely meaningless by the faithful living outside the propagators' ecclesiastical and political phylum.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 7 February 2017 at 2:24pm GMT

Lorenzo, please do write - personal communication makes a difference.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Wednesday, 8 February 2017 at 8:15am GMT

If I wanted a civil marriage I could get one today. What I'm asking for is a Christian marriage, before God, in the presence of God's people, in church.

That, to me, is the really significant marriage ceremony. Not some civil paper signing in a registry office.

Christianity is supposed to promote marriage as a blessing. I am not at all impressed by being encouraged to go and get a civil piece of paper, and then be grateful for a blessing afterwards.

I don't care, either, if the marriage in church isn't viewed as 'legal' by the politicians. It would be 'legal' in the eyes of God.

If you don't think God sanctions all lesbian and gay marriages, then we're not even singing from the same song sheet.

I simply ask for a priest to actually marry us in the eyes of God, and carry it out publicly and openly, because I refuse to be ashamed.

Sure, afterwards, if I even care about the civil legality of it, and I can go off and get one of 'those' marriages too, but as a Christian, it is the marriage carried out and blessed in church that is the most real and profound action.

So like I said before, and in the light of the excuses...

There is no-one there.

My girl and I will wait.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 10 February 2017 at 11:53pm GMT
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