Tim Jones, who is English although working in the USA, has written this comment about the bishops’ statement, Strangers in a Strange Land:
…To many outside the UK it seems bizarre that Christian bishops could vote for something that seems to them so, well, un-Christian. The powerful Anglican archbishop of Nigeria is furious, and reports are circulating that he is contemplating proposals for the Anglican Communion to discipline the Church of England, its historical ‘mother-church’. It is part of a wider debate about sexuality and church order that the Anglican Communion, the world’s third largest Christian denomination, may not survive intact…
And Pete Broadbent who is an English suffragan bishop, wrote about the statement in the Usenet newsgroup uk.religion.christian. His remarks are copied in full below the fold.
“I think a little clarity might be in order here.
1. Civil Partnerships are part of the law of the land. If two persons decide to enter into a Civil Partnership, there is nothing the Church of England can do to stop them.
2. The Church clearly teaches that marriage is the only lifelong commitment sanctioned by God. Our view of civil partnerships is that they cannot be held to be marriage, and cannot be recognised by the CofE as marriage.
3. Many (though not all) bishops would say that civil partnerships are a non-category; a nonsense category invented by Government as a way of fudging the issue on gay marriage.
4. We are therefore living in two realms; in the Church, a civil partnership has no meaning, beyond a commitment two people have to each other. In the State, such partnerships have meaning, and bring with them legal rights and responsibilities (which will impinge on all churches, not just the CofE).
5. We cannot therefore prohibit clergy from declaring a civil partnership. They have that right under civil law. We can only take action against them in so far as they contravene the teachings of scripture and the Church. The dilemma (which is not about fudge or compromise, but about reality) is that there is nothing per se wrong from scripture in entering a covenant of friendship and lifelong commitment to another person (indeed, during the drawing up of the legislation, it was argued quite sensibly that if Government was inventing this foolish category, then it ought to apply to brother and sister who wished to make the same kind of commitment to each other). If we were to take action against people for contracting a civil partnership we would be contravening their human rights, and would face legal challenge and inevitable costs. Perhaps Reform would like to put up the money if they want to see us go that route?
6. We are therefore left with this ridiculous and unsolvable pastoral conundrum, in that we have no grounds to prohibit civil partnerships, because they are not homosexual “marriage”. They are not therefore by their nature contrary to the teaching of the Church. However, we all know that the majority of people wishing to contract civil partnerships are going to be gay couples. Hence we are into the scenario of having to interrogate clergy about their bedroom habits, which is plainly sordid and intrusive. The legislation has us over a barrel. Those of us who have to operate the Bishops’ Pastoral Statement see it as very far from a fudge, because we have the uncomfortable responsibility of operating the pastoral discipline which it entails.