Thinking Anglicans

Church Times leader comment: The Church that says 'No'

The Church Times leader today: The Church that says ‘No’

…The chief problem for the C of E is not so much the Government’s new understanding of marriage as its understanding of establishment. Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said: “I will never bring in a law that would impinge, in any way, on the Church’s power to decide who it marries and who it does not.” But the Church does not have the power to decide. It is the right of any couple, provided neither has a living spouse, to marry in their parish church. If the new legislation passes, therefore, it will introduce a new discrimination, and cede power to the Church that it did not have before. Perhaps some might approve of this new autonomy, but it has a significant implication for establishment, and at a personal, not an abstruse constitutional, level.

Marriage is defined neither by the state nor the Church. Couples commit themselves to each other in ways that seem best to them, and, if it conforms to the general understanding of marriage, that is what they call it. The state recognises this aggregate definition and legalises accordingly. Hence the latest move to recognise the desire of many same-sex couples to call their union “marriage”.

In a charged atmosphere of reform, the simple restating of the present blanket ban could not be a neutral act, especially when wrapped in the Government’s protectionist language, designed, we presume, with its own back-benchers in mind. However mollifying various sections of the Church have been in the past, Tuesday thus established the C of E as a gay-unfriendly institution: the Church that says “No.” Religion has been a key part of marriage for many, but this is not a given. The Church has the privilege of blessing the unions that people bring to it. Since the blessing it offers or withholds is God’s, it needs to be sure that its interpretation is sound and explicable. Many believe that it is not. The way of testing this in the C of E is through the amending of canons – a long and, on such a divisive issue, tortuous process. The Government proposes to leave Churches to make up their own minds. In the mean time, there are the twin concerns of public perception and mission. A greater enthusiasm for the blessing of same-sex partnerships in church would be one effective way of countering the negative impression given this week.


Church and State – an idiot’s guide

In this week of the second Sunday in Advent, readers are invited to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this very helpful article by Frank Cranmer at Law & Religion UK.

Church and State – an idiot’s guide

It starts:

When matters touching on relations between religion and the state are discussed it not infrequently happens that the terminology becomes hopelessly confused and misused – sometimes by people who really should know better. So the following is a cut-out-and-keep guide to the absolute basics of Church and State.

First, there are four separate territories in the United Kingdom…


Women Bishops

Madeleine Davies has two articles in today’s Church Times.
House of Bishops to revive hopes for women bishops
MPs ‘take up the fight’ over women bishops

David Pocklington fo Law & Religion UK has written Towards Women in the Episcopate – I.

Julian Joyce of the BBC has written Women bishops: Ordinary churchgoers could shape CofE’s future.
[There is a mistake in a sidebar to this article. PCCs do not elect deanery synod members. They are elected by the annual parochial church meeting.]


Churches deny asking for quadruple lock

Updated yet again 23.00 with statement from DCMS

There are multiple reports in the media this morning.

Church Times see preceding article.

Sam Jones Guardian Church of England and Church in Wales protest at gay marriage ban

The Church of England and the Church in Wales have expressed their “complete shock” at the government’s plan to ban them from offering same-sex marriages, claiming they were not consulted over the proposed legislation, which would make them the only religious organisations to be legally barred from conducting the ceremonies…

…The Right Rev Tim Stevens, bishop of Leicester and the Church of England’s lead spokesman in the Lords, told a closed meeting of bishops, Lords and MPs that the government had not consulted the church on the proposal, adding that the church had never sought the government’s so-called “quadruple lock” on gay marriage. He also expressed his regret at the government’s lack of consultation.

A Church of England spokesman confirmed that the church had not been consulted over the government’s plans, saying: “Bishop Tim is correct that the first mention of a ‘quadruple lock’ came when the secretary of state announced it in the Commons. We had not been privately informed of this prior to the announcement.”

Miller had been due to meet the Church of England representatives last Thursday but she cancelled the meeting at the last moment…

John Bingham Telegraph Church accuses Maria Miller of ‘omnishambles’ over gay marriage announcement

…Although the meeting went ahead in Mrs Miller’s absence, the bishop was given a general briefing about legal provisions to enable gay couples to marry without churches which chose not to carry out the ceremonies facing challenges under human rights laws.

The first that officials at Church House in Westminster knew of a special legal bar, specifically aimed at the Church of England, was when Mrs Miller made her statement.

MPs expressed amazement when Bishop Stevens set out the sequence of events during a meeting yesterday with the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to discuss the separate crisis over women bishops.

Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP, who was present, said: “He said that ‘the Government did not consult us on this and we wish they had sought our advice’ – it was pretty strong.”

He went on: “At the end Bishop Justin simply said I really have nothing to add to what Tim has said, I agree with every word that he has said.”

Mr Gardiner added: “I think that there was shock on the part of the Church leaders that the Government had not even thought to consult with the bishops on this.

“The Government has behaved in an extraordinarily high-handed and cack-handed way.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted it would have been “inappropriate” to tell the Church of England about the provision before it had been announced to Parliament.

But senior Church of England officials likened the cancellation of the meeting and failure to brief the Church to an episode of the satirical programme The Thick of It.

“It is an ominshambles,” said one. “This is legislation on the hoof, it has been a botched job.”

A spokeswoman for the department said: “Clearly, it would have been inappropriate to discuss the fine detail of our proposals prior to them being announced in Parliament.

“But the Church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages would continue.”


Questions are now being asked about why the Church of England did not express this surprise about the fourth lock earlier in the week. See this blog post: The Church of England, #equalmarriage And The Truth

The Church of England was quick to explain that the Government was not giving them any extra protections but respecting their right to opt-in constitutionally if they so wished. Their press release is here (it is their second version. The first was entitled “Equal Marriage and the Church of England”. Obviously that couldn’t stand, so it has been changed to “Same-sex Marriage and the Church of England. Note the “Same Same Marriage” reference in the left hand sidebar which I like to think suggests someone at the press office wasn’t happy with the need to change the title!). An excellent explanation of the Quadruple Lock and the Church of England’s position can be found here. But let us quote from the press release.

For Parliament to give the Church of England an opt-in to conduct same sex marriages that it hasn’t sought would be unnecessary, of doubtful constitutional propriety and introduce wholly avoidable confusion.

The Church of England, on the 11th, was extremely clear they didn’t want an opt-in as they already had one…

…Now the main issue the Church of England representatives have is that they were not consulted on the details of the proposals. Given their initial press release afterwards (where they expressed satisfaction with what the Government was proposing in terms of legal protections) I find this very disingenuous. Do these representatives want marriage equality in the church? The Bishop of Leicester, quoted in the story, certainly doesn’t…

And now the BBC has this report Gay marriage: Church says government move ‘absurd’

The day before the PM’s remarks, CofE officials had met for talks on the issue with officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“What is clear is that the amount of detail given by officials from the department certainly wasn’t the level of detail revealed on the floor of the House” five days later, said a CofE spokesman. “It think that’s surprising, at the very least.

“There is this sense of the government slightly making it up on the hoof. This is an important and serious issue and a complex area of law. Doing all this on the hoof is absurd.”

But a DCMS statement said: “It is just not true to say that we have not properly discussed our proposals with the Church of England.

“As part of our consultation process, and before we finalised our proposals, Government officials met the Church of England at a very senior level.

“The Church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages could continue. While it is inappropriate to share the exact nature of legislative proposals before announcing them to Parliament, discussions with the Church were quite specific about the quad lock.”

The CofE spokesman said there was no wish for “protection or exemption for ourselves in ways that are any different from any other Church”, though it was accepted that its unique position as the established Church would require particular legislation.

“If, despite our opposition, the legislation goes through, we support the government intention of leaving the choice of conducting same-sex weddings with all Churches and faiths.”

He added: “The Church’s position is about the meaning of marriage; the Church’s position is not about being anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) – we fully support civil partnership.”

The DCMS itself has published this on behalf of Maria Miller: Equal marriage and the Church of England.

…We discussed our plans with the Church of England

Some have suggested that the Church of England didn’t know in advance about the legal protections we were proposing. This is simply not correct. We sat down and had detailed, private discussions with them prior to my statement in Parliament. But of course, the rules of the House of Commons mean that the detail of legislative proposals is presented to Parliament before anyone else. We will continue to discuss our plans with them going forward, and those meetings have already started…


"A very bad day for the Church of England"

Jerome Taylor wrote this at the Independent on Tuesday. I think it is the best analysis I have seen so far.

Census, gays and a very bad day for the Church of England
The historical goodwill of the British public towards Anglicanism is starting to run dry – and this anti same-sex marriage stance will only drain further support

New census data revealed this morning showed that just shy of 1,100 people in England and Wales ditch their Christian identity every day.

Meanwhile the only organisation that has a duty to marry British citizens will, the government announced this afternoon, be legally allowed to discriminate once more against gay men and women. Not a good day for the Church of England. If I were a Lords Spiritual right now, I’d be rather nervous about keeping my job. The established church has never looked so out of touch with the rest of Britain…

And on the equal marriage legislation, he said this:

Out of touch

The Church hierarchy’s official opposition to equal marriage legislation, meanwhile, is likely to erode support for Christianity even further over the next ten years – especially among younger generations who simply aren’t as bothered about what people do with their genitals in loving, committed consensual relationships to the same extent that perhaps their parents or grandparents are.

It’s important to note that much of the Church of England is not anti-gay marriage. There are wonderful, inclusive Anglican congregations that welcome gay couples and plenty of Anglicans who support equal marriage rights. But a chuck are opposed and the Church hierarchy has decided to go for a de facto oppositional stance until they can sort out what their ecclesiastical approach to same sex relationships is (which given how long it’s taken to sort out the issue of women could take some time).

The government’s announcement today that the Church of England will be legally banned from having gay marriages – as opposed to other religious groups who will be allowed to opt out – should halt concerns that the definition of marriage is somehow being threatened in canon law. The Church now has a “quadruple” legal lock that Europe and our courts simply would not be able to interfere with. For much of the anti-gay religious right, though, I fear even that won’t be enough.

However they try to portray this as a “religious freedom” argument, they are ultimately anti-gay marriage and determined to sink it however they can. The fact that no religious group would ever be forced to conduct gay marriages – or that plenty of religious groups believe their right to religious expression is currently being impinged because they can’t conduct gay weddings – falls on deaf ears.

The additional legal protections for the Church of England, of course, now means that the chances of Britain’s established church embracing gay men and women in marriage is now further off than ever. So an already out of touch church will become further disconnected while most of the people it is supposed to minister to march on. If the established church isn’t careful, the distance will become simply too wide to bridge.


same-sex marriage: the quadruple locks

The Church Times reports this morning: Same-sex-marriage Bill will lock C of E’s right to abstain by Ed Thornton

THE protection for the Church of England to be contained within the Government’s same-sex-marriage legislation was a surprise to church representatives, it emerged this week.

On Tuesday, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, announced that the Bill would include a “quadruple lock” of measures that would “protect religious freedom”. These would specify that it would be illegal for any Church of England minister to conduct a same-sex marriage.

But at a meeting with Parliamentarians on Thursday, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, said that this level of protection had not been mentioned in meetings with the Government. He regretted that no prior consul[t]ation had been sought…

And there is this sidebar

The legal position

IF, once the same-sex marriage legislation is passed, a parish priest decides to break the law and marry a same-sex couple, it will be to no avail: the marriage will not be valid.

This is because the legislation will not alter the Church of England’s canons, one of which – Canon B30, paragraph 1 – states that marriage is “of one man with one woman”.

The Government’s legislation does not, therefore, make it illegal for C of E ministers to marry same-sex couples, as some reports have suggested: it merely reinforces what is already the case in canon law.

Since canon law is also part of public law, the Government has had to make it specific that same-sex marriage legislation does not apply to Church of England marriage rites.

The Government is not attempting to alter canon law for two reasons: first, it is responding to requests from Church House officials that it permit the Church to maintain its existing position on marriage; second, it is preserving a long-standing tradition that Parliament does not legislate for the Church of England in matters of doctrine and practice.

It would be up to the General Synod, therefore, to pass legislation changing the C of E’s doctrine and practice of marriage. A legislative package would have to include an Amending Canon redefining the nature of marriage, and the passing of a Measure (the General Synod’s equivalent of an Act of Parliament) which altered both statute law concerning C of E marriage rites, and the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer.

If passed by the Synod, the Measure would require parliamentary and, ultimately, royal assent.

This post from Ministry of Truth Making sense of Cameron’s ‘Quadruple Lock’ on Equal Marriage gives a great deal of detail.

…Okay, so why has the government now put religious marriage on the table when, previously, it was only offering to support same-sex civil marriages?

The answer to this lies in the legal advice that the government will have received prior to the publication of its response to the consultation on equal marriage in which they will have been told that by affording legal recognition to civil same sex marriages they would be paving the way for a legal challenge under article 9 of European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought conscience and religion.

To be absolutely clear on this, as this is an issue that has been widely misrepresented by opponents of equal marriage, the issue here is not that affording legal recognition to civil same-sex marriage would allow gay couples to use current equality legislation or the European Court of Human Rights to compel the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, or any other religious group or denomination to set aside their theological/doctrinal objections to same-sex marriage. Even without the proposed ‘quadruple lock’ the likelihood of either the High Court of England and Wales or the European Court of Human Rights forcing any religious organisation to carry out same-sex marriages against its wishes is somewhere on a par with the chance of my being elected the next Pope. The High Court does not, as a matter of principle and long-standing convention, issue rulings on matter of theology while the European Court’s preferred approach to religious cases is perhaps best characterised as ducking the issue by batting the matter back to national governments/courts under their margin of appreciation.

What was highly likely, had the government not made some provision for religious same-sex marriages, was a legal challenge to the government, and not to any individual church, under article 9 of ECHR from one or more of those denominations that has already indicated that it does wish to be able to conduct religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, a list which currently includes the Unitarians, Quakers and Liberal Jews. From the point at which secular law recognises same-sex civil marriages their ceases to be any viable legal argument for restricting the ability of religious denominations to recognise and conduct same sex marriages, if that is consistent with their theological position, solely on the basis that other religious groups are, themselves, opposed to that same practice….

And, regarding the fourth lock in particular:

…Unlike other churches and religious organisations, the Church of England, as the established church, is legally obliged to conduct marriage ceremonies for anyone who asks subject only to the rules of canon law and secular provision of the Marriage Act 1949 (and subsequent amendments) irrespective of the actual religious beliefs of the parties who wish to marry. As long as both parties are content to be married under the rites of the Church of England, legally able to marry and are willing to comply with the Churches administrative requirements, e.g. the posting of banns, etc. then, save for an explicit legal exemption relating to divorcees whose former spouse in still alive, the Church has a legal duty to perform the ceremony.

This being the case, the government cannot merely leave the option open without creating a constitutional problem by giving rise to a potential conflict between statute and canon law, one that can only be resolved in one of two ways given that the Church remains, at least for the time being, opposed to carrying out same-sex marriages; the government must either legislate for the Church of England in line with current canon law, in which case statute law must specify that it remains unlawful for ministers of the Church of England to marry same-sex couples, or it must remove from law the Church’s legal duty to perform marriages for any heterosexual couple who asks to be married under the rites of the Church.

As this second option would entail the Church taking a very clear step on the road to disestablishment, the government have chosen to take the first option and maintain a consistent position between statute and canon law by retaining a ban of same-sex marriages within the Church of England in statute law…

John Bingham at the Telegraph wrote: Gay marriage: Church of England signals it could ‘live with’ Government plans

…Church officials have acknowledged that they could potentially “live with” the proposals drawn up by Government lawyers to prevent churches facing human rights challenges to force them to conduct weddings for homosexual couples.
It comes in marked contrast to claims earlier this year that same-sex marriage could pose the biggest threat to its position as the established church since the reformation.

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has made clear that he is opposed to same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile the House of Lords heard on[e] claim that several bishops secretly support the principle of gay marriage but are afraid to speak out because it would contradict the official policy of the Church…


Women Bishops: House of Commons debate

The Hansard transcript of yesterday’s House of Commons debate on women bishops is now available here.

There is also a video recording.

Press reports inlcude:

John Bingham Telegraph Church urged to put faith in Parliament over women bishops crisis.

BBC Women bishops: Clergy could ask for MPs’ help, Bradshaw says.


Same-sex marriage: Scottish government consults on proposals

The Scottish government has today issued this press release Same sex marriage

A consultation on a draft Bill to allow same sex marriage in Scotland has started today.

The plans have received cross party support in the Scottish Parliament.

The consultation seeks views on the detail of the legislation. It covers not only the introduction of same sex marriage but the detail of important protections in relation to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech and education.

The Bill contains a provision making it clear that the introduction of same sex marriage has no impact on existing rights to freedom of speech…

The consultation itself can be found at this page: Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill from where links to all the associated documentation can be found.


WATCH response to House of Bishops press statement

WATCH has today issued this response to yesterday’s statement from the House of Bishops.

Response to the House of Bishops Press Statement of 11th December, 2012

WATCH welcomes the House of Bishops’ expression of gratitude and appreciation for the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England, its acknowledgement of the anger, grief and disappointment so widely expressed during the past weeks and the commitment of all its members to making an effective response.

The House of Bishops’ willingness to consider questions regarding culture, processes and how women might more regularly contribute is also encouraging. We believe this will best be realised through the admission of women to the episcopate and will continue to work for the full inclusion of women at every level in the Church of England.

WATCH support the House of Bishops’ belief that a future legislative package would benefit from greater simplicity. A single clause measure is entirely consistent with that aim and would affirm that those who assent to the ordination of women to the episcopate are, in fact, loyal Anglicans from whom no ‘protection’ is needed.

WATCH remains clear that after ten years of searching for a compromise in law without success, a single clause measure is the best way forward now. Provision for those opposed can be made outside the Measure. This is the way that every other Province of the Anglican Communion with women bishops has proceeded.

We look forward with interest to the Archbishops’ announcement of the membership of the proposed working group and hope that it will be properly representative of the widespread support for women bishops clearly demonstrated at local level through Diocesan Synods.

We hope that future discussions will be guided by the principle that women are as central to the whole life of the church as men. It will be essential that such discussions uphold General Synod’s decision of 1975 there is ‘no fundamental objection to ordination of women to the priesthood’, and also that of 2006 which recognised that admitting women to the episcopate is ‘consonant with the faith of the church’.

Rachel Weir, WATCH CHAIR, commented

“There can be few issues that have undermined the Church’s credibility more than its recent rejection of the women bishops legislation. The entire country is watching as we try to find a way forward. Supporters of women bishops are prepared, if necessary, to wait for a new synod to get this right. It is time for a clear and unequivocal endorsement of women’s ordained ministry embodied in a single clause measure.”


Equal Marriage and the Church of England

The Church of England has issued an explanatory note:

The full text is reproduced in full below the fold. Now moved to here and the title changed from “Equal Marriage” to “Same-sex marriage”.

Apologies for the broken link earlier. One would not have expected the CofE website to move such an important statement so soon after its publication without inserting a forward to the new location.

And the page has been moved yet again. 17 December.



Same-sex marriage: Methodist Church response

Methodist response to proposals on same-sex marriage

11 December 2012

Statement from the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, in response to the Government’s proposals on same-sex marriage:

“The Government has announced that it will proceed with a Bill to make provision for the marriage of same-sex couples, including marriage in Churches which “opt in”. This decision raises both issues around the nature of marriage, and also about religious freedom.

“The Methodist response to the consultation on Equal Civil Marriage, drawn up by members of Faith and Order and the Methodist Council, stated that ‘The Methodist Church, in line with scripture and traditional teaching, believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.’

“Within the Methodist Church there is a spectrum of belief about sexuality; however the Church has explicitly recognised, affirmed and celebrated the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men.

“The Government has indicated that Churches which do not wish to marry same-sex couples will have the protection of law. This is important. However, in our response to the consultation we also stated that, while in the future we may or may not choose to affirm same-sex marriage, it would be unwarranted interference for the State to make that decision for us. For the purpose of religious freedom, if the Government allows marriage of same-sex couples in civil venues, then it must allow religious bodies to make the same choice. Whilst we recognise that most Christian Churches will probably choose not to offer same-sex marriages, the principle of religious freedom is an important one as it would it would leave with the Church the ultimate authority and autonomy to chose whether or not to do so.”


Equal Marriage: the position of the Church in Wales

Yesterday the Archbishop of Wales expressed surprise about the government’s action with respect to the Church in Wales.

See BBC report: Gay marriage ban ‘step too far’ says Archbishop of Wales.

And WalesOnline Gay marriages: Church in Wales faces ban on performing gay ceremonies.

But if you read the official submission from the Church in Wales to the consultation, you can easily see why the government took them at their word.

The Church in Wales is in an almost identical position to the Church of England with regard to the solemnisation of marriages. The Church in Wales’ concerns about the legal implications are therefore the same as those of the Church of England. We have taken note of these, and would seek assurances that the Government would specifically include the Church in Wales in any provisions for the Church of England under the proposed legislation.


Bishop of Leicester responds to Government consultation on equal marriage

Bishop of Leicester responds to Government consultation on equal marriage

11 December 2012

Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church, the Rt Rev Tim Stephens, Bishop of Leicester, reminded Parliament in a response to the Government statement on equal marriage in the House of Lords, today.

While the forms and legalities around marriage had evolved over time, he said, one fundamental feature had remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.

The Bishop asked for assurances that, for example, teachers would not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings and that proper time would be given for consultation.

The Bishop of Leicester’s response in full:

“Those of us on these benches entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is why many of us supported civil partnerships as we believed that the rights and obligations that flow to those who wish to formally mark and celebrate their commitment to each other should not be denied to people simply because of their sexuality.

“However, my Lords, civil partnerships, while conferring virtually the same legal benefits, are not the same as marriage. Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church; and while the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the noble lady minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.

“Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England’s position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities? Can the Minister assure us that teachers for example in Church schools will not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings? Can the Minister assure this House in spite of the accelerated pace of this process, proper time, even over a Christmas holiday, will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England’s Canon lawyers on the legislative drafting. Can the Minister assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudicial to gay people for taking a traditional stand, and perhaps most troubling my Lords is the fact that the Government and Opposition have together in their proceeding with this Measure led to division, not only within the country where polls consistently show half the population against this change, but also between the political class and the vast majority of practicing religious people. What plans does the Government have for working towards a degree of consensus on this matter?”


House of Bishops statement on defeat of women bishops legislation

Statement from the House of Bishops on defeat of women bishops legislation
11 December 2012

The House of Bishops of the Church of England met yesterday and today at Lambeth Palace and considered the implications of the General Synod’s recent rejection of legislation to enable women to become bishops. The House had the benefit of participation in its discussion of the Very Rev Viv Faull, the Venerable Christine Hardman, Dr Paula Gooder, and Mrs Margaret Swinson, who had all previously served on the Steering Committee or Revision Committee for the legislation.

The House expressed its ongoing gratitude and appreciation for the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England, and its sadness that recent events should have left so many feeling undermined and undervalued. Effective response to this situation is a priority on which all are strongly agreed.

The House acknowledged the profound and widespread sense of anger, grief, and disappointment felt by so many in the Church of England and beyond, and agreed that the present situation was unsustainable for all, whatever their convictions. It expressed its continuing commitment to enabling women to be consecrated as bishops, and intends to have fresh proposals to put before the General Synod at its next meeting in July.

The House will be organising an event early in 2013 at which it will share with a larger number of lay and ordained women – in the context of prayer and reflection – questions about the culture of the House’s processes and discussions, and how women might more regularly contribute.

Future action

In order to avoid delay in preparing new legislative proposals, the House has set up a working group drawn from all three houses of Synod, the membership to be determined by the Archbishops and announced before Christmas.

This group will arrange facilitated discussions with a wide range of people of a variety of views in the week of February 4th, when General Synod was to have met.

The House will have an additional meeting in February immediately after these discussions, and expects to settle at its May meeting the elements of a new legislative package to come to Synod in July.

For any such proposals to command assent, the House believes that they will need (i) greater simplicity, (ii) a clear embodiment of the principle articulated by the 1998 Lambeth Conference “that those who dissent from as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans”, (iii) a broadly-based measure of agreement about the shape of the legislation in advance of the beginning of the actual legislative process. These concerns will be the focus of the working group in the months ahead.

The House endorsed the view of the Archbishops’ Council that the “Church of England now has to resolve this issue through its own processes as a matter of great urgency”.


Religion in England and Wales 2011

Today the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has published data from the 2011 census which includes results for England and Wales from the ‘What is your religion?’ question. David Pocklington for Law & Religion UK has this handy summary Religion in Great Britain, 2011 with links to the ONS data.

The Guardian publishes this data on its own website:
Census 2011 mapped and charted: England & Wales in religion, immigration and race
Census 2011: how many Jedi Knights are there in England & Wales?

The Church of England has issued a press release: Census 2011 – England remains a faithful nation.

For the Telegraph Damian Thompson writes that Christianity is fading away in Britain as Islam surges and agnosticism spreads whilst Cristina Odone says 2011 census shock revelation: Christianity is still the majority religion, and Britain is still a God-fearing country.

The BBC reports that Census shows rise in foreign-born, but the article also covers the figures for religion.

Robert Booth writes for The Guardian that Christians could be minority by 2018, census analysis reveals.


Same-sex marriage plans explicitly exclude Anglicans in England and Wales


Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):

On the principle of this matter, I sometimes think that we are talking at cross purposes. For me, there is absolutely no dispute that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) and I were all created equal in the image of God. That is not the issue. For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the distinctiveness of men and women, so removing that complementarity from the definition of marriage is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):

Marriage has changed over the centuries, has it not? For centuries, the Church of England’s doctrine was that the primary purpose of marriage was the procreation of children, but many heterosexual couples either are unable to have children or choose not to have them. Marriage today is, for very many people, about many other things—companionship, sharing one’s life, mutual support and so on. As I said to the Minister yesterday, I find it difficult to believe that any Christian, including many Anglican bishops and clergy, would not want that for every member of their parish. Will she therefore consider not putting such an ultimate lock on the Church of England, so that there is freedom for the Church of England? Those in the Church of England all voted to keep slavery for 30 years, but eventually they changed their minds.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):

The Minister just spoke about the special protection for the Church of England. The Church of England plays a special role in this country as our established Church, so is she satisfied that it is once again opting out of equalities legislation?

The remarks of the Bishop of Leicester have been published previously.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth:

Is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the official position of the Church of England on this, a good number of its members warmly welcome the Government’s position on this? Is she aware that privately, a fair number of individual bishops in the Church of England also support it, but are not able to say so publicly at the moment because of the political situation in which the Church of England now finds itself?


The government has announced its plans for same-sex marriage.

The press release is here.

The consultation response is here.

And here is the official fact sheet.

Here is the key section of the press release:

The Government reiterated today its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. European law already puts protection for religious freedom beyond doubt (under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) but the Government intends to go even further and put in place a ‘quadruple lock’ in domestic law.

The legal locks, which will be on the face of any primary legislation, are:

  • no religious organisation, or individual minister, could be compelled to marry same-sex couples (or to permit this to happen on their premises);
  • it will be unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to do so (and that would mean the religious organisation itself opting in, the presiding minister having consented and the premises in which the marriage is to be conducted having been registered);
  • the Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose); and
  • the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, or to opt-in to do so. Canon law – which bans the marriage of same-sex couples – will continue to apply. That means that it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same – sex marriages.

Same-sex marriage in churches: media coverage

Channel 4 News Gay marriage law plans split Tories – video

BBC Same-sex marriage plans to be outlined

Telegraph Ministers accused of ‘sham’ consultation over gay marriage

Daily Mail Ministers expect big win on gay marriage vote despite increasingly bad-tempered protests from Tory traditionalists

Guardian Tory backlash against same-sex marriage

And the Guardian has this editorial: Gay marriage: beyond argument

…As the response to the consultation on equal marriage is published, there are two twists on the old tale of principled reform meeting pretend practical objections. The first is that desperate defences of the status quo are starting to self-defeat. It was in an effort to address the one reasonable religious demand, that no priest should be required to bless a union they believe to be wrong, that Whitehall proposed restricting reform to civil marriage, and keeping gay weddings to hotels and civic halls, well away from hallowed ground. The distinction was always clunky, particularly because reformist chapels and synagogues have now been free to stage civil partnerships for a year. Had the law gone through in this form, religious gay couples would have had to shun marriage in favour of a civil partnership to receive a religious service. That is plainly absurd, but this was not the basis on which the Church of England attacked the civil/religious marriage distinction. Rather, it suggested that dividing marriages into different classes would somehow fracture a foundation stone of a Christian society. This sophistry appears to have tested the patience of the Christian culture secretary, Maria Miller. Appearing in the house on Monday, she appeared ready to call the church’s bluff, by conceding that the civil/religious wedding distinction has indeed proved problematic – and then blurring it. She looks set to allow any church that wishes it to stage a gay wedding…

Independent Gay marriage: Osborne and Cameron have reached the right decision – for the wrong reason


Same-sex marriage in churches: House of Commons Urgent Question

An Urgent Question was asked in the House of Commons today (Monday) about this.

Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, asked an urgent question in the House of Commons on Monday 10 December 2012 on whether the Secretary of State would give a statement on same-sex marriage in churches.

Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, responded to the question on behalf of the Government.

You can read the full transcript here.

You can watch the video recording via this page. The item began at 15.31 and ran for 45 minutes.

A more convenient video recording is now available here: Government to outline same-sex marriage plans.

The Minister announced that she would make a full statement tomorrow (Tuesday 11 December) that will set out the Government’s response to the recent consultation on how to allow same-sex couples to marry. The timetable for Tuesday is here but, at the time of writing this post, the page does not show this matter as a separate timed item.

Update I understand the announcement will be made at 12.30 today.


House of Commons to discuss women bishops again

This Wednesday there is a debate in the House of Commons scheduled, as shown here.

The debate is likely to start around 4.00 pm or 4.30 pm (depending on the other parliamentary business listed). It can be watched live on BBC Parliament or on Parliament TV.

This will be a backbench debate, something introduced by the current Government as a way for backbench MPs to have more of a voice in the House. The business is chosen by the Backbench Business Committee. In this particular case it will be a general debate sponsored by Ben Bradshaw MP and with no substantive motion before the House. Mr Bradshaw argued his case for holding the debate before the Committee on 27 November, and the uncorrected transcript of his representations can be found here.

A transcript of the earlier session of Questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner can be found here.


House of Laity meeting confirmed

Updated Monday afternoon to include full text of email to members of the House of Laity

The date of the meeting of the House of Laity to debate a motion of no confidence in its chair, Dr Philip Giddings, has now been confirmed as 18 January 2013. Members of the House were sent this email this morning:

Dear Members of the House of Laity

An extraordinary meeting of the House has been called to debate a motion of no confidence in Dr Philip Giddings as Chair of the House. Sufficient of you indicated your support under the provisions of Standing Order 2(c) of the House to require the meeting to take place.

Given the nature of the motion that will be before the House, the Standing Committee has determined that the meeting should take place as soon as possible and has consequently called the meeting for Friday 18 January 2013. The meeting will take place from 1.30 p.m. in the Assembly Hall in Church House, Westminster.

Tea and coffee will be available free of charge in the Bishop Partridge Hall. Cold snacks will also be available for a charge.

If members wish to claim expenses incurred in attending the meeting, they will need to agree this with their diocese. Those members whose expenses are met centrally will need to agree reimbursement with the Synod Office as usual.

The Standing Committee has agreed that there will be only one item on the agenda – namely, the motion of no confidence – and that no other business will be in order.

I shall circulate an agenda and supporting papers this week.

With all good wishes


Nicholas Hills
Administrative Secretary
Central Secretariat
The Archbishops’ Council
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Dr Giddings’ local paper, the Reading Post, has published this article by Linda Fort: Top church of England figure faces no confidence vote.