Thinking Anglicans

The Jeremy Pemberton case and what it means

This is a copy of the article I recently wrote for Stonewall, and is reproduced here with their agreement.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton is a priest of the Church of England. He works for the NHS as a chaplain in a hospital in Lincoln, and was recently offered a new job as a chaplain at a hospital in Nottinghamshire. But because he married his partner, this offer to work was revoked. Why? Because Jeremy is gay and his partner is male.

Last week, Jeremy lost his claim of discrimination against the Church of England in an employment tribunal. The court ruled that the Church’s refusal to issue Jeremy a license to work in a different NHS hospital, in a different diocese, because he is in a same-sex marriage, was in fact an act of direct discrimination. But shockingly they ruled this discrimination lawful, because there are religious exemptions to the Equality Act 2010, despite this post being in the NHS.

Jeremy has been in a long-term relationship with his male partner for over seven years. They never entered a civil partnership. When the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act 2013 was passed, they immediately decided to get married. Before the ceremony could take place, in February 2014, the CofE’s House of Bishops issued a statement (Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage) that said clergy were not free to enter a same-sex marriage. They said it was contrary to the Church’s doctrine on marriage. They also said that in future they would not ordain any person who had already entered such a marriage. Despite this, Jeremy and his partner married on 12 April.

Jeremy’s domestic arrangements were never a secret and always well-known to all the Church authorities. He still holds a bishop’s licence to work as a hospital chaplain in Lincoln diocese, and he formerly also had permission to preach or take services in the Southwell and Nottingham diocese, where he lives. However, soon after he got married, he was no longer allowed to preach in Southwell and Nottingham. Around this time, Jeremy applied for a more senior NHS chaplaincy post, much closer to his home, and the NHS trust decided he was the best candidate. But when the trust applied to the local Nottinghamshire bishop for Jeremy to be licensed, the Nottinghamshire bishop refused. Jeremy therefore took the diocese to an employment tribunal.

The tribunal found that the Church of England has a doctrine of marriage which excludes the possibility of same-sex marriage. It also said that the statement made in February had warned clergy that entering such a marriage would remove them from being “in good standing”. The court held that a matter of doctrine was involved: clergy were not allowed to enter same-sex marriages. And this meant that bishops were entitled to withhold licenses from clergy in same-sex marriages, provided that the post also was “for the purposes of a religious organisation”. In the court’s opinion Jeremy’s post of NHS chaplain was indeed for such purposes.

So where does this leave us? First it is extremely likely that the case will be appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. And then a definite legal precedent, one way or the other, will be set that will be binding on other courts. Second, it raises questions not only for the NHS, but also for other secular bodies (schools, police, prisons, universities, etc.) that currently employ Church of England priests as chaplains. They might want to review the terms on which they do so, to avoid being similarly treated – or dictated to – by the Church. Third, it will lead to renewed concern in Parliament about the extent of the religious exemptions that are currently allowed, and whether they should be reviewed. These are far more wide-reaching than in any other European country. The establishment status of the Church of England will also be questioned yet again.

But more important than any of these is the PR disaster for the Church of England that this case has already created. The public simply does not comprehend why the Church’s official bodies, as opposed to its members generally, are so set against same-sex marriage. Why is a person’s sexual orientation accepted, but their relationship is not? Why is it OK to be gay and a priest, but it’s not OK to want to make the person you love your husband, and still expect to keep your job.

This is a mixed message, and seems to go against a core teaching of the Church that God is love. How, if this is true, can the Church refuse to recognise loving same-sex relationships? If God made us all different, why should we all act the same? This is incredibly difficult to reconcile for LGBT people of faith, and it can create an ever-widening chasm for some people between a strongly held belief in God and a very real sense of rejection from the Church.

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Susan Cooper
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Susan Cooper

‘Why is a person’s sexual orientation accepted, but their relationship is not? Why is it OK to be gay and a priest, but it’s not OK to want to make the person you love your husband’ Thanks for posting your article Simon. The rather unkind cynic in me feels that in the past it has been possible to equate homosexuality with promiscuity. Promiscuity is a bad thing therefore homosexuality must be bad. Now there are two ways of registering your faithfulness as a homosexual – namely, Civil Partnership or marriage. Therefore it is possible to be homosexual and not promiscuous.… Read more »

ExRevd
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ExRevd

Susan Cooper: Clergy (and by extension their bishops) recognize “irregular” heterosexual relationships in the vast majority of marriage preparation situations, in my own experience 100% of them. That’s hypocrisy for you.

Susannah Clark
Guest

Great article, Simon: clear statement of how things went. “…why the Church’s official bodies, as opposed to its members generally, are so set against same-sex marriage…” This is the extraordinary bias and facade. It is perfectly well known that the church is divided between two contradictory views of gay and lesbian sex, and – as an extension – marriage. Yet the church officials and leaders act as if the church has only one point of view. That is simply not true. Increasingly, men and women in the pews reflect the inclusion and acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships that has… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Susannah said, “The church leadership is doing a kind of back-door ‘Covenant.'”

Well put. And we all know how that turned out. It was outright rejected by the Church of England as a whole.

There is also the women-bishops debacle, in which Parliament and the nation had to drag the Church of England into the 20th century.

The archbishops and their staffs would do well to learn from those mistakes. If the CofE wants to remain established, then gay marriage is inevitable.

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

This Yank from across the Pond says “Thank you! Simon” On this side of the pond we have government clerks (registrars), part of whose duty is to issue civil marriage licenses. Their duties simply entail making sure a) there are only two people, b) they are of legal age, and c) they have the money for the license. That’s basically it. But they want to inject their religion into the act, and decide they’ll issue licenses to straight couples, but not to gay or lesbian couples. When courts remind them what their duties are, and to perform them — or… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Excellent piece, Simon. 🙂 For those evangelicals who oppose gay relationships, it’s simple: the Bible is God’s word; Old and New Testaments condemn homosexuality; God’s desired anthropology going back to Eden is heterosexual marriage; end of debate. Love is, for them, guiding LGBT people away from a “lifestyle” that’ll send them to Hell. So appeals to love will never persuade. What, from their POV, could be more loving than saving people from eternal torture? Some other approach must be found, such as persuading them to let people risk their salvation. Given the importance the free exercise of conscience has in… Read more »

Turbulent priest
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Turbulent priest

The people who should really examine their consciences are those bishops who disagree with the party line but are afraid to say so. There is nothing wrong with a bishop saying (on any matter) “I am duty bound to apply the rules as we have agreed them, but as a matter of fact I do not personally agree with them.” Long before women were ordained, there were notable bishops who articulated this view on the matter of ordaining women. It’s almost creepy that with the honourable exception of +Buckingham, not a single bishop to my knowledge has been prepared to… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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The appalling thing, Simon, about all this fuss around the subject of clergy same-sex marriage, is that; had the Church reacted more positively to Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples, there may just not have been the same demand for S/S Marriage. However, now that the State recognises Same-Sex Marriage, the Church is more challenged, because it is seen to object to Same-Sex faithful committed relationship of any sort – worthy of the blessing of God in the Church – at any level, Civil or Ecclesiastical. Because the Church has never officially embraced Same-Sex Relationships (it actually opposed both S/S Civil… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

I strongly agree with James Byron’s analysis: that for many evangelical Christians, the bible has the status of inspired and infallible/inerrant word of God, and – contrary to many more liberal apologists – appears to condemn male-male sex both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore, if those evangelical Christians truly believe, as a matter of faith, that the bible is the supreme authority and is inerrant, then to be fair, they can hold their view on human sexuality as a matter of ‘conscience’… and still be sincere Christians trying to live out their lives in community and… Read more »

Dr J.R.Bunyan
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Dr J.R.Bunyan

“Turbulent priest” assumes that there are other UK bishops who support “gay marriage” but suggests that almost creepily they are afraid to say so. I don’t know if there is any solid evidence for that. There is certainly plenty of evidence that many bishops, and other clergy (such as myself) are willing to speak out in defence of what they believe is Christian marriage. I am a liberal Anglican, in no way homophobic, and supportive of legal civil unions being established here in Australia, and am horrified by the deadly attacks in too many places on those with a same… Read more »

Tobias Haller
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Tobias Haller

I second and commend the Turbulent Priest. It is one thing to follow the rules, and another to challenge them by saying one disagrees with them. If the problem is a fine line between “teaching” and “speculating that the current thesis may be wrong” we have no further to look than the Articles, which boldly affirm that the church errs. If the “party line” rule had been in place at the Reformation it would not have happened. It is also absurd to talk about continuing conversation if one side of the conversation risks discipline for speaking its mind. And yes,… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

“there is no way that I, and most supporters of “traditional marriage”, can ever recognise such unions as marriage – so what will really be achieved?”

What will be achieved is that people will be married, whether you personally believe them to be married or not.

James Byron
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James Byron

Susannah, you’ve absolutely nailed it: this is about one group’s beliefs being imposed on everyone else. If Anglicanism is a broad church, there must be space for the consciences of all to be respected. If any one faction says my way or the highway, well fine, highway, and they can be the ones to leave. The Anglican Communion’s in this mess ’cause it’s attempting to tolerate those who refuse to tolerate others. You can’t tolerate the intolerant: you can either appease them, with the burden falling on those they refuse to let be; or you stand up to them. As… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

Amen, Erika Baker on Thursday, 12 November 2015 at 4:50pm GMT!

Father Ron Smith
Guest

It’s been good, reading the various responses here, that advocate the need for members of the Church to make the decision to ‘Live together in Unity’ – with one another ‘en Christo’ – for that is where out true unity lies. We may be different in our view of one another’s understanding of the gift of sexuality but this need not interfere with our experience of the love of God in Christ. The fact is, we are each made in the Image and Likeness of God and we need to respect that, in one another.

Junia
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Junia

“Those suffering any form of such persecution I rather think are not helped by the promotion of “same sex marriage”” In what way, precisely, has the granting of formerly withheld legal rights and protections by the state ever hindered the cause of any oppressed minority? In what way has any oppressed minority ever had their situation worsened by public recognition of their status as equal to those of the majority? Or is Dr Bunyan perhaps operating under the common heterosexual delusion that homophobia is something that only happens to other people in bad countries very far away, and hasn’t ever… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

The biggest problem for the institutions calling themselves “The Church” is that they no longer have authority. They have squandered it, flagrantly, in pursuit of temporal power, a completely self-centered and self-serving public interference with individuals’ lives, and a truly impressive degree of hypocrisy in the treatment of the “sins” of laity vs. the “human failings” of clergy. They no longer have authority to teach and interpret, and this isn’t a sudden or recent development – it has been the case for centuries; it is simply that the secular state no longer feels compelled to back the hypocrisy and selfishness… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

“Why is a person’s sexual orientation accepted, but their relationship is not?”

It’s even worse than that, Simon. Why is their *sexual relationship* accepted (for ALL intents and purposes!), but merely the word “marriage” applied to such a relationship is not? [Something the serious Dr Bunyan, above, still doesn’t explain—except to label his position, dubiously, “traditional” (Would love to see the Biblical/Church Fathers’ distinction between “marriage” and “civil partnership”! O_o)]

Kate
Guest
Kate

Julia “We are lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Do us the courtesy of using the names we call ourselves and we might start to believe you really do think we’re human.” There’s a problem. Most other streams are moving away from words which label people, rather than labelling their behaviour or history. That’s very much true in terms of people with disabilities, and is also true in terms of gender reassignment where the terms trans, transgender or transsexual are regarded as offensive by a significant proportion (but not others). It’s odd, but lesbians are perhaps the only group who uniformly… Read more »

Fr Andrew
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Fr Andrew

“Most other streams are moving away from words which label people, rather than labelling their behaviour or history” Is there no opportunity to attack lesbians and gays that will not be followed? Kate, you seem to miss the point of quite how offensive the term ‘homosexual’ can be. It’s rare to find anyone in the LGBT community born in the past 60 years using it: outside of technical scientific journals it is used almost exclusively in disparaging or negative contexts. As far as I can see, that is what Junia was pointing out. And to reiterate, it’s not for you… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“but merely the word “marriage” applied to such a relationship is not?” JCF

During cross-examination at the ET hearing, Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church of England’s ‘Director of Mission and Public Affairs’ said that if same-sex marriage had been called “Civil Partnership Max” (no, I am not making this up) the Church would have had no problem with it. He was then asked if it were called “morriage” rather than “marriage” would that have been alright, too?

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“However I think some who share my views – the great majority of Christians in a world that is wider than the USA – are being intimidated by unpleasant denigration and accusations of homophobia.” No matter how you slice it and dice it, if you prevent LGBTQ people from receiving their full human and legal rights, and accepting their call to the sacrament of marriage, then I’m afraid it is indeed homophobia. The inherent problem of “identity politics” is that a power group forcefully imposes their power on others, rather than respecting the lived experience of the non power group.… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Actually Fr Andrew as a member of the “LGBT” community myself I am just as entitled as anybody else to comment on the use of labels.

MarkBrunson
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MarkBrunson

I don’t see how it can be regarded as other than a phobia to fear the effect of same sex relations on oneself. Add to this a very palpable and definite expression of fear that it will lead to bestiality, child sexual abuse, polygamy (which is, apparently, acceptable as long as it brings more numbers into the Anglican Communion!), Muslim violence, and a litany (pun intended) of other evils upon the world which the acceptance of usury, divorce, military service and other “innovations” of the church hierarchy are not supposed to have released, and I see no other word but… Read more »

Rob
Guest
Rob

MarkBrunson, how is it that you know the motivation of traditionalists is fear? By what superior authority do you claim such insight knowing their hearts better than they? They think their motivation is love or loyalty to God but you know it is simply irrational fear. I am fascinated to discover why I should think you speak from anything other than severe delusion.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“MarkBrunson, how is it that you know the motivation of traditionalists is fear?” Mark might have a different take… However, the hate against gays is irrational. When one looks at the amount of ink in Scripture devoted to divorce, economic justice, healing the sick, offering hospitality, and loving ones neighbor, it is hard to see how people could get so worked up about gays. When you ponder the grievous errors of the past, like using Scripture to justify burning witches, supporting slavery, etc., then one might think that a certain humility might be appropriate. And then thee is the inescapable… Read more »

Adrian Judd
Guest
Adrian Judd

Whatever your views on marriage, sexuality, sexual orientation and the Church (and I know they will vary) this case is important for a number of reasons: it clarifies (or will clarify on appeal) the relationship between the C of E and the Equality Act & hence all faiths and equality; it clarifies the role of bishops in setting doctrine (it might not do that, but it appears that way to me); it clarifies the role of the C of E in giving licences or permission to officiate or for a cleric to be in good standing (is there room for… Read more »

Rob
Guest
Rob

Thanks Cynthia. I see you have similar insight. Only you see (or assume) “hate against gays”. And what gives you such prophetic insight? Why should I think you aren’t just seeing through a lens of hate?

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“it clarifies the role of the C of E in giving licences or permission to officiate or for a cleric to be in good standing (is there room for an Anglicanism that allows married clergy to still be in good standing if they have married someone of the same sex?) – could the Episcopal Church accredit these Anglicans?” Are you asking if TEC would consider priests who are married to same sex partners if they are in “good standing?” Yes! Except in a handful of dioceses. Some TEC bishops are INSISTING that gay clergy get married and live in the… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

I did put in a response, that seems to have been lost. Simply put, Rob, the answer to your question was there in the post you are complaining about. How do I know? We ALL know, because they tell us constantly. We are neither deluded, nor stupid and are quite capable of processing what is obviously a fear-based response, particularly when the language of fear is explicitly used. (Anger, by the way, is also a strong indication of fear, just so you know.) As you seem to believe I should court your approval as to what you think, you owe… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

“And what gives you such prophetic insight? Why should I think you aren’t just seeing through a lens of hate?” The same thing that gives “traditionalists” a prophetic insight into the nature of a sexual orientation they don’t share and reject, utterly. You are free to see “hate” wherever you like. I have not spoken of hate, but fear, as has Cynthia. Hate would appear, Rob, to be the lens through which *you* are perceiving the entire subject, wouldn’t you say? Cynthia and I have both spoken of the shared human condition of irrational fear, and the recognition of that,… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“And what gives you such prophetic insight?” Because I’m a gay person who has suffered mightily on all fronts, including the church. Being in TEC, and now happily married, I have insight into the causes of suffering for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The cause is people who oddly and irrationally believe that they have every right not only to their beliefs, but to ACT upon those beliefs to inflict pain and suffering on LGBTQ people. It certainly isn’t love if you are inflicting pain and suffering on fellow human beings. I don’t know if that’s prophetic or not, but… Read more »