Thinking Anglicans

CTE blocks appointment of person in same-sex marriage

Updated

This story is of Anglican interest as the Church of England is a constituent member of Churches Together in England.

The Church Times reports today that CTE block appointment of fourth president because the nominee is in a same-sex marriage

THE appointment of a new President of Churches Together in England (CTE) has been blocked because the nominee is in a same-sex marriage.

There are six Presidents of CTE, the Churches’ ecumenical instrument. They include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. The fourth presidency became vacant in October 2018, when Billy Kennedy finished his four-year term.

In May, Hannah Brock Womack, an active Quaker, was formally appointed to the position by the fourth presidency group: Quakers in Britain; the Lutheran Council of Great Britain; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; German-Speaking Lutheran, Reformed, and United Congregations in Great Britain; and the Church of Scotland.

On learning that Ms Womack had recently been married to a woman, however, a majority of the member Churches of CTE, through its enabling group, voted in September to request that the fourth presidency group “refrain from enacting its Presidency, leaving the Fourth Presidency as an ’empty chair’ for the current term of office”.

The CTE was due to publish its decision in a statement today: “Over recent months CTE has been engaging with the reality of living with diversity, acknowledging that although so much unites us as Churches, we remain in disagreement over certain issues…

The CTE Statement is here: Churches Together in England statement on the Fourth Presidency

The Quakers in Britain have issued this: Churches’ plan for new President falters because of equal marriage which is copied in full below the fold.

Update There is also this article: Walking together with difficulty.

Plans to appoint a further President for Churches Together in England (CTE) have faltered because not all denominations in membership of CTE would accept a nominated President, who is a Quaker in a same-sex marriage.

The Churches have rejected the Quakers’ appointee Hannah Brock Womack, because she is married to a woman. An active Quaker, she is a young, radical peace activist, who campaigns against the arms trade and works in the voluntary sector.

The CTE Member Churches bring together a richness of traditions and understanding. Some Churches agree with Quakers’ strong stand for same-sex marriage.

CTE, which offers an ecumenical space for sharing between the Churches, on a range of religious issues, has a recognised process for appointing Presidents

Generally, CTE has six Presidents, representing various church groupings. Each grouping appoints Presidents. The churches in the Fourth Presidency Group appoint a President every four years, in turn. Quaker Rowena Loverance served as a CTE President from 1998 to 2001. This time, Hannah Brock Womack was nominated by Quakers in Britain, to represent members of the Fourth Presidency Group which includes Lutheran Council of Great Britain, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, German-Speaking Lutheran, Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain, Church of Scotland (Presbytery of England) and Quakers in Britain.

After the Fourth Presidency Group appointed Hannah Brock Womack, the Member Churches of CTE’s Enabling Group gave this further thought and came to “a clear mind, by a substantial majority”. A statement said, “For the sake of our ecumenical unity at present, we request that the Fourth Presidency Group show restraint by not exercising the office of their Presidential appointment. We acknowledge the pain and sadness that this will provoke.”

Hannah Brock Womack remains the fourth President but will not be able to take her place alongside the other CTE Presidents when they gather. The fourth chair will be left empty as a symbol of the work still to be done to find unity.

Quakers are an active and accepted part of the church family. Quakers in Britain faithfully engage with the ecumenical instruments and continue to honour the commitments made to be full members of the ecumenical architecture.

Mark Lilley, Quaker representative to CTE Enabling Group and clerk of Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR) said, “The grief this situation is causing Friends (known as Quakers) cannot be underestimated by other churches. Work must be done to heal the pain through creative conversations about our differences. We are confident that the ecumenical movement will continue to serve as a model of cooperation and mutual understanding that recognises the unique gifts of each member.”

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said, “This is a deeply sad decision. Quakers in Britain value the fact that CTE seeks to encompass the wide diversity among Christians in England. It is important to us that the Quaker voice is heard in discussions between Churches.

“As Quakers, we are called to answer that of God in everyone. We recognise the inherent worth of each person. That leads us to welcome all committed same-sex relationships as equally as committed opposite-sex relationships. We value equally all people, regardless of sexuality or other defining characteristics. These characteristics are not the right way to decide if someone is right to serve as our CTE President.”

In statements released today, the Revd Dr Paul Goodliff, General Secretary of CTE and Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said they were committed to continuing in conversation together, “knowing that God will hold us together in gracious love”.

The Religious Society of Friends, as Quakers are known formally, is a member of three national bodies, namely ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland, CTE: Churches Together in England and Cytûn: Eglywsi ynghyd yng Nghymru, Churches Together in Wales and of Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI).

In Quakers’ book of discipline and guidance, Quaker faith & practice 27.12 (offsite link) records Thomas Story writing this in 1737: “The unity of Christians never did nor ever will or can stand in uniformity of thought and opinion, but in Christian love only.”

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Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

“While remaining committed to the journey of unity we are on as churches from many traditions, the Member Churches of CTE, through the Enabling Group, have recently requested the Fourth Presidency Group to refrain from enacting its Presidency at this time, leaving the Fourth Presidency as an ‘empty chair’ for the current term of office. This empty chair represents the lack of agreement within the churches in England regarding human sexuality, and the reality that this dimension of the churches’ pilgrimage together is not yet complete.” No. The empty chair represents the EXCLUSION of a decent Christian woman because she… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
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Couldn’t agree more, Susannah.

Jonathan Jennings
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Jonathan Jennings

I think it should be ‘cannot be overestimated’ rather than ‘cannot be underestimated’

Kate
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Kate

Firstly, let’s congratulate Hannah on her appointment and express support for her at this difficult time. Secondly, let’s commend the Society of Friends for being inclusive at senior levels. This is wrong. Of course it is wrong. But it is no more wrong than the exclusion of same sex spouses from Lambeth 2020. That exclusion is being made possible because bishops and spouses are not boycotting the event. That failure to act isn’t just affecting Lambeth 2020, it is emboldening all those who discriminate. Those bishops and their spouses who attend Lambeth 2020 carry personal responsibility for the discrimination faced… Read more »

David Runcorn
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David Runcorn

Kate. I want what you want. But in relation to Lambeth we disagree on the most helpful and effective way forward. The action I have committed myself to, along with many others who share the same concerns and seek the same outcomes, is to attend and engage there, not to boycott. We disagree on this but the decision to attend is no less a principled ‘action’ than yours.

Kate
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Kate

David, isn’t that the same attitude bishops in various churches historically took with abuse? Shuffling priests off elsewhere The principle then was Christian forgiveness. A very important and laudable principle. Nevertheless, the effect was that abuse continued because, while people said it was wrong, nobody took a stand against it in the actions they took. We face the same situation in terms of discrimination against LGBTI+ people. While people take no action to demonstrate that discrimination is unacceptable, it will continue. Of course it will because those who discriminate know that there will be no consequences if they discriminate. “For… Read more »

David Runcorn
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David Runcorn

I cannot see this as abuse Kate. I don’t see the parallel. I also feel you continue to talk as if only one side is committed and working for change. That is simply not true. So I am with Susannah and Savi here.

Kate
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Kate

I didn’t say it was abuse. I said that inaction is the same flawed response initially seen in the context of abuse ie empty words not backed by action

David Runcorn
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David Runcorn

Kate. The connection with abuse was yours. And once again you claim that not boycotting is only empty words and lack of action. Actually attending Lambeth is a deliberate action for me – an engaging that I expect it to be hard work but very important. I want to make a difference. I would argue that boycotting could be called non-action because it would remove me from where the meetings need to happen. Effective protest and change is not usually achieved without actually meeting and talking to people. To boycott Lambeth would be to destroy a vital meeting place just… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Boycott or not boycott: I think both actions can be principled. Personally I favour attendance, whether at Lambeth or at CTE meetings. If progressive Christians just leave the room, what you’re left with is exactly the ‘echo chambers’ Justin mentioned, and in a sense that’s what socially conservative Christians want – just a uniformity of view, their view. The same principle applies in the wider division in the Church of England as a whole. There has for many years been a temptation just to leave the institution: to simply walk out. But that would be fine in the eyes of… Read more »

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

I think this is even worse. Whereas at least Anglicans are a denomination – though with regional autonomy, which some members churches might insist on when it suits them but bypass when it does not – surely the whole point of CTE is about working together across often major theological differences? Sometimes presumably these will be embodied in people present, e.g. pacifists might be alongside those who are or have been members of armed forces willing to use weapons of mass destruction. And some church leaders’ treatment of LGBT+ members may be not simply unaffirming but outright abusive, yet they… Read more »

Christopher
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Christopher

Not for the first time the Quaker response to this outrage is a humbling example of forgiveness and tolerance.

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

Might it be worth asking CTE’s secretariat whether, since its inauguration (in 1990 I believe), the appointment of a president has ever been blocked on the grounds that the person concerned took part in covering up child abuse; or condoned the imprisonment of, or other violence against, LGBT+ people or another minority? If not, people can draw their own conclusions about the moral compass of the organisation.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Yes Savi. Or endorsing ‘conversion therapy’ for gay or trans individuals. Or denying communion to gay couples. Or not allowing gay people to lead youth groups. I’ve been looking at the ‘what we believe’ sections of the member churches of CTE, and several of them advocate male headship, or believe in a literal version of creation and Adam’s sin, or eternal torment of non-Christians. All these things may be literally deduced from passages in the Bible, and to that extent people may conscientiously believe them and still give their lives to Christ, but it demonstrates the wide range of theologies… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

If you read the Church Times piece, you will learn that all of the other presidents are men.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Ouch. Thankfully at least the head of the Trustees (CTE’s directors) is a woman: Rowena Loverance, of the Quakers. Not sure how that jives with the Member Churches who advocate male headship, or why a married lesbian President is no-chaired, but a female Chair of the organisation is not. I guess that gay marriage is seen by some conservatives to be a first-order salvation issue, while male headship isn’t. There is huge diversity of views among the 49 Member Churches of CTE, and as an ecumenical project you would expect that no one view would be imposed on or dominate… Read more »

John
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John

Just heard about this when it was featured on the Radio 4 Sunday programme. So much for ‘Churches Together’. Its shameful. I would hope other Presidents step down as a protest. This lady seems eminently qualified for the role. The group is no longer credible.

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

There is a comment on the General Election “Time to leave our echo chambers and listen to others.” Just remember that we can’t listen to people who aren’t in the room.

Judith Maltby
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Judith Maltby

As an Anglican, I am deeply ashamed that this has happened, and that respect was not shown to the Religious Society of Friends who are perfectly capable of discerning who is best to represent them. I am reminded of the way some bishops (CofE and RC) in c.2011(?) tried to stop the Quakers and the Reform Jews from conducting civil partnerships (remember when that was what all the fuss was about?!) in their places of worship in order to ‘protect’ them in some way. As I recall, it was a very contorted argument about protecting ‘religious liberty’ which was about… Read more »