The swiftest and strongest criticism of the statement was to its conclusion (para 27, in bold), that
The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.
This has caused outrage with clergy stating they will flout it, inevitably leading to disciplinary processes which will be costly financially, missionally, relationally and in terms of unity. There has, however, been little or no argument against the clear logic of the guidance which has a solid basis in law – the canonical definition of marriage remains part of the law of the land and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act Schedule 7 amended the Equality Act so that, in the words of the relevant Explanatory Note, “a church may require that a priest not be married to a person of the same sex”.
In ordering her own life in this way the Church of England is simply continuing to do so on the basis of her own canon law and doctrine. Criticisms therefore need either argue that the Church must rewrite her canons, liturgy and teaching or propose better alternative applications of the church’s current law and teaching. The former is a major challenge legally (requiring 2/3 majorities in all Houses of Synod) and theologically and risks appearing as the church’s capitulation and subordination to the state in how it orders its life and ministry in relation to marriage. The latter would need to address the clear logic of the guidance: “Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity” (para 26).
Both these paths are very difficult so it is perhaps unsurprising that the alternative that has been chosen is the well-worn but wholly destructive one of disregarding and undermining both church teaching and episcopal authority through threatening unilateral acts of “ecclesial disobedience” by creating “facts on the ground”. Although this path is well-worn, we now face a new situation. The church has never formally suggested that clergy can be in a sexual relationship other than marriage as defined by canon. In the past, with both civil partnerships (which clergy can still enter) and non-registered same-sex partnerships, the tension with ordained ministry was in relation to sexual behaviour which was a private matter and private assurances were to be sought and given. We are now in a situation where two public statuses – marriage to someone of the same-sex and ordination – are, in effect, declared by the bishops to be incompatible. We have therefore sadly now reached the crunch where the gap between church teaching and society is such that either the church draws a line and makes clear clergy are to order their lives in this area by the teaching of the church or it does not do so. In other words, this new public incompatibility moves the disagreement and conflict – between church and society and within the church – to a totally new level.
This morning the Guardian Komment Macht Frei published a piece by Giles Fraser quoting Bishop Alan Wilson on whether clergy can be charged under the Clergy Discipline Measure for entering a same-sex marriage.
Its Section 7 lays down that matters of doctrine and worship are not justiciable under the measure, but must be tried under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963. Insomniacs may remember that around 10 years ago there was a proposal to have a Clergy Discipline Measure type measure for doctrine and worship cases but it failed. The legal trail leads from here to section 39 of the EJM63. The maximum penalty it lays down for a first offence is a rude letter telling you not to do it again – which hopefully people getting married won’t.
All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages. As the bishop of Buckingham explained: “If a member of the clergy wants to marry, I may like or not like the match, but I have no legal power to stop them marrying.” And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.
I was made aware of this by someone with considerable experience in the exercising of the Clergy Discipline Measure and the processes before it and who has a firm founding in Ecclesiastical Law (unlike both Bishop Alan Wilson and Joshua Rosenberg who was cited in the report on this issue on the Radio 4 Sunday programme this weekend.
I have been offered by this person the following commentary which I share with you for your consideration.
The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 was designed to deal with a range of disciplinary issues concerning the clergy in the Church of England – but to the exclusion of matters of doctrine or ritual.
The 1963 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure (one of whose chief architects was the late +Eric Kemp) retained the jurisdiction inherited from the Victorian era, and ultimately from the middle ages, expressly as a criminal jurisdiction, modelled on the former Assize Courts.
This meant among other things that the procedures of the consistory court when sitting under the EJM were those of a criminal trial, that prosecutors had to achieve a criminal standard of proof – beyond all reasonable doubt – in persuading the court to convict – and that the court’s sentences were effectively criminal convictions for what in some cases were relatively trivial offences. Its proceedings were open to the public and to the media.
The CDM was designed to be a civil tribunal and to operate without the full glare of publicity brought by EJM proceedings. The world’s press turned up for the trial of the Dean of Lincoln, Brandon Jackson, and the false evidence against him was published on the front pages of national newspapers. He was acquitted.
Those who preside at CDM hearings rely on a number of sources in determining whether a clerk has committed “conduct unbecoming”. Removal from office is in practice automatic if the person concerned has been divorced on grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. This is provided in the Measure itself. Other forms of misconduct are assessed by reference to a variety of sources, such as the judgement of the secular courts leading to a criminal conviction; and in less clear-cut cases to the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy; to guidelines issued by the House of Bishops or by the diocesan bishop concerned; and to many existing precedents. It is sometimes a simple matter of common sense that such an action as that alleged is simply immoral by any Christian standard.
The CDM was intended to be (effectively) CDM part 1. Matters of doctrine or ritual were expressly left to be dealt with by the EJM 1963, which has rarely been used, except perhaps as a threat to persuade someone to modify their behaviour or to resign. An attempt was made in General Synod some eight years ago to start work on CDM part 2, to replace the remaining provisions of the EJM, not least because it was now apparent that the EJM is no longer considered human rights compliant, and can no longer be used. General Synod voted narrowly not to have a modern tribunal capable of dealing with doctrine and ritual, thus ensuring that it had no tribunal at all.
There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned. That Act of Parliament acknowledges that the law of the Church diverges from that of the state in such matters, and expressly permits the Church to act independently where marriage discipline is concerned. Even if Church legislation directly contradicts the law of Parliament, the Act expressly allows for this.
The House of Bishops has expressly stated that it will not allow the clergy to enter into same-sex marriages. This statement forms part of the discipline of the Church, since the House of Bishops is the teaching authority for the Church, and its members administer the CDM. All of the clergy in office have signed the Declaration of Assent and have taken an oath of canonical obedience. The latter commits them to obeying the canon law of the Church of England, including the lawful directions of their bishop where he has authority to do so.
There can therefore be no doubt that a CDM tribunal will rule that a same-sex marriage by one of the clergy constitutes conduct unbecoming, just as surely as if the minister concerned had committed adultery or some other act of immorality of a sexual nature. This is not a matter of doctrine but of morality.
In one sense, the government has called the bluff of those sexually active clergy who have defied their bishops and entered into civil partnerships, relying upon the legal fig leaf that a civil partnership is not legally marriage and that therefore no sexual relationship can be presumed. If they replace their civil partnership with a marriage certificate, or turn up at the register office for a formal wedding ceremony, they enter into a relationship which legally does presume a relationship of a sexual kind, and the fig leaf becomes as obvious as it did on that evening in the garden of Eden.
And so clerical marriage has become the place at which the House of Bishops has decided to take its stand against the new Act. The canon law of the Church of England is not binding upon the laity, and therefore the Church can have no say in any matter affecting the laity – the Equality Act will prevent it from doing so in any aspect of church life except for the bar on same sex marriage taking place in Church of England premises.
But the clergy are very much bound by canon law, and by their oath of obedience, and anyone who dares to challenge the House of Bishops by arranging a wedding with a same sex partner, will find very quickly that they are free to marry, according to law, but not free to continue in office in the Church of England. It will take only one test case to establish this.
Let me put this in layman’s terms. If Alan Wilson wants to argue that same-sex marriage should be covered by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 then other actions committed by clergy which are “conduct unbecoming” should also be (e.g. divorce or adultery). Since these are clearly covered by the Clergy Discipline Measure, so will the action of entering into a same-sex marriage.
When trying to make sense of any text in relation to our knowledge of God, there are at least four levels of thinking we need to engage with:
1. The text itself—what it says, and what it means in its context. (This is usually called exegesis.)
2. The whole range of issues about the text’s interpretation, that is, how we as 21st-century readers might understand it from our very different social and historical context. (This is usually called hermeneutics.)
3. How, once we have understood the text and how we make sense of it, this text contributes to our understanding of who God is and what we might try to say about God. (This is called theology.)
4. What the implications of all this are for how we try and live our lives as disciples. (This is called ethics).
The real difficulty with Steve Chalke’s approach is that he appears to be unaware of the distinction between these different stages, and in the conversation he was constantly collapsing them down into one process—you read a text in your Bible, and this immediately tells you something about God, right or wrong. The key moment in video 2 came at about 13 mins 30 s:
Chalke: Did God say ‘You should kill him’?
Wilson: Yes he did
Chalke: I think that is an appalling misrepresentation of who God is.
Chalke seems to think that Wilson, in answering his question, is dealing with level 3: what can we say about God? In fact, Wilson was answering a level 1 question: what can we say about this text? Wilson does go on quite quickly, perhaps too quickly, to do the level 3 stuff, in commenting ‘When God does things, no-one has the right to shake their fist at him…’ (at which point he is interrupted by Chalke). But he certainly does not express the extreme end of the spectrum in view 1, as Chalke appears to accuse him of.
Now this raises some key questions about ‘ordinary’ and ‘expert’ reading of Scripture. Chalke is no academic, as is made clear by his constant mispronunciation of ‘Hammurabi’, ‘cuneiform’ and ‘Codex Sinaiticus.’ (This is, perhaps, a reminder that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.) But does that mean he does not have something to say? Are academics and scholars the only ones allowed to comment on these issues? Surely not—but those who do get involved in the debate need to be aware (as Steve Holmes highlights) that there has been a long discussion happening for many years.
If reading the Bible is like driving a car, then the academics are like the mechanics who have been doing maintenance work understanding how the thing is running. Anyone who is concerned that the car is not running well has the right to pull over and open the bonnet—but if you ignore the manual or the mechanic, then don’t be surprised if the process is a bit confusing or frustrating. For me, the problem with Steve Chalke’s approach is that he is asking Sunday School questions—and expecting them to be resolved by Sunday School-type answers. A classic case was when he mentioned the contradiction in the account of David’s taking a census in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24. ‘You see? It just shows that the Bible writers are inconsistent!’ as if that proved his case. At this point Wilson looked like he was about to explode!
The end of this discussion was the most revealing. If the writer of Numbers was mistaken, asked Wilson, then what about the other writers of the Bible? What about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? If God does not strike people down, what was going on there? Yes, said Chalke, the author of Acts was also mistaken. As of course was Paul (or whoever) in 1 Timothy 2. So it is not just a case of ‘progressive revelation’; any and all of the Bible authors can be mistaken. On what basis? On the basis of the revelation of Jesus as the personification of the love of God. The big question, then (which was not asked in these terms) is: If any of the New Testament writers could also be mistaken, on what basis can we know anything about this Jesus?
I am not here attempting to offer a value judgement about what Steve is doing, just locating him on the map. When he says ‘The Bible is mistaken in attributing the actions to God that it does’, he really is saying that the Bible is an unreliable witness to the truth about God’s will, actions and intentions, much in the same way that Strauss, Schleiermacher and Harnack did. To that extent, he represents a position that most evangelicals have been working against for the last 200 years.
Sounds about right. Steve Chalke, like Rob Bell, asks all the right questions but gets the wrong answers because, ironically, he actually wants to dumb down theology and avoid grappling with tough issues.
I am getting increasingly annoyed by hearing people call “The Gospel” something which is patently not the Gospel. Let me give you an example by asking you a question.
Can I be saved if I am a “black” person. Patently, yes. Now, can I be saved if I am a black person who suffers racism? Of course – just because I am a victim of abuse does not mean I cannot saved. Put those two together. Is the reduction of racism “The Gospel”. No, of course not. The reduction of racism might be an outworking of a Resurrection community that understands what it truly means to recognise the Imago Dei in all humans, but it is in and of itself not the Gospel. I can live in a completely racism devoid society and still go to hell.
Can I be saved if I am a slave? Of course I can. Is my liberation from slavery “The Gospel”? No, of course not. The emancipation of those in bondage might be an outworking of a Resurrection community that understands what it truly means to recognise the Imago Dei in all humans, but it is in and of itself not the Gospel. I can live in a society with no slavery and still go to hell, and I can be born into slavery with no hope of redemption and yet know Jesus and his salvation.
Now, please go and read Galatians 3:25-29 again and remind yourself what the Gospel actually is.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Don’t ever use “the Gospel” again in a manner that contradicts Galatians 3:25-29 y’hear?
It’s interesting stuff and all to do with exactly what evidence is being provided to support policy decisions.
“There is no good evidence this works and we believe it has the potential to cause harm…”
1. What is Conversion therapy? Following a helpful reminder that the subject under discussion is ‘talking therapy’, the document’s main argument is that there is “no good evidence this [type of therapy] works and we believe it has the potential to cause harm.” It implies that this approach is based on religious interpretation rather than science. We note the reference to “no good evidence”. In fact the best study that we have did find good evidence of change in people seeking to reduce or eliminate same-sex attractions (see below). We note too the statement that “we believe it has the potential to cause harm”. This statement is premised on the view that sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable. They may indeed believe this, but where is the science? Their own flawed claim rebounds against them: there is no good evidence that talking therapies cause harm.
“We believe it would be irresponsible and potentially damaging for a therapist to offer to try and change sexual orientation.”
2. Why do professionals consider Conversion Therapy unethical?
The document answers this question by saying that “this particular approach is based on [certain assumptions or views]. But which particular approach do they mean? It seems that their objection is not to any particular approach, but to the principle of trying to reduce a person’s same-sex attractions at all – even if the person wants to hold together marriage and family.
They say that as homosexuality “is not an illness, it is both logically and ethically flawed to offer any kind of treatment.” But this statement is itself both logically and ethically flawed: one can have ‘treatment’ for anything from smoking to nervousness at having to make a speech in public, without being declared ‘ill’. Their statement does not answer their question: Why is it considered unethical?
“We believe that offering to change a person’s sexual orientation … would be likely to reinforce the notion that these feelings are wrong or abnormal.”
3. What does research tell us about reparative therapy?
The document’s answer to this question is effectively ‘very little, really’. There are no randomised controlled trials; studies showing reparative therapy to be effective are seriously flawed; and “oral history studies” of patients going as far back as the 1970’s (when electric shocks and nauseous drugs were used in treatment of homosexuality) show “potential for harm” – a disingenuous reference which is entirely irrelevant to the ‘talking therapies’ used today.
The fact that the document’s writers have to go back to the electric shock treatments of the 1970’s shows that they are having to scrape the bottom of the barrel because they are unable to come up with any research that shows a causal link between talking therapies and harm.
The best research available to us contradicts what these mental health bodies profess to ‘believe’. Jones & Yarhouse (2011) conducted a longitudinal study of people undergoing religiously mediated change in sexual orientation. They found significant effect, (achievement of a shift from homosexual towards heterosexual as desired by the client) and evidence of psychological benefit rather than harm on average. They said, “the findings of this study appear to contradict the commonly expressed view that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to result in harm for those who make such an attempt.”
It would appear that the major UK mental health bodies who have collaborated to publish the ‘Consensus Statement’ on Conversion Therapy are not basing their views on science, but on ideological commitments expressed in terms of what they ‘believe’.
That is not good enough. It amounts to replacing good science with gay science. Good science is best for all – “gay science” is a poor substitute.
As I’ve said before, I do not believe Reparative Therapy is a “one-size fits all solution” to same-sex attraction. Far from it. But regardless of your position on such therapy, we should all be disturbed when a therapeutic body decides to ban a particular approach despite the lack of proper research evidence to support their policy.
Attached to this note is the text of the Letter and Statement from the House of Bishops on the introduction of same sex marriage that will happen at the end of March.
My prayer is that we shall all be able to receive these documents in the spirit of forbearance and charity that must be the marks of our calling as ordained ministers who are charged with the stewardship and good ordering of the household of faith. None of these documents is sent in confidence and you should feel free to use and share them in any way that is pastorally helpful and constructive.
The House of Bishops re-affirms its view that “the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman”. We are also committed to ensuring that our affirmation of this view does not by any means convey the implication of homophobia, or condone it. We shall also, all of us, minister to people who choose to make use of same sex marriage when it becomes a reality in our society. Some of you have already had to answer questions about this, and have done so with exemplary care.
The House of Bishops’ Statement gives details of the disciplinary arrangements that will be followed, particularly in the case of ordination. The range of disciplinary action is evidence of the seriousness of this matter for us all, but also of its very personal and sensitive territory.
In conclusion, I would like to revisit with you the words of the Ordinal for the Ordination and Consecration of a Bishop: “With the Shepherd’s love, [bishops] are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion”. This injunction will, I hope, be especially evident in the handling of this demanding and yet tender area of discipline here in Chichester. It is exercised in the context of an order of discipleship that declares we will “fashion our own life and that of our household according to the way of Christ”. That is a calling to which we have responded and must find joy even in its most demanding requirements. In respecting the conscience of each brother or sister as it is known and will be judged by God, let us encourage and support one another.
Second Week of Lent
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Aber mit der Heimat
geht man immer herum,
durch die Welt,
dort und dort
No one could describe
the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos,
He consented to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and image.
Kontakion of the Triumph of Orthodoxy