The Opening Shots

Kevlar Body ArmourIt is very possible that in years to come we will look back at the weekend that has just passed as the beginning of the moment of denouement for the Church of England. The publication of the Bishops’ Statement on Same-Sex Marriage has galvanised many across the theological spectrum and already we are seeing the first moves.

Changing Attitude is reporting that the Bishop of Blackburn has called in the four clergy in his Diocese who have been open about having Civil Partnerships. Of course, what the content of the conversation the Rt Rev Julian Henderson might have with his priests is not known – he may just want to remind them explicitly of what the Bishops have agreed, he may want to ask them other questions.

On the other side, some liberal parishes are now being blatantly challenging in their publicity of offering same-sex blessings.

This is of course contrary to the Bishops’ Statement of this weekend and back in 2005. A petition has been launched to protest at the new guidance (though what effect that will have is debatable). In other places, revisionists are angrily trying to out “gay bishops” that they accuse of being hypocritical. Already there is enough on one group’s Facebook page to clearly identify one recently retired Bishop (whether the allegations are true or not).

There is the danger that events may unravel very quickly indeed. With emotions so high, angry and upset people are capable of making mistakes of judgement that will rapidly escalate the simmering tensions. The one thing that the House of Bishops doesn’t want to do is lose control of events.

And there is still the question of what the House of Bishops will actually do when a priest enters a same-sex marriage. If there is no sanction against a priest entering a same-sex marriage then the Valentine’s Day Statement will be shown to be just a hollow bluff.

Batten down the hatches, it’s about to get very stormy.

Posted in Church of England, Clergy Discipline Measure, Gay Marriage
  • Sigfridii

    It is going to involve the Clergy Discipline Measure, no doubt at all about that, reading the HoB statement. A pity they didn’t do it when the Civil Partnerships Act was passed.

  • James Byron

    They lost control of events the moment they banned gay couples in leadership from getting married.

    If a bishop invokes the CDM, cases will be heard by a five-member panel, chaired by a qualified judge, assisted by two impartial clergy and two impartial laity. Accused have right of appeal, &, ultimately, can apply for judicial review. So censure is far from a foregone conclusion. If it is handed down, the priest is a martyr, with the country behind them.

    Alternatively, the ban is ignored, vacating the bishops’ authority.

    If gay priests are dragged through the courts for getting married, how long will the British parliament tolerate it before stepping in and reforming the church themselves?

    • Jonathan Lancaster

      But james I thought you were all in favour of KJS style depositions?!

      • James Byron

        The ACNA crowd wanted to leave, the gay priests in question don’t (after the way they’ve been treated, that much is obvious).

    • Of course that won’t happen. They may not seem smart, but they are a lot smarter than that.

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  • Stuart, Devon

    I’m not an ecclesiastical lawyer and others on here I’m sure will know more than me, but I’m struggling to understand how a priest would be disciplined on this subject.

    s8 of the Clergy Discipline Measure details the grounds on which disciplinary action may be taken:

    – a breach of ecclesiastical law: as far as I can see, that does not apply, we have a note from the HoB but that has not been, and is not proposed to be, codified in law;

    – the failure to carry out a required act: one might try to produce some convoluted argument that the individual has failed to act as their bishop has requested, but on those grounds one could find some argument or another to bring action against a very great many clergy, so I cannot see that holding water;

    – the individual has neglected their duties: does not apply;

    – conduct unbecoming: presumably it’s on this basis that any action would have to be attempted.

    Turning to conduct unbecoming, this is not defined, however, it is stated that clergy should adhere to the Canons, especially C26, 27 and 28, and there is reference to conduct which results in a divorce. This seems problematic:

    – the most obvious course of action would be to argue that the respondent has failed “to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ” – but I’d imagine there would be a reasonable defence to say that as the ABC and the HoB itself acknowledge that same sex relationships can be faithful and show shining witness, and that prayer following such a marriage can be appropriate, then this surely cannot be so egregious an offence as to warrant discipline or dismissal;

    – there may be some (partial) additional defence in the CDM’s statement that no one can be disciplined for legal activities, although the context refers to political activities, and in Thompson v Dibdin (the sacraments cannot be denied to a person on the grounds of their marital state if their ‘union is directly sanctioned by Parliament and is as valid as any other marriage in the land’ – though in truth I suspect both arguments would be weak, supportive but no more;

    – presumably, a minister who has contracted a marriage with someone of the same sex could “rectify” this position (in the view of the HoB) by terminating that situation – ie, divorcing their partner – but the measure at present refers to disciplining those who cause a divorce, rather than encouraging it;

    – C27 states “The apparel of a bishop, priest, or deacon shall be suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons, shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling” – given that a great many clergy fail to wear distinctive clothing even when not engaged in recreation, it’s fair to say that at present the church is not exactly consistent in upholding even things which are specfically required in the canons, let alone statements from the HoB that don’t have that force – one could of course get round this through some argument of sophistry, but if one does that, surely one then opens up the opportunity to do the same for any other “rule”, including the HoB statement.

    So, doubtless some clergy will marry their same sex partners, if there is then an attempt to discipline them, it could drag on for years through the various stages of appeal, with a distinct possibility that the case would not ultimately succeed. Would a bishop really take that risk, or ultimately just live with the situation?

    • James Byron

      You’re right, this looks unenforceable.

      Even if bishops only yank licenses, there may well be grounds to appeal.

    • jillfromharrow

      – the most obvious course of action would be to argue that the respondent has failed “to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ” – but I’d imagine there would be a reasonable defence to say that as the ABC and the HoB itself acknowledge that same sex relationships can be faithful and show shining witness, and that prayer following such a marriage can be appropriate, then this surely cannot be so egregious an offence as to warrant discipline or dismissal; (Stuart, Devon)

      Well, quite. We have all heard the Churchillian quote about feeding the crocodile hoping it will eat you last…

      I hate to say ‘I told you so’ when Civil Partnerships were allowed for clergy – but I did!

    • Sorry to spoil the party, but you should read the more recent decisions of the tribunal (http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/churchlawlegis/clergydiscipline/tribunal-decisions.aspx) before assuming that Canons C26, C27 and C28 will form the framework for informing their judgment.

      As you say, in such cases, they will most probably refer to any such complaint as an allegation that the Respondent engaged in conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders, contrary to Section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

      You claim that it would be difficult to argue that for cleric to enter a same-sex marriage is a failure “to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ”. The difference between the clergy and laity is that the latter have not undertaken any public responsibility to, not only, teach, but also to exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church.

      This is why for several ecclesiastical discipline cases, and in the absence of any definition of conduct unbecoming, the tribunal also has taken due note of Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy:
      10.1 – Clergy are called to a higher standard of moral behaviour.

      10.2 – The reputation of the Church in the community depends to a great extent on the example of its clergy who should recognise their role as public representatives of the church.

      The CDM2003 Code of Practice is also cited:
      There is also a wider picture in that the administration of discipline must:
      1. Have regard to the interests of justice for all who may be affected by the faults, failings or shortcomings of the clergy, including the complainant and the interests of the wider church
      2. Support the collective good standing of all faithful men and women who are called to serve in the ordained ministry
      3. Ensure the clergy continue to be worthy of the great trust that is put in them as ordained ministers.
      Part of that interest of the wider church is maintaining the integrity of its doctrines. That integrity includes a known process by which any change to the church’s doctrine and practice can be effected.
      As with women in the episcopacy and the re-marriage of divorcees, it can begin with a Private Member’s Motion, gain General Synod resolution and perhaps prompt a change to the Canons of the Church.

      • Stuart, Devon

        David, I’m not suggesting that a case could not be brought, nor that it might not have a chance of success. I’m saying that (a) the outcome would be uncertain, and hence risky, whilst also (b) there would be clear grounds to appeal at each stage, which would mean the process would be slow and deeply embarrassing.

        Faithfulness in marriage is an issue apart – if a minister of whatever orientation is unfaithful, they are unfaithful, it’s no basis to charge a minister in a monogamous same sex marriage.

        With regard to the broader points – integrity, interests of the wider church etc. – as you suggest, their significance will depend upon case law becoming established and by definition there is no case law in this area as yet. On the one hand, clearly, the prosecution will point at the bishops’ pastoral guidance stating that clergy should not embark on same sex marriages. The defence, on the other hand, can point at statements from the HoB, the ABC, Pilling and elsewhere indicating that same sex relationships can provide a positive example – and if such authorities state that, can a minister truly be transgressing the CDM by regularising their relationship in marriage. It can further point out that the accused minister has only engaged in a legal act, challenging which runs contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of both the CDM and Thompson, not to mention the 1547 sacraments act.

        Such a defence may or may not, after a few years of hearings, slowly wending their way to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (it seems hard to imagine that someone will not want to take this all the way) prove successful – but how many bishops will want to take that risk? We have three potential outcomes: all bishops prosecute their clergy who contract marriages to persons of the same sex – which, given some noises so far from Manchester and Salisbury seems unlikely – none do, in which case the Pastoral Letter is a dead letter, or some do and some do not, with those who do facing years of protracted legal arguments.

        There’s probably no good place the church was likely to end up right now, but if there is such, this certainly isn’t it.

        • Useful comment, thanks.

        • Stuart, I upvoted you comment because it was so well reasoned.

          I do get your point, but again you should realise that our church, in collegial mode, is both more careful and resourceful than it ever was.

          I still think it wise to clarify the goal of the pastoral statement, or what it isn’t. It’s goal isn’t to prevent those clergy so fully intent on same-sex marriage from doing so. A pastoral statement won’t accomplish that and the church hierarchy know it.

          Instead, the purpose of the restriction imposed on clergy is to safeguard the normative process by which the church tests and amends its doctrine. So, I would suggest that the only complaint with a reasonable chance of being taken further would focus on an attempt to underrmine the church’s teaching on marriage.

          If a complaint was lodged, it would not likely be a PCC, or warden. It would be a individual with a proper interest.

          The media is fickle in who it treats as a martyr. All it takes is for an impressionable teenage churchgoer, perrhaps a 14 year-old from the parish who is going through a faith crisis and asking the recently married gay clergyman for insight into why he had contradicted the church’s current teaching on marriage.

          Let’s say that the parents are conservative Christians and are so aggrieved at what was said as to initiate a complaint.
          Now you have alongside the media-friendly martyrs, a young impressionable teenager and his parents. The latter who aren’t so concerned about the same-sex marriage debate as they are about the clergy overstepping their authority to promote teaching contrary to the doctrines that they believed that the church has thus far agreed.

          The Church statement says: ‘while homophobia is rightly condemned, we feel compelled to investigate this family’s complaint. Christian parents have a right to believe that their kids will be encouraged in a Christian context to receive the teachings of the church until they are independent enough to make up their own minds.
          We shall endeavour to conduct our work in the strictest of confidence. We are mindful that, apart from the sensitivity of these issues, a young person is involved, so we are asking for the media to respect the privacy of all of those involved.’

          Who says your gay martyrs will remain as media loved as my family martyrs?

          • Stuart, Devon

            Thank you for your response David. I take the point that there will be both individuals and situations that will ‘play’ better in the media for one side or the other in the debate – and this being the CofE, I suspect neither side will be sufficiently (if at all) organised to ensure that the particular case that would present them in the best light will be the first to come under consideration.

            If I have understood you correctly – and I do stress the ‘if’ – that would imply that (a) some clergy will marry partners of the same sex without any action being taken against them, which I’d suggest will start to establish that situation de facto, and (b) a case is most likely to be brought where the issue at state is either primarily or at least partially about something else (such as teaching on doctrine) – if that’s so, it might be taken as further suggesting that contracting a same sex marriage is not sufficient itself for a disciplinary case to be brought.

            On the other hand, I do expect that bishops will enforce the bar on people who are already married to someone of the same sex coming forward for ordination – and I cannot see any attempt at a legal challenge to that policy being successful, given the clear exemptions under the equality act.

            However, over time we will have a small but growing number of clergy who have married a partner of the same sex after ordination, and who continue to minister without disciplinary challenge – that contrasted with an ongoing bar for ordinands would, I suspect, become increasingly hard to maintain over time. Overall, I wonder how long the bishops will be able to maintain this statement as it is.

            • ‘Overall, I wonder how long the bishops will be able to maintain this statement as it is.’

              All the Statement really does is to maintain the normative processes for disputing and amending the church’s doctrine. The Crown Nominations Committee will also take a dim view of any candidate for preferment who has blatantly ignored the Pastoral Statement.

          • BarnsburyBarnaby

            ‘We are firmly opposed to any attempt to influence impressionable minds’

            Oh the irresistible irony if any such statement were to be released by the church!!!

  • Graham Smith

    This is a seismic moment, very similar to the time when the church did a volte face on slavery, and then again, on segregation. I suspect that generations to come will look back in horror at the way leaders within the Church of England behaved towards two folk of the same sex who simply wished to make a public commitment to live in a faithful and loving Christian marriage.

    • Graham, it is not possible for two people of the same sex to live in a faithful sexual relationship – for reasons dictated to us by the nature of the human body.

      • I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. I know a number of monogamous gay couples. Which bits stick or lie where doesn’t automatically dictate Monogamy or the lack of it.

        • JCF

          Thank you, Peter.

      • BarnsburyBarnaby

        Gentlemind- go educate yourself instead of posting some offensive nonsense. And you think you are serving Christ by writing such comments? I’ve been in a faithful monogamous relationship with my partner for 15 years. You can apply whatever stereotypes you like. I know the word homophobia is often misused and attributed, but really, comments like yours demonstrate a deep ignorance

        • If a man and a woman join a tennis club and vow not to play doubles with another partner, and then the woman plays badminton doubles with somebody other than the man, she has not broken their vow, since their vow existed in relation to tennis.

          Marriage requires a physical act. Adultery requires the same physical act – one act, two contexts. The act requires sexual difference. A man can commit adultery against either a) his wife (with another woman) b) another man (with that man’s wife).

          Only a man and a woman can physically actualize (consummate) a sexual relationship. In order to be sexually faithful, there must first be a sexual relationship to be faithful too.How, then, can (say) one woman be sexually unfaithful to another woman? By not actually having a sexual relationship with another woman?

          • Father_Ron

            I think you are seriously out of date (and possibly out of order) here, ‘gentlemind’. Marriage does not actually require a physical consummation to become legal. Otherwise, there would be a few illegal marriages around. Facts can be very few on the ground with implacably anti-gay commenters.

            • With respect, Father_Ron, the human body is not out of date, It is as it was made in the beginning – male and female. Because of its unchangeable nature, it is a source from which we can derive facts.

              You are correct in saying that a marriage does not need to be consummated to be legal. But non-consummated legal marriages can be ended without recourse to divorce precisely because the law recognises that no actual (physical) marriage existed. The only type of marriage that can ever by non-consummated is a legal marriage, precisely because legal marriages and physical marriage are different.

          • BarnsburyBarnaby

            Gosh, ignorance really does know no bounds! So, to follow your reasoning, as a gay man it is not possible for me to have a sexual relationship to be faithful to. So I cannot be sexually unfaithful. Problem solved, there is no sin and we can all go home by tea time! Try reading a book other than the Bible- you might learn something!

            • Yep, that’s it – but without the last line, and without the ignorance :)

            • Guglielmo Marinaro

              That’s right, Barnaby. You can’t possibly be faithful in a gay sexual relationship. Why? Because a sexual relationship is by definition heterosexual, so a gay relationship can’t be a sexual relationship. Therefore there is no such thing as a gay sexual relationship in which to be faithful. This kind of fallacious argument is known as “petitio principii” or “begging the question” and has been used since time immemorial; it was discussed by Aristotle. I didn’t think that anyone would have the hardihood to use it so blatantly, but a supernormally profound, intellectual thinker like “gentlemind” clearly has no scruples about doing so.

              • If it is fallacious to say that “a sexual relationship is by definition heterosexual”, then (and only then) my statement can be of the fallacious kind you refer to. My first comment on this thread was specifically in response to the idea of a sexually faithful relationship between two people of the same sex (or indeed anybody other than one man and one woman). To support what is presently only an accusation of fallaciousness, you only need to show that some combination of people other than one man and one woman can actually have a sexual relationship.

                • Guglielmo Marinaro

                  The statement “A sexual relationship is by definition heterosexual” is not itself a fallacy so much as an unnecessarily and capriciously narrow definition, made not on any factual basis, but simply in order to exclude any sexual relationship that is not heterosexual. But then to use this arbitrary definition to deduce that a sexually faithful gay relationship is not possible, since only a heterosexual relationship can be a sexual one, is very definitely a fallacy; it is, indeed, a flagrant instance of begging the question. If you want to say that you consider heterosexual relationships the only legitimate ones, you can just say so candidly, without playing pointless games with definitions, formulating tautologies based on them, and trying to pass them off as logical arguments.

                  You could emulate Mr Thwackum in Henry Fielding’s “The History of Tom Jones”, who, when he said “religion”, meant only the Christian religion, by which he meant only the Protestant religion, by which he meant only the religion of the Church of England. But if you then went on to say that it was not possible to be a faithful believer in the Roman Catholic religion or in the Islamic religion, since by your definition those were not religions, no intelligent person would take you seriously.

                  • But example “Protestantism is the only religion” fits the fallacy, whereas my statement does not. If I had meant “opposite-sex sexual relationships are the only valid sexual relationships”, then I hope that is what I would have said. Instead I said opposite-sex sexual relationships are the only sexual relationships, because they are (and marriages are the only valid opposite-sex sexual relationships).

                    The truth is narrow, Guglielmo, and yet it includes us all.

                    • Guglielmo Marinaro

                      To say that “opposite-sex sexual relationships are the only sexual relationships” is manifestly untrue. The only way in which you can make it true is by arbitrarily narrowing the meaning of the word “sexual” to “heterosexual” and refusing to apply it to anything else.

                      (Whether marriages are the only “valid” opposite-sex sexual relationships is an entirely different question.)

                      You are, of course, fully at liberty to play otiose games of this kind with the meanings of words, but nothing is gained by them. On the contrary, they provide an excellent reason for declining to take what you say seriously.

                      I would just add that, if you were called as a witness in a case involving same-sex “sexual” offences, lied about what you knew of the matter, were subsequently tried for perjury, and pleaded that you had NOT in fact lied on oath, since the offences were not “opposite-sex” and were therefore not sexual ones, no twelve men and/or women in the land would take five minutes to reach a unanimous verdict: “Guilty”. The law is broad, “gentlemind”, and it includes us all.

                    • You are now confusing relationships with acts. An animal, a girl and a man can all perform sexual acts on a man, but only a woman can have a sexual relationship with him. Relationships require difference, so a sexual relationship requires sexual difference. That’s why Catholics sometimes refer to same-sex sexual partnerships as friendships. I remember you saying elsewhere on this website that the human body didn’t have an inherently heterosexual nature. Until you get past that stumbling block, the things I say will probably continue to sound arcane. Nevertheless, they will also continue to be true. I am not going to deceive you like some of the C of E bishops or that Father_Ron chap. I am just going to keep telling you the truth, because that’s the best way I have of showing you I care. God bless.

                    • Guglielmo Marinaro

                      Oh, I see. So a non-heterosexual ACT can be sexual, but a RELATIONSHIP involving sexual acts which are non-heterosexual cannot be sexual. Well that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

                      “Relationships require difference…”

                      Two people of the same sex fulfil that requirement, since they are two different people.

                      “…so a sexual relationship requires sexual difference.”

                      If you are heterosexual it certainly does; sexual difference is, in fact, a sine qua non. If you are homosexual it doesn’t; on the contrary, it requires just the opposite.

                      “That’s why Catholics sometimes refer to same-sex sexual partnerships as friendships.”

                      They can call them anything that they like. I’m a Catholic too, and I call them gay relationships. You have yourself just referred to them as “same-sex sexual partnerships”, thereby acknowledging that they are sexual. The things that you are saying are not truth, nor are they falsehood. They are just pointless, time-wasting semantic games.

                    • “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. Bill Clinton wasn’t lying, which is why he chose those words. If I put my hand on your shoulder, are we shaking hands? If you put your hand on my shoulder while I put mine on yours, are we shaking hands? Those are “hand acts”, but they are not a “hand relationship”, since they are not a relationship between my hand and yours and your hand and mine. A sexual relationship is maleness relating to femaleness and femaleness relating to maleness. The word Sexual cannot mean “of sexual activity”, since it would then mean “sexual sexual activity”! :) Instead, Sexual means “of Sex” ie of the sex of a body.

                      Every Father/Son relationship is a “same-sex relationship”. The phrase “same-sex sexual partnership” refers to relationships containing sexual activity that are not sexual relationship. It’s a linguistic minefield, rather than an exercise in semantics. Consider the expressions “same-sex couple” or “same-sex union”. Two people of the same sex can be a couple of people (two people) but they cannot be a sexual couple, since they cannot couple sexually. Ditto with a union. Yes, relationships require difference. A sexual relationship, then, requires sexual difference. You have again taken the concepts of Hetero and Homo (Other and Same), separated them from the body, and attached them to the mind. If by Homosexual we mean a state of mind, a “homosexual sexual relationship” is possible only between a man and a woman who both have that state of mind. If by Homosexual we mean two bodies of the same sex, a “homosexual sexual relationship” is not possible, regardless of anybody’s state of mind.

                    • Guglielmo Marinaro

                      Well, play your word games all you like, if you have nothing better to do. They will not change anything. Gay “non-sexual” relationships, in which two people of the same sex who allegedly “cannot couple sexually” nonetheless happily “perform sexual acts”, will survive – thank God.

          • JCF

            “Only a man and a woman can physically actualize (consummate) a sexual relationship.”

            Does the Sun revolve around the Earth in your universe, too? Merciful heaven…

    • Oh, the horror of challenging sexual partnering choices when they are not conscious behaviour, but genetic imperatives, just like my race…Not!

      • BarnsburyBarnaby

        What a stupid and arrogant comment. For some, their orientation may well be as fixed as your race. As a gay man I feel my orientation is actually quite fixed, but I quite understand for others they may see themselves somewhere else on the spectrum. Is your sexuality fixed or do you acknowledge you may one day be attracted to other men?

        • Jonathan Lancaster

          You miss the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. While orientation usually remains fixed, it’s ridiculous to argue that we have no control or responsibility for our sexual behaviour. The desire to act in sinful ways, no matter how deep set and profound is no defence.

          • BarnsburyBarnaby

            But i do not share a belief in you supernatural god. I do not recognize your definition of sin. As a non believer it is both interesting and saddening to witness the church tearing itself apart over this issue. Thank goodness society has moved on. The battle, if ever it could be described as such, is lost. It really irks me that Christians try to impose their morals and beliefs on others. I try to lead a good honest life. Respectful of others, considerate of others. To the best of my ability. But as a gay person to listen every day to people decry, belittle and demean my relationship and life is painful and hurtful. Do you guys use some kind of ‘sinometer’ – are gays more worthy of Pilling rorts and discussion than any of the countless other sins mentioned in your Book?

            • Jonathan Lancaster

              Barnaby I commend you in your efforts to lead a good honest life, respectful and considerate of others. I wish you well and bear you no ill will, I don’t seek to belittle the value of your relationship and the good things that its brought you. I don’t pretend that orthodox christianity will make much sense to non-believers; nonetheless I’m convinced that following Jesus offers a better way of living in so many more ways than even I realise and so will do my best to guard the gospel against worldly revision.

              • BarnsburyBarnaby

                Thanks for your reply Jonathan But it is always respect and commendation with a caveat. I respect your right to hold your opinion. Nonetheless I’m convinced that the teachings of science, not hero worshipping a non-existent entity, and showing unconditional love and compassion for all offers a better way of living in so many more ways than even I realize and so will do my best to guard my right to free thinking and independent thought against outdated, unproven, superstition.

                • What I find interesting in your comments is that you attack the religious conservatives here for believing in a superstition, but never to my knowledge the liberals. Why is that? Is it because the deriding of “fantasies” is actually just a smoke-screen for the deeper issue of sexuality that you disagree with us on? If so stick to that.

                  • BarnsburyBarnaby

                    Peter, it is not my intention to attack liberal or conservative Christians for their sincerely held beliefs, even if I disagree with them. I’m glad we live in a society that affords people the right to their beliefs and to live according to those beliefs, so long as it remains within the boundaries of the law. I was just trying to point out, over simplistically perhaps, how tiresome it is to continually hear this mixed ‘Christian’ message towards gay people, often smugly delivered from the living rooms of some straight people happy in their own contented relationships, but quick to demean and belittle the relationships of others.

                    • Fiddlesticks

                      Why do you imagine that? You don’t know what’s going on in people’s marriages and many of the leaders who have decided to stick with the traditional interpretation of the Bible are single – sometimes because they aren’t attracted to women.

                • Fiddlesticks

                  I’m a little confused, Barnaby. This thread is about how Christians conduct their sexual relationships. I don’t think Jonathan’s suggesting that you break up with your partner or questioning your right to disagree with Christian teaching on sexuality or any other matter.

                  The media is full of people deriding Christian relationships and beliefs about sexuality. I’m frequently told that I’m sick or repressed or unliberated, probably as much as you hear people misrepresenting and belittling you and your relationships. The price of freedom of speech and belief is that other people aren’t going to value the things that you hold most dear. You’ve just got to ignore them and make your own choices.

          • Guglielmo Marinaro

            “While orientation usually remains fixed, it’s ridiculous to argue that we have no control or responsibility for our sexual behaviour.”

            Is anyone here arguing that? This isn’t a Daily Mail blog. I thought that everyone who was likely to be commenting on here would have appreciated that fairly obvious distinction. Although, on second thoughts, perhaps there are a few exceptions, for whom your reminder is a salutary one.

            • Jonathan Lancaster

              David Shepherd sarcastically compared challenging peoples choice of sexual partner to racism. Barnaby replied that this was stupid and arrogant as sexual orientation is fixed. My point was simply that sexual orientation is not at issue – it is homosexual acts and relationships that involve them that are being proscribed, not desire.

              • BarnsburyBarnaby

                I did not say that for all it is fixed. Some gay people may become attracted to the opposite sex, just as some heterosexual people may some day become attracted to the same sex. It is a spectrum. But for some their orientation is clearly more ‘fixed’ than for others. Certainly, in my experience I never had a choice in who I fell in love with 15 years ago. If the sexual act and expression of my love is ‘sinful’, I care not. Jonathan can proscribe what he likes, but thankfully society, and the law, have moved on.

              • Guglielmo Marinaro

                What was not clear – not an unusual thing in David Shepherd’s posts – was whether choice of sexual partner referred to choosing a particular someone (rather than anyone else) as a sexual partner or specifically to the fact that the partner chosen is of a particular sex, reflecting the chooser’s sexual orientation. If it referred to the former, the sarcastic comparison to racism was pointless, since no such comparison would occur to any ordinary, sane person. If it referred to the latter, then Barnaby was right: it was stupid and arrogant.

            • Actually GM, there are a number of people who comment here who don’t get that.

              • Here’s what I responded to: ‘I suspect that generations to come will look back in horror at the way leaders within the Church of England behaved towards two folk of the same sex who simply wished to make a public commitment to live in a faithful and loving Christian (sic) marriage. ‘

                So, what is this horrific way in which CofE leaders behaved? They merely challenged sexual partnering choices with the type of behaviour that St. Paul says ‘becometh saints’ (Eph. 5:3).

                Since it is the result of the sexual partnering choice that is within the scope of the Church’s pastoral statement, whether I meant by ‘choice’ the particular individual or gender is irrelevant. It’s the result that matters.

                The fact is that there is no horror aroused by any other restriction that the church continues to uphold (in accordance with the law) on two folk…who simply wished to make a public commitment to live in a faithful and loving Christian marriage. No horror over the the Church’s behaviour towards reunited sibling converts experiencing GSA.

                The only basis for this special pleading for over-sentimentality is the failure to distinguish sexual behaviour from sexual orientation. It’s based on a belief that behaviour arising from orientation is as beyond our control as our genetic characteristics, like race.

                It was neither stupid, nor arrogant.

          • JCF

            Yes . . . but a COLOSSAL “But”, if you’re defining ALL sexual behavior between two persons of the same sex as, a priori, “acting in sinful ways.”

            Violence is violence: gay or straight. Sin.
            Degradation is degradation: gay or straight. Sin.
            Mutually-respectful physical intimacy, between two committed partners (“spouses”) is love-making: gay or straight. Blessing!

        • I spoke about behaviour, not your orientation, so your references to orientation are way off target.

          The church’s policy on converting civil partnerships to same-sex marriage encapsulates the behaviour expected of clergy. In behaviour, there’s a choice.

          ‘Is your sexuality fixed or do you acknowledge you may one day be attracted to other men?’

          You don’t know me. Perhaps, I’m already be capable of attraction to men and women. There is but one person who deserves the indulgence of that attraction, one person for whom that desire becomes fully-fledged passion in accordance with God’s holy ordinance.

          Let’s say, I was admitted to Holy Orders and I began to experience intense same-sex attraction. I might share this with a spiritual director and ask advice. Sharing an intense, but fleeting attraction with the wife might be hurtful. Following that advice might be the end of it. If not, there are other options, including couples counselling.

          Nevertheless, if I was single and found it impossible to resist the new-found same-sex attraction, I would realise that it would compromise my solemn vows and damage the example that the whole chuch hoped that I would set. I would resign my office. Having resigned, if I felt the church that I love had misunderstood Christ’s teachings on marriage, I would become a tireless advocate for change through the normative structures of the church, but as a lay member. If I made it onto General Synod, I would gain signatures for a Private Member’s Motion.

          You know what I wouldn’t do? I wouldn’t short-circuit those normative structures by defying the collegial pastoral statement of the House of Bishops. I really believe in the structures of the CofE, even when they work against me.

          • Father_Ron

            “Nevertheless, if I was single and began to experience intense same-sex attraction…” – David Shepherd –

            Then, David, you would not be intrinsically homosexual! A homosexual person has no other way of being sexually attracted (from a very early age) – except to their own gender. That is why David Ould’s position on homosexuality can be so confusing to non-Gays. One simply cannot be intrinsically homosexual.Otherwise one would be unable to instinctively co-habit with someone of the other gender. Just ask anyone who is exclusively homosexual. Of course, bi-sexuals are different.

            • Do you know what Ron, do me the courtesy of calling me by my actual name. For once.

              • Jonathan Lancaster

                I dunno Peter, I’ve seen this supposed ‘David Ould’ on Anglicans unscripted. He looks awfully like you – not sure I’m convinced he’s really a different person.

                • Nah, JL, David’s the really cool and handsome one. ;-)

              • Father_Ron

                Sorry, Peter. I did not mean to implicate your Australian brother, David.
                Mea Culpa!

            • Ron, you’re better off back at TA where you, Erika, Tobias et al. can publish largely uncontested views. And where I presume my posts still not welcome. Don’t you just love censorship?

              Given that your cause supports bisexuals, the point remains that behaviour involves choice. One such choice is to ensure the voice of the church is not compromised, yet work through legitimate means to accomplish change.

              It does your cause no favours to bypass the normative process that female clergy and divorcees have accepted until their desired amendments were effected.

              • Father_Ron

                I didn’t know you had been excluded from commenting on T.A., David. But seeing your drift here makes me understand why.

                • The part of ‘work through legitimate means to accomplish change’ with which you disagree will, no doubt, remain shrouded in mystery until you venture a sensible response.

                  Viewing this as a member of the laity, I really understand why some clergy fail in their aspiration to connect with parishioners.

              • laurence1999

                I disagree with almost everything you say but I don’t think you should be censored by Thinking Anglicans, unless you engaged in some ‘trolling’ of which I am unaware.

                • James Byron

                  I agree in principle, although I hasten to add that I don’t know the details any censorship.

                • There’s one thing that I don’t do and that is back down from a debate.

                  In respect of post to TA, I’d only ask to consider that after contributing to debates there as prolifically as Erika Baker, Tobias Haller, C R. Seitz, Peter Ould and Counterlight, I magically disappeared from those debates.

                  Admittedly, when prodded, the moderator would retrieve a few of my comments caught by the spam filter.

                  There was no ‘trolling’, just an inability to register my comments at a time when the SSM debates.

                  This is the comment thread for Friday 12th April, 2013 (Another response to CofE report: Marriage and Diversity): http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=6002

                  In contrast, this is the fairly consensus-ridden comment thread for Monday 15th April, 2013 (CofE marriage report: yet another critique):

                  http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=6006

                  And for good measure, let’s try Thursday 18th April (Archbishop to meet LGBT Anglicans and Peter Tatchell):

                  http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=6007

                  The whole TA world was pretty much on the same page with gay marriage. Don’t you just love that turnaround?

                  Yes, the odd comment was published after that, but by that time the message was clear.

                  Let me just copy and save each of those comment threads for posterity.

          • JCF

            “I would realise that it would compromise my solemn vows and damage the
            example that the whole church (conservative and liberal) hoped that I
            would set in working within its structures”

            Perhaps . . . in YOUR interpretation of the “solemn vows” you took (not to mention your interpretation of “the whole church”).

            I rather get the impression, David, that you want to IMPOSE your interpretation on every other gay ordinand, and that’s where I call Foul.

            • Hey, JCF, long time no hear. What are you doing in this neck of the woods.

              How are Erika, Tobias, Mark Brunson and all the TA crew who are allowed to IMPOSE their interpretation in a Christian forum.

              I guess that means that the majority interpretation wins, eh? And you didn’t seem to have a problem with moderators who silenced the minority there.

  • TJ McMahon

    I would like to commend a couple recent commentaries to readers, the
    first being Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s recent analysis of the bishops’
    statement-
    http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2014/02/18/a-response-to-the-house-of-bishops-guidance-on-same-sex-marriage/

    The
    second, although it does not bear directly on the bishops’ statement,
    is Alistair Robert’s commentary on Dr. Chris Seitz’s The Character of
    Christian Scripture, and his insight into the reason that conservatives
    in the Church are so uncomfortable with progressive hermeneutics, and I
    believe this could also have a lot to do with reticence to participate
    in “facilitated discussions”-

    http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/christopher-seitz-on-the-biblical-crisis-in-the-homosexuality-debates/
    “Seitz proceeds to put his finger on what is perhaps the deepest
    concern explaining the strength of opposition to same-sex behaviour
    among many Christians, which is the very power of Scripture to speak
    with any degree of clarity into the present day at all:

    ‘If the Bible’s consistently negative word about homosexual conduct is wrong, or outdated, who
    will then decide in what other ways the Bible is or is not to be
    trusted
    or cannot comprehend our days and its struggles, under God? Appeal to
    Scripture’s plain sense is born of the conviction that the Bible can
    have something to say without other forces needing to regulate that or
    introduce a special hermeneutics from outside the text so we can know
    when and where it can speak.’

    Seitz suggests that, at the very heart of these debates is the issue
    of the Bible as two testaments, speaking ‘of the same God in Christ,
    though in different dispensations and in different figural directions.’
    At stake here are two creedal statements: that the Holy ‘spake by the
    prophets’ and that Christ died and rose again ‘in accordance with the
    Scriptures.’ What progressivism has done is to change the relationship
    between the testaments. The work of the Spirit is now regarded as ‘fully
    detachable’ from his prior testimony in Scripture and the Old Testament
    is read, not as a faithful testimony to God in Christ but ‘only of a
    developmental phase of religion en route to a NT religion and then a
    more enlightened Holy Spirit religion.’”

    TJ

    • JCF

      “the Bible’s consistently negative word about homosexual conduct”

      The way so many conservatives put scare-quotes on same-sex marriage, as same-sex marriage, then the above should be scare-quoted, also.

      They don’t believe that marriage can exist between two persons of the same sex.

      I don’t believe that the Bible has ANY word (positive, negative or neutral) about “homosexual conduct”.

      Homosexual conduct is {wait for it} the conduct of homosexuals. The conduct of homosexuals: not having any *concept* of the latter (persons of homosexual orientation), the Bible cannot have any word about the former. Why the resistance to something so logically obvious?

      • Jonathan Lancaster

        Homosexual is an adjective first and foremost; using it as a noun is a relatively recent occurrence. In the above context it means sexual conduct between two people of the same sex; it does not refer to generally to the conduct of homosexual people- I agree that the Bible has nothing to say about the sinfulness or otherwise of homosexuals (n.) say going for a walk, watching tv, or baking cupcakes.

  • josepholeary

    A stormy debate about gays or against gay is just what the C of E needs to revitalize itself — NOT!

  • Stuart, Devon

    More broadly, I think it’s worth going back to Peter’s theme of “the opening shots” – which may implicitly suggest a lengthy battle.

    The CofE is, as Tom Wright observed some time ago, perpetually in its Greatest Crisis Ever. If by some miracle (I use the word advisedly) we all suddenly agreed on this subject, we would undoubtedly find something else to argue about in no time at all. If one looks at the history either of Anglicanism or of the wider church, one sees countless examples of arguments just as vituperative as this one, which eventually, somehow, the church gets past.

    Perhaps what matters more is how we disagree. Whilst vicious disagreement is nothing new, this comes at a time – as Joseph suggests above – when there is a desperate need for us to focus on the growth and renewal of the church: compared with, for example, Victorian arguments over ritual or marriage with deceased wife’s sister, the argument this time has much greater potential to do lasting damage, both by draining our energies away from mission and by presenting an image to the world of church as cats fighting in a sack.

    It’s quite clear that people on both sides of the argument are genuinely motivated by the Gospel, passionately wanting to ensure that their (our!) understanding of what is right and true prevails. It’s not feasible to ask people to suspend that, but I do believe there’s a desperate need to recognise Christ within our opponents. This must always be the case in any disagreement, but in this case specifically, the church is pretty evenly split (43:44) on same sex marriage, so it’s not going to be a case of just making some provision for a minority on one side or another (I believe on women’s ministry the split is about 85:15, so there is a clear normative position – that doesn’t exist on this subject).

    For a start it would be good if we could all stop yelling “bigot!”, “heretic!” (literally or figuratively) at each other. Beyond that, whichever side one is on, the other is not going to go away, not at least for some considerable time yet. For the sake of the church, for the sake of the Great Commission, for Christ’s sake, we have to find some way of walking together whilst we disagree.

    • Well said. You’ve set an example in articulating well researched points. Not everyone will be able to match your reasoning skills, but I would make a pact with you to engage in this debate differently. To maintain respect for each other at all times.

      Try reading the previous comment threads. The reality is that, although the opinion split is 43:44, there is another spirit that is taking over both sides of advocacy in this debate. In NT Greek, it’s called ‘philopróteuó: loving the preeminence (3 John 1:9)

      We can both recall instances in which Christ exhibited exasperation. As the scripture teaches, ‘Be angry and sin not’. On this and other blogs, rather than simply identifying error with better arguments, you’re thin-skinned unless you can endure the insolent rhetoric.

      That means my comments are referred to as stupid, arrogant, verbose, typically unclear, etc. Apparently, Golden_mind just needs to educate himself out of offensive nonsense. Jillfromharrow is stating what any fool can work out. The list goes on. It’s really a bunch of largely conservative cretins hindering the nascent development of the church’s new intellectual establishment. What were we thinking?

      Let’s face it. Bigots and heretics exist on both sides of the philosophical divide. Far more dangerous are those who think that they have the intellectual superiority to re-map all of our ideologies into one cohesive whole.

      You’ll know who they are, whether of conservative or liberal persuasion. They do more than just defend the integrity of their position. On these pages, they gloat at their ability to dispose of opposition with routinely unvarnished contempt!

      You’ve made a great start here. You are gracious in rebuttal. I hope you don’t stoop to their level.

      • Stuart, Devon

        David, thank you for your kind words. I’m increasingly coming to the belief that the most important thing about this debate may be how we conduct it. Consensus opinion will end up wherever it will – I suspect few minds are changed on the fundamental issues through furious arguing – and inevitably I instinctively believe that it will end up where I want it to, but perhaps everyone believes that for their view.

        We have a solemn duty, however, to take up the Great Commission, and if we hurt the mission of the church through the way in which we address this current Great Issue we will have incurred a terrible culpability.

        Beyond that, I’ve found Peter’s blog a helpful place to seek to understand views other than my own; hopefully the respectful debate of which you write may help to illuminate us all.

    • James Byron

      (Mostly) amicable disagreement about chasubles & guitars is one thing. Schismatic fury over women and gay people quite another. As I think you’ve noted, Tom “it will not do!” Wright’s complacency misses the fact that the church’s attitude to gay people is destroying its reputation.

      I remain baffled why Wright, fiercely pro-women & master of the creative hermeneutic, isn’t taking point on bringing evangelicals around to an affirming position.

      • Stuart, Devon

        James, amicable disagreement about chasubles? Five clergy were sent to prison under the public worship regulation act for offences including lighting candles and kneeling during the prayer of consecration. The saintly bishop King of Lincoln, champion of the poor, was prosecuted and dragged through the mill on similar charges. At St George in the East, one priest was assaulted by his theological opponents and had to be rescued by police, there was frequent brawling between high and low church factions, fireworks were set off in church to disrupt sermons and a pew used as a privy.

        Marriage with deceased wife’s sister produced – apart from a memorable line from Sir Athur Sullivan – furiously vituperative statements from, amongst others, the then Bishop of London, along with a court case that ended up before the Master of the Rolls.

        The first Lambeth Conference, convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1867, was boycotted by the Archbishop of York.

        Canon Sidney Smith said of his colleague, “of course I believe in apostolic succession, there being no other way to account for the direct descent of the Bishop of Exeter from Judas Iscariot.” Bishop Phillpotts threatened to excommunicate the Archbishop of Canterbury and tied George Gorham up in three years of cross-examination and legal appeals before he was instituted to the living of Brampford Speke due to their disagreement on baptismal regeneration.

        In 1832, Archbishop Howley was hit by a dead cat, hurled at him by an opponent as he solemnly processed into Canterbury Cathedral.

        In the present time, I’ve witnessed physical violence between rival groups of Orthodox clergy, within a cathedral.

        One could go on and on… arguments over admitting divorcees to communion, or allowing the remarriage of divorcees. The fights – physical and metaphysical – over nestorianism, apollinarianism, monopysitism and dozens of other subjects.

        None of this is to demean nor belittle the importance of the current issues, especially to those whom they effect directly. But we should guard against the fallacy that our moment in history is uniquely challenged or challenging. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun.

        • James Byron

          OK, call it (mostly) amicable disagreement this side of WWI. Outside Sydney Diocese nobody gives a care about holy ponchos.

          Our moment isn’t unique, no. There’s been worse; there’s also been better. The other fallacy is pretending that it’s all the same.

          Previous disagreements mellowed when both parties ceased trying to impose their views on their opponents. How about the church has “two integrities” when it comes to human sexuality? Would you run with that?

          • Stuart, Devon

            James, instinctively I’d go less for “two integrities” than I would for seeking to model how we can manage disagreement without, ideally, division.

            At its best, the CofE holds up a witness to the wider church that it can be possible to hold different views yet continue to walk together. It shows that it is possible – if awkward, difficult and messy – to be church without a single central magisterium telling everyone what they must think, or on the other hand splitting off into ever narrower splinter groups whenever you fall out. (To be clear, the Roman Catholic, orthodox, independent protestant etc churches all have much to teach us as well, but I firmly believe our contribution is as a model of what ecumenism could mean in practice.)

            None of the subjects I listed above remained hot issues for ever – people still disagree over many of them, but the church went through a period in each case, a few years or a few decades, and then determined its collective mind. I strongly suspect the same will happen this time, I don’t think we’ll be having the same argument in a century’s time – if I’m right this is, to coin a phrase, a phase we’re going through. Whilst we endure this phase, we must live with the fact that the church contains large numbers of people who disagree with us and who hold their beliefs passionately – whichever side of the argument we hold. How we do that may perhaps be the only part of the legacy of this debate that we can control.

            If we could manage it, it might provide a model for how we handle whatever the next major disagreement might be – and for how different denominations could work more closely together, which may become an imperative in future.

            • James Byron

              The church has never determined its collective mind on the other controversies: it just agreed to disagree.

              Would you be OK with the end of ‘Issues …’ and its abusive discipline, & gay clergy left to their own conscience, as remarriage of divorcees is?

              • How is the discipline of Issues “abusive”? You might disagree with it, but abusive?

                • James Byron

                  The appropriateness of “abusive” depends on whether you believe the pain and exclusion it causes is justified.

                  • Once again, you need to define. Clergy know the rules when they offer for ordination. They choose to put themselves in positions where discipline occurs.

              • Stuart, Devon

                James, personally I want the church to treat marriages between people of the same sex equally to others – and I believe that is the point we will reach (but maybe everyone thinks the church will end up agreeing with their point of view).

                In regard to the church determining its collective mind, I probably should have been clearer. I’d suggest that this is something happens in an undefined way and slightly aside from the formal processes of church councils, general synod motions or the adoption of amended canons – though they may form part of it. The church deciding to live and let live on ritual happened pretty well by the end of the 19th century – although the law didn’t catch up with that until 1965 when the public worship regulation act was finally repealed.

  • Quote from the Women Bishops in the Church of England, A report of the House of Bishops’ Working Party:

    ‘5.2.48 In his article ‘Bishops, Presbyters and Women’ quoted above, Bray develops the argument about unity with specific reference to the fact that the Church of England has recognized that people can hold different positions with integrity over the matter of the ordination of women:

    Those who favour women bishops are not opposed to having men, but those who do not will not accept women, which means that if the two integrities are to be held together, only men can be appointed as bishops. To appoint a woman bishop would be to split the church by denying the legitimacy of one of the integrities. The principle that this should be avoided has a precedent in the New Testament, in the circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16.3). This was imposed on him by the Apostle Paul, in spite of the latter’s well-known and frequently articulated opposition to circumcision as a theological necessity, in order to make Timothy more acceptable to Jewish Christians, who were the other integrity of their day. Timothy had to be acceptable without question by everyone, which was enough to mandate a practice which the apostle would never have justified on theological grounds.

    Permitting the co-existence of two integrities is not the same as agreeing to disagree. It involves both camps accepting clear and authoritatively agreed boundaries that address the fundamental concerns of those who are opposed and do not violate explicit prohibitions of scripture.

    This is seen in the resolution of the circumcision issue in Acts 15. There is no explicit injunction demanding the circumcision of Gentiles, whereas there are pre-Judaic proscriptions about idolatrous sacrifices, consumption of blood and fornication. The Jerusalem council decided that while Gentiles are under no NT obligation to be ritually circumcised, they must abstain from behavioural violations of that had provoked divine retribution upon Jew and Gentile alike and that vitiate the scruples of others.

    For there to be two integrities in respect of blessing the relationships of couples engaging in homosexual acts, the House of Bishops would have to come to an agreement that the revisionist reading of scripture was as validly grounded as the traditional interpretation (as it did for the issue of Women Bishops).

    Neither the admission of women to the episcopate, nor re-marriage of divorcees in church have altered the stated behavioural ideals of the church. This is a far cry from your laissez-faire view of maintaining two integrities.

    The current stance of the Church of England is already representative of the two valid integrities

  • MikeHomfray

    I can’t believe that anyone really things this is anything more than a holding measure. It was obvious that nothing was going to happen until after the Pilling conversations, but given the reaction will turn up the heat and Justin Welby’s statement has made it pretty clear that there isn’t any unity in reality, and the current position is unsustainable, I expect this one to continue to drag on. The problem the Church has is that the bulk of the population really don’t care and wonder why they are making such a ‘meal’ of it

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