And lo it has happened. The Bishops said not to do it, but Canon Jeremy Pemberton went ahead anyway.
A senior Church of England clergyman yesterday became the first to enter into a gay marriage – in direct defiance of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – plunging the Church into a fresh crisis.
Canon Jeremy Pemberton tied the knot with Laurence Cunnington under new laws allowing same-sex marriages pushed through by David Cameron in the face of bitter opposition from backbench MPs and the Church.
But Canon Pemberton, 58, now faces disciplinary action from the Church and could be expelled from his work as a priest because the House of Bishops has barred clergy from entering such unions, saying they undermine its traditional teaching that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Edward Malnick in the Sunday Telegraph adds more details.
Although the Church of England formally objected to the introduction of gay marriage and has opted out of performing the ceremonies, there have been growing signs of a more relaxed stance on homosexuality. Bishops agreed that gay couples who get married will be able to ask for special prayers after the ceremony.
However, on Saturday night the Rev Preb Rod Thomas, chairman of the Reform evangelical group, said: “There’s no doubt that there is pressure within some parts of the church for the Church to change its mind on sexuality.
“If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying ‘we really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis.”
He warned that traditionalists “who stick by the biblical understanding” of marriage would be unable to accept a “messy compromise”, potentially leading to a situation similar to in the US where a traditionalist splinter Church has emerged from the liberal Episcopal Church.
However, the Rev Colin Coward, a friend of Canon Pemberton’s and director of the Changing Attitude campaign group, of which he is a former trustee, said: “I’m really, really happy for Jeremy and his partner that they are finally able to get married after a long time of being together as a couple.
“I hope the bishops find a way to affirm and bless their relationship rather than taking action against them.”
Dr Giles Fraser, the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s, also congratulated the couple.
The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev Christopher Lowson, said: “I am aware that a member of the clergy who works in the Diocese of Lincoln has married a partner of the same sex. The priest concerned wrote to me in advance to explain his intention and we had a subsequent meeting in which I explained the guidelines of the House of Bishops.”
What do I think? Well first, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting at some point with both of them and have always found them courteous and pleasant. Laurence has commented a number of times on this blog and you can see from this interaction in particular that he is not in any sense a radical. I think we’re all big enough to realise we can (profoundly) disagree with people and still get on with them, so let’s try and do that. And that attempt to be courteous includes reflecting on the way some conservatives continue to use “marriage” and “husband” when referring to such relationships. Jeremy and Laurence got married (no quotes). They are husband and husband (no quotes). These are legal facts and we should recognise and accept them.
Second, (and speaking of legal facts) it’s very clear now that the Bishop of Lincoln cannot avoid having to make a decision about Canon Pemberton’s future licensing. The story is in two national newspapers and given that he’s admitted he knows about it he will need to take some form of action. But don’t expect anything too soon – the CDM process (forget the nonsense about the Ecclesiastical Jursidiction Measure) takes time and it is unlikely (though not improbable) that Canon Pemberton will be “suspended” in any way pending the outcome of the disciplinary process. And get out of your head any notion that because Bishop Lowson is a liberal he will go easy on Pemberton – if anything it will work the other way as the Bishop of Lincoln will not want to be seen as undermining the collegiality of the House.
Third, we need to pray for our Bishops and senior leaders as they deal with this. There will be some very hard decisions to make and its likely that attempts will be made to placate both sides at some point. Remember that an individual decision made by an individual leader does not necessarily indicate the direction of travel for the whole higher cadre of the Church of England.
We are cursed, as someone said, to live in interesting times…