Church facing divide over blessings for same-sex couples

In tomorrow’s Telegraph.

Church England LogoThe Church of England is facing a split over proposals to offer a formal blessing for gay couples.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, warned on Tuesday that a move to celebrate same-sex relationships in church would be a “red line” for traditionalist parishes.

Clergy and lay members of the Church opposed to any relaxation of the rules could reject the authority of any bishops who supported the move, he warned.

His intervention came amid mounting expectation that an official commission examining the Church’s teaching on sexuality will recommend the introduction of a formal service for gay couples.

Dr Nazir-Ali said: “If there is an attempt to provide for blessing of same-sex unions that will be a red line for many people.

“Indeed it may be a red line for some bishops, dare I say.”

Speaking after attending a gathering of more than 1,300 traditionalist Anglicans in Kenya earlier this month, Dr Nazir-Ali said the introduction of formal blessings for gay couples would amount to the Church’s leadership failing people who want to “maintain orthodoxy in the faith”.

Following this month’s summit, organised by the influential Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), a statement backed by 331 bishops urged parishes who believed the Church was undermining “biblical faithfulness” to consider withdrawing their funding.

It warned that “homosexual practice” was being promoted as “holy” despite being against traditional Church teaching.

“We want to make clear that any civil partnership of a sexual nature does not receive the blessing of God,” the statement added.

The intervention by the traditionalist leaders came as a commission examining the Church’s approach to sexuality is due to report to the Church’s house of bishops within weeks.

The review, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, a former mandarin, and including four bishops, has taken place amid growing tension over the Church’s approach to gay worshippers and clergy.

The Church’s leadership, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, objected to the Government’s introduction of same-sex marriage, on the basis that the move conflicted with traditional teaching.

In response, campaigners warned that bishops would have to respond “more sensitively” to gay couples who could not get married in church.

Senior bishops have since questioned whether it was still tenable for the Church to deny a formal blessing to gay couples.

On Tuesday night the Rev Colin Coward, the director of Changing Attitude, a campaign group which represents more than 1,000 Anglicans, said it was apparent that bishops supported a change because many “tacitly” allowed informal blessings of gay couples to take place in their dioceses.

Another priest, the Rev Peter Ould, claimed on his blog that the final draft of the report was ready and “will propose that the Church of England introduce some form of liturgy that will bless same-sex relationships.”

However, one senior figure in the Church said there would be opposition to new liturgy for same-sex couples.

Such a move would amount to a “major shift” in Church teaching, he said.

He voiced doubts that if the Pilling Commission does recommend a new service that the House of Bishops would adopt it, let alone the General Synod, the Church’s parliament.

All of the five most senior clerics in the Church of England – the Archishops of Canterbury and York and bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are from traditionalist wings of the church.

However, Archbishop Welby has spoken repeatedly about the need for the Church to face up to a “revolution” in attitudes to sexuality.

Last year the Church’s leadership lifted a blanket ban on anyone in a civil partnership becoming a bishop.

Colin Hart, head of the Christian Institute, a traditionalist group, said: “If the Church blesses same sex unions it will have abandoned core Christian teaching about marriage and human sexuality.”

A Church of England spokesman said: “The final draft of the Pilling report has not yet been completed or signed off. It will be going to the House of Bishops in December.”

21 Comments on “Church facing divide over blessings for same-sex couples

  1. You can see the real dilemma is simple.

    The proposal to bless those in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages means that a member of the Anglican clergy, or laity can enter into a same-sex civil marriage (with its attendant conjugal responsibilities that would constitute unreasonable behaviour if denied) and then return to church to be blessed through official liturgy for a relationship involving homosexual acts.

    Such a blessing would be more than a tacit recognition of a gay’s spiritual dimension. It would be an overt and official church invocation of and expectation of divine approval for homosexual acts that the same-sex marriage contract must imply.

    It is to re-cast the God who ‘will not lie or repent’ as either the Master of the epochal U-turn, or incapable of making His will regarding our sexaul. Worse still, He ceases to be The Lord of history: One God declaring His irrevocable precepts from everlasting to everlasting. In fact, on the basis of such a change of context from biologically-grounded kinship that reaped His punishment, He becomes a wily politician, ever wary of offending popular sentiment.

    Of course, such blessing is a mere parody of divine approval crafted through shrewd sophistry to keep political pressure groups on side.

    I would actually prefer for Synod to vote us back to circumcision before it ever accedes to this inanity. At least, circumcision has some biblical precedent, despite St.Paul valid claim that it defies our blatant need for grace!

    If such a blessing of distaste for the divine gift of sexual differentiation were valid, how could we ever again trust God or those who collegially and in apostolic succession claim to represent Him!

  2. Well we all know what Jesus does with red lines: he crosses them; and invites us to follow. Here’s to a future in which love and faithfulness count for more than gender and orientation — because that, Peter, is what marriage is about. The time is long overdue for the church to stop prevaricating and procrastinating and to celebrate faithful, stable relationships irrespective of gender.

    If this is a “red line” it’s no more of a red line than the one Peter crossed in his rooftop prayer enlightenment: I’m sure you know the story; but I’m not going to reiterate everything I’ve said before here — it’s all filed under the ‘marriage’ tag on my blog: Marriage.

    As for the bishops – any bishops who support equal marriage and same-sex blessings who may happen to be reading: you have my wholehearted support as well as that of many, many others. Please don’t let the attitudes of the conservatives hold you back.

    • So what you’re suggesting Phil is that God has waited 2000 years after Jesus before he decided to tell us that *actually* sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman was in fact holy and blessed?


          • Aha – got it. You’re referring to Ernie Feasey’s “Changing Attitude” thread on facebook, I take it? Personally, I find your attitude to Anne Peat here far more offensive than anything anyone has said there.

            • Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any animosity towards you or Anne. I don’t think either of you are bigots (you just have a different opinion), and, anyway, this speculation is a little premature. But I do think your irony barometer is broken!

        • coherent: (of an argument, theory, or policy) logical and consistent.

          Ah, so there’s your problem, Peter. It’s illogical to expect that God could not treat homosexuals in the same manner as the uncircumcised Gentiles.

          So,let’s look at that, shall we? Paul draws upon ample evidence from numerous Old Testament prophets who herald an era in which ineffectual externalisms of the law will be superseded by the power of internal transformation through the Holy Spirit. The New Testament, as the record of apostolic faith, shows what that transformation looks like.

          So, in order to elide the emphatic New Testament proscriptions against homosexual acts, a revisionist has to do two things:

          1. Treat the emphatic statements of St.Paul as temporal injunctions, rather than inspired by God for perpetuity, as ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.

          St. Paul, as a man of his time, therefore reflected the prejudices of that era. Of course, if that’s true, why not claim the same for other sexual prohibitions? What (apart from rank bigotry) keeps other prohibited expressions of sexuality off-limits? Or is this simply a special pleading for those who can’t abandon their pet propensity?

          Also, St. Peter does not limit the applicability of warnings of earlier prophets to either their contemporaries or the First Century: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.’(1 Cor. 10:6 – 9);
          ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care,trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.
          So, why shouldn’t St. Paul’s prohibitions have that same permanence for ages to come?

          2. Give greater weight to specfic parts of scripture by way of sexualisation (Johnathan and David; Jesus and John) and trivialisation (Gal. 5:19 – 21; Jude 7).
          The orthodox position is completely coherent with scripture, tradition and reason. Calling ‘incoherent’ the orthodox rejection of homosexual lust and activity as immoral is itself illogical and irrational.

    • Here’s to a future in which love and faithfulness count for more than gender and orientation

      Gosh, yet another liberal who supports blessing consensual incest. Or are you now going to join the bigots who say that all that is needed is love and committment, but then change your mind because someone’s particular love and committment makes you want to throw up?

      • I’ve just read through your ranting at and against Anne Peat, Peter, so I’m not going to waste my metaphorical breath debating that particular red herring with you: the bigotry, dear brother, is entirely yours.

        • See, your inability to answer the simple question I asked is the big give away. You recognise the hypocrisy of your position and you are avoiding engaging with it.

          • From what I see here, Peter, the only person arguing in favour of incest is you: it’s a red herring, as you well know, and the hypocrisy — along with the bigotry — would appear to be entirely yours.

            Your response to Pilling is rather like that of the older brother when the father welcomed his prodigal son home: you shut the door in your own face. The only person who suffers is you as you refuse to come on in and join the party; but the lock is on the outside, in your own mind, Peter: you can come in at any time.

            I appreciate that for you personally, regarding yourself as post-gay, the possibility of the church recognising same-sex unions as valid represents something of an existential crisis, and you have my sympathy in that regard. For the rest of us, however, it’s simply a long overdue step in the right direction. Come on in: enjoy the party!

            • Is this the party where you are abusive to me on Facebook threads and you like posts that demean my family? Is this your liberal inclusivity and love? Is this your tolerance and openness? If you want to have any credibility you need to look at your own response to people who you don’t agree with.

              It is shameful for liberals that they engage in this behaviour. I can honestly say I have NEVER seen it condoned in the Conservative groups I belong to. By their fruits you shall know them.

              • You’re quite right, of course, Peter: conservatives are always polite, refined, considerate and offer carefully thought through arguments, never cast aspersions, rarely take offence and never become abusive towards their conversation partners. By their fruits indeed…

                But no: the party I’m referring to, as you know, is the party in the Kingdom of Heaven which is slowly being worked out here on earth, where love and faithfulness are celebrated; why shut yourself out? You don’t even need to shut yourself out from the conversations on facebook: all that’s needed is a changing attitude…

            • I think the difference is that Phil sees there as being a range of relationship patterns, all of which should be looked at individually and according to their own merits, given that they have nothing in common with each other.

              Peter sees there as being one acceptable pattern of relationship and thinks all the others are unacceptable, so cannot see why those who support one type which isn’t in his view, acceptable, can’t do the same for others, or at least should need to explain why in the same terms.

              If you don’t start from the idea that there is just one acceptable ‘norm’ then the framework of the discussion is different. But that doesn’t mean that all patterns would necessarily be supported.

        • Is it a red herring, though? I understand what you and Anne are saying. You see people in loving, faithful same sex relationships that give them joy and help them to serve the community around them so you think ‘what could God possibly have against this? Anyone who disagrees must just not know any gay couples’.

          It’s a powerful argument – I agree. However, having gotten to know some people in polygamous relationships (from other cultures) I’ve found that all the stereotypes about that just aren’t true either. The man with an insatiable sexual appetite and jealous, subordinate wives scenario just doesn’t fit. Sometimes this is something the wives agree to themselves – maybe because of infertility. The wives are good friends, they love the children of the other wife and take care of them like their own, the children have more people to care for them. They don’t get lonely like Western stay-at-home mothers.

          The stereotypes now seem to me kind of ill informed and crass. And anyway, there are lots of examples of polygamy in the Bible. So should I now start campaigning for the church to accept polygamy and start calling everybody a bigot who doesn’t agree? Or should I respect the boundaries the Church has established over the centuries based on God’s wisdom, not mine? This isn’t an academic question for me. It’s not something I’ve just made up because I want to find a reason to reject gay relationships

          • Peter was referring to incest, not polygamy; but polygamy remains illegal here in the UK and I’m not aware of anyone in the church currently arguing for it, so with reference to the current debate I’d say that polygamy is also a red herring. That’s not to dismiss the points you raise, but I see it as another conversation.

            • I don’t really understand what you’re getting at. I used polygamy as an example because I have experience of that, but not of incest. The point is, do we have to change 2000 years of Church teaching just because it doesn’t fit in with the values of our culture anymore? It didn’t fit in with the values of many cultures in the first centuries AD, but the Church still fought long and hard for its understanding of marriage. We’re not really talking about gay relationships here, we’re talking about marriage. How is polygamy a red herring? or incest? it’s just another form of relationship which some cultures accept as marriage, but which has historically been rejected by the Church. Arguing ‘well we reject those because those aren’t nice people and our gay friends are’ I just don’t find entirely convincing. It’s convincing enough to make same sex unions legal for those who want it, but I’m not so sure about changing Church teaching.

  3. Interesting how they constantly refer now to “traditionalists”, rather than just “some within the church”. It is undoubtedly deliberate, and surely a step towards “fundamentalist” (in fact I have already seen this happen) as a way to further devalue the opinions of those who disagree.

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