Some Thoughts on the Statement

Having had over a day to contemplate the statement from the House of Bishops on Same-Sex Marriage, I have three thoughts that I want to ponder with you.

First, the criticism from some quarters that section 20 and 21 are contradictory is based on a presumption that prayer with a couple must take the form of a public service of affirmation.

Church England Logo20.   The 2005 pastoral statement said that it would not be right to produce an authorized public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships and that clergy should not provide services of blessing for those who registered civil partnerships. The House did not wish, however,  to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances.   The College made clear on 27 January that, just as the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage remains the same, so its pastoral and liturgical practice also remains unchanged.

21.  The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.

It only takes a moment to see that “more informal kind of prayer” covers pretty much everything bar a public service. Indeed, there is some subtlety here because the Bishop are banning “services of blessing” but that does not discount a priest blessing a couple in an informal environment. What is forbidden is any form of public liturgical blessing which would imply a change in the doctrine of marriage of the Church of England.

Second, it is extremely likely that some clergy will challenge this statement. Bishop Steven Croft on the Sunday programme on Radio 4 this morning indicated that such behaviour (entering into a same-sex marriage) would fall under “conduct unbecoming” in the sense that the priest would be shaping their life in a manner not consistent with the doctrine of the church. The interesting point is that the law at this point supports the Church of England. The Equality Act permits the Church of England to discriminate in employment when the issue of sexual orientation (and the living out of that orientation) conflicts with a doctrinal position. So if the Church of England disciplines someone for entering a same-sex marriage, the legal case would take one of two forms. Either the complainant would have to argue that the exemption in the Equality Act does not cover same-sex marriage and that the Church of England is incorrectly applying the Act (I cannot see an English court giving this any serious time) or the complainant would have to argue that this exemption in the Equality Act is unjust (but then the complainant would be taking the Government to court, not the Church of England).

Third, there are many disappointed revisionists and the anger that is present means that the likelihood of an attempt to out a “hypocritical” gay bishop is just that bit higher this morning. Already some names are being bandied around (either explicitly or implicitly) and my suspicion is someone will break the silence on this issue before too long.

34 Comments on “Some Thoughts on the Statement

  1. What does ecclesiastical law say? What weight, if any, does the bishops’ statement have?

    A procession of martyrs, which you’ll get if you win, will be the swiftest way to get church teaching overturned and sown with quicklime.

    Even if you win, you’ll lose.

    • James Byron

      There will be no procession of martyrs. No one will be disciplined in accordance with this guidance. Many Bishops will ignore it on principle. Many more will ignore it for fear. This reality will guarantee that legally married Gay clergy will exist in the CoE in sufficient numbers such that the consistency of the teaching is open to question. So what then of the few Bishops who might actually enforce this guidance? They are cut off at the knees. How can the CoE openly tolerate the practice in one part while it punishes the practice in another part? This statement is all just eyewash to placate conservatives. And futile eyewash at that.

      What is far more likely is that conservatives (at home and abroad) will expect discipline but see that it is not forthcoming. Perceiving no institutional recourse to reverse the de facto normalization of open homosexuality, they will begin the great divide. They will not be satisfied with protestations about formal teaching on paper when the actual practice of the church undermines and in fact denies that teaching. The ability to hold two different religions in the CoE (and by extension the AC) will have finally reached its limit.

      I must admit I find the reactions at places like Thinking Anglicans to be hysterical. Every step taken by church leadership has moved the CoE that much closer to complete TECification and still they whine like spoiled children. They want what they want and they want it now. They’re winning and they act is if someone had snatched their ice cream.

      • I don’t see any automatic progression. The poisonous DADT culture has dragged on for over twenty years. If anything, things have gotten worse since the late ’80s.

        Thinking Anglicans aren’t whining. They’re angry, and with good reason.

        You may well be right about enforcement. If so, it’ll gut the bishops’ authority. This truly is a lose-lose situation they’ve created for themselves. I remain surprised they went for a ban.

      • Sorry Carl, that sounded vile, but I often comment at TA. If you think people sound hysterical, you should try to understand that clergy being put in a position where they can now say prayers of thanksgiving (not blessing) for couples in their churches but cannot be so blessed themselves and only being able to do so after explaining to those who present themselves the unpleasant teaching of their own church does not fill them with glee. If their hurt is insufficient to placate you, if even that tiny, tiny concession to more liberal clergy is too much for you (they whine like spoiled children), I have a question for you: how much in your personal life do you have to sacrifice to minister in the church?

        • I can speak for myself. I committed myself to celibacy unless God brought a woman into my life he wanted me to marry, despite being homosexual. God honoured that sacrifice, but first I had to die to myself (and it was painful).

          Everything the Bishops are asking of us is perfectly possible and others have gone before you and walked the path themselves, The issue is that you don’t want to have to make that sacrifice.

          • Yes, gay clergy can suppress their sexuality for life. Those who don’t share your belief in biblical authority (however that got formed) see no reason for their “sacrifice,” and resent it being imposed on them.

            If you’d just agree to let them follow their own path, the resentment would evaporate.

            • No one’s asking anyone to suppress anything. Unless you think all single people are about to drop down dead because of lack of sex, or that single people are emotionally stunted (which is a highly offensive thing to say) your comment makes no sense.

              • Of course gay clergy are told to suppress their sexuality: celibacy is compulsory outside of (heterosexual) marriage.

                Lack of opportunity, & artificial restraints, are different in kind. Straight singles always have the possibility of meeting someone, and even if they don’t, they feel no stigma about a fundamental part of their makeup.

                • Where do you get this bizarre idea from that celibate people “supress” their sexuality? What an absurd nonsense (and how incredibly patronising and offensive to all single people).

                  • I didn’t say that celibate people suppress their sexuality. It varies by individual. The issue is celibacy being imposed on those clergy who don’t feel that calling, on the basis of their sexuality.

                    A single person is not faced with a day-by-day struggle to limit their affection for their partner, so again, it’s not comparable.

                    • That’s your opinion. I have no problem with you holding it and living by it. My problem is with using the church to impose it on everyone who disagrees.

                      Why should Christians who don’t share your beliefs about scripture be bound by them? Would you want to be bound by, say, a requirement to celebrate mass instead of holy communion, or a requirement to be celibate in your marriage?

                    • Depends on the things being imposed.

                      When it’s a policy that rests on a very specific model of biblical authority & interpretation, & causes a great deal of misery to people on the basis of their sexual orientation, then whether it’s unchristian or not, it’s certainly unjustified.

                    • So, James you are saying that the Mosaic law and the New Testament church were wrong to condemn same-sex sexual relationships because it would make some people miserable?..
                      Do you also reject our Lords condemnation of fornication and divorce because that makes some peoople miserable too?
                      And what do you make of His warning that sexual sin can condemn you to the punishment and gehenna?
                      If you know better – are you really a.Christian or just a humanist?

                    • I don’t jive authoritarianism, Unbelievable!, however impressive the source.

                      Since no reason (of any kind) is given for it, I have no problem dismissing the biblical condemnation of homosexuality out-of-hand. (Paul, of course, already overturned the Law of Moses with the Law of the Spirit.)

                      The divorce pericope may have been the best option to protect women in a patriarchal society, or it may have been ethical idealism that was wrong in its day, but in either case, it isn’t relevant now.

  2. I think there is some panic about the outing of a bishop.
    Recently I made the following comment over at TA and I was told it: “can’t be published, at least not as it stands. Too much like an outing.”
    It was a reaction to the Church Times oped by Angela Tilby
    “Angela Tilby offers us the useful prospect of the real facilitated conversation starting within the English College of Bishops where there are already some twelve gay bishops known to exist and there are likely several more deeply closeted men …..

    It’s a pipe dream, of course, even those who sexuality is well known amongst their colleagues are never deferred to or asked for insight, in fact, I am told the opposite is true. One such bishop told a mutual friend, “…nobody makes eye contact with me during discussions, its as if I have vanished into the wallpaper.”

    The same friend and his husband is also close to another gay bishop and his partner, ” In their house, no mention of ANYTHING to do with gay things is allowed, we visited just as the marriage debate concluded in the House of Lords with the amazing vote. We might as well have been in the land of OZ.”

    And remember there was this amazing prospect of at least two gay bishops opening up and helping with input to the Indaba process at Lambeth 2008 …… No heads appeared over the parapet ……

    Let’s not underestimate the nastiness that would follow if these men did make the truth known. Look at the viciousness that Jeffrey John had to endure from those who wrote to him and turned up to the “meet the bishop” sessions as he toured the Reading area, and that evil, vicious nastiness has been enshrined since in such groupings as Anglican Mainstream and Fulcrum, while it flourished before in the Church Society and Reform and their like.”

    • As far as bishop-outing goes, the incessant dance of the seven veils is a needless distraction. What would be achieved if bishops were outed? A bunch were outed in the ’90s (including an archbishop) and it got us nowhere.

      I think it’s linked to some yearning for the bossmen to step up and fix things. All very English, but it’s not gonna happen. The bishops are set in their ways. On this, change will have to come from the ground up.

  3. I’m rather puzzled by paras 15-18. Surely it is right that if someone is openly sinning and refuses to recognise and repent of their sin, it’s the obligation of the church to break fellowship with them? While I can’t be bothered to discuss this with people who wish to argue that living in a homosexual relationship is not sinful, I’d be very interested to hear people’s thoughts on when we should refuse communion from someone.

    • How would you enforce it? If two people of the same sex regularly come to church together, would you start asking them intrusive questions about their lives – whether they both sleep in the same bed, and whether they have sex? You might even ask them to specify what sex acts they perform together, if any. Or perhaps you could require them to swear an oath in front of the congregation that they’re NOT having sex. Perhaps you could spy on them. For example, if they share a house or flat, you could have special “parish detectives” hanging around outside late at night to see how many bedroom lights go on and off. It could be quite like Calvin’s Geneva.

      • That’s not what I’m asking – under what circumstances would it be right to refuse someone communion? If it becomes apparent that someone is engaging in unrepentant sin is it right to refuse them communion? How do you go about that? If we hold that homosexual relationships are sinful should and a communicant unrepentantly persists in such a relationship why would withholding communion be inappropriate as opposed to other situations?

        • For Anglicans this is covered by the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, at the start of the Communion service. Essentially the Minister who is “persuaded” that someone “ought not to be admitted … by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, … shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary [i.e. the Bishop] of the place, and therein obey his order and direction.”

          Now we know from the Bishops’ statement that the instruction would be not to withhold the sacrament to a smae-sex married couple, it’s quite hard to imagine under what circumstances the Ordinary would instruct refusing Communion.

          I take this to be exactly analogous to a heterosexual couple who live together without being married presenting themselves for Communion. When and where were such last refused the Sacrament in the Church of England?

          • Thanks Bernard – that’s helpful.
            The only circumstance I’m aware of where someone was actually put out of the church was when someone turned up to church with his mistress, much to the upset of his estranged wife. It was made clear to him that he was unwelcome while his adulterous relationship continued. I do not know what happened beyond that. I think few would disagree the minister involved acted appropriately in that circumstance, but I can imagine that many cases aren’t nearly so clear cut.

            For myself I can think of several occasions where having made moves down a sinful path in my life I’ve been brought to repentance during a communion service by facing up to the fact that it to partake in the Lord’s supper without repenting my sin would be completely inappropriate.

            • Canon B16 requires an instance of grave and immediate scandal to the congregation for a refusal of Holy Communion to be issued.
              It’s clear that the regulation is viewed as protecting the integrity of the minstry, rather than just censuring the individual. Thus, it is more about guarding against any connivance at open sin that would affect the credibility of the church by gross offence against the scruples of its members.
              It does seem that, egregious offences aside, self-examination should be enjoined for those who will have to bear the consequences for a moral enmity that ‘crucifies the Son of God afresh laying Him to open shame (Heb. 6:6): ‘Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves’.
              The judicial hardening that results in self-justification against any sense of remorse is the most terrifying display of divine wrath that I’ve seen.

  4. Geez, talk about cliche parade! Fence-sitting, rainbows, oh my.

    Conservatives enjoy no monopoly on Anglicanism, or Christianity in general.

  5. All this makes me heartily glad I gave up Christianity!
    However, the problem is and will remain that there is clear disagreement, and Justin Welby’s recent statements recognise that the current position will not sustain given the clear direction of both the law and public opinion.
    The main problem the CofE has is that it is Established. This means it has a ‘national’ and universal role to all, not just Christians, and in return it has positions of power which it wouldn’t have otherwise. I think if the established status was not there, then it would be far easier for the church to simply divide into its constituent parts, which seems pretty much inevitable long-term. The problem is that with so few people having any genuine interest in the church, and with so much utter indifference particularly among younger people (other than the few deeply committed conservatives, who are regarded as whackos by the rest), the CofE would see itself become just another denomination/s that people don’t go to…..and understandably, they don’t want that either.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.