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Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships – The House of Bishops

January 31, 2017

loveleviticusThe report is at pains to emphasise just how difficult and painful all this has been – FOR THE BISHOPS! – and begs us to sympathise with them in their hard task of steering the ship between two extremes.

It feels like a report from a very elderly church on how to be welcoming to new people.

The report suggests new teachings on marriage and relationships should be drawn up to replace those introduced in the 1990s. The bishops set out a list of issues to be covered, including “the significance of community and relationships of all kinds in human flourishing”, the role of single people, a theological exploration of friendship, and the meaning of marriage in society, family and the church. But then we hit a clear constraint. The penultimate entry in the list is to “reaffirm our current doctrine of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithfully, for life”.

It said, despite rejecting the idea of changing policy on same-sex relationships, that the new teachings should provide “maximum freedom” for gay people.

The report also said there was “some support” in the House for the new document including “penitence for the treatment some lesbian and gay people have received at the hands of the Church”. There was some dissent – I wonder which bishop(s ) are refusing to apologise for their toxic teaching. Are they aware that it has led to people committing suicide?

Sex between two men over 21 and “in private”, in England and Wales, was legalised in 1967. The age of consent was lowered to 16 in 2000.

It said that singling out the personal sexual conduct of gay applicants was “pastorally unhelpful”.

The report does not explicitly address the experience of transgender and intersex people. However previous attempts by church leaders to argue that heterosexuality is essential to marriage have tended to emphasise rigid divisions between men and women, based on biology.

Richard Coles: “A typical CofE fudge, kicked into a different part of the long grass.”

 Bishop Pete Broadbent, to his clergy ‘it is a pretty conservative document.’

Someone in Ship of fools said: gay bashing with a velvet glove is still gay bashing.

Another: It tramples all over the lived experience of faithful Christians, it ignores even their preferred way of describing themselves, let alone their stories, their faith, their gifts, all that they offer.

They never talk about “people who experience opposite-sex attraction” The use of the term ‘same-sex attraction’ * here is as tiresome as ‘homophile’ in Issues..

LGCM reckons that the Shared Conversations have come to nothing: For the last three years, LGCM has given its support to the process in the Church of England that the House of Bishops inaugurated after the publication of the Pilling Report. Those members and supporters who have been invited to take part in the Shared Conversations, and who have chosen to do so, have spoken truth to power in costly and prophetic ways….. The House of Bishops then decided to take control of the outcomes of this process, and asked everyone to trust them in finding a way forward that would honour the search for “good disagreement”. This morning they have published what proposals they wish to bring to General Synod in this regard. The bishops have betrayed their people by suggesting that we could trust them to produce the changes that are needed. There is no sense from their proposals that they are making space to honour the lives, witness and relationships of faithful LGBTI+ members of the Church of England. There is no change in theology, no meaningful change in practice and no change in discipline. LGBTI+ relationships are still second-rate at best, there is no sign of their providing services of blessing for same-sex couples, and their ban on clerical same-sex marriage stays in place. The only significant change they appear to have made is to establish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as an official policy in relation to clergy in same-sex relationships. But as they expect all of those relationships to be celibate, they are effectively pushing those clergy back into the closet. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” diminishes everyone’s integrity: where it was used in wider society it was eventually discarded and discredited. Why are they introducing this now?…. the Church of England seems to have been unable to learn from other churches who have made real progress in this regard over the last few years. The United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church, and the Baptist Union have all recognised the value of a diversity of views and the movement of the Holy Spirit which gives space and hope to the whole body. The Scottish Episcopal Church is also poised to move forwards. It is a great sadness that the established church in England has made so little progress. This was an opportunity to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for absolutely everybody and we have failed to grasp this opportunity.

It’s all very well for her to say that we are not as advanced as some of the free churches but that is because we are not ‘free’ but, like the Roman Catholic Church’ are tied in bonds of mutual affection and accountability to others around the world.

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes said:

  1. Stop talking about sex outside marriage being inherently sinful. Celebrate it as the gift it is, as something that can lead to a deepening of relationship and may in time lead to marriage/committed relationship. Recognise that virtually every heterosexual couple we marry has been living together for years. They do not see this as sinful. If you talk about it as such, they will stop listening and assume that the rest of what you have to say is irrelevant too.2. Understand that these couples – ie, virtually everyone that gets married – see their marriage as the ‘crown upon the head’ of their relationship – it is because of the quality of their relationship that they want to marry, not the other way around. Marriage isn’t primarily creating something new, it is celebrating what already exists.3. Admit that most of our morality surrounding marriage is historically to do with controlling conception, the possession of women, and inheritance of property. Take seriously the difference that first the legal changes to the status of women (from the nineteenth century), and more recently the widespread availability of safe contraception (coupled with the decrease in infant and maternal mortality) have had.

    4. Recognise that perceptions, images and understandings of marriage are historically, geographically and socially context-bound and changeable. Take academic advice on this, and learn from it. I still shudder when I remember the fiasco the Church centrally made of Linda Woodhead’s point that the arguments used against equal marriage were near-identical to those used against the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill. She was right. She quoted from Hansard. The church completely ignored her and simply denied what she was saying, in a way reminiscent of the ‘alternative facts’ debacle last week.

    5. Stop talking about ‘biblical marriage’ and be honest about the mess that so many of the Biblical characters make of their marriages, the many different forms of relationship that that title is used for, and the variety of sexual moralities that the Bible reflects from its several thousand year history.

    6. Then you can start talking about when sex IS sinful. At the moment, the mantra of ‘sex is bad unless in a heterosexual marriage’ is stopping us saying or being heard to say anything constructive about the full spectrum of sexual abuse, addiction, degrees of and uses of porn, marital rape/coercion, what happens when sex dies off but one of you still wants it, viagra, etc, etc, etc. The only decent thing written on this recently was the preamble to the Pilling report by Jessica Martin, but that was largely buried due to being attached to Pilling.

    7. Be very, very careful about what you say about gender. There has been a worrying tendency in recent years for statements about equal marriage or same sex relationships to parrot the line ‘one man and one woman’, and go on to emphasis that this is about complementarity or some such post-hoc justification, without (at least, I hope it wasn’t deliberate) thinking about what statements about men and women and gender relations are being accidentally made in the heat of trying to fend off the same sex ‘issue’. The two are linked – and they are linked because of this.

    8.Take love seriously. 1 Corinthians 13 describes it as being even greater than faith – an amazing claim. Let’s discuss this more. Frame discussion of human relationships in terms of them being mirrors in which we see something of God’s love for us reflected.

    9. Take forgiveness seriously. Christ died for us while we were still sinners – stop colluding with a ‘conservative’ view that we need to be perfect to be acceptable.

    10. And finally, for goodness sake, start taking the Bible more seriously – or using it more intelligently. Some of the discussion of the Bible that I heard at Synod last July appalled me in its literalism and ineptness of exegesis. Talk of marriage as a ‘creation ordinance’ ‘because it says so in Genesis’ is no more valid than seven-day Creationism. The Bible is an extraordinary collection of sacred writings, and we need to take seriously the variety of genre, historical period, context and aim of each piece in aiming to understand its meaning for us. The Church seems to have gone backwards in understanding this in the 20 years that I’ve been a Christian – show some leadership here, bishops!

Simon Butler, a member of Archbishops’ Council: ‘Dust, crumbs, the fag end of grace after all the ‘righteous’ have had their fair share’.

And what does after the way of Christ mean? Someone on Ship of Fools suggested: for Christ to have taught in the temple he would have had to be a married man, since that was the requirement at the time (and nowhere are we told he was challenged about his ability to teach in the synagogue, only that his subject matter and interpretation were contentious): so are the bishops saying all would-be ordinands should be married? Or are they going to take the more ‘traditionalist’ view that Christ was not married and therefore demand celibacy for all?

Since the bishops have told us that they were not all agreed about the position they adopted, may we have a minority report from those who dissented?

* A writer to the Church Times notes: The term “same-sex attraction” is included multiple times in the House of Bishops’ report. Encourag­ing Lesbian and gay people to define themselves as “experiencing same-sex attraction” … quietly changes a category of being into a desire, inclination, tendency, and, ultimately, a weak­ness to be overcome.
The Living Out website includes testimony-style videos of men who are described as “same-sex at­tracted”, but have got married to women, or have chosen to leave be­hind their “gay identity” with a life partner of the same sex to live as single celibate, men who experience “same-sex attraction”.
Would even a sexually celibate civil partnership between two people of the same gender be dis­couraged by Living Out, because it might lead to sex or stop your being open to the possibility of meeting a heterosexual life partner?
This is the old wolf of “gay cure” dressed up in the lamb’s clothing of “same-sex attraction”. If this group gains influence, as it appears to be doing, we will be in a worse state as a Church than we have been for decades.


If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated.

Earnest imperatives must not be a smoke screen for dismissing those we disagree with

There was a clear (although not unanimous) weight of opinion in favour of the option framed in the following terms:

Interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church.  In practical terms this

Would mean:

(a) establishing across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and

Support for lesbian and gay people, for those who experience same sex attraction, and

For their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church;

(b) the preferred option should be backed up by a substantial new Teaching Document on marriage and relationships,

There has emerged a provisional approach regarding how the Church of England should move forward in this area following the conclusion of the Shard (sic)  Conversations. The two key elements of this would be:

(a) proposing no change to ecclesiastical law or to the Church of England’s existing

Doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships; and

(b) initiating fresh work in the four key areas (establishing across the Church of

England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people,

For those who experience same sex attraction, and for their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church;

(b) the preferred option should be backed up by a substantial new Teaching Document on marriage and relationships, replacing (or expanding upon) the House’s teaching document of 1999 on marriage and the 1991 document Issues there should be guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples; and

(d) there should be new guidance from the House about the nature of questions put to

Ordinands and clergy about their lifestyle.)

The bishops felt that it should:

Affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church, making their

Voices heard both within the document and in the life of the Church. There was some

Support for the view that the teaching document should include penitence for the treatment some lesbian and gay people have received at the hands of the Church.

Consider the significance of community and relationships of all kinds in human flourishing, especially in the context of modern manifestations of individualism.

Affirm the role of single people and solitaries, as well as those in committed relationships (including marriage) within the life of the Christian community.

Include a theological exploration of friendship, including the possibility of covenanted friendships, and not just sexual relationships, affirming what is good

About friendships.

Explore the meaning of marriage within society, the family, and the Church and consider marriage in terms of vocation.

Reaffirm our current doctrine of marriage as between one man and  one woman,

faithfully, for life.

Explore the distinction that has opened up between the state’s conception of “equal

marriage” and the Church’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony,  and consider the implications of this.

Were the Church to make available a form of pastoral service in the context of same sex relationships, two routes would be open:

A form of service may be “Authorized” or “Commended”.

An Authorized form of service would guard against legal challenge to clergy who

Made use of it and would permit only limited local variation.

Nor would it be open to clergy to use a different form of service for the purpose.

On the other hand, the process of authorization is complex, involving the full Synodical revision process, culminating in Article 7 references to the three Houses

Separately and then the vote needs a 2/3 majority of those present and voting in each House.

It is a complex legal obstacle course – but one with (if successful) a clear and robust outcome

The overall view of the House and College of Bishops favoured guidance to clergy which stopped short of either Authorized or Commended liturgies .

Singling out sexual conduct from the wider requirements on clergy and ordinands concerning the ordering of their lives according to the Church’s teaching was pastorally unhelpful in that it engendered a “tick box” approach that obstructed a more searching and wide ranging conversation

We do not accept that those disagreements make some kind of major fracture in our Church inevitable at this point , nor that it is time to start planning for division

Those who are given the responsibility and the authority of ordained ministry should have access to consistent, clear guidance regarding how to respond to the concrete situations in which they make choices about how to act in this area.

As wise pastors, however, they will make judgments in particular circumstances that cannot simply be ‘read off’ from a set of instructions. There needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the Church, in their own lives and in their ministry to others

It is arguably a defining feature of Anglicanism from the later sixteenth century onwards and the way it has enabled space for legitimate diversity.

To maintain an unambiguous position on doctrine in this matter while enabling

A generous freedom for pastoral practice that does not directly and publicly undermine it is entirely consistent with our traditions and is a perfectly coherent approach to take.

Finally, Anglican theology has been marked historically by a certain reserve. One Element in this is a sense of provisionality, of knowing only in part (cf. 1 Cor. 13.9).

God gives us the wisdom we need for the situation that faces us today, and that is what we should ask for

The report is online  here

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