Can we make ‘simple pastoral provision’ for same-sex relationships?


Andrew Goddard writes: In his diocesan synod presidential address the Bishop of Southwark joined the still quite small group of bishops (from the dioceses of Oxford, Worcester and Portsmouth) who have stated their hopes for the corporate Living in Love and Faith discernment process in which the bishops are currently engaged. Like all the previous public statements, his too calls for change, but it does so in a number of importantly distinctive ways compared with others who have spoken.

What follows focuses on his statement towards the end of his address concerning what he supports and so does not address all of his earlier reflections, including his important ones on family and singleness. 

Simply pastoral provision?

Firstly, Bishop Christopher presents his desired outcome simply as “a generous pastoral provision that respects freedom of conscience”. There is no hint—despite all the work of LLF which he commends—that there are significant theological questions at stake in what he is proposing. It would appear to be his view that this is something that could have been proposed by the bishops after the Shared Conversations nearly six years ago (despite the arguments against doing so in the House of Bishops report ‘Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’ GS2055) or indeed at any point in our decades of wrestling with these questions.

That raises the question as to why he and others have failed to be pastorally generous in their provision or even speak publicly for such pastoral generosity until now. The best answer to this is to accept that it is misleading to present it simply as a pastoral provision as if there were no theological—and also legal—objections to his proposal. The question then becomes why this is simply presented as a pastoral matter with no recognition of, let alone engagement with, any of the many theological questions raised by his proposal, so many of which were explored in LLF. 

Secondly, the bishop defines this pastoral generosity as “the provision of a liturgy of affirmation and commitment for same-sex couples”.  The reference here to “a liturgy” rather than private prayers (already permitted) or indication by the bishops of currently authorised more general prayers, immediately flags that whatever is proposed will need to be within the teaching of the church because of the Anglican commitment to liturgy being faithful to doctrine. That in turn means that either church teaching has always been amenable to what is proposed or, more likely as the teaching has been repeatedly stated as the rationale for not making this step in the past, that current teaching needs to be changed.

This captures the real problem in making any changes to current liturgical practice. There are three options:

  1. The changes were always within the teaching so a defence of why they are only now being accepted is required and an explanation, and probably apology, needed as to why this has taken so long; or
  2. The teaching has changed so the new teaching needs to be articulated and a biblical and theological defence of it and the changes being made to current teaching need to be offered and approval given before the liturgy is agreed; or
  3. We have abandoned the principle that our liturgy is shaped by our doctrine and the church.

This last option might perhaps be due to political or pastoral pressure or might arise from having detached our pastoral practice from our theology so we are now seeking to give that pastoral practice some liturgical form and expression which leads to our liturgy having to be changed so as to contradict our doctrine.

The language describing the proposed liturgy studiously avoids the word “blessing” but it would clearly represent a disregard for Lambeth 1.10 (“cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions”) and thus cause major problems in relation to the Communion.

It is also unclear whether the same-sex couples would need to be in any recognised structure such as civil partnership or civil marriage and whether a distinction is being drawn between these two (as the church currently does). Although there is only a brief comment, it would appear that both of these forms of life (and perhaps non-formalised relationships as well) are being seen as legitimate “vocational and covenanted relationships”. The church is then being called to shift its understanding and teaching, including in relation to the appropriate pattern of sexual relationship, from its historic focus on marriage to embrace “vocational and covenanted relationships” instead “as a category that includes marriage as one constituent and same-sex unions as another”.

This again points to the fact that the pastoral provision is, in reality, connected to significant theological developments which are not clearly articulated or defended. 

Respect for conscience?

Thirdly, repeating his earlier emphasis on conscience it is stated that there would be “a conscience clause that means no priest is required to officiate at such a service”. Though obviously welcome, it is important to recognise how limited this is. It simply says that nobody will be forced to officiate at a new form of service which they fundamentally disagree with as a form of Christian service. It amounts to no more than “clergy will not be disciplined”.

There is no reference to the conscientious beliefs of congregations or of bishops who would it seems be required to authorise such services in their dioceses where they are, as he notes, “principal ministers of word and sacrament” and “chief pastors” and also called “to teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions” and have the right “of conducting, ordering, controlling, and authorizing all services”. There is also no recognition of the pressure clergy who conscientiously object may find themselves being subjected to after such a change which is clearly a major concern of many clergy who would be in this position. 

Remarriage of divorcees a parallel?

Fourthly, the only explicit justification for this development is that “the situation in which we find ourselves is almost an exact parallel to that about the remarriage of divorcees a generation ago in my first years in Holy Orders”. This is an often repeated but rarely explained or justified analogy. It is one which faces multiple challenges and disanalogies if it is to pass even the plausibility threshold.

Biblically, the witness of Scripture is uniform in its negative moral judgement of same sex sexual behaviour but in places permissive of divorce.

Historically, within the church for centuries remarriage after divorce has been recognised by many churches as legitimate within certain circumstances but this has not been the case in relation to affirming same-sex couples.

Procedurally, the Church of England General Synod agreed in 1981 (Bishop Christopher was ordained deacon in 1983) that “marriage should always be undertaken as a lifelong commitment…there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former partner”. It then took until 2002 before General Synod overwhelmingly (269-83) approved a process for the church as a whole including a conscience clause. In contrast, there has been no episcopal document or Synod motion arguing that “there are circumstances” in which the liturgical affirmation and commitment of same-sex couples may be right in the church. Furthermore, the church is much more divided over whether this development is right than it was over divorce and remarriage even by the early 1980s let alone 2002.

Liturgically, no new liturgy was required in relation to remarriage of divorcees in the way it is now being proposed for same-sex couples.

This was because theologically their relationship was simply marriage as the church recognised marriage (something that had to be explicitly acknowledged by the couple even when the church only officially approved a service of prayer and dedication not remarriage in church). In contrast, here a totally new form of relationship (perhaps “vocational and covenanted union”) is being recognised with no clear definition or theological rationale for its affirmation.

Pastorally, therefore, remarriage was always seen as an accommodation recognising that it was responding to the sin and failure that led to divorce and the end of the previous marriage (for which there should be some recognition and repentance) with celebration of the good of marriage (now to a new spouse). There is no suggestion that this is the lens through which same-sex couples are being understood and affirmed.

Remarriage of divorcees is, in other words, very far from being “almost an exact parallel”. The only common element is that it, too, involved a change in the church’s previous practice concerning what services it might authorise use of for a form of relationship between two people.

A different order of question from women’s ordination?

Fifthly, in relation to other often referenced analogy, Bishop Christopher takes a different stance, stressing the differences rather than the similarities. He states of his proposal that he is “less sure that it bears comparison with the debates surrounding the ordination of women” and claims that “the precedents set by the Five Guiding Principles about episcopal care would not translate easily to the context of a change in pastoral provision”. This is because “it raises a different order of question about episcopacy. The Church has never required agreement on pastoral matters before gathering to break bread together. Indeed, it is the breaking of bread that allows us to live with difference”. This helpfully recognises that there are different orders of question but then appeals to his categorisation of the proposal as simply “pastoral” to treat it as of a lower order than that relating to women priests and bishops.

The problem is that the reason the bishops have not made such provision for same-sex couples in the past is, as noted, not ultimately due to a failure of pastoral generosity. It is due to church teaching and an understanding of sexual ethics and what patterns of behaviour fall into the category of sexual immorality (porneia) against which Scripture constantly warns. Once this is accepted then this question is indeed a “different order of question” but one of a higher order. Those bishops who share the views of Bishop Christopher and those other bishops who have so far spoken publicly are seen by those who disagree with their proposals as approving a pattern of behaviour which Scripture rejects—a pattern which the bishops and the Synod have themselves previously warned against as falling short or being sinful. 

In contrast to the Bishop of Southwark, the Bishop of Oxford, having engaged with those who disagree with him, has acknowledged this painful reality and its serious implications for how we order our common life including questions about episcopacy. In relation to the discussion in the LLF book (pp 230–4, 405–12) and course (Session 5), drawing on the earlier work of FAOC on Communion and Disagreement, the Bishop of Southwark seems simply to assert that this is a matter at the third and lowest level of disagreement—one where we can “agree to disagree” and only need to allow freedom of conscience to individual clergy who dissent from the new development. There is no recognition that almost all of those who disagree with him see this as at least at the second level (“sharp enough to make living and working together as one church difficult, perhaps impossible”, LLF Course, p 58) and perhaps the first level (“contradicting the good news of Jesus or the Bible’s teaching”).

Same-sex married clergy?

Sixthly, the bishop addresses another important question alongside those of liturgical provision and alternative provision for those maintaining current teaching if the church changes: the expectations on clergy. Here he says he supports “the removal of penalties for those clergy who contract a same-sex marriage, either civilly or in one of our sister Churches with whom we are in full communion”. It is unclear whether he supports the removal of conditions on those who enter civil partnerships of which, rather surprisingly, he says “the Bishops in each and every Diocese encourage partnered gay and lesbian ordinands and clergy to consider civil partnership”. In fact the 2005 statement (the year in which he was consecrated) from the bishops was clear that 

  • “The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues inHuman Sexuality” (para 19); and 
  • “it would be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church for the public character of the commitment expressed in a civil partnership to be regarded as of no consequence in relation to someone in—or seeking to enter—the ordained ministry. Partnerships will be widely seen as being predominantly between gay and lesbian people in sexually active relationships. Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into partnerships must therefore expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality” (para 21).  

There is no discussion as to whether freedom of conscience would here be granted to bishops to refuse to recommend for ordination, to ordain, or to licence those clergy who took advantage of these proposed changes or to DDOs, training institutions, selectors and others who would wish to uphold current teaching and discipline.  Nor is there much justification offered with the rationale for the removal of penalties being the very surprising claim that this is to be done “on ecumenical and Anglican inter-Provincial grounds”.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of the Christian church and Anglican Communion oppose the ordination of those in same-sex marriages and those parts that do not do so generally take that position because they have changed their doctrine of marriage (something which the bishop does not appear to support).

Conclusion

In conclusion, this latest episcopal statement highlights that those wishing change are far from fully agreed among themselves as to what alternative teaching and practice they believe the Church of England should embrace.  Some, like the Bishop of Oxford, are now clear advocates for same-sex marriage but the Bishop of Southwark has not taken this route, leading Kelvin Holdsworth to summarise his address as “Bishop of Southwark comes out against the marriage of same-sex couples in church”.  This stance appears, however, to be as much on grounds of pragmatic realpolitik (“As I have said before, I do not expect to see the marriage canons changed in my lifetime”) as theological principle. He instead wishes to make what he presents as relatively small and simply “pastoral” changes. These he believes will not and should not disrupt the existing structures of the church compared to the changes which followed women’s ordination.

The danger is that they will be seen as creating a new politically unstable and theologically undefended and apparently incoherent position—one that satisfies very few people and will be seen by those supporting current teaching as more serious than the change in relation to women’s ordination. It certainly is not likely to produce a long-lasting settlement that will significantly reduce, even if not end, our conflicts as to what the Church of England should say and do. As such it risks, in reality, not only failing to avoid that disruption to church structures but potentially driving us further apart from one another.

A much better way would be to recognise and articulate the different theological positions, each with their own internal coherence, and then address the depth of our disagreements (as explored by LLF) and their impact on whether, and how best, we can walk together. This might then help us find together an agreed form of visible differentiation that can hold us together within the Church of England by it structurally reorganising itself so as to recognise and respect those different positions.


Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Assistant Minister, St James the Less, Pimlico, Tutor in Christian Ethics, Westminster Theological Centre (WTC) and Tutor in Ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.  He is a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and was a member of the Co-ordinating Group of LLF.


DON'T MISS OUT!
Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.


Comments policy: Good comments that engage with the content of the post, and share in respectful debate, can add real value. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Make the most charitable construal of the views of others and seek to learn from their perspectives. Don't view debate as a conflict to win; address the argument rather than tackling the person.

109 thoughts on “Can we make ‘simple pastoral provision’ for same-sex relationships?”

  1. 3. We have abandoned the principle that our liturgy is shaped by our doctrine and the church

    I don’t suppose there’s any possibility at all that the long-term aim here is to get the new liturgy in use under the guise of ‘simple pastoral provision’, and then (a few years) later on to claim that the fact it is in use means it must be de facto authorised and that, combined with the fact that the Church of England position is that its doctrine is defined by its liturgy, means that doctrine must have de facto already changed at the time this new liturgy started to be used, even though nobody at that point had realised it?

    Reply
    • I understand your point. However, the challenge that this proposal would need to overcome is the requirement for General Synod approval, which would make even a “simple pastoral provision” de jure.

      Based on this, and given the Bishop’s standing, the proposal comes across as wilfully naïve.

      Alternatively, this and other proposals are just negotiating ploys which are aimed at just making it far more difficult for the Church to maintain the status quo.

      Reply
      • However, the challenge that this proposal would need to overcome is the requirement for General Synod approval, which would make even a “simple pastoral provision” de jure.

        Would General Synod approval be required? I am no expert in the governance of the Church of England but the impression I was getting from some commentators here was that bishops are in charge of discipline in their dioceses, so if a bishop were to simply decline to take action against any clergy who used a particular form of service then it would become de facto okay to use even without any decision from General Synod— the regulation against it would still exist but would be a dead letter.

        So as long as all bishops were willing to play ball, then new liturgy could be rolled out nationwide. And if any bishop were not willing to get with the programme, you can be sure that the first one to discipline a vicar for holding a service of recognition for a same-sex couple would be dragged through the mud in the media, which would act as a powerful disincentive to do so — and as someone pointed out, for some years now bishops have been being selected specifically for a lack of willingness to rock the boat when it comes to the press.

        Likewise, the first vicar to refuse to perform such a service, if they couldn’t hide behind ‘I can’t do that, I would get in trouble with the bishop’, would find themselves monstered in the press, although presumably in that situation the bishop would have a quiet word that such a media storm wouldn’t be good for anyone, so the Church of England would be willing to help cover it up off in return the vicar is happy for someone who doesn’t have the same qualms to step in and perform the service. They could perhaps say the original, objecting vicar was unwell or had a diary conflict. And hence the ‘conscience clause’ comes in de facto as well.

        Then later on you can claim that the fact the service is universally available means that it must have been accepted as the doctrine of the Church of England, on the basis that Church of England doctrine is defined by liturgy.

        But as I say I am not an expert. I just extrapolate from what I read and that seems to be, reading between the lines, what some people might think could happen. But maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick or maybe there’s some legal thing they’ve forgotten about that would stop it.

        Reply
      • These are definitely not proposals. These are simply the thoughts of one bishop as expressed to his own diocese. See my comments below. The only proposals it is worth talking about are the ones that come to General Synod. And we haven’t had those yet.

        What I think is clear is that maintaining the status quo isn’t an option. The CofE has to find some way of people walking together.

        Reply
        • These are definitely not proposals.

          No, but they are a standby for one of those involved in the process on his criteria for deciding what proposals would receive his support. It is therefore legitimate to question whether any proposals which met those criteria would work in practice, because if no practical proposals exist which meet the specified criteria then the bishop in question is going to have a problem.

          What I think is clear is that maintaining the status quo isn’t an option.

          Yes, definitely true.

          The CofE has to find some way of people walking together.

          False. The only viable solution may be — and increasingly does seem to be — a split, the exact terms and nature of which have yet to be worked out.

          Reply
        • There is not the slightest chance of ‘people walking together’: the issues at stake are far too wide for that. I find the whole thing fussy and gossipy, suffocatingly small scale, totally inappropriate when life is short and we have only the one life on this earth. People seem far more concerned with internal matters of the world’s 3rd largest denomination than actually with being a Christian with all that entails.

          Reply
          • And of course people said exactly the same when the CofE decided to ordain women.

            And as I understand it the bad faith approach that has been taken regarding the assurances given to those against that change are a big part of the reason why there’s so little trust now that any undertakings given by the pro-change side will be honoured.

          • Says who?

            Note that the status quo is ‘officially the doctrine has not changed, but unofficially agitators are not just tolerated but encouraged to push for change’.

            And maintaining that status quo clearly isn’t an option, because as somebody said, a house divided against itself — which is what the Church of England currently is — cannot stand.

            Trying to maintain the latitudinarian status quo will lead to collapse, which will itself end the status quo. Otherwise the division must be resolved either by reaffirming current doctrine and making it clear there will be no change and those who wish otherwise will have to go elsewhere; or by changing doctrine, making it clear those who hold to the current doctrine must leave.

            But the status quo of trying to hold both views at once is not sustainable.

          • Hi Andrew – wondering if you can point me to where the bishops have said that “maintaining the status quo isn’t an option” as I was not aware of this having been said. There are a good number of bishops who, while accepting it cannot simply be reaffirmed without any explanation or engagement with wider questions, would want current teaching and discipline to be maintained and I am not aware that has been formally ruled out as your reply suggests.

          • Andrew hi. The Church Times report following the college of bishops meeting had this:

            “Although no decision has been made about what formal proposals will be presented to the General Synod in February 2023 — these will be finalised at the next College of Bishops meeting, 12-14 December — it is understood that the bishops acknowledge that simply to restate the existing ban on same-sex blessings or marriage in church is not an option.”

            And in the press release following the college meeting:

            “Commenting at the end of the meeting, the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally said: “The bishops’ honest and fruitful conversations were undergirded by a deep desire to walk together and to find a way forward that will be good news to the Church and to wider society. Bishops were united in their determination to come to a clear sense of direction in time for the meeting of the Church’s General Synod in February 2023.” “

            Sounds pretty clear that they don’t think maintaining the status quo is an option. Plus that is what they proposed in Feb 2017 and it was rejected. Whilst the new synod *may* be considered more conservative it would be quite ridiculous for the bishops to bring back the same proposals following five years of LLF.

          • The Church Times is an active campaigner in this, via its editor. There was a (defiant?) front page of a naked man a few years ago when such a vote did not go to plan. Recently, since the Croft publication I believe, the editor sprung into action un-neutrally very early on in the process (as noted on Anglican Unscripted), and the most recent issue’s second leader follows the same pattern. This is kind of unfair since there are not many Anglican newspapers at all, and newspapers are the way in which one may most readily present norms even when they are not actually norms (they soon will be, because of the way that the media alters perception of what actually is normal and majority).

          • Hmm,,,Anglican Unscripted and their sister Anglican Ink are some of the worst sorts of ‘journalism’ and renowned for specialising in what one observer some years ago called ‘truthiness’. They have a grain of truth that they then extend way beyond the truth. They give journalism a very bad name.

          • They have a grain of truth that they then extend way beyond the truth.

            But based on what you quoted, the Church Times has gone way beyond what was said by the bishops. So how’s that gander sauce?

          • THanks Andrew for your response. I wondered if it was the CT report. I think (a) that is not anything the bishops have said but a CT report and anyway it simply rules out a “simple restatement” and I think nobody thinks they can only say “nothing has changed”. But it does not rule out a continuation of current teaching and practice with an explanation that engages with objections to it. I grant this is not likely but I do no think it is not an option. Also (b) the statement from +Sarah does not rule out anything specific. I think therefore nothing has, as yet, been ruled out in the process. I take your point re “same as in GS2055” not going down well with many but (1) the arguments in LLF re legal and other challenges still stand, (2) it is surely quite acceptable in terms of process for bishop to say “we are not convinced there is a clear alternative to the current that is persuasive and has the necessary majority to change” especially as (3) it has been clear throughout LLF that LLF does not mean things necessarily will change. So I don’t think we can say they have now ruled out status quo in broad terms without further evidence and, as you note, GS2055 only narrowly lost in the House of Clergy which is now clearly much more conservative so something very like GS2055 is no less politically impossible and perhaps even more feasible than any other option as there are no obvious easy answers that will fulfil the desire to “walk together”.

          • Andrew I think it likely that the Church Times will have been briefed very carefully after the college meeting. The bishops rely quite heavily on the Church Times for advertising posts and also need them onside for PR. There is no other comparable outlet and having worked on a bishop’s staff team in two capacities for many years I can confirm there is no alternative journal which they can use. So I don’t think the CT have simply invented this.

            Bishop Sarah’s statement is also pretty carefully worded. In February 2017 there was certainly no ‘clear sense of direction’.

            Now that does not mean that GS will go for what the bishops propose. But I think it is clear that they will not propose the status quo. And if GS somehow force a status quo, then I think there will be a kind of anarchy amongst the various interest groups. The bishops are – from what I have understood – painfully aware of that and will want to do everything to avoid it.

            Of course I could be wrong. But if I were a betting person, I’d put money on the scenario I have outlined.

          • But as you know, the point is not that it happens but that it is regrettable. In your word we should just passively accept everything that happens?

          • Christopher

            Remind me where I said that we should passively accept anything.

            The editor of the Daily Mail is not neutral, nor is the editor of the FT.
            The owner of this blog is not neutral, nor are you, nor am I.
            We all have our beliefs and our vested interests.
            When we read papers and blogs, we generally know the political, cultural and philopsohical biases of the authors.

          • The editor of the Daily Mail is not neutral, nor is the editor of the FT.
            The owner of this blog is not neutral, nor are you, nor am I.
            We all have our beliefs and our vested interests.

            Right, so on Christopher Shell’s point that you can’t just take the word of a report in the Church Times but must read critically, with an awareness of the editor’s bias, just as you would for a report in any newspaper, you are in total agreement.

            (Some organs do try more than others to draw a distinction between news and comment, though)

          • Penelope makes the same incorrect point again.

            There are widely different degrees to which people are aware of their biases. (You posit one single degree for all 8 billion people on the planet?)

            And to compound that, there are also widely different degrees to which people actively aim to compensate for their biases. (Ditto.)

            Added to all that, and even more importantly, some are far more capable of objectivity than others. (Ditto again. It is inconceivable that every single person’s degree of ability in this regard is precisely identical, or indeed that the range of abilities in this regard is not a large range.)

            All you have stated is a dogma. It is bad enough to state unsupported dogma, but even worse to state unsupported dogma which interacts with none of the above 3 points.

          • It is not incorrect, but entirely correct. So we should just lie down and accept it like doormats, or fight against it?

          • And there was evening and there was morning- the first day.

            John conservatives are so keen on that verse. But I, like you, have close friends who I don’t agree with about everything. We often have lovely walks together.

    • A case can be made that something like this was an important influencing factor in the 2017 decision of the Scotish Episcopal Church (SEC) to permit same-sex marriage in its churches. In SEC the BCP (1662 English or 1929 Scottish) ceased to have a governing role for doctrine some time in the 1970s/80s, I think. The 2007 SEC marriage liturgy has one option (the first actually) where the sexes of the couple are not made explicit by the language used – in the other options the sexes are explicit. I don’t know the precise history here, but whatever SEC intended by the 2007 marriage liturgy, its linguistic loose end was certainly cited by partisan SEC figures subsequent to 2017 as a justification for the decision taken by its bishops and synods. No SEC authority spoke back against this. I found this whole argument dishonest and lacking in any merit.

      Reply
    • God created marriage as a loyal partnership between one man and one woman. Marriage is the firmest foundation for building a family. God designed sexual expression to help married couples build intimacy. Marriage mirrors God’s covenant relationship with His people. We see this last parallel throughout the Bible.

      Reply
      • Quite right. And in our relationship with Christ all Christians are ‘female’. I think this fact is the best argument that rules out same-sex attraction and practice. See Schaeffer’s “The Church at the end of the twentieth century” page139.

        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • “For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.” Isaiah 54:5
          and
          “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Romans 7:4

          Phil Almond

          Reply
  2. The comparison to remarriage in the lifetime of a previous spouse raises an interesting case with regard to clergy and those being considered for ordained ministry. Canon C 4 “Of the quality of such as are to be ordained deacons or priests” has these paragraphs:


    4. Subject to paragraph 5 of this Canon no person shall be admitted into holy orders who has remarried and, the other party to that marriage being alive, has a former spouse still living; or who is married to a person who has been previously married and whose former spouse is still living.

    5. The archbishop of the province, on an application made to him by the bishop of a diocese on behalf of a person who by reason of paragraph 4 of this Canon could not otherwise be admitted into holy orders, may grant a faculty for the removal of the impediment imposed by that paragraph to the admission of that person into holy orders, and any request made to a bishop for an application to be made on his behalf under this paragraph shall be made and considered, and any application made by the bishop to the archbishop shall be made and determined, in accordance with directions given from time to time by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York acting jointly.

    If there is an analogy between same-sex relationship and remarriage following divorce, should not there be similar canonical regard to the ordination of those in same-sex relationship?

    Reply
    • should not there be similar canonical regard to the ordination of those in same-sex relationship?

      To be honest I can’t see even the most progressive of agitators objecting to that, provided it is operated as as much of a rubber stamp as the one on remarriage (and it obviously would be).

      Reply
      • For those considering ordination who are remarried, or who are married to a spouse who has remarried, to procedures to gain the Canon C4 faculty (para 5) are no rubber stamp exercise. Interviews are held, including with the former spouse (or spouses, I guess) and others. It may be that once all that is done, the archbishop says, ‘whatever’. At least in theory, the CofE takes remarriage following divorce seriously.

        Reply
        • For those considering ordination who are remarried, or who are married to a spouse who has remarried, to procedures to gain the Canon C4 faculty (para 5) are no rubber stamp exercise.

          Have any such requests ever been refused?

          If not they’re a rubber stamp.

          Reply
        • But this hits a brick wall because in a high proportion of instances reconciliation (which is not always necessary for both parties, often only for one) is well possible, yet is rejected. Problem.

          Reply
  3. Covenant Relationship.
    At law, in England and Wales, marriage had to be consumated, otherwise it could be annulled; void, invalid ab initio. Consummation was legally defined physically as full penetration.
    While I understand that the law was changed for ssm, does the church continue, in ecclesiastical law, to recognise none consummation and annulment?
    Likewise, adultery was physically but not similarly, defined and imputed, And now? Would the church even give credence to the notion of adultery, in ssm?

    Reply
    • Slightly inaccurate. Non consummated marriages are voidable but not void.
      Marriages do not have to be consummated.
      But, I agree the existing laws on consummation and adultery are not fit for purpose.

      Reply
  4. And I do wonder what amounts to Pastoral. Is it marriage guidance. social worker, relationship counseling, legal advice, church discipline? In what way(s) will it differ from that is on offer in the secular fields?
    Does the application of scripture play any part? If so, which scriptures, (which are no-nos/gos) which significant part? Similarly, prayer?
    Not only that, there are significant examples of where teaching against and opposition to the sexual zeitgeist, has fallen foul of Bishops pastoral oversight, such as in opposition to Mermaids in a CoE school, and a school chaplain not supported by his Bishop.
    It doesn’t auger well for those who stand firm that marriage is only between m+f..
    So far, there would be little evidence for trust, it would seem to me.

    Reply
  5. I think those who see Bishop Christopher making a proposal here are reading too much info his address. What he is doing is expressing his own views because he has been asked by a number of people to do so. He is clear in the early part of his address that the House of Bishops have been charged as a body, rather than as individuals, to bring proposals to GS next year. And he indicates that they have only yet had one meeting together to focus on what those proposals may look like.
    So while it is helpful for his own diocese, to whom he is speaking here, to know his own mind on the matter – and he is helpfully clear about that in several ways – this in no way represents what might come to General Synod next year. This is simply part of a more open conversation. The HofB May agree with what he thinks. But I think it far more likely that they will consider it, and the thoughts of other bishops who have spoken or written about the matter, and come up with something different to all of them – though likely incorporating elements of some.

    Speculation is what happens in blogs. But I don’t think it’s worth getting too excited yet. There is still some way to go.

    Reply
    • I think those who see Bishop Christopher making a proposal here are reading too much info his address. What he is doing is expressing his own views because he has been asked by a number of people to do so.

      He’s not making a proposal, no, but he is stating what kind of proposal he could support. As one of those charged with bringing forward proposals, that is an announcement of some significance — it’s far more than just a personal view.

      Reply
  6. From the bishop’s statement:

    We have made considerable progress in Southwark, for example with Synod’s unanimous endorsement of our Anti-Racism Charter, and our commitment to carbon net zero. We have our first female member of the episcopal team in Bishop Rosemarie.

    Progress in evangelising the diocese might be nice. Anti-racism follows from our claimed universal descent from Adam and Eve and the command of Christ to love all persons. No need for any ‘charter’.

    Civil partnerships were concocted by the Blair administration specifically to get round the church’s opposition to gay marriage. Now a bishop lauds the importing into the church of a secular deceit that was invented specifically against the church. He is also silent on the fact that civil partnerships for clergy are okayed by the church on the tacit basis that the partners are celibate. Who believes that?

    Those wojuld would separate from the Church of England if it licenses SSM by definition do not regard its advocates as their brethren. They must say so now, or lose the good fight.

    Reply
    • ‘Now a bishop lauds the importing into the church of a secular deceit that was invented specifically against the church. ‘

      I dont think it was specifically against the church. Gay people wanted genuine equality, which included marriage and its benefits. To deem a particular ceremony and legal entity only appropriate to members of different sexes would seem to be obviously a case of inequality. But in the end it depends on how one ‘defines’ marriage, and I do think those who advocate change in the CoE and elsewhere are clearly wanting to change that definition.

      Peter

      Reply
  7. Jesus is not recorded as having issued any shibboleth against same-sex relationships.
    However; he has indicated his opinion on those who enter into a new relationship after divorce.

    The Church has decided to overcome its prejudice against the re-marriage of divorcees – with the added provision of a ‘conscience clause’ for clergy to abstain from officiating at such church ceremonies.

    What is so different about the Bishop of Oxford’s suggestion that the Church uses the same degree of compassion for the recognition of same-sex relationships that are legal in the local community?

    Reply
    • What is so different about the Bishop of Oxford’s suggestion that the Church uses the same degree of compassion for the recognition of same-sex relationships that are legal in the local community?

      Two wrongs make a right? Is that really the argument you’re going with?

      Reply
    • ‘Jesus is not recorded as having issued any shibboleth against same-sex relationships.’

      Yes he is: he clearly states that marriage is between one man and one woman, and goes further to highlight that this is based on the creation of humanity as male and female.

      The C of E did careful theological thinking about remarriage, allowing it only under certain circumstances, and in line with the teaching of Jesus.

      Reply
      • Ian, I’d like your opinion on this comment I recently made on the Premier Christian News Forum
        “With the bishops being silent for now, not easy to comment. But reading some recent contributions to this isssue – from the Bishop of Oxford for example – it seems likely that a good number of them are making, and taking for granted, the usual ‘category error’. Namely the standard ‘gay’ claim that being ‘gay’ is the same kind of issue as ethnicity, that is, something on which there is no choice and which therefore can’t and shouldn’t be questioned.
        However, to me that is precisely the weak point in the ‘gay’ case. From a Christian perspective, ie a biblical position, there is no problem in men loving men or women loving women, nor indeed in such relationships being quite intense. Further, as we are physical beings interacting in a physical world, there can quite properly be a good bit of physicality involved. The Christian point is rather that God designed sex as a male-with-female thing and that it is inappropriate to try to express same-sex love by doing, well, things that aren’t really sex anyway but more like a parody.
        But it’s rather the point that the problem here is something people DO. It is very much CHOSEN BEHAVIOUR, and in normal moral discourse that puts it in a very different category to ethnicity. Ethnicity is thing people truly ‘just are’ and it’s pretty much impossible to suggest any way ethnicity can be ‘DONE'”.

        Reply
        • But it’s rather the point that the problem here is something people DO. It is very much CHOSEN BEHAVIOUR, and in normal moral discourse that puts it in a very different category to ethnicity.

          The point — and I’m not quite sure how you can have missed this, as you just have to turn on the television or the radio or visit the cinema or, heck, look at the inter-net in order to have it shoved down your throat — is that the modern view is that the most important thing in the world is the satisfaction of individual human desire. The reason that people exist, in this view, is in order to satisfy their desires. The language used for this varies, eg, ‘to be happy’, ‘to express their true selves’, etc etc, but it all comes back to the same thing: desire satisfaction.

          So in this world-view, satisfying one’s desires is not ‘chosen behaviour’; it is the very point and purpose of existence. To ‘choose’ not to satisfy one’s desires, especially one’s sexual desires, would be to negate one’s own identity, one’s own existence (hence the need to invent identity categories like ‘asexual’, ‘demisexual’, etc, in order to fit people who choose not to indulge their sexual desires every chance they get into this schema by recasting their choice as being in itself an innate desire-identity).

          So in the modern conception of identity the distinction you draw, between having desires and choosing whether or not to act on those desires, simply does not exist. To have a desire is to act on it; that is the entire purpose of being, to act on and satisfy one’s desires. To suggest that someone might refrain from acting on a desire, especially a sexual desire, is to attack the very core of their identity and personhood.

          Reply
          • I kind of agree with you; but much of my thinking about this is related to the legal/civil rights issues. If as ‘gays’ frequently assert, ‘homosexuality’is the same kind of thing as ethnicity, there would be no possible defence for being critical of homosexuality or for any kind of discrimination. If it is in a different moral category, then the issue is open to argument and in a plural democracy people would be entitled to disagree with the ‘gays’ without being dragged into court over it. ‘Gays’ would certainly be entitled to some protection as legitimately believing a different worldview to others – but not to the kind of protection that allows them in effect to persecute those who disagree.

            In normal moral discourse things people DO, and therefore CHOOSE, and could have chosen not to do, are a different category to things like ‘of African ethnicity’ which people ‘just are’. A claim that you ‘naturally’ have the urges and desires to do whatever it is does not normally suffice to justify the doing.
            And it

    • Of course remarriage (understood as the inevitable sequel to d****** in the original context) is now arranged/green-flagged more at a local level rather than centrally. It is probably asking too much for the church authorities to be au-fe with redaction criticism – they will always take a harmonising approach, which is not without good sense theoretically, though it can be easily seen that it might come up with an answer widely divergent from the original Jesus.

      Reply
    • Why would Jesus need to? He lived in a society where a SS sexual relationship required the death of those involved. He is also the author of Leviticus in which that sentence was mandated.

      It is spurious to argue that because Jesus is not recorded as speaking on a subject that it is therefore open for debate.

      Reply
      • Fortunately, we now live in a more civilized and humane society, in which a SS sexual relationship does not require the death of those involved. And few Christians nowadays would be happy to dishonour Jesus by ascribing such a wicked command to him.

        Reply
        • In Matthew 13

          “36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

          37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

          40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
          Do you believe Jesus said these words?

          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • Philip Almond – oh well, in the context in which you quoted these verses, I’m afraid it means that you are headed straight for the eternal fire.

          • Jock posted
            “Philip Almond – oh well, in the context in which you quoted these verses, I’m afraid it means that you are headed straight for the eternal fire.”
            Why do you say that Jock?
            Phil Almond

          • I’m afraid it means that you are headed straight for the eternal fire.

            Well, I know for sure I’m headed straight for the eternal fire. Unless, that is, someone with the power to do so steps in to somehow protect me from the flames.

            Why, do you think you’re not headed straight for the eternal fire?

          • Phil it’s quite possible to believe Jesus said this but it also needs to be reconciled with other things Jesus said and did.
            What these verses surely mean is this: each and everyone of us is not worthy. S is quite right about that. We all have unredeemed elements, but we all also have that which is good in us. At the end of the ages all the unredeemed parts will be sent to the fires and we will be purified. Our shadow sides will somehow be reconciled in this way with all that is good.
            Hence also the harrowing of hell.

          • S – exactly the same reason as you do – somebody (Jesus) died on the cross to deal with my sin and, by his resurrection I know that he conquered death on my behalf. John 3:16 is a succinct summary.

            We’re all sinners in this life – Paul’s ‘wretched man’ (Romans 7:14-25) is written in the present tense by a mature Christian and I think it chimes in with the experience of every Christian.

          • At the end of the ages all the unredeemed parts will be sent to the fires and we will be purified.

            Some of us will be purified. Either those God has chosen to purify (if Calvinism is right) or those who have felt accepted God’s unconditional offer of purification (if Arminius is right).

            But the one thing we can be sure of is that not everyone will be purified.

          • Indeed as S reminds us, no one can be forced to accept redemption. It is freely offered but also has to be freely accepted.

          • no one can be forced to accept redemption. It is freely offered but also has to be freely accepted.

            Only if Arminius is right. If Calvin is right, then grace is irresistible.

            I personally am not sure which of them is correct; are you?

            Anyway the more important point is that we know that whichever is the case, not everyone will be saved — either because God didn’t chose them, or because they freely chose to turn God’s offer of salvation down.

          • Oh dear – Calvin and Arminius rear their ugly heads again. To my mind this misses the point. I think that Scripture is quite clear that everyone who truly wants Salvation for positive reasons actually gets it. That is, if the main concern is to flee from the wrath to come (but God’s way doesn’t really look attractive and is being swallowed like a bottle of cod-liver oil) then that is no basis for seeing life and eternal communion with God. If, on the other hand, the heavenly life is attractive and being purged of everything that is wicked and sinful is attractive (i.e. not like Lot’s wife who looked back with longing) then Jesus is quite clear; the encouraging words of John 3:16, John 10 apply to you.

            This is the case irrespective of which of the gentlemen, Calvin or Arminius or indeed any other Spiritual big cheese one prefers.

          • I think that Scripture is quite clear that everyone who truly wants Salvation for positive reasons actually gets it

            Of course Calvinism and Arminianism explicitly agree on that. The point of disagreement is whether God causes those whom He has chosen to save to truly want salvation for positive reasons; or whether God offers salvation to everyone and only those who want salvation for positive reasons accept the offer.

            But, knowing which is true is not necessary for us to be saved, which is why the Bible, which contains everything necessary to be saved, doesn’t come down unambiguously on one side or the other. But it is an interesting question.

          • But this is a digression; the point is that someone wrote:

            ‘And few Christians nowadays would be happy to dishonour Jesus by ascribing such a wicked command to him.’

            And so it was pointed out that Jesus is recorded as saying several things that people nowadays might call ‘wicked’, such as that not everyone will be saved. So if you accept that the gospels are an accurate and reliable amount of what Jesus said and did then you have to accept that He taught things that some people now would call ‘wicked’. And if you don’t accept that the gospels are an accurate and reliable account of what Jesus said and did then you have bigger problems.

  8. Theologically, I think the appeal to divorce and remarriage, analogically, is crass and inept.

    However, there is, I believe, an ecclesial analogy: no priest is required to remarry a couple in church (one or both being divorced) if their conscience would not permit this. I know several priests (some of whom are ‘liberal’ in other matters) who won’t remarry divorcees.
    If same-sex couples’ civil marriages were blessed in church (or if their marriages were solemnised in church) there is no reason why an opt out (or opt in) clause could not be similarly framed.

    Reply
    • The conscience defence is worthless for numerous reasons:
      (1) It puts consciences that are seared or dead on the same level as consciences that are alive and feeling. Uh -no.
      (2) Someone hears a voice in their head. Therefore it is their conscience. Right….
      (3) Conscience, so-called, seems to coincide remarkably often with the conclusion people *want*.
      (4) ‘My conscience lets me kill babies.’ Oh-kay….

      Conscience is ill-defined, but the point is that it is *conveniently* ill-defined – there is no mechanism to check up whether it was in fact someone’s conscience talking, so any claims are without merit. People should just do what is objectively or statistically moral. Just like ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘situation ethics’ are often totally (and highly conveniently) ill-defined.

      Reply
    • Penny ‘Theologically, I think the appeal to divorce and remarriage, analogically, is crass and inept.’

      I would agree. But is this now what we are to expect from our bishops…?

      Reply
      • Ian

        I hope that +Christopher’s argument was ecclesial rather then theological!

        But, as has been observed before, not many of the House of Bishops are theologians (don’t know about the College). That is why, I assume, theologians, historians, classicists and scientists, as well LGBTIQ+ people were involved in producing the LLF resources.
        I also know that there have been criticisms of this process, but the idea of invloving specialists is to be commended.

        Reply
          • Dear S: No it is not a massive problem that not many bishops are theologians. Most theologians are liberals. It is a massive problem that most bishops, judging by their statements on this matter, are not men of faith. It is worse that they take money from the faithful while sowing doubt. Clearly they have no fear of the Lord. They should have: James 3:1.

          • The word ‘theologian’ is highly unclear.

            A Biblical theologian elucidates the common teaching of the Bible.

            A systematic theologian does either that or the following.

            A philosophical theologian fits God-talk into a wider understanding of the way things are.

            A speculative theologian does nothing worthwhile and is probably an ideologue. All sorts of them have been cropping up as TV commenters. Avoid like the plague. If it is speculation, it is not scholarship. It has no mooring. Anyone who speculates A could just as easily speculate B.

          • Christopher I think what you have said before on this subject suggests that analysis is beyond you. You offer prejudice rather than analysis.

            Let’s take one examples of universities where theology is studied. A course in theology and religion is not dissimilar at UK Universities.
            In Aberdeen the department has been studying Divinity and Theology since 1495. But the subject areas are: systematic theology, theological ethics, church history, OT studies, NT studies. No such thing as ‘speculative theology’.

            And when I studied theology 45 years ago it was not dissimilar: NT Greek, Hebrew, OT and NT studies, Systematics, church history, doctrine, Philosophy of Religion. No ‘speculative theology’.

          • In Aberdeen the department has been studying Divinity and Theology since 1495. But the subject areas are: systematic theology, theological ethics, church history, OT studies, NT studies. No such thing as ‘speculative theology’.

            Under which of those areas pray tell does ‘queer theology’ fall?

          • As you know, many things exist that are not studied at university.
            Mainly because they are too unscientific and/or ideological to be studied at university.

          • I see. So you were just speculating about some branch of theology that seems to exist in your prejudice rather than in reality.

        • I can see why one would hope his argument was “ecclesial rather then theological!”

          Though isn’t he saying otherwise, at least in part? “But I observe that it is theologically coherent to conceive of vocational and covenanted relationships as a category that includes marriage as one constituent and same-sex unions as another.”

          But isn’t that a fatal divide in Christian thinking? I find the it tempting but only as an avoidance of theological conclusions and hard times.

          Christians I know (who are basically Conservative on this issue) struggle with the same. The “case against” is clear to them but the pastoral response to those they know is unclear or it sounds like really hard road to take.

          Reply
  9. Apparently the Bible is irrelevant these days, it is all social philosophy. The man in the street cannot read the Bible anymore, just like the third century onwards when the Roman Church was set up. Now the Church of England is following closer in the footsteps of this, their foundation.
    We read in Genesis 2 that Adam was joined to his wife (that he later called Eve NOT Steve), in other words male joined female in order to be fruitful.
    I Leviticus 18.22 we read “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Again in the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:27 “Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned with lust for one another, men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Those who practice such things are worthy of death as well as those who approve of such things; verse 32.
    How ordained ministers can talk about ‘love’ when they approve and commend people who clearly reject Biblical teaching and commend sin, for that is what we are talking about.
    I hear from the Gideons that it is becoming increasingly difficult to take Bibles into schools and no wonder when the church is now rejecting it and what it teaches.
    This is only the tip of the iceberg. Is it going to get worse? Yes much worse! Look out!

    Reply
  10. https://www.newsletter.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/fears-raised-about-freedom-of-expression-as-prosecutors-say-it-is-no-longer-appropriate-to-quote-parts-of-the-bible-in-public-3932439
    Report from the Belfast Newsletter, subject as summarised in the link. The parts of the Bible in question are those warning against the practice of sodomy. In the view of the Crown Prosecution Service (institutionally representing the Government and King Charles), these parts are now outlawed. Other parts of the Bible will surely follow.

    Reply
    • In the view of the Crown Prosecution Service (institutionally representing the Government and King Charles), these parts are now outlawed.

      What is and isn’t outlawed is not up to the CPS, though. And to a certain extent it’s the job of the CPS to probe the limits of the law.

      What matters is what Parliament sets down in law, so if you’re concerned (and you should be!) that’s where to focus your efforts: on electing MPs who will defend free speech.

      (See also the recent case challenging the abortion laws regarding Down’s syndrome. While I agree with the plaintiff that the law is awful and should be changed, it was utterly inappropriate to bring the matter to court and quite correct that the case was thrown out. It is the job of the courts to apply the law, not to decide whether the law is good or not. The law must be changed by Parliament.)

      Reply
  11. The CPS said:

    “Whether a statement of Christian belief or not, the court is being asked to consider whether the language has the potential to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

    “This document is not the forum for religious debate, but the bible contains other material recognising slavery (Exodus 21:7), the death sentence (Exodus 35:2 and Leviticus 24:16) and cannibalism (Deuteronomy 28:27).

    “There are references in the bible which are simply no longer appropriate in modern society and which would be deemed offensive if stated in public.”

    Deut 28:27 seems to be misquoted for Deut 28:53. The key point is that the CPS is saying that merely quoting such passages is offensive. While the view that this is actionable would surely not stand up in court, it is alarming that the CPS thinks otherwise.

    Reply
    • The key point is that the CPS is saying that merely quoting such passages is offensive. While the view that this is actionable would surely not stand up in court, it is alarming that the CPS thinks otherwise.

      Not really. Either the CPS is wrong to think that, in which case it’s not alarming at all (the CPS often gets things wrong), or the CPS is right, which would be alarming, but the CPS would be the wrong target for alarm; that would be Parliament.

      Reply
      • Though to be honest, did you really expect the era when it was legal to be a Christian to last for ever? If we become outlaws again it will not put Christians anywhere they haven’t been before, and in some countries still are.

        Reply
        • *Still* are, S? You speak as if the world is getting better for Christians. It’s getting worse. But be of good cheer, for Christ has overcome the world.

          Reply
          • You speak as if the world is getting better for Christians. It’s getting worse.

            It was getting better, for a while, what with the fall of the Iron Curtain. I’m just a little out of date. But these things go in cycles, and will continue to do so until the end of the age.

Leave a comment