Prayers of Love and Faith: The C of E’s Brexit moment?

Andrew Goddard writes: When serving on the Co-ordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) from 2017 to 2020 there were inevitably parallels drawn at various points between our work and the contemporaneous national Brexit debate. How was the way we were handling in the Church of the England the complex, seemingly irresolvable, and divisive issues with which we were wrestling both similar to and different from the ways Parliament, Government and the nation were wrestling with the complex, seemingly irresolvable, and divisive question of the future shape of our changed relationship with the European Union? 

For me, one significant contrast was that we were not as a church rushing into a simple binary (“In/Out”) decision with limited understanding and no preparation for implementing an outcome that changed the status quo and with which many would be deeply dissatisfied. We were preparing resources to enable a serious, informed process of theological discernment by helping people to understand and engage well with those with whom they disagreed. Our remit was not to offer theological evaluation of the different views or recommendations as to the way forward. We decided not to set out either summaries of different theological positions to show their internal theological coherence or options as to possible practical ways forward for the church. Instead we concluded the book with edited transcripts of conversations which we had among ourselves about the issues we had worked together on over three years. These we hoped would draw out some of the key points and articulate them in a relational format which might help others have difficult but fruitful conversations. The downside was that this meant there remained quite a large gap to leap between the largely descriptive and educational work of LLF and the formulation and articulation of concrete answers to the contested theological and practical questions it explored.

What has happened?

A year ago, after thousands of Anglicans had engaged in such conversations, Listening with Love and Faith and a more detailed technical report appeared alongside a reflective essay, Friendship in the Body of Christ. Although some have claimed this revealed majority opinion in favour of change that must now be swiftly implemented as the mind of the church (much as people argued that the Brexit referendum revealed support for a particular form of Brexit that people must now accept and political leaders implement), as I have argued previously, this is a misrepresentation of the whole LLF learning exercise, the questionnaire participants completed, and these published materials. 

The bishops then made the significant step from conversation and mutual learning to deliberation and decision-making. What has happened since then is more difficult to piece together because very little of the process and the work supporting it has been made public. However, the following appear to be key aspects of it and raise serious questions as to how fit for purpose the process has been in a number of key respects.

An already limited timeframe for reflection together was shortened by the death of Queen Elizabeth which led to the cancellation of the first 3-day residential discussions planned for September. It was therefore not until the end of October and the beginning of November that there was “the first opportunity that the bishops as a whole have had to come together and really to talk as a whole” in this discernment and decision-making phase of LLF (Bishop of Grantham in the video released after the residential). This meeting was quickly followed by the Bishop of Oxford publishing his case for same-sex marriage in Together in Love and Faith (responded to by Vaughan Roberts) and a number of other bishops developing a statement supporting the Church of England’s received doctrine of marriage (shared with bishops in late 2022 but not released publicly until early 2023). 

When the bishops met again in mid-December they returned to the range of 7 options considered at the previous meeting in the light of the work of four working groups (whose structure, membership and terms of reference has never been made public) under the Next Steps Group. The initial aim was for the bishops to work towards a clear and agreed direction of travel by means of offering a small number of options upon which to test the mind of Synod in February 2023. The idea was to reduce the number of options from seven and present proposals along with theological rationales for possible ways forward regarding sexuality and marriage. These would give a clear sense of direction and Synod would be invited to indicate its views in February 2023. It was hoped that this testing of Synod’s mind would avoid a ‘binary vote’ and an impasse by instead offering Synod an opportunity to engage meaningfully with decision-making. This would help ensure that a direction of travel was reached by means of a transparent process involving both bishops and Synod.

Following conversation and decisions made at that meeting, however, a very different path and process was followed over Christmas and New Year. This has contributed to subsequent problems. Drawing on new and different legal advice, seemingly developed since the December meeting and proposing a new sharp distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony, the bishops at the College and House meetings on January 17th signed off on a single, specific proposal. This was a mash-up of various of the original 7 options (rejecting the extremes of ‘no change’ and ‘same-sex marriage’) and did not fully cohere with some of the claims made about the implications of the various distinct options in the December briefing paper. 

The proposal was released shortly afterwards, as GS2289, for debate at the February General Synod but articulated little of the reasoning that had led to this rather than some other outcome. Its centrepiece was draft Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) which it was proposed the bishops commend for use under canon B5 once they were finalised. These were not only intended for same-sex couples but for a range of committed non-marital partnerships. In February, after very lengthy extended debate, the Synod approved a motion with only one amendment. This included the statement that Synod “welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes” but it set no required timetable for that process.

In effect, the bishops had discarded their earlier more cautious plan and chosen the Brexit pathway—rushing into a simple binary decision with limited understanding of the proposals and no preparation for implementing an outcome that significantly changed the status quo and with which many were deeply dissatisfied. The lack of episcopal preparation included having done no significant work at all on the Pastoral Guidance (and the fundamental theological and ethical vision which should underpin it) although Synod welcomed the plan to replace Issues in Human Sexuality. The interpretation of the prayers and the legal limitations on their use cannot, however, be divorced from this. Even more damagingly, a number of public episcopal and archepiscopal statements (e.g. York and Canterbury) have rejected previous teaching on sexual ethics, despite assurances the doctrine of marriage would remain unchanged. This inevitably shaped people’s responses to the prayers.

Synod approved the proposal in all 3 Houses but in the House of Laity the figures were, ominously for those interested in Brexit parallels, 52% for and 48% against. 

After their publication and following Synod it became clear the proposals while welcomed by most of Synod were causing significant disquiet (including among more bishops than initially appeared). This was likely to extend further once elements in the guidance were discussed. A raft of new and challenging theological, legal, and liturgical questions which had not been considered within the LLF process were also identified. Initial suggestions that significant progress would be made by the July Synod therefore proved wildly unrealistic. In fact, the three groups which were set up and pushed hurriedly to progress work on PLF, the Pastoral Guidance, and what was termed “Pastoral Reassurance” produced little concrete. Some minor revisions to the wording of the draft prayers were the only developments of substance when, after barely two months work mid-April to mid-June, the groups reported in July (GS 2303). What they had primarily achieved was enabling growing recognition and awareness of the difficulties in (a) finding the best canonical route for introducing the prayers, (b) producing guidance which could have wide support (disagreement being focussed on whether clergy might be permitted to enter civil same-sex marriage if this was now being distinguished from holy matrimony and whether one could both uphold the doctrine of marriage and now approve of sexual relationships other than holy matrimony) and (c) finding genuinely reassuring responses for those unhappy with the proposals. 

At the end of the groups’ third meeting on June 16th it was also announced that the three groups were being disbanded despite so much work remaining to be done, although this was not stated in the formal report to Synod. In answer to Q96 relating to this decision Synod was erroneously informed that this was happening because “when the working groups were set up it was initially envisaged that they would be in place until Summer 2023, to report back to this Synod meeting, and a commitment was sought of members on this basis” but that it had become “clear that the work would continue beyond the original commitment made by members”. In fact, the invitation letter had told those of us asked to participate that “It is envisaged that the lifetime of this work will be from the end of March to the autumn of 2023. The exact timing will depend on what is brought to General Synod in July 2023, how it is received, and what further work remains to be done after July”.

What is happening now?

The current process, described as involving “concentrated drafting work” and needing “to focus on bringing the work of the three workstreams together for ongoing drafting” (Answer to Synod Q96), remains shrouded in much mystery. The LLF journey page ends in July and gives the impression the Implementation Groups are still functioning. The process appears, however (with thanks to Helen King for her work on this undertaken “in the interests of transparency”) to now comprise at least the following five main components.

First, the “concentrated drafting work” is focussed on the Pastoral Guidance. There has been no public statement as to what this involves, who is now undertaking it, and on what basis it is proceeding. As a member of the previous Pastoral Guidance Implementation Group I have not been formally told of any new structure but understand that a totally new group was formed to assist in the drafting. A major challenge and question is that in the July paper to Synod it was reported that there were “a number of questions where clear guidance and direction is needed from the bishops” (para 17) and that although “informal steers” (para 18) have been given, “formal decisions” could only be made by the bishops “once they were able to consider the progress of all three working groups more comprehensively” (those groups already having been disbanded by the time the paper was sent to Synod). It is therefore unclear how the impasse our original Pastoral Guidance group faced in proceeding after February Synod has been unblocked in order to enable Pastoral Guidance to be written given the lack of further episcopal decisions as to its content since July.

Secondly, the wording of the prayers having been amended the major remaining issues are the rubrics (which will to an extent depend on the content of the pastoral guidance) and the legal process of introducing them. In relation to the latter, a number of significant network leaders wrote in July to the Archbishops and others arguing that Canon B2 is the only legitimate route for such controversial changes and they are now reported to have written a further letter. The bishops however appear to want to find any alternative than simply using the Canon B2 process. They began with the proposal to commend prayers for use under Canon B5 as stated in the motion which Synod passed. In July however it was reported that the bishops were “particularly weighing up the option of approval by the Archbishops (under Canon B4.2)” and “No final decision has been made by the House as to the route by which the prayers will be made available for use” (para 13). There are now reports that the favoured route could be Canon B5A, an option not even mentioned in the report to Synod in July. This would involve authorization by the Archbishops but only experimentally on defined terms and as part of submitting the proposals to Synod under Canon B2 (which would require two-thirds support in each House on Final Approval). Given these changes in relation to the canons, Boris Johnson’s statement concerning his stance on Brexit after Cameron’s negotiated deal was announced (later taken and weaponised by Dominic Cummings) comes to mind: “I’m veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”. It is not clear who is now providing guidance on this crucial next step of how to proceed with the prayers, the most developed of all the proposed changes.

Thirdly, in a press release on August 7th it was announced that “a group drawn from across different traditions within the Church will meet next month as part of ongoing work in the Living in Love and Faith process”. Helen King reported it would meet on 7th, 12th and 28th September and the Church Times reported more details including that the group is called the “Living with Difference Group”. Who selected these members (again as with the Implementation Groups, mainly bishops and clergy) and on what basis is not known. A statement was issued after their first meeting last week giving more details.

This component would appear to be picking up some elements of the work that was being done by the Pastoral Reassurance Implementation Group and is focussed more on political actors than theological experts. Given that it has been clear throughout the many years of the LLF process that any decision was unlikely to overcome our differences it is in many ways surprising that (apart from the unofficial St Hugh’s Group) no serious attempt has been made until now to have such structured conversations between representatives of different groupings about finding a settlement. In terms of Brexit analogies one might think of the last-gasp attempt of Theresa May to get her deal through Parliament by finally opening talks with opposition leaders.

The Church Times quotes from a short briefing document sent to this group and written by the Archbishops’ Council’s Director of Faith and Public Life, Malcolm Brown. It includes the statement,

in response to requests for a clearer theological rationale for this stage of LLF, a theological framework is being developed focussing on measures to help the church negotiate with theological integrity a period of uncertainty about both teaching and practice.

While a recognition that there remains a need for a clearer theological rationale for all that is happening is welcome, it is, once again, unclear who is doing this work: Malcolm Brown or another sole individual? A group chosen by someone? Bishop Pete Broadbent has been characteristically robust in offering his translation of it on Twitter, capturing the concerns of many evangelicals: “We’re changing our doctrine & practice, but we’re going to find ways of pretending we aren’t.”

The contrast with the earlier LLF theological work in terms of transparency, time to prepare materials, and perhaps varied expertise and representation of diversity of views, is stark. It also remains to be seen whether, and if so how, this theological rationale will relate to the important discussions about levels of disagreement in the LLF materials or the earlier FAOC report on Communion and Disagreement. Both of these key resources for any consideration of “Living with Difference” have, on the evidence of published materials, been given little or no attention in the bishops’ discernment and decision-making to date.

Fourthly, various groups or “stakeholders” representing different networks have been invited to send representatives to meetings with the core staff team in early October. These are only short meetings unlikely to achieve more than enabling that team to hear the views of those attending as they prepare to present to the November Synod.

Fifthly, the Faith and Order Commission has been brought into the work. This is very late in the day (following rejection of their involvement earlier in the discernment process) and it is important to recognise how FAOC works. Having served on its predecessor for five years over a decade ago, been involved for over a year now in preparing some work related to other less contentious forthcoming aspects of LLF, and knowing several other past and present members (it comprises bishops and theologians) it is clear to me that FAOC work is rarely if ever able to be done at speed or produced from scratch simply on demand. In addition, if it is to retain its integrity and high reputation not just in the Church of England but across the Communion and other denominations, FAOC cannot simply be expected to provide theological window-dressing for already determined political decisions. 

The seriousness, complexity, and contested nature of the questions it has only now been asked to address (such as whether a distinction can be drawn between doctrine and teaching and whether the novelty of sharply distinguishing civil marriage and holy matrimony is theologically defensible) make it quite simply impossible for this work to be done in the less than three months (including the summer vacation) required if it is genuinely to inform bishops in either September or October or even Synod members in November. Or rather it would only be possible if FAOC was willing to sacrifice the theological quality and corporate ownership and wisdom across its diverse members that has been one of the widely-praised hallmarks of its past reports.

Ultimately, all these strands have to come to the bishops and in particular the House which will decide what to bring to General Synod. The College has its regular September residential from the 18th to 21st September and the House is due to meet on 9th October and again October 30th to November 1st. The first of these October meetings is likely where final decisions will be made as to what to bring from the bishops to General Synod which meets November 13th to 15th. The tight frame for first the bishops and then Synod members means there will be little space for people to weigh proposals or develop their current thinking.

What next?

A crucial decision is the extent to which the November Synod will be expected to take further steps beyond those already agreed and whether it will have sufficient quality materials to consider the theological, legal and liturgical questions that have now been recognised as still needing to be answered. 

To take just one obvious but crucial example—what does the Church of England consider a same-sex couple to be doing when they enter a civil marriage and what opinion does the Church of England have of such an action? The answer to this determines whether, and if so how, it would be appropriate to pray publicly following such a marriage. It also determines whether the earlier decision that clergy should not enter such a marriage was an error. There is, however, nothing in the public domain which gives any hint as to the answer, presumably because the bishops have not developed one.

The legal argument that this question might be detachable from our doctrine of holy matrimony because the two institutions are mutually exclusive is recent and a reversal of all past legal advice and has failed to persuade many. But even if it is granted it leaves this question itself unanswered. To answer it requires not lawyers but careful theological reflection and then episcopal and perhaps Synodical discernment and determination informed by that reflection. Having only asked FAOC to consider this matter in July it is wholly unreasonable to expect it to produce a serious response and for the bishops then to weigh it properly by early October and Synod members to reach a decision with only a few weeks’ notice of the bishops’ conclusions. But an answer to this is surely required before prayers can be finally approved or any new pastoral guidance addressing same-sex marriage agreed. The choice is therefore 

  • either to insist FAOC complete its work within two to three months (despite even uncontentious matters rarely being able to be jointly authored, peer reviewed, revised, agreed and signed off by FAOC in less than nine to twelve months),
  • or to accept there is little more of substance that can be decided until February 2024 at the earliest,
  • or to insist we must simply “get PLF done” and so cannot wait for FAOC to report and must proceed anyway. 

To return to the world of Brexit, this question has interesting parallels with the insoluble problem of the status of Northern Ireland in the UK and the EU given the Irish border: can the CofE

  1. continue to recognise opposite-sex civil marriages as holy matrimony and
  2. also say that same-sex civil marriages are not holy matrimony but
  3. neither (in contrast to earlier episcopal and legal statements) is entering a same-sex civil marriage indicative of a departure from the church’s doctrine of marriage? 

Like Boris Johnson in late 2019 and early 2020 we can pretend this problem is not a real one (despite acknowledging that it is by asking FAOC to consider it) and press on in November to implement our “oven-ready” Prayers of Love and Faith and perhaps even new pastoral guidance. If we do that, however, we will not only be making a step that many cannot accept, one which risks dividing the church, and one which, like the Brexit deal, is likely to prove unstable and perhaps unworkable. Even more seriously, we will have abandoned one of the hallmarks of the Church of England’s historic discernment processes which was at the heart of the LLF vision: that we need to take time for serious, prayerful, corporate theological reflection before acting, particularly when altering well-established past teaching and practice, and that we have a responsibility to provide a rationale explaining our actions and changed position based in Scripture and tradition and drawing on reason and experience. We will, in effect, have succumbed to a form of ecclesial populism where, as Rafael Behr explains in Politics: A Survivor’s Guide: How to Stay Engaged without Getting Enraged:

Populism trades in bogus simplicity. It cultivates impatience and treats caution in the face of complexity as illegitimate dissent. The populist rejects the suggestion that problems are hard to solve as a lie told by an incumbent elite that is serving itself or making excuses for its failure to deliver free goodies for all.

The desire to “get PLF done” in November even when there is important outstanding work on these questions is also to reject the need “to focus on bringing the work of the three workstreams together” as the Bishop of London acknowledged was necessary in July. Indeed the Archbishop of York had already promised the February General Synod—“I won’t be able to support commending these prayers until we have the pastoral guidance and pastoral provision”. Given that assurance it is hard to see how he will be in a place to support any step in November or retain any credibility if he and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly authorise the Prayers on their own authority before the guidance and provision is agreed.

Following the February General Synod the Implementation Group process was for too long driven by a “Get PLF done” goal in relation to July. This led to rushed and pressured processes in a flawed structure and a failure to live with the complexities we identified and take time to explore them and wrestle with them together across our differences. The danger is that the same “Get PLF done” goal risks distorting and damaging the work of FAOC, the bishops, and others, in the next two months. This will put even greater strains on our unity and further erode trust and respect in the whole process and the church’s leaders. 

If “get PLF done” is the settled determination of those leading the process then it would be good for them to make that clear, explain why, acknowledge these negative outcomes, and set out how they will mitigate them. Much better, however, would be to recognise 

  • the range and complexity of the issues that have arisen as a result of scrutinising the hurriedly formulated and in many ways novel proposals, 
  • the challenges of the work that has only just started on the guidance and pastoral reassurance and cannot be detached from the PLF strand,
  • the effect of the constant redesigning of the discernment and implementation processes,
  • the consequences of agreeing that FAOC must bring its gifts and theological expertise to the table, and 
  • the need to formulate and give a theological argument for a whole package (prayers, guidance, reassurance) in order to secure as wide a consensus as possible.

All these, and other factors, mean that this process is something that takes time and cannot be rushed. Barring a miracle, we are unlikely to be ready in November. There is a widespread recognition that some form of prayers are now probably an inevitable next step but ensuring they are not indicative of a departure from doctrine in the eyes of a large number of committed Anglicans remains a major challenge. This means that, in the words of the July letter from an alliance of network leaders,

Introducing a suite of liturgical resources for those in same-sex partnerships can be done fast or it can be done well. But it cannot be done both fast and well.

Andrew Goddard has written Grove booklet E121 on whether the Council of Acts 15 offers a model for changing the teaching of marriage.

He 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, and a member of the subgroup on Pastoral Guidance, which has now been closed down.

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298 thoughts on “Prayers of Love and Faith: The C of E’s Brexit moment?”

  1. Andrew, why on earth have you demeaned your analysis by treating it as self evident that Brexit was ill judged.

    It was a political decision. You may not agree with it, but the curse of this age is the inability of people to see their own politics for what they are. A personal judgement.

    Your axiomatic condescension diminishes you.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I voted to remain. The vote was lost.

    • Perhaps Andrew thinks (as in my view, and from all samplings of episcopal and clergy opinions that I have seen, seems likely) that those who want to see PLF implemented quickly and strongly as a stepping stone to further change, also skew quite heavily remain. It doesn’t seem unreasonable therefore to employ an analogy that is comprehensible and emotional engaging to the people who your article is trying to persuade.

    • Peter, the problems with Brexit included:

      a. the reliance on false propaganda
      b. the suspicion of ‘experts’
      c. the claim that the decision was ‘simple’, in or out
      d. the failure to explain that there were multiple ways out, and the following assumption that those who voted to leave all voted to leave from the same door in the same way
      e. the failure to have a responsible threshold for serious institutional change.

      These are issues regardless of what you think on the issue to hand. The parallels with the C of E are striking.

      • Ian.

        Nobody relied on false propaganda. A handful of people on both sides of the argument presented vast amounts of misleading claims. That’s all.

        The great mistake of remainers is their insistence that the electorate are basically sheep. They are not

        A handful of hyperventilating PR departments in London was always an irrelevance.

        • ‘Nobody relied on false propaganda. A handful of people on both sides of the argument presented vast amounts of misleading claims’

          Er I think that is ‘false propaganda’!

          But please note: this is an article about PLF, not about Brexit…

          • I assume your claim is that only the leave campaign made false statements. If that is what you believe, Ian, best of luck.

            I take your point about PLF being the topic. I disagree with the premise that the problem is one process, (ignoring the issue of Brexit as an illustration).

            The bishops have pushed the Church of England over the edge of a cliff. There is no good way for that the end. Goddard wants it all to be done with more care and time and analysis. He is missing the point.

          • ‘I assume your claim is that only the leave campaign made false statements.’

            I don’t know why you assume that.

            ‘Goddard wants it all to be done with more care and time and analysis.’ No, he wants nothing to be done without due process.

        • Peter

          I know that *many* NHS staff voted for brexit because they were promised a lot more money.

          I’m sure lots of people were swayed by the promise of better trade deals.

          • Many people will have voted remain because of absurd scaremongering and smears against the leave campaigners.

            Nobody occupies the high ground. It was a political decision. The vote was to leave. That’s all

          • Peter

            My point was people were taken in by the lies of Johnson and Farage

            I think its absurd to suggest that brexit has been anything other than a massive disaster.

          • Peter,

            The disaster since Brexit is due to the cost of covid and of energy, and also poor negotiating. It was never about money anyway; it was about sovereignty. British people were always happy about being in a ‘common market’ but never happy about being in an increasingly politicised union. We fought the establishment for 20 years for a referendum because they knew what the result would be and were antidemocratic enough to prevent one, and when we got one we won.

          • Anton

            I think it’s hard to argue there could have been better negotiating in any alternate universe, given the tories tried 3 different PMs to get a better deal.

            The tories seemed to think the EU would give us all the benefits of EU membership just without representation in the comission or parliament and without contributing financially.

            Now I hear we are slip sliding back in because we have failed to find a better research deal

            What a waste of time and money

          • We might rejoin a Common Market but never the EU, so Brexit was not a waste of anything.

            Free trade is to mutual benefit; that is its definition. If one side does not wish to partake, it is to the loss of both.

      • Ian

        I’d add

        f. disaffected people who wanted to try *any* change after decades of being ignored by people in power
        g. fear of the outsider/changing culture

        • Reference your remark about Brexit about. People were taken by the lies of the remainers and remoaners

          It is absurd to pretend the resistance and lies about Brexit were anything other than a democratic outrage by a minority who believe they have and had the right to rule.

      • Don’t forget the diehard “Remoaners” who insisted on arguing for a second referendum, failed to engage with Brexit negotiations meaningfully, ignored the reasons for the vote in the first place, rejected compromises like the “Norway option”, and ended up being trounced by Boris Johnson after the patience of public snapped.

        Who are they in this PLF as Brexit analogy?

  2. As usual, a clear, lucid and penetrating analysis. The parallels with Brexit are quite well observed, IMHO, and don’t involve (contra Peter above) the assumption that Brexit was ill-judged, but rather that the process of implementing Brexit was ill-judged. The same point, as you observe with clear and cogent evidence, applies to the present process in the CofE. Lord have mercy!

  3. “We’re changing our doctrine & practice, but we’re going to find ways of pretending we aren’t.” – Pete Broadbent’s summary.

    Welby and Cottrell could consult the Vatican about how to do that. They are the experts, because the asserted inerrancy of the Magisterium means that everything else they add has to appear consistent with it even if it isn’t. A particularly clear example is the change in view of the fate of non-Catholic Christians from Unam Sanctam to Vatican II.

      • it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff… outside of her [the Catholic church] there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins – Unam Sanctam, 1302.

        In Lumen Gentium, a key document from Vatican 2, it was still asserted that those who remained outside ‘the church’ would not find salvation, but the definition of ‘the church’ was subtly altered. In Lumen Gentium the church was said to ‘subsist in’ the (Roman) Catholic church rather than be identical with it, and the precise meaning of ‘subsist in’ was left open to be argued over by theologians and canon lawyers. It had to be left open, because if Rome had said that protestants who made informed choice not to be Catholics might find salvation then that would have constituted a reversal of its ‘inerrant’ teaching. The cost of making it up as you go along while trying to remain consistent with all that has gone before is the muddying of the water to an enormous extent. That is in glaring contrast to the clarity with which Christ spoke to the everyday folk for whom his message was intended. The associated Vatican 2 document Unitatis Redintegratio (Restoration of [church] Unity) treated protestants according to the notion that they are ‘separated brethren.’ Protestants should welcome the Catholic recognition that they are in some sense brothers, but real progress can come only if Rome acknowledges that mediaeval condemnations – which unlike modern documents are unambiguous – are wrong, and give up on the hubristic notion of inerrancy.

        By the time the ‘synod on synodality’ is done, there will be more glaring contradictions.

  4. Goddard states “rushing into a simple binary with limited understanding”.

    Steve, get your facts straight before you dismiss what a person says

  5. The bishops ought to be careful with the rhetoric of the situation as well as the theology. Declaring only some marriages to be ‘holy matrimony’ is almost asking for the rest to be designated as unholy matrimony.

  6. Dear Andrew,

    I find all your writing on this subject immensely helpful and thoughtful. You have worked so hard and carefully on this topic for so many years. Thank you!

    I found Rafael Behr’s comment about “bogus simplicity” stimulating. I agree that bogus simplicity is a problem in many areas of life and politics and theology, but on this occasion I fear the bigger problem is bogus complexity. We are attempting something impossible: we are trying to square the circle – which is not complex, it is impossible.

    Position A: “It is wicked to refuse to marry two people of the same gender. The church has sinned by refusing to do so and must urgently repent.”

    Position B: “It is wicked to marry two people of the same gender. The church must urgently resist those who teach that it is a righteous act.”

    Position C: “This is not a question of wickedness and righteousness. Neither marrying nor refusing to marry same gender couples is a matter of great weight. We should all just get along and ignore what others do and teach on this topic.”

    These positions are genuinely, irreconcilably, simply opposed and cannot be incorporated into one coherent policy document, statement of faith or liturgy – no matter how complex.

    The solution one of our leaders allegedly proposed to squaring a circle “say it’s a circle with sharp bits on it” is not a complex solution, it is a bogus solution. My impression is that you agree, so I don’t think I’m contradicting you.

    Maybe I am oversimplifying, but I don’t think that more time will help us manufacture square circles. Those working on the project have been given an impossible task: introduce PLF (to satisfy those who hold position A), prove that nothing has changed (to satisfy those who hold position B), and avoid any sort of serious differentiation (to satisfy those who hold position C). The As get official prayers (but diluted), the Cs get a united church (but only structurally), the Bs get told to believe something that everyone can see is a lie.

    The press will be told that “it is a historic step forward, but nothing has changed” and they will laugh at us. Not complex, just bogus.

    • This is (as Ian says) a fine summary. But why has the church got itself into the position in which it is trying to square the circle? Scripture is clear on the subject and the church upheld the scriptural position for 19 centuries. If we think that this muddle has come about by accident then we are viewing the situation through the world’s spectacles. This is an attempted takedown of the church by its eternal enemy, and it must be recognised as such.

      • I think it’s very much people too. It’s easy to blame ‘the enemy’ when in reality humans are held responsible.

        As for Scripture, you and I may think it’s clear, others disagree. Even some of those who agree that Scripture condemned same-sex sexual relations would argue the 21st century is not the 1st century, nor even more so 1000BC. So not all applies today.

        I think these ‘blessings’ will be pushed through and those priests who wish to opt out will be able to do so. I suspect many amongst those who are against the changes will stay put as it is their livelihood.

        • I blame people too; it’s not either/or. And if you or anybody else thinks that scripture is unclear on the matter, feel free to dispute it with me.

          • Then your memory is poor.

            Once again: Leviticus 18:22 states that man lying with man as with woman – i.e. sexually – is toevah (look it up). This is a statement, not a command, so the fact that Christians are not under the Law of Moses is irrelevant.

            You may deny the authority of this verse if you wish, but that is a further matter. The question in this subthread is what scripture says.

          • Firstly, as has been pointed out before, lots of things are abominations that we don’t give two hoots about today. Attention to context is important.

            Second the Levitical prohibition proscribes anal sex. Presumably gay men who don’t enjoy anal sex and lesbians are hunky dory according to ‘Mosaic’ law.

          • ‘Second the Levitical prohibition proscribes anal sex’. No it doesn’t. The expression is too general. ‘Lying the lyings of a woman’ is a euphemism for sex.

          • Ian

            Since the only kind of sex which counted in ancient south west Asia was penetrative sex which was essentially hierarchical – a superior penetrated an inferior – the Levitical prohibition refers to penetrative sex which between a dominant and a passive male would be anal sex.
            It’s sex out of place, just as sex with the woman on top is disgusting and bad for the male, superior partner.
            The only case in which the woman could be considered superior was bestiality – women are actually above animals – hence its position in the code.

          • Leviticus 18 is interestingly phrased don’t you think? Lying with a man as you lie with a woman? A departure from the “uncovering nakedness” formula used earlier. And as Penelope has pointed out there’s nothing about lesbians, despite the next verse being explicit in its discussion of bestiality to have prohibitions for both men and women. Nor does it actually tell gay people what to do (i.e. there’s no “therefore remain celibate”). So what’s going on? I think you need to consider who this is addressed to. Is it gay people, and is implicitly telling them to remain celibate? Or is it married men, telling them that, unlike their counterparts around the Mediterranean, they do not get to have sex with men/boys and claim it’s no violation of the marriage bed (or is an interesting part of religious festivities)? Same-sex sex is sex. Maybe that’s the real thrust of the point being made.

        • Penelope,

          Leviticus is wisely enough written not to mention anal sex specifically. It prohibits man “lying with man as with woman”. That means sexually. That means stimulation with intent to orgasm. This is described as toevah. Please specify what else is described as toevah that Christians consider acceptable today.

          I agree that the Old Testament is silent about lesbianism (although I trust you are not using that silence to reason about male homosexuality). What have you to say about Romans 1:26, please?

          . What have you to sy about

          • I’ve listed things that are, culturally
            and contextually, abominations before.
            As for penetrative sex, see my response to Ian.
            It’s plausible that Romans 1 doesn’t indicate lesbianism, but women taking ‘abominable’ sexual positions, like being on top. Much frowned upon in ancient south west Asia and causing diarrhea in male partners!

          • ‘It’s plausible that Romans 1 doesn’t indicate lesbianism, but women taking ‘abominable’ sexual positions, like being on top.’ That is an entirely implausible reading, with zero evidence in the text.

          • Then you won’t mind listing them again. If not for me, for Ian’s readers.

            There is no condemnation of marital sexual relations with the woman on top in the Law of Moses, which gets much more specific than St Paul. So that is not what he means.

          • You do understand that writers were influenced by their cultures and by other texts. Not everything which is prescribed or proscribed is in Leviticus.
            Where, indeed, does Leviticus derive it’s proscriptions from?

          • And since Leviticus doesn’t mention lesbianism, Paul could hardly have derived his supposed condemnation from there.

          • Where, indeed, does Leviticus derive it’s proscriptions from?

            That’s an adroit change of subject. We were discussing what scripture had to say. On the understanding that this is a different issue, my answer is that given by believing Jews for 3000 years and by Christians for 2000 years: God.

          • Well God must have been reading the Hammurabi code!
            But He doesn’t mention lesbianism in Leviticus so Paul cannot, as I said, have got his supposed proscription from that.
            A point you seem to have ignored in favour of a context free reading.

          • Ian

            It is entirely plausible and a view taken by other scholars. Especially since Leviticus doesn’t mention lesbianism and later Rabbinic writings sit fairly loosely to it.
            Disgust with woman on top sex was widely known in ancient Western Asia (CF. Lilith) and was certainly regarded as an activity indulged in by the dirty gentiles. And unmanning for the male partner with, as I said, disastrous consequences.

          • There are points of similarity between the Hammurabic code and the Mosaic code, and also points of difference.

            I never said that Paul got his proscription of lesbianism from Leviticus. Belief in divine inspiration of scripture would mean he got it directly from God. There is no outright ban on drunkenness or prostitution in Mosaic Law either, but they are regarded throughout the Old Testament as disgraceful. I concede, however, that one cannot exclude Romans 1:26 referring to women partaking in bestiality.

            I also suggest that a good number of men whose wives had bad backs were perfectly happy to be underneath during sex, and didn’t discuss it in taverns.

            You fell silent about toevah, so allow me to point out that man lying with man as with woman is the only act in Mosaic Law that is both described as toevah and carried the death penalty.

          • The first prohibition of lying “with a male as with a woman” occurs in the middle of a long list of prohibited sexual behaviours in Leviticus 18, and the list concludes with “But you shall keep my statutes and ordinances and do none of these abominations… (for all of these abominations the men of the land did who were before you…) For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people.” It can scarcely be argued with any intellectual integrity that the plural “these abominations” refers to just ONE of the prohibited behaviours; it is clearly intended to describe all of them.

            We then find that many of those prohibitions are repeated in Leviticus 20, and the death penalty is prescribed for many of them, NOT only for lying with a male as with a woman. So the assertion that “man lying with man as with woman is the only act in Mosaic Law that is both described as toevah and carried the death penalty” is shown on closer scrutiny to be erroneous.

      • Anton

        If scripture was clear then everyone would agree.

        Even the people who believe scripture clearly prohibits same sex sexual relationships don’t agree on the detail, e.g. whether it’s ok to have a SSR as long as there is no intercourse, for example.

        • If scripture was clear then everyone would agree.

          Not so, for the tongue is connected to the heart as well as the head.

          Secular gays understand what the Bible says clearly enough; they just deny its authority.

          • Ian

            The JWs certainly also claim Scripture is clear and that their reading is correct!

            The split on gays in scripture is more significant than the split between Christians and JWs

          • Ian

            I don’t know. It seems clear to me, but I know it’s not clear to others.

            The first schism in the church was over whether the spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son or only the Father.

            In my reading of scripture the trinity is there and is reasonably clear. I know others read it differently.

            I’m not for telling other people they have to agree with me about how to read scripture

    • Paul

      There are only really two realistic solutions to the A/B/C issue

      1. Allow it to be a local issue
      2. Continue to forbid SSM and accept that it’s not going to be popular with everyone.

    • Indeed, a good summary.
      But I can’t understand why you think contradiction is a bad thing, to be avoided at any cost.
      In maths, “to exist” means “to be contradiction free”. (I’m a profissional mathematician.)
      Not so in other walks of life – surely not on religion.

      • Dear Jose,

        I’m not sure I understand what you are saying.

        The concern is not the difficulty of apparent contradiction. I accept that my Lord’s ways are higher than my ways and I will not fully understand all He does. Jesus is fully God, and Jesus is fully man; God is three, and God is one. I am glad these things are true, and I bow in wonder at these apparent contradictions alongside all my brothers and sisters throughout the ages, whilst confessing that I do not fully understand.

        The concern in the current debate is people getting hurt in this world and the next – a concern shared by many on all sides of the debate.

        If you’ll forgive me for restating the positions so we don’t get lost in the thread:

        Position A: “It is wicked to refuse to marry two people of the same gender. The church has sinned by refusing to do so and must urgently repent.”

        Position B: “It is wicked to marry two people of the same gender. The church must urgently resist those who teach that it is a righteous act.”

        Position C: “This is not a question of wickedness and righteousness. Neither marrying nor refusing to marry same gender couples is a matter of great weight. We should all just get along and ignore what others do and teach on this topic.”

        As believe that Bs are stopping LGB people from enjoying fulfilling relationships, driving people away from the Church and misrepresenting Christ.

        Bs believe that As are encouraging LGB people to harden their hearts, ignore the commands of God and placing them in danger of hell.

        Cs believe that As and Bs are splitting the church and wasting time that should be spent on evangelism and pastoral care.

        It would be immoral for As not to campaign for the removal of Bs from the church. I don’t understand how a bishop who believes position A can supervise someone who believes position B. Does that bishop stand idly by in the face of what he believes is unjust discrimination that caricatures Christ and mistreats his people?

        For a bishop who believes position B it is even worse – he believes that vicars who hold position A are doing eternal damage to people and will have to answer for it on judgement day. How can he share ministry with them? Mustn’t he warn them and seek to silence them?

        For the Cs we are all immature children arguing about trivialities when there is a world of need on our doorsteps.

        This is not at all like academics who can’t resolve an abstract question, or critics debating which is their favourite artist. It is much more like medics who have radically contradictory opinions on urgent matters of life and death; they can’t shrug their shoulders and say “Never mind.” That would be irresponsible. Too much is at stake.

        Is that relevant to the question you are asking? Or have I missed your point entirely?

        • Can Bishops supervise priests who take different stances on where to draw the line on marrying divorcees? They seem to have managed this for a couple of decades…

          Be careful about ascribing views to those in Group B. From all my debates on this subject what comes across very clearly is that for many of them this has nothing to do with the lives and fates of real people, and is instead a rigidly theoretical debating game. They construct a hard line because, for them, the stakes are so very low.

          • Dear AJ,

            I am sorry if your experience of Bs is callous carelessness. That has not been my experience.

            Have you read The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw? He is probably the leading voice amongst UK based Anglican Bs. The book makes it very clear that this is an issue where for him the stakes are very high.

            My experience of him is that he is immensely compassionate, generous with his time and cares deeply about individuals.

          • Hi Paul,

            I had read Ed Shaw’s book and seen his contributions to the CEEC videos on this debate. Most people seem to overlook a couple of things. First, Ed is very open that he finds himself sat on his kitchen floor in tears about his life. This isn’t historic. It still happens for him. Shaw, in a similar manner to David Bennett (another Side B Christian in the CofE) seems to view his life a a sort of painful martyrdom. I find that hard to square with how St Paul talks about celibacy and singleness as a gift rather than a command. It also gets worrying close to seeking works, rather than faith, as necessary for salvation. Secondly, Shaw is very clear about how the Church is inadequate in its current teaching and approach for singleness and celibacy. Many of Shaw’s fans continue to ignore the need to address this. Part of the Bishops report talked about working more on celibacy. PLF included discussion on covenanted friendships (non-sexual relationships). The conservative/B voices have been silent.

    • It will always be difficult whilst the Bs don’t want to have any particular teaching for what gay people should do. PLF is not simply about gay marriage or blessings. It contains provisions for covenanted friendships, and the Bishops have said they want to do more work on celibacy and how the Church should approach that. The Bs have completely ignored this, despite it being exactly what they should want if they really thought gay people were called automatically to celibacy, or commanded to celibacy, or had the possibility of non-sexual but committed romantic relationships.

  7. There is not the least parallel between Brexit and the shambles which Andrew Goddard so clearly describes.

    Brexit was founded on the simple but solid principle of reasserting the sovereignty of a people who wish to live in an independent, democratic nation with secure borders. The LLF project is built on the sand of rebellion against God, something which could only ever lead to the kind of mess in which the Church of England now finds itself.

    While Brexit has been undermined by the UK establishment, including a good many politicians who have never believed in genuine democracy, there have been strenuous efforts by the C of E’s establishment to turn the aims of LLF into reality. The common factor is a rather obvious lack of integrity on the part of both the leaderships involved.

    • Don, you are absolutely right.

      The attempt to associate PLF and Brexit is intellectually risible

      Goddard (and it would appear Ian Paul) are entitled to their politics but it is an astonishing sight to see them failing to distinguish between politics and theology.

      I was taught that when you step into a pulpit you should leave people with not the slightest clue as to your politics. Good advice that Goddard and Ian might like to consider.

    • Sorry, Don, I think you have missed the point.

      As Steve Walton notes above: ‘The parallels with Brexit are quite well observed, IMHO, and don’t involve (contra Peter above) the assumption that Brexit was ill-judged, but rather that the process of implementing Brexit was ill-judged.’

      I list the basic problems at the top, not least that there were a whole range of different ways we could have left the EU, so there were many doors marked exit, but the referendum was based on the false assumption that we were either ‘in’ or ‘out’.

      All that is well documented. Please don’t let concerns about Brexit distract you from the point of the piece.

      • Forgive me, Ian, but on the one hand you want to insist the issue is PLF.

        On the other hand you make a set of inflammatory and obviously untrue assertions about Brexit !

        If you want us to be neutral, how about a bit of neutrality yourself on the topic

    • The Reformation, Britain’s first Brexit, created the C of E precisely so we could have a church headed by the King and interpret Christianity in an English context, not just via Vatican diktat

          • Both are a far too simplistic reading of English church history. Reformation was around in Europe and England was not immune. But it was an immense political struggle as much as religious struggle. The to and fro went on across several monarchies. Henry had some kind of decisive role because he wanted to claim his own right to obtain a divorce but he was also clear that he remained a member of the Church Catholic and not Protestant.
            Even that is a far too simplistic reading of English Church history. The Elizabethan Settlement is also a key moment, though of course it didn’t really settle things.
            And the anti Catholic prejudice that I grew up with still exists on places like this website. It’s pretty unpleasant at times. It’s echoed in the kind of homophobia that Andrew and other who pretend to be impossibilists display in this posting.

          • Andrew, perhaps it is those who wish to change the doctrine and practice of the Church of England regarding marriage away from that held by the Church Catholic (or, perhaps, Catholick) who are now showing anti-Catholic prejudice.

          • The Church of England already has women priests and bishops, unlike the Roman Catholic church and already marries divorced couples unlike the Roman Catholic church. So the practice and doctrine of the Church of England has not been identical with that of the Roman Catholic church for some time, even not taking into account the head of the C of E is the King not the Pope. Blessing homosexual couples in marriages or civil partnerships in domestic law unlike the Roman Catholic church is just another step in recognising the distinct differences between the Anglican and RC church.

            The Church of England has also never been a fully Protestant Reformed church either like say the Calvinists or today Baptists and Pentecostals. Instead it is a Catholic but Reformed Church combining elements of the Catholic and Protestant evangelical traditions.

          • ‘Instead it is a Catholic but Reformed Church combining elements of the Catholic and Protestant evangelical traditions.’

            Could you point out the ‘Catholic’ parts in the BCP or the Articles?

          • I never said the C of E was Roman Catholic, I said it was Catholic but Reformed. It has always been a middle way between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism, with a mixture of Anglo Catholics, liberal Catholics and evangelicals

          • It has never been that in doctrine! The theology of the BCP is a middle way between Calvinism and Lutheranism.

            If you think I am wrong, please point me to Anglo-Catholic doctrine in the Formularies. And explain why Anglo-Catholics feel the need to use the Missal, instead of authorised C of E texts.

          • Well on that basis the Lutheran churches already marry homosexual couples in northern Europe as does the Calvinist origin Church of Scotland (though as an apostolic church that believes in line of succession with a significant Anglo Catholic and liberal Catholic wing, the C of E is closer to Catholicism than Calvinism and even Lutheranism is).

          • Although you have to ask, if they’re embracing the authority of Scripture so thoroughly, how do they manage to toss books out of the canon?

  8. What does all this say about the quality of our bishops and archbishops and their decision-making?
    1. The deliberation and decision-making of the House of Bishops needs opening up to public scrutiny.
    2. The selection of bishops and the appointment process needs opening up to public scrutiny.
    3. The accountability of bishops to the General Synod and to their own Diocesan Synods is quite ineffectual and needs urgent attention.

    • How would you open up the selection of bishops and the appointment process to public scrutiny? The membership of the Crown Nominations Committee is already public. Its members are voted for by the General Synod and the Diocesan Synod ( for the diocesan members).

      Would it help if the meetings were public or livestreamed? Should the deliberations be published: candidate A is short tempered and pastorally insensitive at times and candidate B is hopeless with admins and takes ages to answer emails but let’s go for him anyway?

      Or would you scrap the current system and go for election of bishops as in many provinces of the Anglican Communion? In which case who should be in the electoral college and should their vote be public?

      • I think that is a good question. I am not sure of the answer, though I would like to see change.

        In the current system, all have to agree, and there is then a sense in which the decision is based on the lowest common denominator. That then leads to the appointment of the person whom the fewest find unacceptable or challenging.

        I think that explains the bench that we now have.

      • Simon

        I’d put in a qualifier that they must have at least a decade experience in pastoral ministry. Stop putting people in charge who have not themselves done the job.

  9. Comparisons with the Brexit process, for me, give a striking and illuminating analogy. But are also hostages to fortune as the above ‘Peter’ /Steve Walton exchange reveals.
    The ‘get it done’ current very evident in much current commentary (social media/ secular pressures etc) leads me to believe we will indeed see something pushed through before long that fails to address the multiple complexities Andrew identifies. And we’ll all then have to work out how to engage with a new reality – which itself will be variously identified in binary terms as triumph or disaster. That’s the way campaigning works.

  10. How can any “bible believing” Christian consider approving by ‘blessing’ any sexual acts outside of marriage – be it natural marriage or sacramental marriage – or, worse still, approving by ‘blessing’ same sex acts? This isn’t the Holy Spirit at work!

    Sorry to be so blunt and for failing to engage in the theological/political debate.

    • Why should any pure ‘bible based’ Christian still be in the C of E which now has women priests and bishops and marries divorcees when Paul forbids the former and Jesus forbids the latter without spousal adultery. Surely the blessing of homosexual couples will just see you go to a Pentecostal, Independent or Baptist church or the Roman Catholic church if you haven’t already and you can’t even stomach an opt out and correctly so.

    • Firstly, you’re mixing up a lot of stuff Jack – what should gay people do, and are there any prohibitions on sex outside of marriage. Those are really different questions.

      Secondly, some of us look to the Scriptures and make a few observations:
      – far from embracing chastity as a rule, Scripture cautions against seeing in that light at all. Therefore suggesting it as a rule for some of the faithful (e.g. gay people) rather than part of calling (e.g. for Bishops or priests or nuns) looks misguided at best.
      – marriage is shown as a natural consequence of, and channel for, sexual desire. The attempt to cast it primarily as a cosmic metaphor is out of step with most discussion of marriage, and needless to say out of character with how God gives instruction to his people.
      – the Biblical expectations of marriage in the New Testament in particular places emphasis on equality and mutual respect (Paul’s discussion of both spouses having authority over each other’s body is quite revolutionary). Women are not to be used by men for social or religious convenience.
      – if you accept that gay people exist (that is to say there are people who are gay and cannot become straight) then you end up either arguing for a celibacy rule when Scripture warns against that, pushing gay people into straight marriages no matter how incongruous that is with the vision of respect in marriage we see in Scripture, or arguing that gay marriage is the appropriate way to channel same-sex sexual desire just like straight marriage is the way to channel opposite-sex sexual desire.

      • Eurrghh. Just saw the horrible mangling of typos in the first point. Should have read:
        – far from embracing celibacy as a rule, Scripture cautions against seeing it in that light at all. Therefore suggesting it as a rule for some of the faithful (e.g. gay people) rather than part of calling (e.g. for Bishops or priests or nuns) looks misguided at best.

  11. Ian. You say in response to my criticism of Goddard that he wants due process applied.

    That’s a compelling point which I accept.

    I think you are clearly right to insist, as a GS member, that short cuts cannot be taken. On that point you have my full support.

    For what it’s worth my advice would be to keep it simple. Setting hairs running in all directions does not help.

  12. The solution is to construct a different geometry which is completely differentiated from the other and distinct with its own axioms.

  13. The dramatic change would have been to introduce full homosexual marriages in C of E churches where Vicars agreed, as happens in the US and Scottish Anglican churches, the Church of Scotland, most Northern European Lutheran churches and the Quakers and Methodist churches.
    It would also reflect the fact the C of E now marries, not merely blesses, divorced couples even in some cases where there was no prior spousal adultery for either partner.

    Instead the compromise of prayers of blessing was offered, which preserves holy matrimony for heterosexual couples but ensures the established church finally correctly offers services of blessing for homosexual parishioners married or in civil partnerships in English law. Evangelicals who want further delay before the prayers are confirmed aren’t interested in compromise, like the diehard Remainers who wanted to stop any Brexit, not just a No Deal Brexit, they want no recognition of homosexual couples allowedat all

  14. My eye alighted and fixed on this from the article:
    “These (prayers) were not only intended for dame sex couples but for a range of committed non – marital partnerships.”
    What spectrum of relationships is envisaged?
    On what point of the progressive curve, slope, direction of travel is ss prayer of blessing? What could be included without further Synod scrutiny? Polyamoury permitted? Unlawful marital degrees?

    • Geoff

      I think one of the ideas here was they could be used to bless committed friendships as alternative for people who were attracted to the same sex, but sought neither solitude nor romantic relationship

      • Why would anyone want to bless “committed friendships”? I have many friendships with people of both sexes but have never felt the need to “bless” them in some liturgy. What is the point of that?

        • They are hard to quantify. What is the threshold or cut off point for a blessable or non blessable friendship? As to whether they are blessed things, what is more blessed than that?

          The idea seems to be that everyone has one single intimate relationship. The poverty that that bespeaks is suffocating. With friendships there is not the slightest connection with the number two, whereas with reproduction and parenting there could never be any other number. Which means that the preoccupation these other twos, as though no other number existed, must be parasitic or parodying.
          It also means that there must be a lot of loneliness and neediness – needing to couple up and find a saviour rather than nature imposing it on you to couple up – which is certainly a backward step of giant proportions. Friendship is almost but not uite what life is all about, so to find an entire culture that seems never to have heard of it unless in the sense of an exclusive relationship or need is truly scary.

          • Christopher

            I think the challenge is that if you keep criticizing same sex marriage plus every possible alternative for gay people it starts to look like you just dont want gay people in the church at all, rather than simply disagreeing with same sex sex.

          • Christopher

            The idea of blessing a committed friendship is for gay people who believe it to be sinful to be in a romantic relationship as I clearly said in my op

          • Oh, I didn’t realise that. I thought the idea was that close friendship was significant enough to merit formal recognition if so wished. Which it is.

        • James

          I think the idea is that gay people pair off, but in a deliberately non-romantic manner.

          It would be more than merely being good friends, but different than being in love.

          • In other words, hooking up for sex but not for sharing lives exclusively.
            But we already knew this is a feature of the secular male homosexual lifestyle: that sexually active male homosexuals have on average many more sexual partners than male heterosexuals because males are much more easily sexually aroused than females and are attracted to sex without consequences (commitment or pregnancy – but not without risk of STIs). So are you advocating official approval of non-binding, non-exclusive sexual relationships? Gay polyamory? Well, why not? Why should people be exclusive in yheir sexual relationships if there is no possibility of pregnancy?

          • James

            No. Not sexual. That’s the whole point.

            There are a significant number of gay people in the CofE who believe it wrong for them to have sex or romance, but who also don’t want solitude.

            To be clear. I’m not advocating for this. Conservative Christians are.

            I think gay people ought to be allowed to marry.

  15. ‘We decided not to set out either summaries of different theological positions to show their internal theological coherence or options as to possible practical ways forward for the church.’

    Many liberals and progressives I know, myself included, wanted to see this from the very start and we have little confidence in the process precisely because of the lack of clarity. I suspect it’s a point on which we are at one with many of our evangelical brethren.

  16. Far from creating a divisive “solution”, the bishops seem to me to have achieved unity with a plan that is completely unacceptable to almost everyone.

  17. I do think the conflation with Brexit was an enormous blunder. What is apparent above is the astonishing levels of hubris and arrogance amongst remoaners.

    That matters because if people are arrogant in one area of their life it will be also true in other areas.

    People have shown themselves to be consumed by their own sense of righteousness.

      • Ian, you infer a “symmetry of fault”where none exists.

        We live in a democracy. The vote was to leave. Defending that reality is not hubris and arrogance.

        Denying that reality certainly is hubris. The New Testament has no time for such nonsense.

        • Peter I fully agree with you that the parallel with Brexit is a rather ridiculous distraction from the issue.
          But one of the problems with this website is the slight off the wall nature of some of the commentators. According to one very recent example, a biblical scholar – a PhD. no less – has told us that the rapture will take place on Saturday. So none of this debate matters one jot.

          • Andrew,

            I sense you realise I could do with being distracted !

            You are right and I appreciate your intervention. I guess we both need to hold our breath and see what Sunday brings !

            (By the way, I voted against Brexit.)

            Kind regards


          • “(By the way, I voted against Brexit.)”
            Me too!
            Not long back from France and Spain and felt slightly bothered that I no longer had an EU passport.

        • Peter, if you cannot find a way to acknowledge the problems with the Brexit process, which are widely owned on both sides, then I cannot help you.

          But this article is not about Brexit. If you want to kept discussing it, I am sure there are places.

          • Peter – I had more-or-less decided that I shouldn’t comment here again, since it can become time consuming – and I don’t really have the time. But when there is a picture of a bus with ‘taking back control’ written on it, I feel compelled to share a circular that was doing the rounds among the physicists.

            For the record, I’d probably have been pro-Brexit if I had been living in the UK and had the vote. This ‘takingbackcontroltium’ is still highly entertaining, though.

            Trust the Science – it is now fact…
            – Boffins at Imperial College have discovered the densest element yet known to science.
            – The new element, “takingbackcontroltium” (symbol=Tbc), has one neutron, 22 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 365. These 365 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called pillocks. Since takingbackcontroltium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.
            – Takingbackcontroltium can have a normal half-life of 5 to 25 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, takingbackcontroltium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming what is known as iso-dopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that takingbackcontroltium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration in a single binary event. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as a ‘critical morass’.
            – When catalysed with deceit, takingbackcontroltium becomes numbertentium (symbol=Ntn), an element that radiates just as much energy as takingbackcontroltium since it has half as many pillocks but twice as many morons.

      • It’s not a joke.

        It’s an attempt by people who lack the intelligence to be genuinely witty to say people who supported Brexit are morons and pillocks

        I have no sense of your real perspective on life, Ian.

        Your chastise Penelope for her pearl clutching comment. I agree with you that you need to raise the standard of behaviour.

        Then you join in the kind fatuous behaviour that earns middle aged men the general repudiation for being ignorant buffoons.

        I give up

        • I, too, think the reference to Brexit was, misconceived and ill judged, an unecessary distraction.
          Maybe the Bishops are seeking to effect the prorogation of Synod?

          • Of course, the prorogation of Synod was about preventing MPs elected on the platform of delivering Brexit (and who were preventing a General Election ) from blocking Brexit.

            In contrast, the Bishops want to break the rules in order to prevent members voted on preventing changing doctrine from preventing changing the doctrine.

      • And it says more about the high handed superior attitude of remainers ( the majority of Bishops?) to those seen by the revisionists to be on the wrong side of history, in doctrine and culture and
        progressive church polity, doesn’t it?

        • One glorious Sunday morning soon after the Brexit referendum I was told by another Christian worshipper after the church service that I was the only intelligent person she’d met who’d supported Brexit. I still can’t work out whether I was meant to take it as a compliment or an insult, but I still smile when I remember it!

          • Don,

            The person was clearly just a churchgoer.

            No authentic Christian would be consumed by pride and prejudice to such a deplorable degree as the woman you encountered

          • Peter

            I think part of the problem with accepting the brexit vote on both sides has been most people mostly know people who voted the same as them.

            I’m only aware of one person I know who voted for brexit (and she eventually ended our friendship because I was too negative about the Conservative Party).

            At the time I worked with many people from other EU countries and they were all devastated. One lady had stopped watching the news altogether because it was too upsetting for her.

          • Actually 66% of self-described Anglicans supported Brexit (entirely different from the lockstep House of Bishops), so the conclusion must be 1. the great majority of churchgoers are not intelligent or
            2. Anglican bishops have no understanding of or sympathy with those they claim to lead or
            3. Brexit voters keep their opinions more to themselves or
            4. your acquaintance leads a sheltered life.
            When the Establishment closes ranks to slander all who think differently as xenophobic bigots, it is no surprise if the Silent Majority (52%) keeps its own counsel.
            The talkative Left always believes it is smarter and morally superior to the rest. It has neither self-knowledge nor modesty.

  18. Anton comments:
    “The bishops ought to be careful with the rhetoric of the situation as well as the theology. Declaring only some marriages to be ‘holy matrimony’ is almost asking for the rest to be designated as unholy matrimony.”
    I have perhaps mentioned this before but therein lies a key problem.
    Marriage—like work—is surely a creation ordinance. It was only brought into the church in the Middle Ages—so perhaps the solution is to push it back out.

    • Most marriages in the UK don’t take place in churches now anyway but registry offices, hotels, stately homes etc. However a key part of the role of the C of E remains to perform marriages in Parish churches for every Parishioner who wants one

      • If it is a key role, then it is going out of business, redundant.
        Best to shut up the corner shops
        as Relics, and centres for the dead, no longer community a hub for selliing unwanted services of matches and hatches and dispatches..
        Then there can be virtual marriages.
        Well, that would be one way to square the circle. Virtual, unreality, all round.
        More tea vicar.

        • And the pot of gold that has been horded at the end of the CoE rainbow can then be dug up and returned to its righful owners, the State, to disipate to its shareholders through the winding-up Adminstrators, the Government of the day.

          • But if we are appealing to Scripture as we often do on these blogs—the CofE tradition of church marriages cannot be found there. Rather than a pot of gold I would argue it is a mess of potage—an accident waiting to happen.
            I would suggest to any vicar that he simply opts out of performing or blessing any marriages and handing it over to somebody else and thus avoid the flashpoint of imposing his views on those that don’t belong to the church in any meaningful sense of the word.

          • Rubbish, if anyone has a claim on C of E churches built pre 1550 it would be the Roman Catholic church who built them in the first place before the state took them at the Reformation for that state church. However the buildings of the C of E will correctly remain for the state church, not least cathedrals for state occasions

        • No it isn’t, more still get married in C of E churches every year than in years or places of worship of any other Christian denomination or any other religion. For many in England attending a C of E wedding or funeral is the only time they go into a church now

          • According to your prime purposes for the CoE, it is irrelevant and redundant, not fit for pupose for main life and death events for the populace, who can be served better elswhere. Hotels and crematoriums, by secular celebrants. For them it is not needed. Any generational ties to the CoE will swiftly wither away, die off.
            With Parliament being sovereign, which Government could resist selling and liquidising capital and investments? For housing developments etc.
            It happens in the national treasure that is the NHS, where surplus, unused, redundant land and buildings have been sold off.
            It happens in Pulbic Services where there is commissioning of Private providers, and independent charities, by both Conservative and Labour, public bodies.
            Maybe, land and buildings could be repurposed, turned into, carpet warehouses, antique centres. Other secular purposes are available.

          • So what, the Church of England is the established church, not a cult. Its role is to offer weddings and funerals to every person who lives in its Parish, even if they don’t attend church every Sunday.

            Many still want to be married in historic C of E churches even if they aren’t regular churchgoers and they must be entitled to do so. Most C of E buildings are listed so obviously can’t be sold off for development, what an ignorant statement.

          • Simon,
            You can’t have it both ways. You stress Parliament is sovereign.
            It could pass laws to permit, compel even, the sale of listed church buildings or even delist them.
            Your conclusion is a constitutional, legal fiction and logical fallacy.
            BTW please do tell us
            1 which God do you believe and worship?
            2 what is the Christian evangel?

          • Why would it want to? Who is it going to sell them too? They are mostly grade listed buildings limited in the uses they can be put too for historical conservation reasons. Parliament does however want to ensure the main focus of Christian religion in England is relatively liberal and it that sense having a Christian church with a presence in every town and city which has women priests, marries divorcees and blesses homosexual couples is useful. As well as still proving the main cathedrals for historic occasions.

          • Parliament does however want to ensure the main focus of Christian religion in England is relatively liberal and [in] that sense having a Christian church with a presence in every town and city which has women priests, marries divorcees and blesses homosexual couples is useful.

            That is certainly true. But it’s not Parliament’s church, it’s God’s. What does God think about it?

      • No, that’s wrong. Most Church of England parishes have very few or no marriages each year. If the figure was zero, it would make virtually no difference to the life of the parish church. Secular people simply see a church as a pretty setting they are hiring, not a sign of the holy institution they are entering.

        • No the Church of England churches, especially historic village churches, have weddings often several times a week in summer. That is part of the core role of the Church of England as established church, to provide weddings, funerals and baptisms and confirmations for anybody in the Parish who wants one in its Parish churches.

          Its role is not to go out on the streets evangelising, that can be done in any old evangelical church, Pentecostal, Baptist or Independent

          • Simon,
            You keep on barrelling down your narrow one way dead -end street accusing people of ignorance relating to the parliamentary sovereignty in the sale of CoE land and buildings even when you have at length argued that Parliament can pass laws to do so and in another breath speak that parliament can enforce by law ssm on the CoE.
            And your disdain for those you categorise as evangelicals seems to border on bigotry, ignorance, of what the evangel is and which God you worship.
            That trickle of thought appears to lack consistency, logic, and coherence and as such any semblance of cogency.

    • The distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony has existed ever since we decided priests who chose not to marry a couple where one was divorced nevertheless had the option of a blessing after the civil marriage.

      • It has existed since civil marriage became an option in the 19thC and it is little know that a couple who contract a civil marriage can be licitly remarried in a CoE church.
        This distinction – whatever we think of it theologically – is not an innovation.

  19. I think a much clearer parallel here is with Donald Trump’s wall. Conservatives already have a border = doctrine. But they wish to make the border much stronger to keep out any intruders who aren’t quite the real thing. So – let’s build a wall. Let’s get all the legal advice that confirms our own position. Let’s write legalistic letters to the Archbishops and threaten all kinds of things unless they fail to give us money to build the wall. Let’s withhold money from other funding projects apart from the wall, because obviously keeping out the impure is the most important thing.
    This. I am afraid, is exactly how some of the conservatives are now coming across. Let’s build a wall and keep everyone who isn’t really part of the original plan out. That way we will Make the CofE Great Again.

    • I don’t think the problem is the parallel. I think the problem is the sheer falsehood,

      The idea that what we are seeing in Synod is an effort of conservatives to cleanse the church, rather than an effort by revisionists to transform the church is no untrue that I don’t think Andrew believes it – just thinks that it has more rhetorical heft than the indefensible truth (that the liberals are seeking to impose change that will expel conservatives and destroy charismatics.)

      • Andrew does firmly and truly believe it. There was evidence of it in the shared conversations. There was evidence of it in reception of the LLF material. There is evidence of it in comments here – not least in the comment from Kyle immediately above. Let’s just rid ourselves of liberals and we can Make the CofE Great Again.
        As at least two bishops remarked to me after February 2017: unless there can be an agreement to work together, there will be a fight to the bitter death. I am beginning to think that is now the most likely outcome. Conservatives would prefer to have no CofE than a CofE in which liberals had some doctrinal sway.

        • Well liberals have the support of most of Parliament and now a majority of Synod too have voted for blessings for homosexual couples. Evangelical churches have an opt out when the Bishops put them forward in the autumn, if even that isn’t enough then they can leave the C of E

        • And that is why doctrinal believers are being weadled out in ordinads selection process and training and teaching and appointments is it? And a commitent at Lambeth to double down on falsely named, but culturally driven inclusivism and revisionism.? That is the revisionists methodology for squaring the circle, or so it appears, under cover of closed-shop secrecy, in camera meetings and processes, that the article at numerous points brings out into the open.

          • It’s so good to see comments criticising liberal theology which are neither absurd, nor disrespectful.
            Oh, wait …

        • A fight to the death begs the question: death of what? If the liberals win, the Church of England will die. If the evangelicals win, it won’t.

          Both sides are frightened of the fight, because they fear losing the worldly assets of the Church of England. But there is more to it than this world.

          • The opposite. If the Liberals wins the Church of England will stay, as more C of E priests and the members of the C of E Parish are liberals on social matters than conservative evengalicals.

            The C of E is also the only real home in England for those from the Catholic tradition who can’t be Roman Catholic until the Vatican approves women priests and bishops, remarriage of divorce and blessings for homosexual couples which liberal Catholics support. Evangelicals however could go to Pentecostal, Baptist or any number of Independent evangelical churches if they left the C of E. As you say those who stay in the C of E get to keep £8 billion of assets, so have less need to evangelise to fill their churches with worshippers who will fill the collection plate each week too

    • Both are a reaction to massive cultural change that deliberately ignores real problems that are hurting real people – both are expressions of heartache coming from contradictions. The US wants to be the land of the free, but also wants to remain predominantly white. The CofE wants to be welcoming to everyone, but also wants to only affirm ‘nuclear’ families.

        • Anton

          The problem is that it’s part of US national identity to allow immigrants to settle here. Indeed that’s how 80% of the population got to the US.

          Nobody is suggesting ditching the Bible. The debate is over what it says to 21st Century LGBT people

          • If you are not suggesting ditching the Bible, please contribute to the debate above about the meaning of Leviticus 18:22.

            The USA severely limited Chinese immigration in the 19th century and limited immigration from Europe shortly after WW1. Whatever its reasons, it has never been open house: that is a myth.

          • Presumably Lesbianism is OK then based on Leviticus even if male homosexuality isn’t? Given the Church of England has women priests in contravention of Paul and marries divorced couples even if no spousal adultery, which was the only condition Jesus allowed for it, it is somewhat hypocritical to only focus on homosexuality which Jesus himself never specifically forbade for loving couples even if other parts of the Bible did

          • As far as I’m concerned, T1, all Christians are priests (Rev 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9) with Jesus Christ as high priest (Hebrews 5), and the idea of an officer class separated by priestly ordination is a mistake in the church of Jesus Christ. I’m in an Anglican congregation simply because it’s the best congregation reasonably near me and it reopened faster after covid than others. I have no loyalty to the Anglican system but plenty to the Bible as the word of God – together with the Word of God. As this is an Anglican blog, however, this is not a drum I beat very hard here.

          • Anton

            Most national identities are myths.

            That’s how you get a declaration of independence announcing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to slavery

          • Anton

            A plain reading of Leviticus 18.22 would be that it’s a sin to have sex with a man. Clearly that’s not actually the intended meaning because that would prohibit all heterosexual sex.

            As with most other wierd laws in Leviticus we have to interpret this by considering who it was addressed to (clearly not all people), what it meant at the time and how it can be best applied in modern circumstances. Jesus taught that all the laws ultimately hinge on living your neighbor as yourself and the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength. Clearly to my mind banning your neighbor from any kind of sexual relationship is not in line with what Jesus says the law is all about.

            Therefore whatever is the correct interpretation of Leviticus 18.22 it isn’t “ban gay people from marrying”

          • On a literal interpretation one could even say Leviticus allows anal sex not missionary sex between men, certainly it doesn’t prohibit homosexual marriage, which could even be non sexual

          • Anton

            Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

            So a plain reading is “don’t have sex with men” not “don’t have same sex sex”, which is how conservatives tend to read it

          • ‘So a plain reading is “don’t have sex with men” not “don’t have same sex sex”, which is how conservatives tend to read it’

            Er, but it is explicitly directed at men. And the casuistic parallel in Lev 20 also makes that clear.

            So it is telling *men* not to have sex with men.

          • Ian

            You are making my point for me – what we can agree on is that Leviticus 18.22 is clearly not universally applicable.

          • ‘what we can agree on is that Leviticus 18.22 is clearly not universally applicable’ Huh? I have no idea what you are talking about here. I have said no such thing.

          • Ian

            You just said it yourself.
            “Er, but it is explicitly directed at men.”
            Not every reader of Leviticus is a man. Therefore this law, even by your own admission, was never intended to apply to everyone. I’m not sure I can explain it more clearly than that – sorry if it still isn’t making sense.

  20. There is an astonishing sense of double standards being applied here.

    To be clear, I entirely disagree with Andrew Godsall’s theology. However, his analysis is no more provocative than much of the comment by others on this thread.

    Why is Andrew Godsall condemned, whilst others are allowed to be as provocative as they wish ?

    It is ridiculous, quite frankly.

    • Andrew Godsall, as is his wont, aligned to revision, has constructed a profoundly tendentious contention on the back of a headlined allusion to matter of national poltics which has insurprisingly backfired, notwithstanding Ian’s explanation. of the reference.
      Ian’s blog on the matter of ssm and ss blessing is in opposition to both, with supporting biblical, theological and CoE doctrinal reasoning, is well known and rehearsed.
      This particular comment from A Godsall ignores the substance of the article by Andrew Goddard.
      It is distinctly odd that when Ian, whose blog it is, has exercised some editorial discretion and comment, in conformity with his rules of engagementent, (and his own idiosyncratic sense of humour?) that discretion in its exercise finds objection from those who do not appear to have made any comment on the substance of the actual article by Andrew Goddard.
      BYW there seem to be a preponderance of Pete and Peters in thee comments that it is difficult to know who is saying what without any other means of differentiation.

      • Profoundly tendentious.

        You keep on barrelling down your narrow one way dead -end street accusing people of ignorance relating to the parliamentary sovereignty in the sale of CoE land and buildings … And your disdain for those you categorise as evangelicals seems to border on bigotry, ignorance, of what the evangel is and which God you worship.
        That trickle of thought appears to lack consistency, logic, and coherence and as such any semblance of cogency

        What part of please don’t attack others personally am I missing here?

      • Geoff

        Honestly I’m still waiting for a truly biblical argument against allowing gay people to marry. The arguments I have heard are essentially arguments from silence and declaring certain passages to be about gay people and walling off other passages from discussion. I’m not saying this is (always) done in bad faith, just that it’s difficult to break from tradition.

      • A Godsall’s comment regarding Trump is framed in provocative terms. I am certainly not saying I agree with him.

        My question is why does he get slapped down when other equally provocative comments are not just accepted by Ian but appear to have his approval.

        The fact is that Liberals are treated with an impatience and intolerance that is not shown to conservatives.

        If he were still with us, John Stott would admonish such behaviour.

        • Really, Peter?
          Though I didn’t know him personally did he and his writings and theology come under such a sustained cultural activism for doctrinal revision from both within and without the CoE?
          Did he approve even the revision of his Basic Christianity?
          Just how would he respond if chapters in his books, (such as on homosexuality) were put in blog format with opportunity for repetitative comment from revisionsts such as Andrew Godsall).
          Different format, different eras.
          And if we were to weigh the views on the Christian Church of the heavyweights of UK envangelicals of the time, Stott, Packer and Lloyd-Jones, I’d consider Lloyd-Jones to have been correct in the way forward in his asseessment of the church and its doctrine.
          I suspect that Stott would not have engaged in a blog, open to comments were he in his prime today. Would he, today, looked to have remained in the CoE? Ian does, and has engaged with a steadfast patience and until of late has been largely hands-off in responding to comments with something of equanimity it sems to me.
          He is someone I’d trust even if I’d not always agree. There are those who comment I’d not trust.

          I stand to be corrected, but I don’t think Tim Keller, as an internationally influential pastor and apologist who was greatly influenced by Stott, including his commentary on Romans, enganged in a blog in the way Ian has. I don’t think, however, that he had to contend with such open opposition to doctrine on sexual matters within his own denomination.

    • No it’s not. The plain reading and intent of the verse is not to prohibit thev act of heterosexual sex but forbids two men having a sexual relationship as if it was between (i.e. too lie with) a man and a woman.

  21. The former Bishop of Egypt Mouneer Anis has written an interesting article about how failure at the top has brought the church of England to the mess it is currently in. While not mentioning Brexit, he locates the failure of leadership in two main areas.

    1. Departure from the faith once received.
    Annis asserts that he divinity and uniqueness of Christ, the virgin birth and even his actual crucifixion and resurrection have been variously put in doubt to various degrees and has led to the acceptance by some Provinces of ever greater levels of theological diversity and less clarity as to what beliefs were essential for Anglican Christians. The affirming of new innovations which are incompatible with historical Anglican teaching has led some provinces to assert doctrinal autonomy, sexuality being the most notable example. One consequence of this according to Annis, is that this has left neither a clear theological framework to define, nor a mechanism through which to act, when differences between individual Provinces of the Communion had passed beyond acceptable limits.

    2. The second is Systemic Institutional Failure from those at the top particularly the ABC(s) to follow through on recommendations. The schismatic actions of the North American church and the consecration of Gene Robinson and all that followed on from this, while addressed by Rowan William initially, was not followed through, and discipline was not consistently applied. Annis give some interesting reasons why.

    I get the impression that Anis thinks that Rowan Williams understood the theological issues at stake but Justin Welby did not. Welby’s approach has been a managerial rather than a theological one. His priority is how best to manage the situation and probably reflects his corporate background in industry. It may also account for the fact that so many Bishops in the Cof E seem to make managerial pronouncements and make use of lots of management speak. Maybe they are following his lead?

    Annis writes this from the context of the Anglican Communion (or what it was ). You can read the article here.

    He has an accompanying article coming out about what he thinks needs to be done to get the communion back again.

      • People who have any regard for truth whatsoever never have regard for ‘holding together in difference’.

        This is because theories are disallowed from being wrong.

        But if there were 1000000 theories it is certain that 999999 at least of them are at least partly wrong.

        So 99.999% of theories will always be wrong.

        Truth lovers care about that. Scholars care. Unscrupulous people and ideologues do not care.

        Of course theories will be different if some are research based and others are wishful thinking. Do we then spend millions trying to reconcile these? They can never even be on the same page; and the second type should, obviously, be disregarded.

        The mere existence of a stance means that stance should be taken seriously?

        • Christopher, as ever you talk in lofty but vapid general terms. If you had ever been able to engage with Rowan Williams, you might have understood what that article was alluding to. Clearly, you never could have done and have not bothered to read the article.

        • Christopher

          I care about truth, but I also recognize that I don’t always agree with everyone else what the truth of the matter is.

          Not allowing any variance in opinion would be a death knell for the church in the west where culturally everyone is now being told their opinion is of great importance and that we have “had enough of experts”

          • So there aren’t any people who have not yet done enough thinking to arrive at any conclusion?
            One would have thought that MOST people were in that position.
            Secondly, you evince no suspicion when people’s so called conclusions match their preferences. Anyone would smell a rat if that were the case.

          • Christopher

            I’m not saying that nobody has come to a conclusion, but that there is disagreement between different people on what those conclusions are.

          • Nothing to do with what I was saying.
            I was saying that most people if they were honest would say that they have not done enough thinking to reach a conclusion yet. Given that the word ‘conclusion’ means you have come to the end of all the thinking you can do.
            And second, those who purport to have conclusions often so-called conclude that which they might have *wished* to conclude. That is obviously highly suspicious, and such ‘conclusions’ cannot be seen in the same category as researched ones.
            These were my 2 points.

          • Except of course just the other day you were defending intelligent people being allowed to comment on websites because they had evidence of having done thinking enough for a place like, for example, thinking Anglicans, by having a PhD in biblical studies.
            And then on this website people with PhDs in biblical studies claim to have done enough thinking to know that the rapture should have happened last Saturday. Obviously it didn’t.
            How on earth do we know who to trust in these important biblical studies matters I wonder? Biblical scholars don’t agree with each other even on some basic matters, much less on important things like the last days or even sexual relationships between people of the same sex.

          • ‘or even sexual relationships between people of the same sex.’ Except on this issue there is a remarkable consensus: Scripture is consistently negative about any form of same-sex sex, because of God’s creation of humanity as male and female.

          • Reading, I see that Rowan Williams bases holding different ideas together on the way different people read the same scriptures differently. I did not know that this was his argument (I would have expected it to contain nonscriptural dimensions); but if so it is easily addressed.
            (1) Scholars disagree, because they are working at a very fine level of precision so of course they do. It is generally only on minutiae that they disagree. No scholar finds SSM, or affirmation for SSS, in the scriptures.
            (2) Everyone who hears the same scriptures interprets them differently? No – because a high proportion of them are not very versed in the scriptures, so are not yet capable of interpretation. It is perfectly obvious that to interpret one needs Greek (or Greek and Hebrew) as a bare minimum.
            (3) As to wishful thinking being interpretation (weasel word), pull the other one.
            (4) Most of those who say that it is all a matter of reading the same scriptures differently do not provide the exegesis on which their supposed position is based. Jayne Ozanne does not even begin to do so. But not being qualified in this area, she and others would not be the first people listened to anyway.
            (5) It is generally agreed in the scholarly world that the texts (sticking purely to the texts for the moment) are strongly against homosexual sexual practice in general.

          • Christopher

            Well most British people are not interested in Christianity and are not gay so I’d agree most people have probably not done enough thinking on this to have reached a solid conclusion

          • Ian

            But I think that’s because your tradition only allows negative verses to speak to this issue. Other verses are available

          • Then you are showing you ignorance of the scholarship! The people I am referring to are folk like Brueggemann, Luke Timothy Johnson, Walter Wink, Bill Loader, E P Sanders. None of them are in ‘my tradition’; all of them agree with the comment I made about Scripture.

          • Sorry Christopher. As much as I enjoy the Roman Catholic catechism, and have sympathy with Orthodox theology, I think I’m too much of a Protestant to hold with you view that I need a priestly caste to interpret the Scriptures for me.

            A key part to reading the Scriptures is to ask the right question. The right question in this case is what are gay people to do? Scripture is consistently wary of lifelong celibacy, and especially making a rule of it (see Genesis 2, Ecclesiastes 4, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 7). Marriage is not a great cosmic metaphor put in place to explain Christ, it’s a practical response to sexual desire (again, Genesis 2, Mark 2, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 7). To understand the law on this, we have to remember that love is the fulfilment of the law, because love does no harm (Romans 13). Prohibitions against adultery or theft for example, are not arbitrary tests with no particular meaning, they are prohibitions because the behaviour is harmful to others and unloving. Any appeal to the law about same-sex behaviour and marriage has to account for this. Therefore, much like Abp Williams appeared to conclude 20 years ago, I would argue that given gay people really are gay and not changing, that Christian sexual ethics derived from Scripture are that if not called to celibacy they are right to marry.

          • Adam, I think I would agree with much of your comment here. But your conclusion quickly runs into problems.

            First, until very recently there was no such thing as marriage for gay people to enter into. So we have just got something right that all of history didn’t?

            Second, both Jesus and Paul, and much of Christian history, did indeed consider celibacy a possibility. Could it be that our culture is telling us it is not?

            Finally, if your conclusion is correct, how is it that none of the biblical writers added 2 of gay orientation to the 2 of sexual desire to end up with the 4 of gay marriage that you have? If your logic is as clear as it looks, how come none of them followed it? Or are you making assumptions behind your argument that they would question?

            So are the scriptures simply wrong?

          • Ian

            “The reason the Bible seems to speak “in one voice” concerning matters that pertain to LGBTQ persons is that the loud voices most often cite only one set of texts, to the determined disregard of the texts that offer a counter-position. But our serious reading does not allow such a disregard, so that we must have all of the texts in our purview.”

            Walter Brueggemann

            No, he clearly doesn’t agree with you. Sorry!

          • Peter, your selective reading of Brueggemann is misleading. He does indeed think that the texts that speak about same-sex sexual relations speak with one voice. Against that clear testimony ‘which cannot be explained away’ he puts quite different texts of welcome. He effectively crosses out the ‘texts of rigour’ because, in his view, they are incompatible with the texts of welcome.

            So we do in fact agree on the meaning of the ‘texts of rigour’ which relate to sexuality and marriage. See my exploration here.

          • Maybe Jesus told us – because their hearts were hard.

            I definitely think celibacy is a possibility. For some it is a gift. For others, like in the Roman Catholic Church, it can be a discipline. But the purpose comes first, not the discipline. Priests live under the discipline of celibacy to be priests, they don’t live under the discipline of celibacy and then cast around for what to do with it and settle on being a priest. What it cannot be, and what we are warned against repeatedly in Scripture, is for it to be a rule or command. In the Anglican tradition we’ve historically kicked so hard against the idea of a celibacy rule we removed the discipline not only for priests (and dramatically scaled back the monks and nuns) we don’t even require it of Bishops. One of the things the Reformation did (admittedly far from the most important) was to remove the suggestion that celibacy rules are minor thing we shouldn’t be too bothered by.

            Speaking personally, although I don’t count myself as celibate (I don’t rule out the possibility of a relationship in the future) I was when I was younger. Today, I’m a single, chaste, gay Christian pushing 40. Most likely I’m going to be single and chaste for the rest of my life. Hopefully not, but that’s what’s most likely. I’m well aware of what’s possible and what’s not, and where the Church falls down on this issue. I’ve lived in obedience to a Church teaching that’s an inference, that it’s advocates don’t take seriously, and that I strongly disagree with. I regret that, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it to the generations coming after me.

          • Ian

            As ever you single out Andrew and don’t even begin to address abusive comments from others. See Geoff’s attacks, for example.

          • No, he doesn’t agree with me on the question—neither do all the other scholars I cite there. That is because they think the Bible is wrong.

            But we all agree on what the Bible says, and the implications for contemporary ethics if we were to take the Bible as authoritative for life and faith. The idea that you can follow the teaching of Scripture and affirm same-sex sexual relationships is a mirage.

          • Ian

            I’m less familiar with Walter Wink, but I think his position is that none of the Bible talks about homosexuality because homosexuality wasn’t known at the time, which again I know is not your position

          • Peter, Wink says: ‘Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct.’

          • Ian

            I don’t understand. You’re claiming these people agree with you on the Bible, but they don’t actually.

          • We agree on what the texts say, contra the attempted of people like Matthew Vines.

            We disagree on the status of what the Bible says. They either say, the Bible is just wrong on this. Or, slightly more sophisticated, deploy a Sachkritik approach, saying that ‘we can discern the true heart of the Bible’s message, or the gospel, and we discount this teaching because it does not fit with what we have discerned as the true message.’

            There are many problems with such an approach, not least the fact that Jesus’ own teaching needs correcting, along with everyone else’s.

          • Andrew, I don’t think that homosexuality and circumcision are remotely comparable. The Bible (OT ) was not wrong about circumcision. It was required as a mark of the covenant that God had with Israel at that time. It was never required for the Gentiles. I don’t see how you can connect them at all.

          • Ian

            They agree with you that Leviticus 18.22 is negative and about a same sex act. But so what? So does pretty well everyone!

            Bruggeman is saying you need to consider all of scripture, not just the clobber verses. Wink is saying that the writers of the Bible did not have the scientific knowledge we have now and therefore could not have been writing about homosexuality as we understand it now. Both of these are very reasonable points and neither is saying the Bible is wrong.

            I know that it’s a matter of deep frustration and hurt that so many LGBT Anglicans have engaged in genuine good faith with the endless discussions on sexuality and yet conservatives still are not willing to do likewise.

          • They are not reasonable points. SSM and SSR was known in ancient times. There’s nothing new about it. We know little more about it now than they did then except that that some people are same-sex attracted and in our current culture it is widely accepted.

            The conservative arguments against SSM are not so much based on the so called ‘clobber verses’ but the overall picture we get from both the Old and New Testament of sexual differentiation between a man and a woman and the divine ordering of sexual behaviour between them, together with the motif of marriage being between a man and a woman and its picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. It is painted as being culturally invariant.

            If you want to make the argument that SSM is just fine then you need to acknowledge that on this matter the Bible cannot be applied to our current culture and is simply out of date, which is the argument that scholars like Wink and Loader are essentially making.

          • Chris Bishop

            No, the ancients did not know that some people are naturally attracted to the same sex and not attracted to the opposite sex. They did not have scientific evidence that genetics and the womb environment may contribute to someone’s orientation. There were some isolated sub-cultures where certain kinds of same sex sex and even same sex relationships for *elites* were tolerated, but this was not widespread or widely understood. I reject both the notion that homosexuality was so anathema in Judea, Samaria and Galilee that Jesus didnt need to teach what everyone already knew and also I reject the idea that homosexuality was so well understood in the neighboring provinces that Paul had as good as 21st century understanding of the phenomena

            I think the idea that the bible can have *nothing* to say to LGBT people is ridiculous and thats not what Wink or Bruggemann are saying. Indeed it angers me that we are now a decade out from SSM becoming legal in England and the CofE still has basically nothing to say to LGBT people beyond “dont have sex and dont get married”.

      • Andrew, many thanks for the link to the article which I have read. Webster in his preamble is trying to be even-handed to both parties and although it is clear where his personal sympathies lie, he is not condemning conservatives in what he writes.

        In his second paragraph he talks about the inability of each side to comprehend the position of the other. While I think there is some truth in this, I have seen much more attempts by conservatives to set out a theological rationale for their case then I have with liberals. On the liberal side, then the liberals I have read who have the most integrity are those who acknowledge that the Bible does not affirm SSM but conclude that Scripture is simply wrong on this matter, and that we must defer to higher and modern notions of justice and equality and consider that what Scripture says about these things belongs to a more anachronistic age.

        So I don’t think isn’t fundamentally about SSM but more about how Scripture should be read and the faith delivered to the saints as Mouneer Anis outlines in his article. I think it is this issue where the divergence between Liberals and Conservatives reaches its greatest point.

        In the fifth paragraph, Webster refers To Rowan Williams notion of a ‘grammar of obedience’ and the need to hold a language in common in order to avoid separation. I am not entirely certain what RW means by the former but in the latter, the former Bishop of Rochester Nazir Ali once commented that there were two churches in the Cof E that use the same words but attach very different meanings to them. I think there is a lot of truth in that which makes it difficult for liberals and conservative to hold language in common (Nazir Ali went on to join the RCs where they do seem to hold language more in common, but maybe Happy Jack can tell us about that).

        Webster highlights William’s assertion about the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided. Yet the reality of that is that surely in the long run, it cannot stand? ( Matt 12:25). Such an outcome is doomed to fail.

        In his final paragraph Webster frets that that ‘if Anglicans can no longer recognise each other as members of the same Body, responding faithfully to the same data – and the situation cannot somehow be recovered – then the Communion will not survive in its current form..’

        Unfortunately I think that train has now left and did so when Welby asserted and made it clear, by his role in the English Synod, that his being Primate of England takes precedence over being Head of the Anglican Communion. I think Andrew Goddard explored the consequences for the communion of this in another article on Ian’s site.

        I think a provincial settlement of some kind is the only long term durable solution but that is just my own view.

    • Bishop Anis (does anyone know why we don’t refer to him as an Archbishop?) conveniently manages to forget the actions and statements that have come from the Churches of Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. Funny that.

      • Not quite true. Many, many evangelicals appreciated his ministry greatly. In him we had an extraordinarily gifted, gracious and listening Archbishop; a theological heavyweight who we were privileged to have as our leader. At the time he was recognised as a great gift to the church, not least as a public theologian, but like any gift, reception is essential and sadly some could not see the opportunity he gave us as a church. (By the way, he was falsely labelled a ‘liberal’ which meant some could dismiss him simply as wrong. ) So it’s great to see the link to his brilliant essay about ethical disagreement which charts a way forward in the present situation.

          • Rowan Williams was a theologically literate ABC, understood the subject and you could reason with him theologically even if you disagreed with him. Welby isn’t a theologian and looks at things managerially.

            In fact I am not sure if there are many Bishops in the CoE which are theologically literate to the same degree but it seems to me that there are certainly many that are managerial.

        • Rowan Williams was a scholar and a decent man personally but that is not enough to make a good ABC. He was a liberal theologian and broke a promise to evangelicals about where he would maintain a line in the sand over LGBT in the church.

          His letter of 28th September 2000 (while Archbishop of Wales) to Dr Deborah Pitt, a Welsh evangelical Christian and psychiatrist, stated that he believed the Mosaic prohibitions were “addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety in their experience” – even though the prohibitions say nothing about ‘orientation’ and simply outlaw sexual activity between men. Dr Pitt’s reply is worth reading at

          On 4th April 2022 Williams was a signatory to a letter to the Prime Minister demanding that a ban on LGB conversion therapy be extended to Trans persons, stating that “To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole: precious, honoured and loved, by yourself, by others and by God.”

          • Anton, you are right to draw attention to these lapses by Rowan Williams. For all his great intellect, he didn’t really understand evangelicalism and he seriously misrepresented the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.
            On the other hand, to his credit he understood that abortion is the taking of a human life and he opposed this evil.

          • That last part of the last sentence quoted just about sums it up; his view of a *sacred journey* which inverts the order of love God, supremely seen in Christ.
            Is it lofty intellect or muddled sub- Christian thinking? Maybe, trespassing into gnosticism?
            The idea of a trans sacred journey a topic which has been previously covered in one of Ian’s articles, I think; certainly in the comments sections.

          • Those are two quite extraordinary statements from someone who in other ways was a master scholar. Having known him a little personally, I wanted to write to challenge him on the second—but was unable to track down any email contact address.

          • Well that is the rule of compromise in a Church of England that contains both liberal Catholics and evangelicals, the ABC position alternates between them. Williams as a liberal Catholic succeeded conservative evangelical Carey who in turn replaced liberal Catholic Runcie. Welby was the evangelical chosen to succeed Williams and on the same usual rotation the next ABC will almost certainly be a liberal Catholic too

          • Most evangelicals are in favour of female ordinands, it was Anglo Catholics most opposed to that. It is homosexual marriages or blessings of couples in church conservative evangelicals mostly oppose

          • Ian,

            You could always write to Rowan Williams. I am reliably informed that Sts. Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude wrote letters before the internet era.

            I tried to email him once when he was Master of a Cambridge college after Canterbury, but I failed to get past his secretary which I considered a poor show.

      • Didn’t Williams square the circle of stone of the Welsh Druids with a dual Anglican and Druid priesthood, mixing and conflating the plurality of grammar of both and overlooking the roots of Druid worship and beliefs, while at the same time being supportive of ss relationships?

          • Yeah, that’s the National Eisteddfod, and he was inducted into the Gorsedd who run an important Welsh-language poetry competition. Most of the Archdruids (who preside over the Gorsedd and the Eisteddfod) have been Christian clergymen – usually Congregationalists, but quite a few Methodists, and the odd Baptist thrown in.

          • AJB, Christian? Hardly, if they can’t show any spiritual discernment, understanding the dark pagan roots of their worship and priesthood of Druidism. Which has no part in Christianity.
            Of course it is possible to be priested into the CoE without believing in its roots in Christian doctrine, in Christ.

      • Anton

        I think evangelicals just wanted an evangelical to be ABC…until they got their wish.

        It’s always far easier to complain about people in power than to be one

    • It continually frustrates me that there’s always a focus on people breaking with Lambeth 1.10 and never recognition that conservatives have broken it more egregiously and, from my perspective, never agreed with it at all.

      There’s a 20 man currently waiting trial in Uganda, under a possible death sentence, because he had sex with a 41 year old man. It carries the death penalty because the 41year old has a disability. That’s the new law that was promoted and pressed for by the Anglican Church of Uganda.

        • The CEEC statement was pathetic.

          They “committed to further reflection on these matters and are engaging privately…[and to]…learn from each other”

        • Ian

          But the Church of Uganda are still accepted as a moral authority by conservatives in the CofE and GAFCON. The Episcopal Church is usually condemned.

          • Errr Ian, look at GAFCON’s full throated defence of the Church of Uganda when Abp Welby dared to criticise its support for executing gay people. Look at the membership of the Conference Statement Committee for the last GAFCON – of the 10 members, 2 were from Uganda. Only two Churches, Uganda and Australia, were afforded such an honour. Go watch Richard Coekin’s interview at GAFCON where he felt the need to say that harsh condemnation of gay people was fine in Africa because homosexuality was already culturally abhorrent, but in the West you had to understand that the different cultural context required a pastoral response that proved we did love gay people really.

          • GAFCON? Who are GAFCON? They are a marginal group who attract very little support amongst Anglican evangelicals in England. The last bishop associated with them became a Roman Catholic last year.

          • I have never had anything to do with them, and I cannot recall have any real discussions about them with my UK evangelical friends. They have almost no bearing on UK evangelicals.

            In terms of the Communion, the Global South Fellowship is much more significant.

          • And the Global South Fellowship have the Church of Uganda as a full member (unlike say, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda etc.). They haven’t, as far as I can tell, uttered a peep of criticism of the Ugandan Church. Plenty to say about the Church of England though.

  22. And if remembered correctly Williams arguments in favour of the application of sharia law in the UK were off beam, insupportable at law, in the Constitution and robustly opposed by the then Bishop Nazir Ali.

    • Geoff: yes, this was another blunder by Williams. Understanding law from a theological perspective – as for example Thomas Aquinas does in his Treatise on Eternal Law – is the way to think biblically about this. Otherwise law is nothing other than custom and coercion.

  23. Anton
    September 16, 2023 at 11:47 pm
    I quote your post in entirety because the reference to Dr.pitt’s letter to Rowan Williams at is a superb repost to much of the double- think language that is often expressed so often amongst theologians.
    Ezek 34:8 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock.
    Rowan Williams was a scholar and a decent man personally but that is not enough to make a good ABC. He was a liberal theologian and broke a promise to evangelicals about where he would maintain a line in the sand over LGBT in the church.

    His letter of 28th September 2000 (while Archbishop of Wales) to Dr Deborah Pitt, a Welsh evangelical Christian and psychiatrist, stated that he believed the Mosaic prohibitions were “addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety in their experience” – even though the prohibitions say nothing about ‘orientation’ and simply outlaw sexual activity between men. Dr Pitt’s reply is worth reading at

  24. “Jill Duff and Lis Goddard count as conservative evangelicals don’t they?”

    I don’t think conservative evangelicals would agree with having women bishops.


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