Putting the C of E at risk

tightropeIn these days of governing-by-bureaucracy, every organisation is obliged to have a risk register. If you are a trustee of an organisation, reviewing such a risk register will be a regular item on your meeting agendas. The Church of England is no different, and the Archbishops’ Council reviews the risk register regularly at its meetings. Before reading any further, what would you identify as the main risks to the Church of England as an institution?

The 2014 report from Archbishops’ Council included a fairly general statement of risk management (p 26), which included some areas of more specific risk:

The following areas contain inherent risks, which are subject to management actions:

  • efficient and effective use of funding received from dioceses
  • delivery of grants to fund mission development and growth
  • influencing of policy in areas such as education, Church conservation and support for the Lord Spiritual
  • providing advice and support for dioceses in areas such as safeguarding

The 2015 report (due out quite soon) will be much more specific about the particular operational issues, and lists

  • Failure to recruit sufficient new clergy and lay leaders
  • Failure of new initiatives to deliver church growth
  • Failure of safeguarding processes, and impact of national enquiries (such as the Goddard report)
  • Failure to gain support for the Renewal and Reform programme
  • Financial insolvency in a significant part of the church
  • IT capacity and security.

I wonder how that compares with your own list? I suspect most people would suggest that there is one very significant strategic risk for the church as a whole which isn’t covered by the above list of operational risks: the danger of schism over a major issue of belief or practice. Reading newspaper headlines, or attending to the internal workings of the Church, it would be hard not to notice that the debate on sexuality and its outcome is the ‘major issue’ currently threatening the future of the C of E as we know it.

If that is the case, why would any diocesan bishop act in a way to exacerbate this risk? Yet in the last month, two appear to have done just that.

In the first incident, the Acting Bishop of Oxford, Colin Fletcher, authorised Charlotte Banister-Parker to officiate at a celebration of the marriage of Desmond Tutu’s daughter, Mpho, to her atheist partner. The wedding itself had taken place in Holland last year, and this was to be a celebration of it. Communication from the diocese of Oxford denied it was a wedding or blessing of a marriage:

Contrary to some press reports, it should be made clear that the event was NOT a wedding, and nor was it a blessing of the couple. It was simply a celebration of a wedding that took place in the Netherlands in December last year.

Yet press reports note a bridal procession, the exchange of rings, and the moment where Bannister-Parker declares ‘We now recognise you as wife and wife’. It reminds me of the well-observed episode of Rev, where the vicar wants to affirm a gay couple by celebrating their marriage in some way, but tries to ensure it is not a ‘wedding’—to no avail in the light of the reactions of those present at the service.

The comment on the Reform website is relatively restrained, and sets out a series of questions that it would be grateful for the bishop to respond to, including:

Does the Acting Bishop of Oxford believe that a ‘celebration’ of a marriage that re-enacts the giving and receiving of rings and the making of promises to one another and according to the report the ‘pronouncement that we now ‘recognise you as wife and wife’ falls within the terms of the Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage?

I have generally found that the maxim ‘Don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence’ (i.e. cock-up is more common than conspiracy) has been a very useful guide to life in the C of E. So asking these questions prior to coming to any conclusion on the significance of this action is the right way to go. I hope that the bishop will be able to offer some sensible answers.

The second incident was the appointment of Susan Goff, bishop in the Diocese of Virginia, as an Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Liverpool. In July 2015, she was one of the bishops who voted in favour of changing the definition and purpose of marriage according to in Canons of The Episcopal Church. And of course, this alteration to the Canons was the action that led the Primates of the Anglican Communion, gathered in Canterbury in January, to commit to ‘consequences’ for this change, requesting that The Episcopal Church step down from representing the Communion or being involved in decision making on matters relating to doctrine or polity.

The decision is an odd move for several reasons. For a start, I understand that this is first time such an appointment of an assistant bishop has been made of someone from overseas who is not actually resident in the diocese. Second, although it has been placed in the context of partner relations between the two dioceses, this is not the usual way of expressing such partnerships. More worrying, Susie Leafe, Director of Reform, claims that the diocese has severed its links with Akure Diocese in Nigeria whilst strengthening its links with Virginia. The diocesan website doesn’t confirm this, since Akure is still listed as a link, and it would be good to have clarification here. Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, comments:

For many years the Diocese of Liverpool has enjoyed good relationships with dioceses in other Anglican provinces. Although these links have come under strain in recent times with the increase in tension across the Communion, we are committed to “walking together” with our historic partners as far as we can.

But it is hard to see how this innovation in relations with a diocese in TEC, the subject of recent difficult discussion in the Communion, can constitute a ‘commitment to walking together’. If the link with Akure has not yet been broken, it is hardly likely to strengthen it, and so the move represents a shift in sympathy for the Diocese from one part of the Communion (the majority) to another (currently the minority).

I don’t know Colin Fletcher at all, but I do know Paul Bayes a little. We have conversed at Synod, and he has been a regular reader and supporter of this blog. But I simply don’t understand why either are choosing to take actions which are contributing to the dangers of schism in the Church, when this must, on any reasonable grounds, be seen as one of the greatest risks the Church of England is currently facing. Neither action was necessary; neither has achieved much except for antagonising those on the ‘traditional’ end of the debate. We have embarked on an expensive and time-consuming process of ‘Shared Conversations’, which come to an end at July’s meeting of General Synod. After that, I think that Synod, and the Church as a whole, will be looking to leadership from the House of Bishops as to the way forward.

In this context, the last thing we need is bishops taking unnecessary risks with the future of the Church.

Additional note: I just came across this fascinating reflection from Jesse Zink, who is director of the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. Having explored the oddity of a recent episcopal appointment where the bishop has no diocese, he finds equally off the appointment of Goff to Liverpool, her second place of ministry:

The oddity here also has to do with place: a bishop is to be linked to a place, as Bishop Goff, already is, but it is to be one place. Now Bishop Goff is a bishop connected to two places. I have no doubt that the link between Liverpool and Virginia is strong and important to both dioceses. I want to take nothing away from that relationship. But in ecclesiological terms, this particular move doesn’t make much sense. (And, indeed, Bishop Goff had to post a video clarifying that she’ll only be in Liverpool up to two weeks a year.) To ask one particular question: who is Bishop Goff’s metropolitical authority? Is it the Archbishop of York (through the bishop of Liverpool), as it is for other bishops in the northern province of the C of E? Or is it the rather diffuse metropolitical authority of the Episcopal Church (through the bishop of Virginia), as it is for other Episcopal bishops?

The church is full of oddities, ecclesiological and otherwise, and I’m usually content to let them go unremarked upon. But these particular oddities reveal some deeper confusion in our Anglican thinking about bishops…we have this fixation on bishops: who they are, what they do, what they say. We develop fancy ways of referring to them (+ or ++, which is an oddity for another time). We struggle to call them by their first names. We surround their visits with a kind of aura. The result of all this is that we are developing this unstated assumption that the only things that matter in the church are what bishops say. There’s no reason that ECSSS could not have appointed a priest or lay person as its roving ambassador. If the Diocese of Liverpool wanted to cement its ties with Virginia, the bishop could have made a priest or lay person from Virginia a canon in his cathedral. But in each case, it was decided the role needed to be filled by a bishop—a response to and a furthering of this over-emphasis on episcopal ministry. And that emphasis has real world impacts, not least the proliferation of bishops and dioceses in a church like ECSSS so that ever-smaller regions of the country can feel like they have an adequate voice at the table.

It perhaps leads us to wonder what was so important about the link with Virginia that pushed the diocese into this very strange and unAnglican approach to episcopal ministry.

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114 thoughts on “Putting the C of E at risk”

  1. Ian, my recollection of the same meeting you were at was that the issue you raise was clearly mentioned high up in the risk register. You would expect me to notice it! So perhaps a bit of fact checking of your own would be wise before going public. Have you approached the two bishops privately as Scripture might encourage? Or is the preference to go public before making sure the questions you raise are based on facts? In doing so I fear you contribute to the same schismatic atmosphere that you criticise…

    • Simon, yes it was, and I was simply going to refer to the risk register until I went back and read the paperwork. The issue is just about the top of the list on the AC risk register—but when I read through, I noticed that the list to be published more widely omitted it. So I confess I had a question about disclosure about the contents of confidential documents—I am happy to follow your lead if you believe that disclosure is appropriate. But it does mean that we need to ask why the single mismatch between the private and the public list—something I don’t think I had twigged up till now…!

      My comments have been clearly qualified in relation to the facts—I think the Reform line of posing questions before coming to a conclusion about an agenda the correct one. If anyone believes my facts are mistaken here, I am more than happy to be corrected.

      However, I am not tackling anyone on personal or private action and making that public. I am commenting entirely on public decisions which have been publicly communicated, and entering into that public discussion. Do you really think that bishops would welcome personal correspondence on every issue from everyone who disagreed with them? I suspect not!

      Instead, I would rather have a measured, open debate on the issues here instead of engaging in personal lobbying and pressure.

      I should add that, as members of Archbishops’ Council, if we have any sense of responsibility for the risk register (as you have now disclosed it) then we must raise these actions as a material concern at our next meeting…mustn’t we?

    • Simon,

      By that token, St. Paul probably contributed to schism by challenging St. Peter’s hypocrisy in capitulating to the separation of Jewish Christians from their Gentile counterparts at Antioch, while not fully adhering to the rigorous tenets of Judaism himself.

      Of course, what’s at stake, both then and now, is that leaders, who implement (or connive at) revisions without the due process of Synod, can instigate the adoption of de facto amendments.
      Most here know that I see no equivalence between behaviour and ancestry.

      However, in terms of the lack of due authority for such change, the Council of Jerusalem was clear, when it said of the Judaizers: ‘We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.

      The introduction of the Jewish liturgy of circumcision into the Christian faith had such far-reaching repercussions, that it could not remedied as individual faults.

      As was stated in 2003, the absence of a theological consensus on same-sex unions does not allow any bishop to instigate a de facto consensus through connivance:

      ‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’.

      So, in bypassing the lack of theological consensus on same-sex unions, you might want to reconsider who’s really causing schism here?

      • David, you may have forgotten that Paul mentions challenging Peter “to his face”, which I think follows my point.

        “Due process” is of course the nub of the issue. The HoB ‘policy’ was published in a rush, with bishops having less than 48 hours to digest the proposals. Many felt bounced into something cooked up by a few.

        And it is a moot point to argue that either +Dorchester or +Liverpool have implemented any change of doctrine or practice by their decisions. Ian raises the question of whether they have and poses questions of clarification. I think at the least no-one should assume they have (although I assume both he and Reform suspect that is precisely what they are doing).

        But it won’t make any difference because the Shared Conversations are going to happen and (as Ian and I agree) we both expect the bishops to lead after them.

        • Simon,

          I’ve not forgotten that. St. Paul’s instructs Timothy: Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses’.

          There is no qualification that would suggest that the ‘testimony’ of news reports should be excluded. As I’ve described below, the Diocesan response to the Anglican Mainstream article is lame, reprehensibly contemptuous of our intelligence and laughable.

          The current HoB policy remains unchanged from ‘Issues’. The due process was to provide Pastoral Guidance on same-sex marriage, which allowed sufficient time for the Church to reflect upon the outcome of Shared Conversations. The guidance did not suspend due process.

          Even if it won’t happen in the modern CofE in which every connivance can be interpreted ambiguously, St. Paul’s instructions about dealing with lax leadership is equally applicable: But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism (1 Tim. 5:19,20)

          I really have no interest in the double standards that turned a blind eye when liberals publicly called the then Archbishop to account based on press leaks concerning the treatment of Jeffrey John and now want conservatives to abide by the due process in investigating this incident.

          • Yes, Paul challenged Peter ‘to his face’ but not in private. Since Paul Bayes reads this blog, I am addressing this ‘to his face’ and not behind his back, which is in fact Paul’s point here.

            And see the comment below from Gavin Ashenden. These are public actions by public leaders which merit public scrutiny and conversation.

  2. I think it is right sometimes ‘go public’ on issues like this – see Don Carson on using or abusing Matthew 18. http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/article/editorial-on-abusing-matthew-18

    Ian, thanks for bringing these issues to wider attention. I think what is worrying is the bishops deafening silence on matters of sexuality and marriage – very few have actually said anything about it. Apparently the role of a bishop is to preserve the status quo and not rock the boat, nothing to do with teaching sound doctrine and refuting error. Maybe related to the church’s fascination at the moment with management speak?

    • Yes, Simon is right: I wouldn’t be unhappy if bishops maintained the status quo. But the status quo is that the Church does not believe that same-sex unions are morally, pastorally or theological on a par with marriage.

      What I am worried about is bishops gradually shifting the ‘status quo’ but without offering rationale or explanation for it.

      • I agree Ian (and Simon) – I just meant preserving the status quo of the way the church currently deals with the issue, i.e. not talking about it, sweeping the problem under the carpet or kicking it into the long grass! Obviously I think the church should retain its current teaching and for that I would much prefer bishops preserve the status quo!

      • Here in NZ what seems to be the public approach of Bishops is to ‘maintain unity’. Thus the status quo here has become, ‘both views on sexuality and marriage are true, it is our role as bishops to help the church move forward holding together these ‘truths”. In other words to maintain a disunited unity . . .

          • And that is what a lot of people here in the C of E would not accept, since it implies a decision about the status of this issue as being ‘adiaphora’. That is not ‘agreeing to disagree’, it is imposing one view of this issue on others.

          • Indeed, Andrew, or rather less so. All that the vast majority of affirming people are calling for is for the matter not to be imposed upon every parish. It is Ian and others who are trying to drive many of us out of the Church in which we were baptised, and the Church of our Confirmation.

          • David,

            You baptised and confirmed in a Chrurch on the basis that you would be brought up to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in the Bible in the same way that Jesus does. Nobody was baptised and confirmed in a Church that is there to twist the words of Jesus Christ and twist the meaning of the Bible.

            It is not Ian or anyone else who believes in Jesus and the Bible who is driving anyone out or changing the Christian faith into which you were baptised and confirmed. It is those who wish to re-write parts of the Bible and alter Jesus’ words that are proposing to impose their views on others.

          • And of course no one who wrote the New Testament altered any of Jesus’ words to suit their message.
            Please – this is O level RE stuff……….

          • No, Andrew, it is not O-level RE stuff. Your confidence in your own position is consistently supported by an equal measure of patronising superiority and disdain for anyone who doesn’t buy into your theological liberalism.

            There is a wealth of good, robust, academic research which pulls the rug from under the form critical assumptions which have, sadly, dominated NT studies for too long. And there is plenty of prima facie evidence that the NT writers felt severely constrained in *not* adapting Jesus’ teaching to suit their needs. Why almost nothing from Jesus on the raging controversy of food laws? And why so much on Son of Man when the second generation struggled to know what to do with this?

            You continue to assume, for some inexplicable reason, that the ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ are somehow to shape Christian theology. The obituary of Dennis Nineham, who died this week, show how empty and shallow this is. When asked if he believed in the resurrection, his reply was ‘Of course not. Now pass the mustard.’ Yet he felt no compunction about continuing as an ordained minister, neither did anyone in the Church feel the need to question this.

            Praise God this empty intellectualism is at last being eclipsed.

          • Clive, can you give an example of where I “twist the words of Jesus Christ and twist the meaning of the Bible.” That’s quite a big claim. Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition.

          • Ian you wrote: “Your confidence in your own position is consistently supported by an equal measure of patronising superiority and disdain for anyone who doesn’t buy into your theological liberalism.”

            Strangely, I find that your confidence in your own position is consistently supported by an equal measure of patronising superiority and disdain for anyone who doesn’t buy into your theological conservatism.

            Strange isn’t it?

          • Andrew, I don’t think measuring equal offence is a test of the different responses.

            In each case, I have engaged the issue, and offered evidence as to why I take a different view. You have done that at times, but quite often you have lapsed into dismissal of the views of others as ‘basic’ and ‘0-level theology’. In amongst this has been the assumption that your position is somehow unquestionable because of its theological foundations.

            That’s the difference.

          • Very interesting, isn’t it Andrew? Especially in a thread where Ian and Clive will not deny that don’t think it acceptable for us to hold our opinions in this church. Where Clive, a licensed minister of this church, finds it acceptable to tell someone he doesn’t kno that I’ve not followed the requirements of my Baptism.

          • The Bible that Jesus spoke about. The Bible that Jesus told us and tells us that Jesus believes in.

            You have hidden behind the pretence of academia but the question you have asked actually reveals a lot more about you than anything else because you don’t want to look at the Bible Jesus speaks of (the verb here is past, present and future).

            It’s time you stopped pretending and only looking at the parts of the Bible that you agree with and twisting away the rest so that you instead have to look holistically as Jesus does. By looking only at the parts of the Bible you agree with you so you are not out to find the truth at all.

  3. Ian,- I see no need whatever to approach the bishops in question privately. These are not private acts. They are public ones; you are wholly entitled to raise publicly questions about the public acts.Thank you for doing so. I agree with you – they are destabilising an already unstable situation. Personally I don’t mind as I am in the process of withdrawing from the Church of England, because for me (unlike you) the tipping point has already been reached. As the process of de-stabilisation continues because of the calibre and world-views held by those appointed to be managers in the C of E, it will be interesting to see what constitutes tipping points for you and others. But tip it will.

  4. “We have embarked on an expensive and time-consuming process of ‘Shared Conversations’, which come to an end at July’s meeting of General Synod.”

    Yes, and you’ve been clear that the church’s current teaching is non-negotiable, meaning that the response to the “Shared Conversations” can, at best, suggest ways to try and implement its teaching with a minimum of harm.

    Permanently ruling out any change in the position that homosexual acts are inherently sinful surely puts the church at far more risk than these two actions.

    • No, James, I have never said that the Church’s current teaching is ‘non-negotiable.’ I would be happy to change the current position if there were persuasive theological reasons to change our doctrinal and pastoral practice.

      But, as ever, change here appears to be creeping in without proper discussion.

      • In “The Gay Lobby We Need to Listen to,” you said, “The point here is that discussion has not ended, but the C of E has decided its position and drawn a line under any possibility of further change.”

        It sounded to me like you believe that the church’s position is non-negotiable, but if that wasn’t your intent, apologies for the misunderstanding.

        • All our understanding is contingent, and therefore in principle must always be open to rethinking in the light of what Scripture says.

          But that doesn’t mean that every issue is continually open to contentious debate. If we get to the point of deciding that there is enough reason to revisit our understanding of this issue, we should do so. I don’t think there is, and I think this is supporting by noting the very poor reasons given, e.g. by the SEC in its decision.

  5. Ian, well spotted. As a new member of the Audit Committee I shall raise this at my first meeting!

    But whether out of biblical principle or politeness there is something to be said for checking the facts. You seem to accept Reform’s statements as not worthy of question, whereas I notice the way they elide their word (‘pronouncement’, not a word used in the service) with the actual word (‘recognise’), which is a statement of legal reality. That seems entirely in keeping with the Diocesan statement.

    Regarding Virginia, there seems to be an acceptance of Leafe’s claims without question. I have no idea of the particular relationships (although it is undoubtedly true that Nigerian dioceses have come under particular pressure internally to cool things off with the C of E, especially in dioceses like Liverpool). ‘As far as we can’ may reveal the Nigerian tensions but I am sure that Bishop Paul would want to treat both links equally if that were possible.

    Does it cut across the Shared Conversations? To be honest, I’m not sure it will make any difference but they do stand out (along with the Jeremy Davies/Tim Dakin incident and the Jeremy Timms/John Sentamu situation) as things that annoy different sides.

    I hope that Reform are not looking for excuses to avoid engaging in six weeks’ time. I’m certainly working hard on my side of the fence to keep the trust in the process going.

    • Simon, that’s a slightly odd critique, if I may say so.

      I made observations about the service not from Reform, but from the SA newspaper report. It was also reported in the Guardian and Telegraph, and both of these called the service ‘a wedding.’

      Second, I haven’t taken anything from Reform without question. I specifically question the evidence for the breaking of the link with Nigeria, and link to the diocese’s own website.

      And I am not highlighting these incidents because they are ‘annoying.’ Tim Dakin was simply implementing what the statement of the House of Bishops had set out as our current position. Why on earth should that be a problem? Annoying it might be; contradictory and destabilising it wasn’t.

      Do you see no difference between actions by bishops in line with their stated policy, and actions which contradict what they have previously said?

      • Well that’s fine but a newspaper report is hardly reliable whatever they choose to call it!

        From many perspectives Dakin/Sentamu have been unhelpful too, but I grant they have been implementing a policy that was agreed and they can at least be credited with consistency.

        As to a policy, I think it’s already unworkable and is being quietly ignored in a number of dioceses (London being the only publicly acknowledged one but there are plenty more). So these two are hardly inconsistent when the inconsistency is already present.

        • If the report of the newspapers (all of them) is incorrect, then it should be a simple task to produce the liturgy for the service, or a recording of it, and set the record straight. Strange that hasn’t happened yet, several weeks on.

          I am interested in your comment about policy being ‘quietly ignored’, and I wonder whether I could ask you a few questions about this.

          a. Do you think it is a good thing that clergy (and possibly bishops) are routinely ignoring their ordination vows on a serious matter of doctrine and ethics?

          b. Do you think this is something we should encourage or discourage?

          c. Given that many revisionists are calling for ‘an end to hypocrisy’ wouldn’t it be consistent for them to argue against this practice? Does this practice have integrity?

          d. Do you think this is a good way for the Church to formulate its doctrine and pastoral practice, for each to ‘do what is right in his/her own eyes’?

          e. Should we as members of Archbishops’ Council feel concerned that this practice is likely contributing to schism, i.e. adding to the first equal risk threatening the future of the Church?

        • Simon I am genuinely interested in your answer to these questions. There was a time when I think I could have made a fairly good guess as to what you would have said—but I have the impression that your position has now changed.

  6. Ps, do you know anyone who has written theologically about ‘risk’? It’s something which I’d like to explore…

    • See ‘The Divine Risk’ ed. Richard Holloway, 1990, DLT. Good piece by Rowan Williams in here: ‘God and Risk (2)’.

  7. What I don’t understand is why the “wedding” couple had to use a Priest imported from the C of E to confect their marital arrangements in the first place? I should have thought there were any number of Priests in ACSA who wld have done the job ?g

    • Presumably because she was the person they wanted to conduct the ceremony. As many people choose someone in particular to conduct their ceremonies for them.

  8. Frost and Hirsch have written ‘The faith off leap: embracing a theology of risk, adventure, and courage.’

    Two points unrelated to your main point, Ian.

    First I think the articulation of risk – and especially of risk appetite – is far from being ‘government by bureaucracy’ but is a very valuable tool not just in managing risks but in articulating priorities. Being unaware of your risks and slow to take action on them is very – well – risky.

    Second I’m glad that ‘failure too recruit’ comes top of the new list. I reckon it should for almost any organisation – it certainly does for CMS, when taken in its broadest sense. For the C of E though I’d suggest the biggest risk is simply failure to recruit not clergy and lay leaders – but people, full stop!

    • Philip, thanks. I would like to share your optimism about risk registers, and I certainly think it has been an interesting exercise for AC. But I have known several organisations hit by something not on the risk register, and there was not an obvious way to have predicted this. So these things are good as far as they go, but no substitute for creative thinking (which I don’t think they encourage)

      Lack of growth is indeed an important element on the risk register.

  9. So, quick quiz: ‘When’s a wedding not a wedding?

    Answer: ‘When the Diocess of Oxford says it isn’t.’ And this is evidenced by the correction of the Anglican Mainstream article:

    To be quite clear:
    The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker accepted the invitation of Mpho Tutu to lead a celebration of her marriage to Marceline van Furth in her capacity as a friend of the family.

    So, as any friend of the family would do, the Reverend Parker-Bannister, merely led the celebration in that capacity, as she is depicted in the press photo, by joining the couple’s hands together in front of her, as she read from her ‘notes’ (which, if you zoom in, are clearly non-religious)

    Sure, Marcelline van Furth may well have read from 1 Cor. 13 and, while the Apache Wedding Prayer was recited, none of these connote the public exchange of marital commitment with religious declarations…because that would be a wedding…which it wasn’t.

    In fact, the event was what the Diocesqn communications team says because it’s what the Diocesqn communications team says. And, as we all know, Diocesan communications teams are never wrong!

    She did so with the permission of both the Bishop of Saldanha Bay, the Rt Revd Raphael Hess, and the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher.

    ‘Did so’, of course, refers to leading the celebration of a wedding. So, this was the celebration of a celebration of matrimony, which is not the celebration of matrimony itself. Far be it from the Acting Bishop of Oxford to be scurrilously accused of permitting the latter.

    Contrary to some press reports, it should be made clear that the event was NOT a wedding, and nor was it a blessing of the couple. It was simply a celebration of a wedding that took place in the Netherlands in December last year.

    Well, this is patently obvious. So, let’s recap: the diocese has now clarified that leading a celebration (one which admittedly contains religious elements celebrating the celebration of matrimony) is not, I repeat, not the same as religiously celebrating the matrimony itself…since Rev. Bannister-Parker attended in a.non-religious capacity.

    Sir Humphrey would have been proud of Oxford’s communications team.

  10. Thank you for another good article, Ian. I am wondering why there has not been more of an outcry at these two obvious attempts to slide the acceptance of gay “marriage” into the C of E through the back door.

    • Perhaps because these are just the most recent two? There have been many attempts over the last few years to ignore the churches’ teaching and circumvent the process, this is nothing new.

      Maybe the cynical answer to your question is the best one….

      There has been no bigger outcry because by now this doesn’t surprise anyone and we’re all used to it.

  11. This is a completely fascinating, if esoteric, discussion. I doubt whether any faith-based organisation has considered the risk of schism as part of its compliance with charity law and practice. The Charity Commission considers risks under five headings: governance risks (including, does the trustee body – the Archbishops’ Council in this case – lack relevant skills or commitment? – answers on a postcard please!); operational risks; financial risks (self-evident, and probably the major risk facing the Church as a whole); external risks (including poor public perception and reputation – see below); and compliance with law and regulation (here safeguarding is centre-stage as, to date, the Church has singularly failed to be compliant). Schism would probably be included under external risks. The thrust of Ian’s post, of course, is that revision of the marriage canon might lead to schism. However, any risk assessment also needs to consider the reputational risks (including risks to the mission of the Church) attaching to not moving towards inclusion. If the status quo is to be defended at all costs, the risk of schism (well, perhaps increasing irrelevance) seems fairly certain. If the status quo modified might be thought to produce a significant traditionalist segment that would secede, that would also be a risk and one that would also need to be disclosed and its mitigation considered. The Church has been here before with issues of this kind. I agree with Ian that post July and the Shared Conversations the onus will fall on the House of Bishops to take a lead. My sense is that more diocesan bishops are now ready to speak on this issue, although it remains to be seen whether or not the House can speak with one voice. Nevertheless, risks or not, the status quo is probably not an option.

    • That’s an interesting observation, Anthony, thank you. But the discussion can hardly be classed as ‘esoteric’.

      Whatever heading it comes under, as Simon has pointed out above, the risk of schism over this issue is not outranked by any other on the risk assessment register, including financial risks. So this is neither trivial, nor are the recent events irrelevant.

      Any question, though, of repetitional damage must factor in the context of the Church as a Christian faith-based organisation. If any aspect of its doctrine (such as belief in the resurrection of Jesus) were thought to create reputational damage, then it would be nonsense to consider this a ‘risk’ to be ‘avoided’.

      The risk here is not about the doctrine that the Church holds, but the impact of these actions on the way the discussion is debated and resolved. And, once again, it is not credible to claim that ‘the status quo is not an option’ simply because someone has claimed that ‘the status quo is not an option.’ The Church needs a better case than that for change—and all the signs from e.g. SEC and NZ are that better reasons have not easily been found.

  12. I make no comment on the Oxford and Liverpool actions (as you term them) as I have no knowledge of them. On the presenting SSM issue which is of course huge, set in the terms of your blog, there are risks of doing nothing and risks of modifying the Church’s teaching. As you rightly point out, there is a prescribed process for discussing the issues at this stage (the Shared Conversations) but that process rapidly needs to be given fresh direction after July. Failure to move towards greater inclusion, even if only initially to authorise same sex blessings, will merely continue to alienate the 80% of young people (forgive this vague statistic but you get the point) who the Church needs badly to reach. Hanging on to a doctrine that is not fit for purpose and which only serves to meet the needs of a progressively ageing and dwindling congregation and perhaps some (I fear few) of their churched children, will not do.

    • Anthony,

      You’ve stated: ‘but that process rapidly needs to be given fresh direction after July. Failure to move towards greater inclusion, even if only initially to authorise same sex blessings, will merely continue to alienate the 80% of young people (forgive this vague statistic but you get the point) who the Church needs badly to reach.

      So, it’s strange that TEC’s elimination of gender from its marriage rites last year hasn’t resulted in attracting droves of previously alienated young people. Instead, it’s decline has continued apace.

      Meanwhile, the growing churches in the UK, such as the New Churches and Pentecostal (all holding to the traditional view of marriage) continue to attract ever greater numbers of young people. For instance, the mean age of Pentecostal churchgoers is 33.

      Of course, some might counter that there is no causal link between the CofE’s current position on homosexuality and disaffection towards it among youth. And that’s exactly the point. While it may alienate some young people, the Church’s stance does not actually alienate the 80% of young people. It’s just scare-mongering.

      In the end, you’ve simply asserted that the CofE’s doctrine of marriage is not ‘fit for purpose’ (a political shibboleth, if ever there was one) because it doesn’t fulfill the purposes of same-sex couples. You might say the same of any other doctrine: does the doctrine of the Trinity fulfill the purposes of our modern society characterized by religious diversity? Oh well, maybe that’s no longer fit for purpose either!

      Instead, what prevents growth is the paucity of evangelistic charism among CofE clergy and their congregations. As one who has sat on Guildford Diocesan Synod, I’ve seen the kinds of projects on which Mission Development Funding was spent.

      On that Synod, I learned a lot from other members about the administrative and financial concerns of their respective parishes and deaneries. I learned even more about the worship traditions of their parishes and stylistic innovations which had the potential to threaten them. They could recite by heart the roster of social and community activities organized by the parish and were ever ready to outline their pet political and environmental causes.

      Yet, many reacted with downright discomfort when I set aside the talk of churchmanship and the parish’s community engagement plans to discuss how their understanding of the gospel and their recent experiences of Jesus Christ were transforming their priorities in life.

      While this may have been just far too personal for them to discuss, talking about Christ in this way is as commonplace among the growing New Churches and Pentecostals as it was among believers in the early church.

      Perhaps, for genuine growth, the CofE needs to re-discover the eagerness that fuelled the missionary endeavours of its forbears: those who so readily shared with others their understanding of the gospel and communicated experiences of divine intervention and answers to prayer through Jesus Christ. Maybe they had something that is now lost on modern churchmen and women.

  13. wow ian! brilliant artcle . you are totally right! hypocrisy( come on , let’s call it what it is) amongst leaders is going to drive peole away from the c.of.e. i go to a c. of .e church as the teaching and worship and fellowship are fantastic, but don’t count myelf c.of e. they are also a very bib;le believing churchbut i have noticed a subtle shift to being “in” with western capitalist secular culture, can’t put my finger on it! also i skim-read your article and the responses so might not have got the full gist of it! so please correct me if need be. i notice this “shift” among a lot of churches, not just c’ of e’ people don’t want the bible modernised or re- written they want it expained as it was written !x

  14. It is easy to see, Ian, why you are not a bishop in the Church. Such office requires a gift for wisdom in relationships – to the extent that the bishops you see as being neglectful of their Christian responsibility, are actually opting for taking a risk of being hospitable to those in the Anglican Communion (TEC) who really believe in God’s call to ALL people, not just the holy and righteous like ourselves.

    • Presumably, you were one of those who saw ‘the gift for wisdom in relationships’ among the bishops who persuaded the eventual withdrawal of Jeffeey John’s nomination for Bishop of Reading.


    • Is it a ‘gift for wisdom in relationships’ which has led to the apparent break of links with the diocese in Nigeria? Does ‘wisdom’ mean drawing closer to white, western churches like TEC which are in decline, rather than to black, majority world churches that are growing? This is mysterious wisdom indeed…

      • Affirming gay relationships has nothing to do with TEC’s decline.

        TEC’s unpopular ’cause, with its traditional worship, it’s culturally inaccessible; also because many congregations don’t have the social support of evangelical churches; and, of course, ’cause it doesn’t usually evangelize.

        Evangelical churches in America are struggling to reconcile social change with attracting new members. Many, like Chicago’s Willow Creek, have settled on a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Even the culture wars have moved onto bathroom bills and religious liberty exceptions.

        In any Western context, allying with foreign churches that advocate heterosexual exclusivity, and often support anti-gay laws, isn’t likely to promote growth.

        • Hi James,

          I notice that when we’re talking about growth or decline, you seem to always attribute these to factors which have little to do with the underlying theology.

          If churches which are growing are all to do with social or cultural factors e.g. style, music, atmosphere, community etc – then surely the theology doesn’t matter. We are a conservative church theologically and yet we are growing – if you’re right and our growth has nothing to do with theology, then there’s no need to worry as it seems like a church will grow regardless of theology. All this panicking about being “anti-gay” is just bluster.

          If, on the other hand, theology does matter, then it’s not a surprise to see denominations like TEC declining for entirely predictable reasons. In general God blesses those who preach the word and gospel faithfully.

          Not *every* church which is growing will be a faithful church (I’m thinking of the example of prosperity gospel churches), and not every church which is shrinking has departed from the gospel. It’s complicated of course – but I think the general pattern across the world and throughout history is that churches which have good news to proclaim of salvation from sin, death and hell will find a way to proclaim it and God will save people.

          • Theology matters, Phill, in that it can’t alienate would-be members: a church that preached, say, the Curse of Ham would die a well-deserved death.

            Extremes like that aside, presentation and emphasis are, IMO, more important: if pushed, Willow Creek and HTB are both “sound” on sexuality, but they play it down; whereas other, less successful, churches obsess about it.

            And without the right presentation, music, and social support, few stay long enough to examine theological broad strokes, let alone minutiae.

        • James,

          You’ve asserted that affirming gay relationships has nothing to do with decline.

          Well, please inform TEC’s C. Kirk Hadaway, Ph.D. Officer, Congregational Research. Diocesan and Congregational Ministries who mistakenly wrote in From New FACTs On Episcopal Church Growth and Decline

          In the middle of the last decade, one of the strongest correlates of growth, or the lack of it was the presence or absence of conflict. Compared to other denominations the impact of conflict was greater because conflict was more widespread as the Episcopal Church dealt with issues related to sexuality along with the usual congregational disputes over leadership, finances, worship and program.At present, conflicts over sexuality have greatly subsided and the overall level of conflict in the Church is much lower. Still, the presence of conflict remains an independent source of decline and a corresponding impediment to growth.

          He’s just so wrong on that, isn’t he?

          • David, I’d be happy to modify it (if it needs modifying) to acknowledge that collateral issues arising from TEC’s embrace of LGB equality are the cause: but it’s also possible that conflict, which moderates instinctively loathe, is being used as a scapegoat for other flaws.

            It’s easier, after all, to in effect blame the ACNA than to blame a style of worship you love, and in turn, blame yourself. If conflict inevitably drove people away, Mars Hill (the Seattle one) wouldn’t have lasted near as long as it did. Compared to the conflict Mark Driscoll stoked, everyone else is an amateur!

        • “Extremes like that aside, presentation and emphasis are, IMO, more important: if pushed, Willow Creek and HTB are both “sound” on sexuality, but they play it down; whereas other, less successful, churches obsess about it.

          And without the right presentation, music, and social support, few stay long enough to examine theological broad strokes, let alone minutiae.”

          A couple of years ago two people, divorcees, came into our church. If you’re right, I would have expected our church policy on remarrying divorcees to alienate them. It didn’t; they got married in a registry office and had a blessing in church.

          Any church which takes any moral stance whatsoever is at risk of “alienating”. Should a church compromise on, say, greed because our society is so materialistic? Is the church at risk of alienating people who love material things? Yes, absolutely – but the call of Christ is to take up the cross and follow him. Should we ‘alienate’ alcoholics by teaching that alcoholism is wrong?

          The whole question of ‘alienation’ entirely depends on what you think of the issue to begin with. Basically you seem to be saying that any time the church teaches something contrary to society the church will be at risk of alienating people and unable to reach them.

          Well, first-century Pagans may have said something similar. “Get with the programme. let us do whatever we like in the bedroom.” That kind of thing was apparently going on in the Corinthian church, and Paul was pretty unequivocal about it. No prizes for guessing which teaching flourished. A quote from Chesterton seems appropriate: “On five occasions in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but on each occasion, it was the dogs that died.”

          “If God is for us, who can be against us?” – if God is against those churches who teach that same-sex sex is sinful then they will die out. But I think the evidence shows very much the opposite.

          • How the divorcées were treated is a perfect example of playing down doctrines: they weren’t told that they should separate, on pain of an eternity in hell (Jesus calls divorce adultery; Paul’s clear that adultery’s a salvation issue); they were welcomed and had their relationship blessed.

            Doctrine was compromised to fit in with a culture of mass-divorce.

        • “(Jesus calls divorce adultery; Paul’s clear that adultery’s a salvation issue); they were welcomed and had their relationship blessed.

          Doctrine was compromised to fit in with a culture of mass-divorce.”

          We’ve been through the divorce/adultery question a few times here before so I’ll just refer you to our previous discussions. I believe there is no compromise.

          John Piper, who doesn’t believe in divorce or remarriage, has a good chapter on this in his book “This Momentary Marriage” (I believe it is available free, legally, from their website).

  15. “Permanently ruling out any change in the position that homosexual acts are inherently sinful surely puts the church at far more risk than these two actions.”

    James and Ian that does not appear to be the official Co E position actually. It has been made clear since 2005 that LAY people, i.e. the vast majority of he C of E are not at risk if they engage in homosexual acts. Let me quote the exact passage once again:

    “Issues in Human Sexuality made it clear that, while the same standards apply to all, the Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship. ‘The House considers that lay people who have registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion.’”

    Lay people are not to be excluded from baptism, communion and confirmation. They are full members of the church on earth. This would imply that the C of E does not, per se, regard homosexual acts as sinful in all cases. It is not a salvation issue.

      • I realise you don’t like what the bishops say Ian, as you have previously expressed your view that people in active same sex relationships need to be ‘disciplined’, yet you won’t ever say what that actually means. But this is an the official pastoral document of the C of E that – there is nothing magical about quoting that. If lay people in active homosexual relationships are not to be refused the sacraments, then the C of E can’t actually really think it is a salvation issue, can it?

        • Putting aside for a moment the shared conversations process and simply observing regular practice in the CofE, Andrew’s comment seems to be that an apparent absence of discipline, teaching, or correction, or even a willingness to question/engage on this issue is in effect a powerful implicit acceptance of that person’s action (justified on the basis of a pastoral need), even when it stands contrary to official church doctrine. I think this observation is correct, I’ve said as much before.

          However, this is at best is a strong contradiction and at worst it’s hypocrisy. Something cannot be both sinful and acceptable to God: it is either one or the other. The pastoral responsibility of the church is work out how to live with this tension, NOT to act as if it wasn’t there or to accommodate both equally!

          If official church doctrine is at odds with what is actually being taught and practiced then what good is the church doctrine in the first place? I do not personally consider this a “salvation issue” (but I am unsure if that has a technical meaning in relation to the sacraments that I am unaware of) but for as long as it is an issue of sin, and current church teaching says it is, it is potentially a risk to the holiness of church; it willingly compromises purity and THAT is dangerous.

          • Not to put too fine a point on it, but should we not be asking ourselves if we’re framing the entire debate in the wrong way? We’re very quick to ask questions and to discuss church teaching, or issues of discipline as if these (and potential schism) are the major risks, when the risk is the compromise of God’s chosen people, of Christ’s bride?

          • Well, yes, but I don’t think we say it enough, or talk about SSM and the effect it has (or might have) on the churches’ vocation. The meaning of ‘Holiness’, and how that influences the way we talk about pastoral needs and church leadership does not feature heavily enough.

            My nuts-and-bolts question, which I didn’t make explicit but probably should have, is “What can the CofE do, or what should it do, to prevent people acting in advance of a formal conclusion on SSM from the CofE?”

            Attached to that question is the far harder follow-up “Do you thnk it will do those things?” I ask because at the moment it doesn’t appear to be doing anything much, effectively allowing people to believe what they want on the issue without fear of ever being challenged on it. That is the point I find most frustrating and why it’s being labored in the comments section (sorry about that).

          • In an episcopal church, the only way to find consistency in terms of belief and practice is through episcopal oversight.

            That’s why I think these two issues, minor in themselves, point to a much bigger problem.

          • The question I’m asking is not, “do you you accept there are issues with effective and/or consistent episcopal oversight?”, but “what can actually be done about these issues?”.

            You’ve often made your opinion clear on a case-by-case basis, such as the Jeremy P tribunal, but not suggested anything in terms of wider solutions to the wider problem. If we need better oversight, how do we get it? Perhaps this is a subject for another post….

          • I am wary of generalisations, but my observation is that there is a temptation within episcopacy to be autocratic on matters of organisation or strategy, but a tendency to avoid addressing controversial issues of doctrine and pastoral practice (putting that as delicately as I can!).

            I think I would like to see a reverse in this…and I guess this post is part of my lobbying for that. In general I would love to see bishops less worried about management and administration issues (within reason) and much more occupied with the ministry of teaching and spiritual leadership. I do think there are some good examples of this, but it is not as widespread as I would like or as I think the church needs.

          • Mat,

            I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Late last year, I wrote: The HoB might well have ‘called upon all clergy to live lives that respect the Church’s teaching’. Yet, the HoB permits the initiation of church discipline for defiance of church teaching on sexuality only once it is determined to be scandalous.

            It’s the local discretionary determination of what constitutes scandal that has led to the uneven application of discipline.

            The HoB Pastoral Guidance on same-sex marriage has only exacerbated this situation by reassuring the wider society of the CofE’s ‘long history of tolerating dissent’, while also reminding its clergy of their personal obligation to maintain church discipline. In other words, the Church won’t oblige the laity to conform (for fear of further public alienation),but it will remind its clergy that not upholding current teaching might entail sanctions (while leaving each bishop to determine whether sanctions will be applied at all):

            28. The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Nevertheless at ordination clergy undertake to ‘accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.’ We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.

            This approach is sharp distinction with St. Jude’s approach to discipline, which appears to typical of the early church. Jude unequivocally denounces those whom he considers to have flouted God’s grace through license,comparing their unruly desires to those which characterized Cain, Balaam and Korah.

            Yet, he urges the church leaders to distinguish those expressing sincere doubt about whether the church’s position is right from those who pre-empt due process for change by acting with absolute certainty that the church is completely wrong:

            For some of these men you can feel pity and you can treat them differently. Others you must try to save by fear, snatching them as it were out of the fire while hating the very garments their deeds have befouled. (Jude 22,23)

            The current situation is not solved by indulging those in the Church who act with unmitigated contempt for the democratic due process for changing the church’s current doctrine and practice.

          • But once again David you need to recognise that church discipline is not to be applied to lay people who are gay and who, in conscience, are not called to sexual abstinence. The pastoral guidelines are really clear about this such that clergy who are asking intrusive questions of a church member could be subject to discipline themselves.

          • Andrew,

            The bypassing of ‘democratic due process for changing the church’s current doctrine and practice’ has nothing to do with intrusion into the relationship choices of laity.

            I fully recognise the distinction made by the Pastoral Guidance between expectations of clergy and laity and, yes, it does this by reference to Issues in Human Sexuality.

            What you haven’t done is to explain why ‘Issues’ took such a stance, which had nothing to do with whether it was a salvation issue. Instead, ‘Issues’ was clear that (as with all of the disciples (which included Peter, Judas and Thomas), allowance should be made for people to learn alongside each other and make conscientious personal decisions.

            That remains true, even when a salvation issue is at stake, you still have freedom to dissent.

            5.6 At the same time there are others who are conscientiously convinced that this way of abstinence is not best for them, and that they have more hope of growing in love for God and neighbour with the help of a loving and faithful homophile [sic] relationship, in intention lifelong, where mutual self-giving, includes the physical expression of their attachment. In responding to this conviction, it is important to bear in mind the historical tension in Christian ethical thinking between the God’given moral order and the freedom of the moral agent. While insisting that conscience needs to be informed by the light of that order, Christian tradition also contains an emphasis for respect for free conscientious judgment where the individual has seriously weighed the issues involved. The homophile is only one of a range of such cases

            However, the current non-intrusion policy doesn’t mean that clergy should be allowed to use the ministry of authority granted to them in order to authorise a de facto change to the church’s rite of marriage, while circumventing the Church’s due process for collective deliberation and decision through Synod.

          • However, the current non-intrusion policy doesn’t mean that clergy should be allowed to use the ministry of authority granted to them in order to authorise a de facto change to the church’s rite of marriage, while circumventing the Church’s due process for collective deliberation and decision through Synod.

            Precisely, but my question remains. What practical steps can be taken (and who can take them) in order to rectify this state of affairs?

            I think Ian’s answer is probably right, albeit wary; what we want is a reversal of the current tendency to ignore practice contrary to the churches’ teaching, but what would this actually look like? What would the bishops need to do?

          • David, you said: “However, the current non-intrusion policy doesn’t mean that clergy should be allowed to use the ministry of authority granted to them in order to authorise a de facto change to the church’s rite of marriage,..”

            Serious question then: is it actually possible, in your view, for a lesbian couple (as is the case here with Tutu’s daughter) to be married?

          • Mat, the simple answer is to do what some bishops have already done: refuse a license to someone in a SSM as Richard Inward did in the case of Jeremy Pemberton, and refuse Permission to Officiate as Tim Dakin did in the case of Jeremy Davies.

            The reason why this is good practice is that it draws a clear line without a ‘witch hunt’, that is, it is clear but responsive discipline rather than proactive discipline.

            Although this is a slow and painful process (so, for example, I sit in Synod with clergy who are in same-sex marriages) I think this approach is a good compromise. I wouldn’t want something more proactive, but I don’t think the Church can currently cope with less than this.

          • And the complication is that only some bishops have done/will do that, and others will be a lot more welcoming/permission giving. Which is why we are in the middle of conversations, as recommended by the Pilling report.

          • Thanks Ian, I find that a far more satisfying answer. Being “reactive” with discipline may still be a way off being “proactive” with it, but I suppose its still significantly better than being neither.

            This leaves but one question for you: Will an answer from the Shared Conversations process that is primarily favorable to the traditionalist position (i.e, against SSM) change the current dynamic you’ve observed, and if so, in what way?

            This is clearly conjecture, but my concern is that even with the force of current teaching upheld formally, the situation Andrew describes may well continue, I would be interested to know your thoughts.

        • ‘Serious question then: is it actually possible, in your view, for a lesbian couple (as is the case here with Tutu’s daughter) to be married?’

          From the perspective of conferring the set of legal rights and civil recognition accorded to married couples, it is entirely possible for any couple to be married.

          I mean, in several US states, those rights are conferred on first cousins. So, we’re left to question whether a priest’s participation in celebrating the past occurrence of such an event as an appointed representative of the church is to invest the couple’s relationship with de facto authoritative religious affirmation…which is a key difference between religious and civil weddings.

          • David: my serious question was not about legalities. That’s an easy one to answer and gets us nowhere in the discussion.
            My question is whether, in YOUR view, a lesbian couple can actually be married, in the eyes of God. And if your answer is yes, how would they actually consummate such a marriage?

          • Andrew,

            My answer might get you nowhere. Nevertheless, the Bishop is key to deploying the ministry of authority.

            Permiitting the religious participation of someone with representative CofE authority at such an event encourages the fallacy of legitimising and reifying
            the relationship as an authentic marriage.

            That would be the case whether or not I believe a same-sex couple can be married in the eyes of God (I don’t), and whether or not they could conceivably [sic!] consummate.

        • Andrew, the real problem is that the Bishops’ statement neither says nor means what you claim it says and means. The Bishops’ saying that homosexual behaviour is not an impediment to being admitted to the Church is actually the same for everyone because we are ALL sinners when we are admitted to the Church. Saying we are ALL sinners does NOT equate to the Church re-writing Jesus’ words and making all sin something that becomes the doctrine.

          • Just a quick comment on the statement. My understanding is that something being an impediment to church admittance (to paraphrase Clive) is critically different from something being a right or wrong teaching/doctrine. This is the distinction myself and David are laboring in this comment thread.

            The bishop’s statement in “issues” affirms, in my opinion rightly (and I assume that Andrew agrees), that SSM is not a salvation issue and so ‘lay people’ are not to be ostracized, forced out of church or ‘witch-hunted’ because of it. The specific example was that the church could not set conditions and expect them to remain abstinent…

            The statement however does not pass explicit comment on weather SSM is right or wrong in itself (to do so would be to pre-empt an outcome of SC so it’s wisely avoided), but it does acknowledge that church teaching currently upholds the latter and so understands that there may well be conflict.

            The contention therefore lies in the practical difficulty of reconciling these two strands. I think you are over-simplifying the problem.

          • Sorry Matt but even “salvation issues” do not absolutely exclude people precisely because when we come to the Church we are ALL sinners – every single one of us today – there are NO exceptions. So the idea that some are excluded is found to be palpable nonsense.

          • Mat,

            You wrote: The bishop’s statement in “issues” affirms, in my opinion rightly (and I assume that Andrew agrees), that SSM is not a salvation issue and so ‘lay people’ are not to be ostracized, forced out of church or ‘witch-hunted’ because of it.

            Hmm…I don’t think the i’salvation issue’ is in view here. Instead, I believe that the non-intrusion policy is driven by two concerns (see 5.18 and 5.22 of Issues):
            1. That to pursue such a policy would involve the grossly unfair assumption that any two people of the same sex who choose to make a home together are ipso facto in an erotic relationship.

            2. That any general inquiry into the nature of every same-sex domestic arrangement would be an unjust imposition on their right to privacy (echoes of Wolfenden)

            3. The danger of an ethos which inadvertently encourages homophobia.

            Regardless of whether some think it is a salvation issue, those pastoral and privacy concerns are the principal reasons for non-intrusion.

            So, ‘Issues’ focuses on exercising discipline where a relationship has caused significant disenchantment and has occasioned scandal, in the original sense of the word.

            This policy advocates disciplinary action as a last resort where behaviour in a public capacity has triggered a significant collapse of confidence in a minister among those with a proper interest in the conduct of that minister.

            In many ways, instead of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, Issues advocates ‘don’t scandalise, don’t tell’.

          • Thanks David.

            I have not read the full ‘issues’ statement (nor am I even part of the CofE), which is why I am more than happy to stand corrected on this.

            Anyway, to business!

            Clive’s point: “….even “salvation issues” do not absolutely exclude people precisely because when we come to the Church we are ALL sinners – every single one of us today – there are NO exceptions.” I agree with wholeheartedly! I wasn’t trying to argue the opposite because that would have me putting conditions on people’s entry into the church. God forbid I should be so bold as to make the church a ‘sinner-free’ zone!

            The trouble is that while I agree we should not be barring sinners from coming to church or ‘vetting’ people upon entry, there is a point at which the church should be (and is expected to be) casting out (or having nothing to do with) those who knowingly continue to defy God’s standards and scriptures’ teaching because in doing so compromise the church. In this respect i find Clive’s concluding line: “So the idea that some are excluded is found to be palpable nonsense.” to be nonsense as well.

            There must be a balance found between A: accepting sinners through exercising love and grace while simultaneously B: holding on to scriptural guidance of how to retain the holiness and distinctiveness of the people of God, admonishing those who drift or are tempted away from that guidance, up to and including their exclusion from the body.

            So going back to the specific context of SSM, I thought this is what issues was trying to do, to put forward pastorally sensitive guidance on how to act at a time when “scriptures teaching” is being debated/challenged?

            Perhaps, in light of what David is saying, my view of it has been too broad.

          • Hi Mat,

            As in the early church, I think that these are the kind of times during which the cause of holiness is better advanced by sterling example than by employ sanctions heavy-handedly and indiscriminately in furtherance of that goal.

            While those on both sides of this debate may insist their efforts are truly inspired by God, our words here pale in comparison to St. Paul’s heartfelt testimony of apostolic commitment to the Corinthian church: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

            This is the kind of inspiring ‘give till it hurts’ leadership that makes the words of the most skillful debating adversaries on both sides appear shallow. Actions speak louder than words.

          • Mat, you said: “There must be a balance found between A: accepting sinners through exercising love and grace while simultaneously B: holding on to scriptural guidance of how to retain the holiness and distinctiveness of the people of God, admonishing those who drift or are tempted away from that guidance, up to and including their exclusion from the body.”

            I can see why you may draw this conclusion but the issue is rather more complicated by the fact that those who are in ‘active’ same sex relationships would not agree with you (and Clive and David and Ian) are sinning in doing so. I believe that the bishops’ pastoral statement of 2005 acknowledges this by using the word ‘conscience’.
            Here it is again: “the Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship.”

            A conscientious objector is specifically saying that they take a different view on the morality that someone else has said is the norm – whether that be war, or in this case, same sex activity. By including them as full members of the Church, I think the C of E is making it clear that it respects their position. Which is not to say it agrees with it, but it tolerates it as a legitimate ‘different’ point of view. It is only on that basis that the shared conversations have become possible, and the Pilling report pretty much makes that clear (see para 357,for example)

          • Andrew,

            Just one point. When you say: ‘it tolerates it as a legitimate ‘different’ point of view’, that doesn’t square with what the Bishop’ have said.

            Instead, the focus of current policy is on the three concerns:
            1. The gross unfairness of assuming that same-sex cohabitation implies a same-sex sexual relationship.
            2. That it violates privacy to embark on a general policy of inquiry about the personal relationships among those who do not participate in the ministry of authority.
            3. That to pursue such inquiry as a general approach would likely exacerbate homophobic rejection.

            This policy does not so much legitimise the ‘different’ point of view as it protects the dignity of those who hold it from abusive intrusion until the church reaches a theological consensus on the matter.

          • David: I wonder how you know what the bishops have said? I am basing my remarks on three things in particular. The 2005 pastoral statement, which I have quoted several times and which seems quite clear, some private conversations with a few bishops, and the presentation in General Synod after the publication of the Pilling report. I stand by the remarks I made.

          • Andrew,

            I’m referring to what the HoB have stated in Issues, which I’ve quoted at length.

            I used the word ‘say’ as one declares, by referring to the documents issued by the HoB to the clergy and laity, that the Bishops say…

            The 2005 statement references Issues, while your thesis of toleration as a legitimate ‘different’ point of view doesn’t. A notion doesn’t have to gain legitimacy in the Church to be tolerated.

            Toleration may be preferable where heavy-handed discipline would still reap the undesirable consequences which Issues clearly foresaw.

          • Dear Mat

            What you really said was:
            “My understanding is that something being an impediment to church admittance (to paraphrase Clive) is critically different from something being a right or wrong teaching/doctrine.”

            So you have assigned a statement to me of “an impediment to church admittance (to paraphrase Clive)” which is something I did not say at all, and have never said, with blessing in Church. There is a MASSIVE difference between the real reality that we are all sinners and we are all accepted in the Church and then expecting the Church to bless our sins! Why should God ever bless our sins rather than bless our holiness? Saying that the Church accepts sinners is NOT the same as the sinners demanding blessings for their activities!

          • Don’t take it personally Clive, I wasn’t trying to smear you by falsely quoting you, I fear you have misunderstood.

            Your words were “…saying that homosexual behavior is not an impediment to being admitted to the Church is actually the same for everyone because we are ALL sinners when we are admitted to the Church.” I made clear I agree, I do not believe this issue should be a barrier to entry and fellowship, and I stand against those who might make it so.

            My paraphrase of you was to that effect: “something being an impediment to church admittance (to paraphrase Clive) is critically different from something being a right or wrong teaching/doctrine.” So like you in your most recent comment, I was drawing a distinction between things that might possibly bar someone from being part of the church, and things that are sinful in general. We all here recognize that simply labeling something a sin does not immediately mean we cannot tolerate it’s presence, and as Andrew and David have both rightly stressed the source of contention is precisely around that definition.

            I’ve left this thread alone for a few days because I felt I was at risk of talking in circles and people had adequately answered my questions and given me plenty of food for thought. Thanks for the input.

  16. The most fundamental risk to the CofE (and any other church) lies in losing its attachment to all that is true about God and what he ordains for Christian flourishing. The disciple, Peter, started to sink in the water as soon as he looked around and saw the surrounding forces which threatened to engulf him (Matthew 14.30), and we face a similar risk if we start to regard secular forces as more important than Christ who remains sovereign even when all seems lost to us.

    The idea that there is any mileage for the church in embracing temporary social movements which cannot be squared with basic biblical teaching might suggest naivety among young Christians but it would be recklessness for more experienced Christians who must be aware of the wealth of examples showing the inevitable decline which follows. We do all ‘err and stray’ as individual Christians and bishops will be no different, but they must recognise their particular responsibility not to lead their church astray; should not the fear of that possibility act as a restraint to the hubris or wilfulness which might cause them to ignore the discipline they originally promised to uphold?

  17. I am sorry to see that an act of hospitality and relationship with a long standing partner Diocese has been interpreted in such a negative way.

    I have only been part of Liverpool Diocese for a few months and have appreciated the range of connections across the Anglican Communion.

    I think the discussions about Bishop Susan being able to minister in the Diocese from time to time started in early 2015. There are lots of links with The Diocese of Virginia, recently strengthened, through one of their priests joining Liverpool as a fellow archdeacon.

    There are significant risks in the Anglican communion, but keeping good relationships, I would think would be a way of reducing risks rather than increasing them.

    • Roger, thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. Of course, I agree with you that keeping good relations all round is important and potentially positive. But I am not sure this particular decision is quite so straightforward.

      For one, the appointment of a non-resident as ‘Assisting Bishop’ is (to my knowledge, though happy to be corrected) without precedent—certainly amongst English dioceses at the present. Second, we have only just passed a contentious Primates’ meeting, which some forecast would never come to pass, precisely in relation to this issue and the role of TEC within the Communion. Given that, strengthening relations with a TEC diocese in an unprecedented way would send a signal to other parts of the Communion.

      Third, the consistent view of the majority of Primates is that the Communion has been ‘torn’, and primary responsibility for that tearing of fellowship has been with the TEC. Again, this is hugely significant for Majority World Anglicans.

      So I suppose the questions I am left with are: what impact does this move have within the Communion? How does it fit with the recent discussion at the Primates? Was there a reason for not appointing an Assisting Bishop from one of the other link dioceses? And were these things considered within the Diocese before the move was made?

      A couple of people have commented (as above) that private conversation should have taken place first, and I have commented on that. But did such conversations happen with Nigeria, to give notice of this proposal and assertion their response? And was the ABC consulted about the context of the Primates’ meeting? it seems to me that these two things would demonstrate a clearer commitment to ‘walking together’.

      Does that all make sense?

      • Ian: do you not think it likely that, given the obvious sensitivities around this issue, that Paul Bayes would not have raised the matter with Justin Welby before anything was agreed? Apart from the obvious sensitivities It is also unlikely because Bishop Susan would need to have permission under the overseas clergy measure wouldn’t she? (I realise Liverpool is in the Northern Province but it is unlikely that the faculty office would not have referred this because of the Anglican Communion issues involved.) In short, I’d be very surpised if the ABC had not been consulted.

  18. Lord help us.

    Schism schmism. There will only be a collection of ‘scholars’ left, all issuing briefs to each other. This will continue as long as the money lasts, which may be a long time. Or, may not. You’re concerns are self focused, I fear you’re destroying your church. For what?

    • For what?

      Though with a scornful wonder
      Men see her sore oppressed,
      By schisms rent asunder,
      By heresies distressed:
      Yet saints their watch are keeping,
      Their cry goes up, “How long?”
      And soon the night of weeping
      Shall be the morn of song!

      Mid toil and tribulation,
      And tumult of her war,
      She waits the consummation
      Of peace forevermore;
      Till, with the vision glorious,
      Her longing eyes are blest,
      And the great Church victorious
      Shall be the Church at rest.

  19. I arrive here as an infrequent visitor via Fulcrum and learn for the first time that the CofE has a risk register to identify ‘the main risks to the Church of England as an institution’. Forgive my naivety, but this prompts one or two obvious questions and comments:

    1 What are the criteria by which the ongoing ‘health’ (if this is the right word) of the institution is measured?

    2 Do these criteria include any reference to the doctrinal convictions of clergy and people, and their agreement/disagreement with the 39 Articles?

    3 The reformation, whatever else it was, was certainly a major schism at the institutional level. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? As I have argued on Fulcrum (see my latest post, which, to Fulcrum’s credit, they posted) there is already at the doctrinal level a schism far deeper than the sexuality disagreement.

    Phil Almond


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