Dear England

It was with interest and a smidgen of what I recognised as hope that I watched some of the statements coming out of the General Synod of the Church of England earlier this week. From the Synod as a whole on the matter of bishops who happen to be women, from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the matter of the blessing of marriages between same-sex couples. It seemed, for a bright flare of a moment, that the Church of England might finally be nudging, slowly but inexorably, towards the advent of social change for which so many of us have longed for so long.

In the early hours of this morning, the House of Bishops of the Church of England released a pastoral guidance on same-sex relationships.

It says, among other things, that:

  • Issues In Human Sexuality is still a thing.
  • The Book of Common Prayer has scriptural authority.
  • The Church of England grudgingly acknowledges the existence of non-ordained LGB individuals who consider themselves to be gay and who reject the notion that this requires them to acquiesce to a life of celibacy. Grudgingly.
  • Individuals to whom the above applies are Other.
  • Two people of the same sex who have chosen to get married or who are planning their wedding cannot seek pastoral input or conversation from their priest without being required to be lectured at about their deviance from Church teaching.
  • Same-sex marriage is unwholesome and lacking in integrity.
  • An ordained person who is in a same-sex relationship cannot get married.
  • A person who is married to a person of the same sex cannot seek ordination.

And that:

  • The entire House of Bishops, all of them, which is fifty two people, agree that marriage is between a man and a woman.

This is a lie. It is a lie that by the very telling of it it shoots holes into what is left of the moral integrity of the Church. It is such a transparent lie that I’m moved to ask why the Church of England, which historically has admitted to the existence of shades that are neither black nor white, why divergence of opinion is allowed — encouraged, even — on every topic under the sun, but not on this one, on the matter of gay people and the kind of sex they may be having, the Bishops and the Church must speak with one voice. Why?

I was asked, prior to the publication of that pastoral guidance, to appear in my capacity as one of the convenors of Changing Attitude Scotland on the BBC in a debate about Christian unity, in light of disagreements around bishops who happen to be women, priests who happen to be gay, and marriages which happen to be between people of the same sex, and particularly in light of some of the things that were said at General Synod this week. I declined (and I’m far from the only one to have done so), principally because I don’t think it’s an appropriate conversation to be having in Scotland, where, because of the choices we have made and the issues that we have already resolved and the advantages we have by not being the established Church, that conversation would be a very different one, and also because I don’t presume to speak for the Church of England. Indeed, I consider it my great privilege, and, today, reading the deep and genuine pain that is evident all over my Twitter timeline, my great relief, that I am not a member of the Church of England.

If the invitation that I declined yesterday evening had been issued after the guidance from the House of Bishops had been published, it might have been that I’d have been tempted to accept it and to get very angry indeed, but that wouldn’t have made it the right or the appropriate thing to do. I do not speak for the Church of England.

None of this is to say that the Scottish Episcopal Church is perfect. I live in hope and perhaps a little bit in fantasy. But the battles that I’m steeling myself for in our Synod later this year are not the battles that are being fought by my friends to the south of the Wall.

I do not speak for the Church of England. I do not speak for the Scottish Episcopal Church, and, in this space, I do not speak even for Changing Attitude, but I do speak for myself and I suspect for others here too when I say to my LGBT friends and our LGBT allies to the south of the Wall that they are not alone, and that we share in their heartbreak and we extend to them our love and our communion.

(The full text of the guidance from the House of Bishops can be read on the Church of England website. Many thanks to Jeremy for suggesting inclusion of the link here.)

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3 comments

  1. So true, Beth. And what about the clergy who would happily conduct a marriage for two people of the same sex and are forbidden from so doing? The though of being required to lecture people, as you put it, before even being allowed to pray for their union, let alone bless it, makes me cringe. The C of E has got itself into a mess here and the adverse publicity which will surely follow is just going to drive an even deeper wedge between it and a great part of the general populace and damage its mission even more. Sigh….

  2. Very well put.
    I’ve just responded to the Primus’s Blog about it but my comments are “awaiting moderation”. I’m afraid I find the whole topic of “blessing” gay marriages or civil partnerships unworthy of discussion. I cannot IMAGINE why any self-respecting gay couple would even dream of ASKING a Church which so demeans them and refuses to marry them . . . . . . . . to be party to blessing them. Were I to be in the position of a gay person getting married and were I also SO devoted to my church that I nevertheless wished to remain part of it, I would have to keep those two parts of my life separate and there’s no way I would be giving any Priest or Bishop even a hint of a cosy feeling that they were doing a “nice” thing by contriving to “bless” a state of affairs which they nevertheless regard as a “departure from the Church’s teaching”.
    Well done you, though. I don’t know how you can bear to go to synods.

    • Thank you, Malcolm.

      I go to Synod in the hope that I might someday change things. I have it easier in the Scottish Episcopal Church than I suspect I would in England — it’s certainly easier to make my voice heard in Scotland, if for no other reason than the difference in numbers of voices vying for the same microphone.

      As to the matter of blessings of civil partnerships and weddings, I’m wary of tarring all priests with one brush. I know priests who would be overjoyed to marry same sex couples and at present engage joyfully in the blessings of civil partnerships because it is as far as the law and the internal structures of their denominations currently allow them to go. Those are the priests I would want to be married by. As we have often said, who would want to be married by someone who didn’t want to marry them anyway? I am lucky enough to live north of the border, and have been lucky enough to find a church (small ‘c’) where I can happily be gay and Christian at the same time and where my desire to change things is positively encouraged and I’m not the only one. Others are less fortunate.


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