The Radio 4 Sunday programme featured an interview this morning about the letter from 120 London clergy to the Times about civil partnerships and the Bishop of Salisbury’s interview in the Times headlined ‘I now support gay marriage’. Edward Stourton interviewed the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam and Bishop of Willesden, Peter Broadbent. The interview begins 36 minutes into the programme.
In response to the opening question, Bishop Nicholas said the current position the church holds towards civil partnerships and gay relationships does not meet the pastoral needs of the people in the church’s care. Bishop Peter agreed, saying the instinct of the Church of England is to minister pastorally.
The Bishop of Salisbury identified the challenge faced by lesbian and gay Christians and by the church. A civil partnership is a contract between the couple whereas was gay Christians want is a covenanted relationship, like marriage, which is why in popular language, gay marriage is what people habitually call civil partnerships. Nicholas said lesbian and gay couples want the church to recognise their relationships as faithful, loving and for life – covenantal.
Bishop Peter said the church has to have a proper debate about gay marriage, based on the precedent of scripture and Christian tradition. The Church of England expresses its teaching through liturgy and we would need an officially approved service to give recognition to same-sex relationships. This would, he said, fundamentally change what the Church of England believes.
The church needs space for discussion, a proper rational debate seeking the range of views held within the life of the church. General Synod meets in London from tomorrow and the Bishop of Willesden predicted that Synod will be talking about last week’s news stories. You bet it will!
Changing Attitude and the LGB&T Anglican Coalition will be present, both in the Synod chamber, in the coffee room and with an exhibition display. I am being joined by two trustees and I’ve no doubt we will be engaged in many conversations before Synod ends on Thursday.
The conversation at an official level will continue on Friday morning when 5 members of the Coalition have been invited to meet the House of Bishops’ group reviewing the statement on civil partnerships chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man. This will be our first opportunity to meet face to face and present our views on the urgency for change which is felt by so many in the church and which the London letter and Bishop Nicholas’s interview dramatically highlighted.
The main focus of Synod will be the final debates about women in the episcopate preparing the ground for what Changing Attitude prays and hopes will be given final approval in York in July. We will be giving WATCH our full support in the course of the week.
On Thursday morning, the Coalition is holding an Act of Witness in recognition of the estimated 1,500 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy in the church, ministering faithfully but with their sexuality mostly hidden. Please join us in Dean’s Yard from 8.45am.
If you haven’t yet signed, please sign Changing Attitude’s petition addressed to the House of Bishops and General Synod asking freedom for priests to bless civil partnerships in church. Over 600 people have signed in the first 24 hours.