The game is up for the Church of England, the war has been won

That’s what the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, said in his keynote address at the Cutting Edge Consortium 3rd National Conference held in the Conway Hall, London on Saturday.

What Bishop Nicholas said in his address (in brief) was:

  • In British society, the game is up. Gay people are equal members of our society.
  • Civil Partnerships are now accepted, if not approved of, by the vast majority of people, including Christians.
  • A very big gap has opened up between Church and society.
  • Experience might lead us to be cautious about the certainty with which moral positions are built with Biblical support.
  • The new separation of civil and religious marriage should be very disturbing and shows how deeply we have become separated from our wider society.
  • None of a very bright group of 6th formers in a school in Salisbury diocese thought what I said about gay marriage made any sense whatsoever.
  • Most people now see the Church’s avoidance of equality legislation as immoral and it undermines us.
  • The possibility of ‘gay marriage’ does not detract from heterosexual marriage.
  • Homosexual people seek to form stable, faithful, adult, loving sexual relationships, and as Christians they want to do so within the context of the church of which they are baptized members.
  • There is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society. This is a development that many Christians in good faith warmly welcome.
  • It is a disaster that we have allowed the Church to be seen as the opposition to equal civil marriage.

In answer to questions, he said:

  • The war has been won, we know where we are going
  • We need an honest conversation, not a pretending this is how it is
  • We need to accept there is diversity amongst us in the Church and allow people the freedom to develop local practice.
  • Church opposition to civil partnerships isn’t coming up much now
  • The Biblical texts don’t read one way
  • Marriage has developed and changed significantly over time
  • Heterosexual development is much more significant and the Church doesn’t engage with this
  • There is an enormous process of social change going on and LGB&T people are at the forefront
  • Christian communities should be about transforming relationships

The publication of a letter from 6 bishops, 4 deans and 8 General Synod members in The Times on Saturday was timed to coincide with Bishop Nicholas’s address. The letter argues for “a recognition of God’s grace at work in same-sex partnerships” and “that the Church of England has nothing to fear from the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples”.

Not timed to coincide with either, but absolutely connected, was an article in The Times by Matthew Parris, an article in The Guardian by Deborah Orr and the whole of the Guardian’s weekend magazine which was devoted to ‘the gay issue’. The message is that the majority of members of British society and the Church of England have moved way beyond the prejudice and homophobia exhibited by a small minority.

Bishop Nicholas has articulated what a majority of members of the House of Bishops also think. In practice, they are already where society is, in affirming LGB&T clergy and civil partnerships. When are other bishops going to ‘come out’, speak the truth and support equality in the Church for LGB&T people?

Bishop Nicholas’ comment about Church and society and the gulf that has opened highlights the absurdity of the closet in which all the gay bishops and many clergy continue to hide, especially the conservative evangelicals and members of Forward in Faith. It’s a terrible reflection on the Church that the culture is still unsafe for gay bishops to be open.

At grass roots level, in parishes across the country, the Church of England has already changed. The bishops live as if this isn’t so, but most of them know the truth. It’s only a matter of time before resistance collapses. As Sister Rosemary CHN wrote in a recent email to the other CA trustees, the speed of change in society is breathtaking! Breathtaking everywhere, that is, except in the House of Bishops and General Synod.


  1. Richard Ashby says

    Thanks Colin
    Actually I thought that th Guardian ‘Gay Issue’ was a damp squib and I don’t associate myself with Alan Carr or lesbians seducing straight women in any way.

    But the rest is higfhtly significant. I an mot sure that the battle is yeat won but the outlook is more positive than for a long time. And the Bishop of Salisbury has hit the nail well and truly on the head. Wait for the howls of outrage.

  2. john hughes says

    Actually, the battle will favor biblical conservatism within a short time, because the findings of neuroscience are revealing stark psychological differences between men and women, including the distinctive capabilities and contributions of each gender in supporting the child-raising process in a complementary way. These considerations of brain structure and of hormones are scientifically observable in a way that’s just as verifiable as visible anatomy.

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