I woke this morning to the R4 Today programme’s news headlines about the Church of England’s response to the Government’s equal marriage consultation. I felt so angry. The Church has achieved another set of disastrous headlines thanks to its ill-considered submission. The Church looks like an institution in panic and crisis, terrified that the lesbian and gay hordes are about to breach the defences and destroy marriage in one decisive strategic move.
Is this another case of those holding the reins at Church House, William Fittall and the legal department, producing something with which many in the Church vehemently disagree? The dissonance seems to become more extreme with each authoritative announcement.
The submission and statement were drawn up with no consultation with or input by any lesbian or gay members of the Church of England or the organisations representing LGB&T Anglicans. My friends at Church House and in the House of Bishops, we are with you in the Church of God, we are Anglicans with a deep faith and prayer life and vision for the Church. Don’t we whom these proposals most deeply affect count? Are we invisible to you? What does ‘the Church of England’ mean in this context?
How is it possible for the Church of England which contains a wide spectrum of opinions on this issue and is clearly divided produce such a one-sided statement? My voice (and the voice of thousands of LGB&T Anglicans) has not been incorporated into the Church of England’s official response. It has been produced by a minority with no consultation. As others have said, the practice at Church House has become increasingly dishonest, deceitful and authoritarian.
The Church of England is clearly attempting to pressurise, and even manipulate, the Government into abandoning its commitment to introduce equal marriage in England and Wales. It is perceived to be putting pressure on the Prime Minister and even threatening the Government with disestablishment. This is a crazy move. Overly dramatic responses like this just make the institutional church appear to be more and more disconnected from reality and increasingly irrelevant.
The CofE press release says the legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships have now been satisfactorily addressed and to change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships.
The senior staff at Church House don’t get it, do they? There are faithful, spiritual lesbian and gay Christians, committed to their parish church, who want more than legal equality and recognition for their relationships. We want our relationships blessed and consecrated in church in the same way as our straight friends get married in church.
The Church of England hierarchy seems to think that God perversely creates same-sex loving people but has imposed laws, applicable for all time, which prevent the Church from celebrating and blessing our commitment to one another in marriage.
By chance this morning I was reading a Quaker book about Friends’ involvement with homosexuality since Towards a Quaker view of sex was published in 1963. Pushing at the frontiers of change says Quakers should respect the whole diversity among us in our lives and relationships; refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others; foster a spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which discipleship asks of us; remember that each one of us is a unique, precious child of God. That advice was published in 1993. Quakers started considering the lack of provision for same-sex marriage among Friends in March 1987. It’s time for the Church of England to play catch-up rather than defending prejudice and the views of one sector of the Church.