Changing Attitude England
Correspondence between William Fittall, Secretary General of the General Synod and Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England
14 June 2012
I entirely understand why you want to be critical of the submission that the Archbishops sent the Home Secretary on same sex marriage but am a bit disappointed that you should personalise your attack to me and other unnamed officials at Church House who seek to serve the various member level bodies to which we are accountable and are not in a position to answer back publicly to your criticisms.
A draft of the submission was considered in some detail by both the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops at their meetings in May. In addition the Archbishops’ Council had had a more general discussion some months ago before the Government’s consultation document appeared.
The line taken in the submission reflects the views expressed by the members of those bodies. The text also reflects various suggestions which they made on the drafting and argumentation in earlier versions of the document. The House of Bishops (which met after the Council and would in any event have had the lead role given its specific responsibility for doctrine) invited the Archbishops to settle the final text of the submission, which they sent to the Home Secretary with a short, jointly signed covering letter.
Had the Archbishops, the Council and the House wanted a more supportive line taken on changing the law on same sex marriage my colleagues and I would, of course, have written something very different. We are here to serve not dictate.
15 June 2012
As you know, Changing Attitude has an issue with statements that begin: ‘The Church of England says….’ We are aware of the constituent parts of the Church – the boards, staff at Church House, Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops and General Synod. But we are never clear on whose behalf such statements are released – a question also often asked across Changing Attitude’s network of supporters. These statements frequently do not represent the breadth of opinion in the Church of England. In the case of the equal marriage submission we do not understand how the diversity of views which we know perfectly well exist in the House of Bishops, and are in some cases a matter of public record, came to be omitted.
We do not accept that the submission represents the views expressed by the members of those bodies, as you claim, unless a significant number remained silent. We do understand that in such circumstances bishops express views at variance with those they hold in private and share with us.
The line taken in the submission clearly does not represent the diversity of opinion in the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council. The submission to the Home Office Consultation on Equal Marriage gives no indication that other views about equal marriage are held by members of the House of Bishops. We would like to know whether a consensus was reached amongst the entire House. We note the inverted commas around “Equal Civil Marriage” in the title and wonder who made the decision to indicate doubt about the validity of the Government’s proposal.
You are an integral part of these bodies, attending many if not all of the meetings. You are responsible for interpreting the various discussions that take place and decisions that are made. The staff at Church House are also responsible, are they not, for interpreting material and drafting documents and statements? All of us, the bodies, the staff and the thousands of ordinary, loyal parishioners of the Church of England are mutually responsible under God for the Church and in particular for mission and evangelism and the effective communication of the gospel message of God’s infinite and unconditional love for all creation.
The submission does not represent the views of Changing Attitude and the many members of the Church of England who wish to see the barriers to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans in the Church removed, including opening pastoral services of blessing for gay relationships. We were not consulted on the submission and did not expect that we would be. However, we do now expect Church of England statements and submissions to properly reflect the diversity of opinion, theology and pastoral practice in the Church. The House of Bishops’ guidelines and teaching are already disregarded by a significant number of bishops. It is therefore dishonest to have submitted a response which fails to reflect this.
As Secretary General to the General Synod, we believe you are responsible for having allowed a submission to go forward which contains two serious errors. The response claims in paragraph 15 that “the introduction of civil partnerships … was supported by the majority of our bishops who voted on the legislation in 2004 when it was before the House of Lords”, referring to the final vote. This ignores the fact that in the principal Lords debates on the Bill (in Grand Committee and Report), the initially successful wrecking amendment was co-sponsored by one bishop and supported by five others. Paragraph 15 is therefore seriously misleading.
The submission is also totally misleading about the European Court of Human Rights case “Schalk and Kopf v. Austria.” The outcome of that case is the exact opposite of that implied in the bishops’ document. The legal office at Church House, not the Archbishops’ Council or the House of Bishops, has to accept responsibility for this serious error.
The headlines the Church has achieved this week have been disastrous. The Guardian leader on Wednesday described the church as strewn perilously across the tracks of progress and the bishops as adopting a stance that is guaranteed to be remembered as ridiculous before long.
Those who know you and have worked with you tell me you perform your role with scrupulous integrity. Others, bishops, tell me about your omnipresence at meetings and the wish to be free from the effect your presence and advice has in inhibiting their freedom. I apologise for personalising my comments by naming you in the blog. I should of course have named both Archbishops and every member of the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops. Every individual is responsible for the content of the submission, as your email explains.
Changing Attitude also accepts responsibility for not having the courage to express with greater urgency and clarity the gulf that has opened between the institutions at the centre of the Church and the dramatically different opinions held by those worshipping in our parish churches.
We know you are there to serve, not to dictate. What we do not know is how the diversity of opinion in the Church comes to be distilled into a document which has provoked many longstanding members of the C of E to abandon their parish church and their active involvement in Christian life and ministry. A very unbalanced Church is evolving as a result of the conservative stance emanating from Church House.