The Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission has published a new report – Men and Women in Marriage. The Bishop of Coventry Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Chair of the Commission said yesterday, “…the document is clear that public forms of blessing belong to marriage alone.” So that’s it, the Church has spoken, faithfully covenanted lesbian and gay relationships cannot be blessed by the Church. This is deeply offensive for LGB&T Christians, our families and friends, and is totally out of touch with people’s experience of God, who loves and blesses us despite the idiotic stance of the Church of England.
The press release says the report outlines the long-established meaning of marriage and sets out the continued importance and rationale for the Church’s understanding of marriage. It seeks to provide “a more positive background on how Christians have understood and valued marriage” arguing that marriage “continues to provide the best context for the raising of children”.
It includes a foreword from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York which commends the document for study. Warning – Issues in Human Sexuality published in 1991 had a foreword written by Archbishop George Carey which expressed the same intention. Conservatives in the Church will from now on seek to impose this document as the authorized teaching of the Church.
Towards the very end the report talks about marriage after divorce and polygamous marriages in African churches. Then it says, referring implicitly to the issue of civil partnerships:
“With regard to civil partnerships, which are not marriages but raise some analogous issues, the Bishops addressed what might be an appropriate form of pastoral response in 2005. The wider questions surrounding these continue to be a matter of study.
49. “The meaning of such pastoral accommodations can be misunderstood, as though the Church were solving pastoral difficulties by redefining marriage from the ground up, which it cannot do.
“What it can do, is devise accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm. Well-designed accommodations proclaim the form of life given by God’s creative goodness and bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it. They mark the point where teaching and pastoral care coincide.”
Lesbian and gay couples seeking Christian affirmation of their relationships and civil partnerships are in a difficult position according to the wording of the report. It seems the Church may “devise accommodations” for “specific conditions” and for “difficult positions.” It is now clear that it is the House of Bishops and the central structures of the Church of England that are in a dire and difficult position. They are estranged from majority opinion in this country about marriage equality and from the Government’s introduction of a bill to remedy inequality for lesbian and gay couples.
50.”It has seemed to some that the disagreement over same-sex marriage is a disagreement over mere names. But names govern how we think, and how we think governs what we learn to appreciate. When marriage is spoken of unclearly or misleadingly, it distorts the way couples try to conduct their relationship and makes for frustration and disappointment. The reality of marriage between one man and one woman will not disappear as the result of any legislative change, for God has given this gift and it will remain part of our created human endowment. But the disciplines of living in it may become more difficult to acquire, and the path to fulfillment, in marriage and in other relationships, more difficult to find.”
I would like to know how many married heterosexual couples the bishops have taken evidence from, or how many married heterosexual bishops gave evidence, that speaking of same-sex marriage “distorts the way couples try to conduct their relationship and makes for frustration and disappointment.” So far as Changing Attitude is aware, there is no evidence for this whatsoever.
Of course marriage between one man and one woman is not going to disappear because marriage is extended to same-sex couples. The qualities and values of marriage will be and are being incarnated in the relationships of lesbian and gay couples who will add a new dimension to the pattern of Christian marriage.
The House of Bishops are blaming lesbian and gay couples, many of them Christians, some of them priests, for making the discipline of living in marriage more difficult to acquire and the path to fulfillment more difficult to find. This is an absurd and outrageous claim and again, there is no evidence to support this statement.
God has given gifts of love, fidelity, intimacy and sexual desire to lesbian and gay couples as well as heterosexual couples. Gay Christian couples seek to model their lives on the pattern of Christ and in faithful covenant relationships which are equal in quality to marriage.
Changing Attitude has a number of questions to ask following publication of this report.
We would like to know how the Men and Women in Marriage report relates to the work already undertaken but not published by the Working Party chaired by the bishop of Sodor and Man and how it relates to the work being undertaken by the Working Party chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, due to report in December.
We would like to know how a report came to be written and released with the tacit approval of the House of Bishops which is clearly intended to put a further nail in the coffin of same-sex blessings and relationships in the Church without seeking any input from the LGB&T individuals and support groups in the Church of England. Last week a senior bishop suggested to me that it would be helpful if Changing Attitude consulted with a number of bishops each time we were about to take a significant new initiative. I think this is a very good idea, but the process has to be reciprocal.
In particular, we would like to know whether every member of the House of Bishops has read the report in advance, agrees with the content and has signed it off. We are frequently reminded of the collegiality of the House of Bishops and their mutual responsibility for reports and statements issued in their name. Changing Attitude would be very disappointed to learn that every bishop had consented to the language and ideas in this report, language which is so demeaning of lesbian and gay couples. We’d like to hear some bishops state clearly this report has not been issued “in my name.”
How does the Archbishop of Canterbury respond to the ideas presented in the final two paragraphs of the report? Does he really agree that equal marriage will make discipline and fulfillment in heterosexual marriage more difficult to achieve?
The report blames lesbian and gay people for undermining and risking the destruction of marriage. Lesbian and gay Christians want to enhance marriage for all and are already living in covenanted relationships which model the Christian pattern of love and fidelity to which we are all invited by Jesus.
This report drives another nail into the coffin for LGB&T Christians. Those responsible for the report (and please God, not every member of House of Bishops endorses the report) blame us when it is the Church that should be shouldering blame and responsibility for having failed in responding to the call of God to provide appropriate pastoral care and affirmation for LGB&T people.
It is the Church of England which is in a difficult position, and it is making life more and more difficult for LGB&T people, our friends and families, our faith, spirituality and prayer lives.
This is a toxic report. I anticipate that the ignorance and prejudice which it manifests will awaken the more intelligent and compassionate bishops and a wide swathe of church members to dissent.
If you add up all of the divorced people, the people living together but not married, gay people, they actually make up a majority of the households in Britain. The reasoning contained in the report and the stance of the Church has nothing to offer that majority of households. No hope. No love. No reason to embrace or remain in the faith as anything other than as second class citizens.
This is not Gods plan. This can’t be Gods plan. Jesus’ message is about hope and love, reconciliation and forgiveness. Instead we have a church whose public message is about exclusion. But not everyone in the church feels this way. There are individuals and clergy in every diocese who want a more inclusive church that is life and love affirming.
Those of us who have been called to follow the Way of Jesus Christ don’t have to rely on the pronouncements made by and for the few. We can find real communities where our relationships will be supported and validated. The early church lived the energy of the resurrection. It brought believers together in mutual support and energized faith. This quality of faith and love still exists. It just unfortunately doesn’t exist in a way that is publicly recognised by the Church — but then much of what is real life for people today isn’t recognised publicly by what the church says in its official pronouncements.