The Telegraph’s inaccurate optimism about gays in the Church

The Daily Telegraph’s report on the Faith and Order Commission’s report – Men and Women in Marriage is being quoted as evidence that the report marks a change in the stance of the Church.

It quotes Giles Fraser: “What this is saying is that you can bless civil partnerships as long as you don’t say that is what you are doing,” he said. “They are winking at people like me saying ‘be creative’ – it is a classic Anglican fudge. “In effect what it is saying is you can do it as long as you don’t say that is what you are doing – call it something different, be as imaginative as you can. “But the truth is this is how change happens in the Church of England.”

The Telegraph spins this in the following way: “…a leading liberal cleric said that it was clear from the document that the Church’s stance had shifted even if the official policy had not.” I don’t think the document is in any way shifting the Church’s stance. Quite the reverse; I think it is designed to impose on those who wish to welcome LGB&T people and celebrate our relationships in church a dogmatic, unsustainable interpretation of “traditional Christian marriage.”

The Telegraph opens by saying the report urged priests to devise “pastoral accommodations” for gay couples. The phrase “pastoral accommodations” is found in para 49 and refers to the provision for marriage after divorce and African baptismal candidates in polygamous family units referred to in the previous paragraph. It is addressing what the Church as a body can do, NOT what individual clergy might be free to do. I’m not surprised the Telegraph has got this so wrong. This final section is written in opaque and confused language.

The notion of flexibility which the Telegraph associates with the freedom for priests to devise “pastoral accommodations” for gay couples is found in para 49 in the very specific context of finding ways to express the Church’s teaching practically in relation to marriage, developing an idea in para 46. It does not address the recognition of gay relationships.

The Telegraph concludes its opening paragraph by saying the aim of the report is to enable lesbian and gay couples to enjoy a “closer approximation” to marriage. My reading of the report is that it is trying to do nothing of the sort. The report says:

“What [the Church] 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.”

The Telegraph says liberal priests, who already conduct unofficial dedication and thanksgiving for gay couples who are not allowed to marry, said it amounted to the first official endorsement for what they do. I don’t know who the Telegraph spoke to or how this report can be spun as an endorsement for anyone conducting services of thanksgiving and dedication for gay couples. The clergy I have spoken with today are in despair.

The Telegraph says the Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth insisted (presumably at yesterday morning’s press briefing) that marriage should remain between a man and a woman and said that gay relationships fell short of God’s “ideal”, recapitulating language which is so offensive to gay and lesbian Christians. Bishops like Christopher Cocksworth just don’t get it, do they – this language is DEPPLY OFFENSIVE to us. Christopher, if you used this phrase in relation to black people or someone with a disability, I think even you might see how offensive it is.

Christopher Cocksworth insisted that the report did not amount to a policy u-turn and that an official ban on formal “blessings” for civil partnerships remained in place. But he said it was clear there was a need for committed same-sex couples to be given recognition and “compassionate attention” from the Church, including special prayers.

Bishop Christopher, we are a long, long way past wanting “compassionate attention” from the Church. We want recognition of the truth and an end to hypocrisy and secrecy. You do know, Christopher, that you have many lesbian and gay clergy and laity in your diocese, don’t you? You do know that well over half of your brother bishops knowingly license clergy in civil partnerships, without questioning them about their sex lives.

The dishonesty that pervades our Church is something that really distresses me. There are almost certainly clergy in civil partnerships or living with a partner and services celebrating lesbian and gay relationships taking place in every diocese. Bishops are not stupid and yet the intelligent among the House of Bishops tolerate a report as bad as this and allow the secrecy and hypocrisy to continue.

Bishop Cocksworth said that marriage was the “designated relationship” (“designated relationship”????) for heterosexual couples but that the law had now created a special class of relationship for gay couples – civil partnerships. “People within them deserve respect and compassionate attention from the Church, care and prayer,” he said. “The form of the prayer will depend upon the particular case in hand.” He said the Church needed to accommodate those for whom “the ideal of marriage isn’t possible for all sorts of reasons.”

Justin Welby has spoken of having “no truck with homophobia” and described gay couples having a “stunning” level of commitment. Well, Archbishop, how can you on the one hand say that and on the other endorse a report which undermines lesbian and gay Anglican relationships and is derived from the unexamined systemic homophobia to be found in the Church.

The Telegraph is at least accurate when it reports that scores of “blessing” services take place under the radar across the country every year. High profile churches such as Southwark Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields in London are among those in which some form of dedication for civil partnerships take place openly.

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