House of Bishops prioritise discipline not love

Archbishops Pastoral Letter and House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage

The Archbishops and the House of Bishops have produced a Church of England pastoral guidance statement about same sex marriage which ignores the most important thing they stand for as Christian leaders and teachers – the primacy of love in creation and in the life and teaching of Jesus – unadulterated, unconditional, infinite, self-giving, costly, gracious love.

Instead they have prioritized other considerations in their statement – the need to avoid upsetting those with a deep prejudice against same sex love and intimacy which verges on and sometimes is homophobic, people in this country and in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

There is nothing pastoral about the statement. It was produced, of course, with no direct input from openly gay (or lesbian) people (though I am no longer able to write those words with such absolute conviction). None of the bishops who are gay have contributed openly to previous HoB discussions and I have no reason to believe any of them found the courage to speak out yesterday. I know other bishops argue against the increasingly vociferous conservative block in the House but they do not have sufficient leverage to persuade the House to act according to Christian witness and truth – pragmatism and real-politics triumph – and the integrity of the Church and the lives of LGB&T people suffer as a result.

Many gay clergy have already contracted a civil partnership. What’s the difference between a civil partnership and equal marriage? For the bishops, it’s that sex isn’t presumed in a civil partnership. But those bishops who licence clergy in civil partnerships do so without intruding into the personal lives of their clergy and know that a healthy sex life can be of fundamental importance in a healthy, loving relationship.

I know so many friends in the Church who will be deeply affected by this statement. For some it will be a further nail in the coffin, proof that the Church has taken one more step away from Gospel truth and is becoming a more unfriendly, toxic place for LGBTI people. It’s a tragedy and it isn’t possible for me to balance other considerations against the conviction of God’s unconditional love, a costly love that our own lives are called to model.

These friends, many of them supporters of Changing Attitude England, with families and friends and colleagues and congregations who see no reason why they shouldn’t marry, are affected in different ways by the negative climate of the Church. More will not seek to escape the legalistic clutches of the Church. I feel deeply for the conflicts they endure in their heart and soul. I feel for those bishops who live with deep conflicts. But you accepted the call to be a bishop just as others accepted a call to be ordained and I accepted a call to activism, not knowing the implications at the time. The difficulty we all have is living the call according to the inner voice which leads us more deeply into truth and not compromise.

Writing about all this here isn’t going to change Church of England policy, but I hope Changing Attitude can continue to dig and dig and dig away at the shockingly un-Christian policy which has developed and continues to develop, and that we can both give courage to those bishops who are supportive against the odds and undermine the hostility of prejudice who claim to be upholding Biblical values. Their values may be Biblical but they are absolutely not Christian or Christ-like.

Gay clergy are going to get married. I feel profound joy that at last this becomes a reality for them, and also deep foreboding for the future of their ministry and the humiliation they may be put through. One bishop is going to become the first to take out a CDM against a couple. The process is going to make terrible headlines for the Church in this country and great headlines for those wishing to convince Anglican Primates and bishops in Nigeria and Uganda.

Is this the message Archbishops Justin and Sentamu want to convey to those seeking Christ in this country? I know it isn’t, and I know they are stuck between a rock and a hard place, but that’s where Christians are called to stand – and make a radical, loving difference.

As the final paragraph of the statement shows, at the moment it’s much more important for them and the Church to impose discipline on LGBTI laity and clergy than to nurture deeply loving, faithful relationships


  1. Anonymous says

    “Gay clergy are going to get married. I feel profound joy that at last this becomes a reality for them, and also deep foreboding for the future of their ministry and the humiliation they may be put through.”

    It is the Gospel of whatever you want it to be then Colin!

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