Time to revise or withdraw the Pastoral Guidance on equal marriage

The office of the Archbishop of York is sending a pro-forma email response to people who have emailed him about the revocation of Jeremy Pemberton’s PTO.

The Archbishop says the decision of the Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham’s decision to withhold a licence in relation to an NHS Chaplaincy post in the Diocese, is consistent with the Pastoral Guidance issued by the House of Bishops earlier this year.

He quotes Sections 25-28 of the Pastoral Guidance. Changing Attitude was critical of the content of the Pastoral Guidance when it was first issued.

Section 26 says getting married to someone of the same sex would clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England, Section 25 that Church of England clergy are required to fashion their lives consistently with Church teaching on marriage and human sexuality and Section 27 that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage.

The Archbishop says it is clear that whilst clergy are able to argue for a change in the Church’s teaching, they are expected to fashion their lives according to it.

Jeremy and his partner have been living together for six years. Several hundred partnered lesbian and gay clergy live with their partners. They are not all celibate.

The previous Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, now the Bishop of Durham, knew that Jeremy is in a gay relationship and lived with his partner. Many bishops in the Church of England actively value and support the lesbian and gay clergy known to them who live in relationship with a partner, many of them now in a civil partnership. This has been true for the thirty five years of my ordained ministry in the Church. Quite appropriately (though not in accordance with Church rules) they don’t ask whether the relationship is celibate.

Bishops and archbishops have for decades maintained the practice of allowing partnered lesbian and gay clergy to cohabit, living together in an unmarried state because legal marriage wasn’t available to them. Some would say the bishops had encouraged lesbian and gay couples to live together ‘in sin’, not an accusation I would level against them. Those I know live together in fidelity and love according to the Gospel.

The policy now advocated by the Archbishop of York, apparently, is that partnered lesbian and clergy should continue to cohabit because to marry is against the teaching of the House of Bishops. Living together in an unmarried state is the official policy of the Church of England.

If this is not the official policy, the House of Bishops will, acting with consistency and integrity, now undertake to remove the licences and PTOs of all their lesbian and gay clergy known to be living with or in relationship with a same sex partner. This would be a stupid action to take, but at least congruent with the Archbishop’s stance.

The Archbishop’s policy also means that no lesbian or gay person who has experienced the call of God to ministry should pursue their vocation should they at any time in the future hold open the possibility that they will meet someone, fall in love and want to marry. Or they can be ordained, but will then be forced to resign. This is an intolerable expectation. They will never be allowed to fulfill their vocation and fulfil their desire for an emotional, physical and sexual relationship.

Is this really what the House of Bishops and the Archbishop expect, not just of those already authorized ministers in the C of E but of all people, young and old, who experience a vocational call? You really expect all lesbian and gay young people who enter ministry in the C of E to abandon all hope of living a fulfilling sexual and relational life?

Changing Attitude radically disagrees with this policy and will do everything to encourage and support those lay people and clergy who in their integrity and following a Christian pattern of life transgress the teaching of the Pastoral Guidance.

The Archbishop’s stance is tragically out of touch with what many people believe as a result of their faith, their lives of prayer and their reading of Scripture.

We know that many bishops immediately regretted approving the Pastoral Guidance. It was presented to them as a fait accompli and urged upon them with emotional fervor. It is a deeply damaging and dishonest policy and is corrupting the integrity of the House of Bishops and the relationship of bishops with their clergy and with the whole people of God.

It’s time to revise or withdraw the Pastoral Guidance.

Comments

  1. Keith Bryan says

    Thank you so much for your article.

    I have known Jeremy for several years, during which period we nurtured a close friendship and have helped each other through some difficult situations in our lives.

    In my humble opinion, the Church of England has really shot itself in the foot and got its knickers in a twist at the same time over this issue. It would appear that the House of Bishops have a very narrow interprertation of both the written Word of God and his continuous, unconditional love. How can they condone, by turning a blind eye to it, cohabitation of gay/lesbian clergy and indeed to civil relatioships amongst them, yet cannot accept that such persons desire to become legally married? That gay/lesbian clergy are prepared to enter into the covenant and commitment of marriage, should suggest that they have more intent to keep their marriage vows than the hundreds of ‘straight’ couples who are divorced each year, or those, who through the teaching of the Church simply exist in loveless relationships, leading miserable lives which must surely reflect on their ministry.

    However, looking back at the chequered history of the church, it is inevitable that the marriage of gay/lesbian clergy will eventually be endorsed in the same way as the abolition of slavery, or indeed the ordination of women and present discussions of women bishops. It seems that the House of Bishops have no more knowledge of ‘grass roots’ opinions than do MPs and recent events should come as a dire warning that if they continues with their rulings, they may well have aquickly diminishing of clergy.

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