Bishops’ same-sex-marriage statement provokes anger and defiance
by Madeleine Davies – ‘Church Times’ – Posted: 21 Feb 2014 @ 12:24
ON St Valentine’s Day last Friday, the Revd Andrew Cain got engaged to his partner, Stephen Foreshew.
The following day, he saw the House of Bishops statement (reproduced in full below), which repeated the ban on blessings in church for same-sex unions, and ruled out same-sex marriage for clergy or for anyone seeking to be ordained.
Mr Cain’s marriage plans remain unchanged, he said on Tuesday. “I have always believed in equal marriage; so it would seem very odd, as someone who supports it, not to take advantage of it.
“I am aware of clergy wanting to get married who now feel unable to do so, and have been very upset about that. They are saying ‘Why should I now stay in the Church?” And I am saying ‘You have to stay, and you have to get married, because it is our equal right to do so; and if we believe in it, then we should do it.'”
The statement from the Bishops reads: “Getting married to someone of the same sex would . . . clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.
“The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same-sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition, it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage.”
The statement ends with a warning that, although “the C of E has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly”, the Bishops expected their clergy to honour the vow of obedience made at ordination.
In the hours that followed its publication, gay clergy expressed hurt and anger. The Revd Rachel Mann, Priest-in-Charge of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, in Manchester, wrote: “I actually cried when I read the statement: wept. I am an emotional person, but I was surprised.”
On Tuesday, Mr Cain, Vicar of St Mary with All Souls’, Kilburn, and St James’s, West Hampstead, said the statement had come as a shock, especially after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address at the General Synod on Wednesday. Archbishop Welby had spoken of the search for “good disagreement”, in the facilitated conversations on sexuality recommended in the Pilling Report and elsewhere.
“Many thought we might have finally reached a place where we could have a proper conversation about gay clergy in the Church,” Mr Cain said. “This [statement] has killed the conversation dead. . . It is such a shock and such a disappointment, because all bishops know good and faithful gay and lesbian clergy and lay people.”
Mr Cain and his partner have been together for 14 years. They had their relationship blessed by a priest, eight years ago, in a garden. “We have always been very open about our relationship,” he said. “Before all this blew up, I emailed our PCC and said we had got engaged, and the response has been delighted.”
When asked whether he expected gay clergy to be disciplined for going ahead with same-sex marriages, he said: “They will have done something which is a legal right, so do bishops really want to be seen to be taking action against clergy who are taking up a legal right; and wanting to live faithfully with their partners for life?” His own bishop had, to date, been “very supportive of gay clergy, and created a safe environment for us”, he said.
Despite a recommendation in the Pilling report that blessings for civil partnerships be permitted as a “pastoral accommodation” (News, 6 December), the Bishops stated on Saturday that the 2005 ban on such blessings should be extended to include same-sex marriage.
The Bishops state that they do not wish “to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances”.
They speak, however, of “the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the Church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.”
The Rector of St Laurence’s, Cowley, in the diocese of London, the Revd Stephen Hardwicke, advertises on the church’s website that it “now offers blessings to same-sex couples in committed and faithful relationships”.
On Tuesday, he said that he had been “appalled by the Bishops’ stance, which we think is hypocritical and basically unjust”. He described the guidance on giving couples seeking prayer a “pastoral discussion of the Church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” as “complete and utter nonsense. It makes no sense whatsoever. If you say first to the couple that they are departing from the Church’s teaching, what kind of prayer can you have after that?”
On Wednesday, an online petition organised by the Revd Mark Kenny, an NSM at St Gabriel’s, Aldersbrook, in the diocese of Chelmsford, had gathered 2369 signatures. It calls on the Bishops to “rescind their opposition to equal marriage. To take back their recent Pastoral Guidance. To create a Church where all are welcomed.”
Some have welcomed the Bishops’ statement. The Revd Lee Gatiss, director of Church Society, said on Sunday: “This is courageously clear, and in accord with biblical teaching that homosexual practice is seen by God as sin, along with heterosexual sins such as adultery and extra-marital sex. . . It will be difficult for the Bishops to implement their guidance in the face of the intense lobbying they will face, and we must pray for them and support them in any way we can as they seek to carefully shepherd the flock.”
Mr Cain said that he had been expecting to get married “in quite a small service, then having a bunch of our friends round. But now there has been such a massive reaction that people want to come. We’ve even had bishops saying ‘We want to come.'”
The Revd Stephen Cain, seen in this photograph with his male partner, has already spoken out against the message of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which stated that Same-Sex Blessings may not officially take place within the Church of England; nor would clergy be allowed to take advantage of the new civil law which permitted S/S Marriage.
“When asked whether he expected gay clergy to be disciplined for going ahead with same-sex marriages, he said: “They will have done something which is a legal right, so do bishops really want to be seen to be taking action against clergy who are taking up a legal right; and wanting to live faithfully with their partners for life?” His own bishop had, to date, been “very supportive of gay clergy, and created a safe environment for us”, he said.”
In this new environment in the Church of England, after the meeting of General Synod which has moved forward the process to ordain women bishops; the response of the Bishops of the Church to the questions raised by the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality has caused concern – especially to clergy members looking forward to the possibility of being able to provide an official Service of blessing for a Same-Sex Civil Partnership.
However, quite another concern has been expressed by people like the Revd. Andre Cain, who had hoped for the possibility of being married to his same-sex partner under the new civil law which will come into force in March this year. With the possibility of the British Government scrapping the idea of Civil Partnerships (open, currently, only to Same-Sex couples) this may necessitate the conversion of such arrangement into the situation of a Civil Marriage – which may then be the only possibility of registering a legal, Same-Sex, Civil Relationship. This will raise the anomaly of clergy civil partnerships (which are already allowed to exist within the Church of England) probably having to be converted to civil marriage – otherwise such a partnership may, legally, automatically be dissolved.
No doubt legal minds within the Church of England will now be working overtime to see how such an anomaly might best be avoided. The bishops may now be thinking that it might have been better to have gone along with the Blessing of S/S Civil Partnerships. Who knows? If they had been more open to this possibility, then the whole problem of trying to accommodate the idea of S/S Marriage may not have become involved!
Our own Anglican Province of ACANZP General Synod will be meeting this May to consider this whole matter of the Blessing of Same-Sex Partnerships/Marriage in churches here. No doubt the situation in the Church of England will be closely monitored for clues as to what is the best policy for our Church to deal with the phenomenon of the expressed wish of some Anglicans to have the Church involved in – first; accepting same-sex relationships, and then: Blessing them – whether in the context of a Civil Partnership, or perhaps even Marriage. The Episcopal Church in the United States has left it open to their Diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees to decide on how they will meet the demand for such arrangements.
Some dioceses of TEC have already brought their polity on this matter into line with that of their local State Government
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand