27th February 2014
Error in the Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriages
We write to alert you to the fact that an important statement in the Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriages issued on 14th February is wrong.
The guidance claims that: “There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer.” – House of Bishops, 14th Feb 2014, Appendix, para 9.
This is inaccurate. Civil law and church teaching have diverged before, on at least two occasions. The first was in relation to the marriage to a deceased wife’s sister, the second in relation to the remarriage of divorcees.
There has been a robust discussion of this topic between experts on ecclesiastical history, law and sociology which Dr Scot Peterson summarises here.
We are all in agreement that the statement in the Bishops Guidance is mistaken and misleading. Since it forms an important part of the case which is being made, we felt it was right to draw the mistake to your attention. We respectfully ask that it be corrected.
Our attempts to resolve this matter by writing to Mr Arora and Mr Fittall have failed. There is growing concern amongst the academic community about the situation.
Looking to the future, some of us are anxious to improve channels of communication with the Church, so that our research and scholarship can be used constructively. If you would be interested in a meeting to discuss this issue, we would be very grateful if you would reply to Professor Woodhead.
Professor Callum Brown FRSE, University of Glasgow
Professor Arthur Burns, King’s College London
The Revd Dr Mark Chapman, Ripon College Cuddesdon
Professor Grace Davie, University of Exeter
The Revd Duncan Dormor, St John’s College, University of Cambridge
Professor Kenneth Fincham, University of Kent
Professor Sarah Foot, Christ Church, University of Oxford
Dr Matthew Guest, University of Durham
The Revd Dr Carolyn Hammond, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge (member of FAOC)
Professor Gerard Loughlin, University of Durham
Elizabeth MacFarlane, St John’s College, University of Oxford
The Revd Dr Judith Maltby, Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford
Professor Iain McLean FBA, Nuffield College, Oxford
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch FBA, Saint Cross College, University of Oxford
The Revd Professor David Martin FBA, London School of Economics
Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow (member FAOC)
The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, King’s College, University of Cambridge
Dr Scot Peterson, Balliol College, University of Oxford
Professor Alec Ryrie, University of Durham
The Revd Dr Robert Tobin, Oriel College, University of Oxford
Revd Dr William Whyte, St John’s College Oxford
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
Professor John Wolffe, The Open University, President of the Ecclesiastical History Society
Professor Linda Woodhead, University of Lancaster
Posted by Simon Sarmiento (T.A.) on Friday, 28 February 2014
This important letter to all Bishops of the Church of England – in response to the Pastoral Letter on the issue of Same-Sex Marriage from the House of Bishops – contains a link to an article by Dr. Scot Peterson, the Bingham Research Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Balliol College, the Department of Politics and the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, who has this to say about the Bishops’ Letter:
“The pastoral letter was carefully qualified: on the one hand, the archbishops of Canterbury’s and York’s cover letter conceded that ‘same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity, virtues the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage’; on the other, they said, ‘The Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.’
It is precisely this ambiguity – between the Bishops’ reference to the unchanging doctrine and Christian understanding of Marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman; while yet conceding to the fact that ‘same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity, virtues the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage’.
In point of fact, the doctrine and understanding of Christian Marriage has been changed twice before in the canons of the Church of England – “The first was in relation to the marriage to a deceased wife’s sister, the second in relation to the remarriage of divorcees.”
Therefore, the refusal of the House of Bishops to consider Same-Sex Marriage – on the grounds that this would involve and unprecedented change to the Church of England’s doctrine and understanding of Christian Marriage – is based on fallacy. This is not the best way of trying to avoid consideration of the Marriage of Same-Sex persons, which will shortly become legally authorised by the civil authorities in England.
For the Church to say that never before has it changed ecclesiastical law to match up to that of the civil authorities, is not true. This makes the possibility of the Church of England continuing it’s arguments against Same-Sex Marriage less defensible.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand