C.of E. House of Bishops Pronounces on ‘Conversations’

Disappointment at bishops’ report on same-sex marriage

By staff writers ‘Ekklesia’ – JANUARY 27, 2017

Senior bishops of the Church of England will continue to make it difficult for clergy and congregations to celebrate the marriage of same-sex couples. This has left many people feeling hurt, betrayed and angry. But campaigners have pledged to keep working for change.

The House of Bishops will oppose any change to church law or the existing position that sex is only right in heterosexual marriage. But they call for a fresh tone and culture “that can communicate welcome and support for lesbian and gay people and for those who experience same-sex attraction.”

Ministers will continue to be allowed to pray publicly with same-sex married couples but there will no authorised or commended liturgy. Guidance will be produced on how far such prayers are allowed to go.

The official position has been slightly softened on people seeking ordination. They may no longer be asked to sign up to lifelong abstinence if not in a heterosexual marriage, though still reminded that this is the church’s position, which they are expected to obey. But if they marry a same-sex partner, the report makes no promise that they will not be punished.

This goes back to the unofficial policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ which was in place thirty years ago. At that time, 70 per cent of British Anglicans thought that same-sex sexual relationships were always wrong, according to the British Social Attitudes survey. However now only about 20 per cent hold that view.

Many theologians have argued that loving, committed partnerships are in line with biblical principles. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are far more visible in churches and wider society. Numerous Christians now believe that it is discrimination which is wrong, not same-sex love or diverse gender identity.

The bishops’ report follows a working party report which recognised that views among faithful Christians varied. There followed two years of regional ‘shared conversations’ aimed at building understanding and trust, making it easier to find a way forward amidst deep divisions.

However Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations, published by the House of Bishops on 27 January 2017, gives little ground to those seeking greater flexibility.

A new teaching document is to be drawn up which reaffirms “our current doctrine of marriage as being between one man and one woman for life” and explores “the distinction that has opened up between the state’s conception of ‘equal marriage’ and the Church’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony.” But it will include “the possibility of covenanted friendships.”

The report does not explicitly address the experience of transgender and intersex people. However previous attempts by church leaders to argue that heterosexuality is essential to marriage have tended to emphasise rigid divisions between men and women, based on biology.

“This is no last word on this subject.  For there are very different views on same sex relationships within the Church, and within the House of Bishops”,  said Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich. While “no change in doctrine is proposed…it is often pastoral practice – how we treat people – which matters most.”

General Synod, which brings together clergy and lay representatives and bishops, will discuss the document on 15 February 2017. It is thought that strong feelings will be aired.

LGBTI Anglicans took part in the ‘shared conversations’ at “a high personal cost of putting themselves and their relationships on the line for public discussion and comment”, stated an open letter to the bishops from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. “This outcome is an almost complete betrayal of the trust that has been placed in you by faithful disciples of Christ.”

Tracey Byrne, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), said, “LGBTI+ people have participated in this process in good faith, at considerable personal cost, and now feel unheard and dismissed. Other churches in England have made much more significant progress in recent years in including LGBTI+ people. Despite us knowing that many individual bishops favour a move towards a more gracious, compassionate and inclusive church, collectively they’ve failed to deliver.”

“What we’re saying now to the bishops is that LGBTI+ Christians are here, are part of the church, and are happy to work with those who want change. But LGCM can no longer wait for episcopal leadership,” said the chair, Jeremy Pemberton. “The Spirit is moving in God’s faithful people and we’re seeking to be obedient to that movement.”


This report from the English think-tank ‘Ekklesia’, on the up-to-the-moment Report of the Church of England Bishops arising out of the year-long ‘Conversation on Human Sexuality’ (with special reference to Same-Sex Relationships), registers the widely-held disappointment of the LGBTI members of the Church of England who were looking forward to a statement from the Bishops that would signify some useful movement forward on the prospect of at least the acceptance and accommodation of a form of Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships within the Church of England. Here is a seminal paragraph in ‘Ekklesia’s report:

” The House of Bishops will oppose any change to church law or the existing position that sex is only right in heterosexual marriage. But they call for a fresh tone and culture “that can communicate welcome and support for lesbian and gay people and for those who experience same-sex attraction.”

The suggestion that sexual activity is “only right in heterosexual marriage” is merely a reiteration of the extant (in my opinion, outdated) understanding of sexual expression as only legitimate for those gifted with a heterosexual orientation. This understanding of sexuality; as being confined to the heterosexual majority of human beings betrays an unwillingness to recognise that there are fully-functioning human beings with a different way of expressing their God-given, natural to them, way of expressing sexual love.

Modern psychological, biological, sociological and theological research – undertaken by reputable scholars in these different disciplines around the world – has revealed that there are other, legitimate and laudable, ways of expressing innate sexual love than those found common to the majority – heterosexual –  population of the world. Scholars like the Revd. Dr.  Sarah Coakley, in her seminal talk on the subject of ‘Desire’ (on Facebook from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London), makes an important point about ‘eros’ being of a similar provenance for both hetero and homosexual love as far as its basic authenticity for psychological and spiritual growth is concerned. The important context is the faithful commitment of two people to each other, with the desire of each to build up the other – a situation that should lead towards ‘agape’; the fuller aspect of loving that God desires, ultimately, of all of us.

This outcome of the ‘Conversations’ that was supposed to have brought progress in the stand-off between the leadership and an important, recognised minority in the Church of England is not a good precedent for our upcoming deliberations in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand/Pacifica (ACANZP). We look forward to deciding on our own determination on this issue at our G.S. 2018. I pray for a more Inclusive Church in our part of the Anglican Communion than might be assumed from this outcome in the Church of England from its leadership in the House of Bishops.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


Below, is a link to the official ACNS Report on the Bishops’ response to the ‘Conversations’:


Here is a link to the BBC radio broadcast interview in the U.K. with Fr. Andrew Foreshew-Cain, a same-sex partnered parish priest in England, who speaks of the road ahead for LGBTI people in the Church of England:


Her is another article from the Christian LGCM organisation in the U.K. :



Dear brothers and sisters,

Concerning the statement from the Church of England’s House of Bishops following the ‘Shared Conversations’ – 27th January 2017

For the last three years, LGCM has given its support to the process in the Church of England that the House of Bishops inaugurated after the publication of the Pilling Report. Those members and supporters who have been invited to take part in the Shared Conversations, and who have chosen to do so, have spoken truth to power in costly and prophetic ways. We understand why some chose not to take part; it was a bruising process for many of us.

The House of Bishops then decided to take control of the outcomes of this process, and asked everyone to trust them in finding a way forward that would honour the search for “good disagreement”. This morning they have published what proposals they wish to bring to General Synod in this regard.

The bishops have betrayed their people by suggesting that we could trust them to produce the changes that are needed. There is no sense from their proposals that they are making space to honour the lives, witness and relationships of faithful LGBTI+ members of the Church of England. There is no change in theology, no meaningful change in practice and no change in discipline. LGBTI+ relationships are still second-rate at best, there is no sign of their providing services of blessing for same-sex couples, and their ban on clerical same-sex marriage stays in place. The only significant change they appear to have made is to establish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as an official policy in relation to clergy in same-sex relationships. But as they expect all of those relationships to be celibate, they are effectively pushing those clergy back into the closet. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” diminishes everyone’s integrity: where it was used in wider society it was eventually discarded and discredited. Why are they introducing this now?

We are disappointed and frustrated at the collective failure of the bishops to move the process forward. However, we know that within the House and College of Bishops there are many who want to be supportive of their LGBTI+ faithful. These bishops also know that the official position of the Church of England is extremely damaging to its mission, and that this week’s news will not help wider society, which the established church is supposed to serve, to have any credibility. We want to support those bishops in any and every move they make to change the position and the status of LGBTI+ people in their dioceses.

However, LGCM is not prepared any longer to wait for the bishops to act collectively in this matter. We know that many people will be angry and frustrated that so much money has been spent, so much time taken in listening, speaking and sharing our stories, and so little appears to have been achieved.

One of the sadnesses and frustrations of this state of affairs is that the Church of England seems to have been unable to learn from other churches who have made real progress in this regard over the last few years. The United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church, and the Baptist Union have all recognised the value of a diversity of views and the movement of the Holy Spirit which gives space and hope to the whole body. The Scottish Episcopal Church is also poised to move forwards. It is a great sadness that the established church in England has made so little progress. This was an opportunity to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for absolutely everybody and we have failed to grasp this opportunity.

LGCM and Changing Attitude, who, as a newly-united group, will be launching a new identity in two weeks’ time, want to encourage you all to turn your frustration and anger into action. Over the next few months, we are going to identify several campaigns that we are going to launch to invite ordinary Christians, both LGBTI+ and their allies, to take positive action to change things.

The first of these is a Members’ and Supporters’ Day on 4th March at Coventry Central Methodist Church. This will be an opportunity to meet together, to share our responses to what has happened, and to equip ourselves to campaign effectively for change from the grassroots. We invite anyone who would like to come on that day to reserve a place by emailing members@lgcm.org.uk and put Members’ Day in the heading. More details will then be sent to you.

We know that many people will be further alienated by this news, but we are keen to continue to offer support, and to indicate those places where LGBTI+ people are genuinely welcome, as they are, in Christian communities. One of a number of ways of doing this, and something that you can do immediately to make a difference, is to register the place where you worship, if possible, as a Visible Congregation, which will be listed on the LGCM website. The link to the application form is on this page.

Beyond our disappointment we want things to change, and to do that we need your support and energy. Please come and join us in creating the future we know God is calling us to.

With prayers and good wishes,

Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive Officer
Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of the Board
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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13 Responses to C.of E. House of Bishops Pronounces on ‘Conversations’

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    I can only say let Christ into His Church!!!!
    Thankfully Christ being Christ can be present to every human soul.

    Jesu mercy! Mary pray !

  2. Peter Carrell says:

    Hi Ron
    I am intrigued that the Anglo-Catholic part of your theology (byline above) seems unable to affirm the pronouncement of bishops!

  3. kiwianglo says:

    Yes, Peter. So am I. Except that the current House of Bishops seems more afraid of GAFCON than of trespassing against “The great love of God as revealed in the Son’. I think if there were such a thing as a spine transplant, some of these bishops could well qualify!

  4. Peter Carrell says:

    I think that unfair on the bishops of the C of E (e.g. ++Justin has clearly done a number of things which have annoyed GAFCON no end).
    Much fairer, and much more in line with Anglo-Catholic understanding of doctrine as a repository of that once given is that the bishops have boldly, spinefully manned up to the unchanging nature of doctrine, while nevertheless finding as much room as possible for a pastoral response to same sex relationships coherent with doctrine.

  5. kiwianglo says:

    Tell me, Peter. Do you think that no doctrines of the Anglican Church have ever been changed since their first formulation? I could suggest that the doctrine involved with the introduction of contraception, as a valid means of allowing sexual activity to be free from natural propagation of the species might be one such seminal change. And what about slavery and patriarchalism? Of course, there were many more people affected by those changes, but does that make the current quest for justice for LGBTI people any less important?

    And, of course, there has been the major change in insight involving the ordination of women. That was a pretty big change in our doctrine – still not acceptable to Rome or Constantinople!

    • Peter Carrell says:

      Hi Ron
      Doctrine changes, or at least nuances within it (e.g. doctrine of ministry has not changed re “orders” but the nuance of whether gender matters re “who” is ordered has changed).
      It is certainly a discussion whether we are contemplating changing the doctrine of marriage or a nuance within it (whether gender matters to marriage).
      My point is not about whether doctrine changes but about whether it is consistent with Anglo-Catholicism (which, you no doubt recall, arose in the C of E precisely because of concern that the authority of bishops was trumped by the British parliament on the matter of Irish bishops) to refuse to accept the considered findings of the bishops of the church.
      By all means work for social justice, but can this be done consistently with Anglo-Catholicism when the path to that justice runs counter to the re-affirmed teaching of the bishops?

  6. Brian Ralph says:

    This is just another step on the way for the church to become more and more irrelevant. I for one, after 65 years of calling myself a Christian, now consider Religion of all types to be the greatest problem in the world today. Many individual Christians have and still do great things but the “Church” has continually hindered the development of social justice. Jesus was a wonderful man but his followers have misunderstood and continually moved away from his teachings.

  7. kiwianglo says:

    Brian, I do understand your aggravation. However, your membership of the Body of Christ is too precious to be sacrificed to the ineptitude of the ‘nay-sayers’. God is Love. Maybe some of His people have not yet quite got the message, but that can never subvert the truth..

    Agape, Fr. Ron

  8. kiwianglo says:

    Not too surprising Peter, that you, a self-acknowledged Evangelical, should mistake the whole thrust of Anglo-Catholicism – as evidenced by your statement here:

    “My point is not about whether doctrine changes but about whether it is consistent with Anglo-Catholicism (which, you no doubt recall, arose in the C of E precisely because of concern that the authority of bishops was trumped by the British parliament on the matter of Irish bishops) to refuse to accept the considered findings of the bishops of the church.” – P.C. –

    You may not be aware that Anglo-Catholicism did its best work in places like the East End of London; where poverty and deprivation were rife at the time of the flourishing of the A.C. ministry in such places. Social Justice has ALWAYS been a much-valued tenet of the mainly Socialist-oriented polity of those clergy who worked in areas of great social disjunction in the cities of the U.K. It was the very vibrancy of a sacramental theology and praxis, and its leaning towards the poor and underprivileged (not generally experienced by Bishops) that brought hope and faith into lives that were otherwise destined for despair and destitution. These ‘little people’ were the very constituency that Jesus sought to disciple and rescue from their hopelessness.

    As far as the adulation of bishops is concerned – in the context of ‘catholic propriety’ – one only needs to point to Mother Aubert and her disdain for the oppressive rule of Bishop Pompallier.

    • Peter Carrell says:

      Dear Ron
      We will need to agree to disagree since I do not see that work in the East End etc as incurring a disagreement with the bishops; nor do I see social justice in general terms as somehow defying the gospel. I guess we will never agree on whether the doctrine of marriage is a matter of revelation or of social justice!
      As for Mother Aubert and Bishop Pompallier … they have both ended up much revered have they not?

  9. kiwianglo says:

    Peter, I do not see social justice as anything but the nature of the Gospel of OLJC. Perhaps you should read the words of the Bishop of Liverpool on my next blog. It might help you understand what one of the C. of E. Bishops actually thinks about what is happening.

    • Peter Carrell says:

      If the relationship between social justice and the gospel is what you say it is, Ron, I find myself still unable to see how I might read the gospels and get to a point of believing that Jesus himself would teach “equal marriage.”

  10. kiwianglo says:

    Dear Peter, in trying to understand how Gospel principles might apply, in today’s world, to the prospect of same-sex monogamous commitment; I’m quite sure that Jesus would prefer this to the alternative prospect of sexual promiscuity. This would also apply to heterosexual couplings.
    I am mindful of the implications (I know, dismissed by you and certain other evangelical bloggers) of Jesus’ reference to the eunuchs ‘born so from their mother’s womb’, being one such myself.

    One is mindful of the context in which Jesus spoke of Marriage – its need for faithfulness.

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