Church of England Synod rejects report for failing LGBTI people
The Church of England’s General Synod has rejected a House of Bishops report for its negative view of same-sex partnerships and marriage. It is time for greater inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
Many Christians, though not all, accept the spiritual value of committed self-giving relationships. Some other churches in Britain have moved towards letting ministers and congregations with different views follow their consciences.
Yet, even after years of “shared conversations” supposed to create greater understanding among those who disagreed, it was widely felt that senior bishops had failed to listen properly.
Many theologians believe that celebrating such partnerships is in line with biblical values, as do numerous church members. Only 17 per cent of British Anglicans now regard same-sex sexual relationships as always wrong, the official Church of England position. Even church working parties have called for a shift.
Yet in ‘Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’ the House of Bishops ruled out change on marriage or sexual relationships. This was largely in response to a small but influential group who have threatened a split if others are given freedom to bless or conduct marriages and their overseas allies. Over the years, in effect, opponents of change have been given a veto.
The bishops did call for a more welcoming tone and maximum freedom within this framework. But many people felt disappointed or even betrayed. Over a dozen former bishops advised that the approach was wrong.
The report had to win the support of most representatives in each of three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The vote to ‘take note of the report was backed by 43 to one among bishops, and 106 to 83 among laity, but was defeated by 100 to 93 in the house of clergy.
It is very unusual for Synod to turn down a document for which senior bishops have strongly argued. Yet many members feel that treating LGBTI people as being of lesser value, especially if they seek the joys and challenges of marriage, goes against the gospel and undermines pastoral care and mission.
Afterwards, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.”
The vote on 15 February 2017 may move the Church of England forward in a journey towards embracing diversity more fully and witnessing to God’s love for all.
© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church(Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.
I have discussed with Savitri Hensman, in London, her passionate advocacy for LGBTI people; as a committed Anglican, asking the Church of England to understand, recognize and bless faithful, long-term Church members who happen to be in a committed, loving, monogamous same-sex relationship. The time for secrecy about such relationships, Savi and I feel, is over. Society has affirmed such relationships with the provision of both Civil Partnerships and, more recently, legal Marriage – a situation that seems to have bypassed the recognition of the Church of England Bishops.
The refusal of a majority of clergy members of the recent General Synod of the Church of England to recognize the ‘Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships (which has been mentioned in a previous article on this blog) is a sure sign that all is not well with the Church’s official stance on the issue of Same-Sex Relationships, and will need some pragmatic re-thinking on the part of the English Bishops.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand