The Church of England’s House of Bishops has issued ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage‘ last weekend, just after St Valentine’s Day. The first same-sex marriages are due to take place in England and Wales at the end of March.
While they said that same-sex married couples can approach their local clergy to ask for ‘informal prayers’, the statement also banned clergy in same-sex relationships from getting married. The guidance also states that anyone in a same-sex marriage will not be ordained.
Paragraph 27 states:
“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, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”
The rationale behind this decision seems to be the promise which clergy make to “be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.”
It would follow therefore, that the House of Bishops considers that anyone who enters into marriage with someone of the same sex cannot be a wholesome example to the flock of Christ.
This ruling is in sharp contrast to the Church of England’s acceptance of Civil Partnerships. Clergy can enter into a Civil Partnership without sanction, and indeed the church pension rights of those in Civil Partnerships are fully recognised and protected.
There has been a strong reaction to this from LGBT clergy and others. One vicar in London had just proposed to his partner of 14 years the day before, on St Valentines Day, but then woke up to the news that his church is forbidding the marriage.
Another church nearby has gone on the record to say that they are meeting to prepare out a statement opposing the Bishop’s guidelines.
The LGB&T Anglican Coalition, of which Accepting Evangelicals is a member, has issued a strongly worded statement calling for the guidance to be withdrawn.
“This is cruel and unjust to clergy who have faithfully served the church, hitherto with the full knowledge and support of their bishops, and it will impoverish the ministry by driving away LGB&TI ordinands. Only those who are prepared to lie will remain.
This guidance is wrong in tone and content, and will further damage the Church’s mission, not only to LGB&TI people, but to all people of goodwill who respect justice and truth. It may seek to carry disciplinary authority, but it has no moral authority and cannot command respect. We hope and pray that it will be swiftly withdrawn.”
Particularly cruel will be the fact that gay clergy can be approached to provide informal prayers for others while being forbidden to marry their partner.
What sanctions Bishops can impose if clergy go ahead and marry are unclear, but already the Bishop of Blackburn has called all clergy in Civil Partnerships in his diocese to meet with him next month. Legal advice is being sought and the trades union Unite (which represents many clergy and faith workers) is following events closely.
A petition has also been launched at Change.org calling on the Bishops of the Church of England “To rescind their opposition to equal marriage. To take back their recent Pastoral Guidance. To create a Church where all are welcomed.”
While Accepting Evangelicals has been careful to call for deeper theological reflection and prayerful discussion on same-sex marriage, rather than taking sides , we wholeheartedly support the LGB&T Anglican Coalition’s statement and ask the House of Bishops to withdraw this guidance without delay.
You can read the full statement here – Open letter re pastoral guidance on marriage – Feb 2014
If you would like to sign the petition, you can find it here