‘Supposed arguments from scripture’: the C of E, gay rights and unions, and the blessing of them

14 March 2012


From the Revd Professor James H. Grayson

Sir, — It is unfortunate that the Revd Dr Barry Orford (Comment, 9 March) spends two-thirds of his article comparing Soviet-era com­mun­ism and those who hold views about the sinfulness of homosexual relations. It is even more unfortunate that he dismisses concerns about marriage in a single sentence.

For me, this is the issue. Since the 1960s, sexual relations have been defined as a “recreational” activity with certain side effects, that is, procreation. Marriage, in whatever form (I write as an anthropologist), is a universal human institution between men and women for the purpose of bringing into life the next generation and nurturing it until it comes to its full potential. All soci­eties have customs and laws to pro­tect this essential element of society.

The objection to the redefinition of sexual relations since the 1960s is the basis for the concerns that many have today about the current issues of marriage, partnerships, and homo­sexual relationships. Whether something is currently socially acceptable is not a sound basis for building a moral framework for people or society. The attitudes of the “swinging” Sixties have, in effect, led to the breakdown of the family (in its broadest sense) and the acceptability of forms of behaviour which have not increased human happiness, but rather done the opposite.

Dr Orford should have spent more time in discussing these critical issues.

25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ

From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — The Revd Dr Barry Orford makes an honest statement of the assumption, now widespread, that the Church’s surrender to the world on issues of sexuality is inevitable.

But that assumption will gain no real credence unless the primary ground of the traditional view is taken seriously, namely the authority of scripture. It is not good enough for him to limit his response to the appeal to scripture to “supposed arguments from scripture and tradition used to justify the continuing oppression of gays”, and “treating the Bible like an unchallengeable party manifesto”.

I want to know whether Dr Orford and those who agree with him believe scripture to be relevant to the current debate, and how they would positively apply it.

12 Abbott Road, Folkestone
Kent CT20 1NG

From the Revd Raymond J. Avent and others

Sir, — After years of silence, fear, and intimidation, more and more Christian voices are being raised to affirm the love of two homosexual people in committed, faithful relationships.

The Revd Dr Barry Orford’s sane and balanced article expresses well this development. The Church has opposed such relationships vehe­ment­ly in the past, but this stridency is less and less credible. Of course, the Church has insights to share, but to make a distinction between hetero­sexual and homo­sexual love can no longer be main­tain­ed. Love is love wherever it is found. Anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him (1 John 3.16). As with other issues, it is some­times society that speaks a truth that the Church cannot yet see.

We, the undersigned, are some of those who know gay, partnered people and wish to affirm them. We are clergy and lay people, straight and gay, married, partnered, and single.

May it not be long before Christians recognise the contribution that gay people have made and are making to the Church, and acknowledge their love and service.

Raymond Avent, Sue Allatt OSB, Felicity Bayne, Stuart Burns OSB, Jill Carmen, Fred Dawson, Gordon Eynon, Nigel Groom, Warwick Harris, Alex Hutchison, Bill Johnson, Hywel Jones, Janet Lindsay-German, Dee Pizzo, Pietro Pizzo, Harvey Pritchard, James Roose-Evans, Mary Stephen Britt CSJB, Carl Turner, Alison Vickers, Dennis Vickers, Irene Vickers

c/o Maryvale House, Catbrook
Chipping Campden
Glos GL55 6DE

From the Revd Gavin Foster

Sir, — Nigel Seed QC writes a robust letter (Letters, 2 March) that effectively says: “I have declared what the law is, therefore that is what the law is. No one can argue.” Unfortu­nately, that is not how law works, and Chancellor Seed cannot use the seniority of his position to paper over the cracks of a weak argument.

I would suggest that your readers read the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships for themselves: it is readily available on the internet. It is a Pastoral, not a statute, and Chancellor Seed is no better-placed to interpret it than anyone else.

Despite what Canon Fraser (Comment, 10 February) and Chancellor Seed would have us believe, it intends to prohibit some­thing. Paragraphs 16 to 18 are worth quoting in full:

“16. It is likely that some who register civil partnerships will seek some recognition of their new situation and pastoral support by asking members of the clergy to provide a blessing for them in the context of an act of worship. The House believes that the practice of the Church of England needs to reflect the pastoral letter from the Primates of the Anglican Commu­nion in Pentecost 2003 which said:

‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same-sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites.’

“17. One consequence of the ambiguity contained within the new legislation is that people in a variety of relationships will be eligible to register as civil partners, some living consistently with the teaching of the Church, others not. In these circumstances it would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships. In addition, the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.

“18. It will be important, however, to bear in mind that registered partnerships do allow for a range of different situations — including those where the relationship is simply one of friendship. Hence, clergy need to have regard to the teaching of the Church on sexual morality, celibacy, and the positive value of committed friendships in the Christian tradi­tion. Where clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case.”

I think that the Statement is quite clear about the use of public rites in connection with civil-partnership registrations when read as a whole rather than when a sentence or two is taken out of context. The weakness of the position proposed by Canon Fraser and Chancellor Seed is equally clear.

130b Belgrave
Weymouth DT4 9SN

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