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The Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on same-sex marriage: further comment

28 February 2014


From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, - The Revd Dr Hannah Cleugh and others write (Letters, 21 February) that "the Pastoral Guidance note issued by the House of Bishops has just made it all very much harder" for their generation to "hear about love, cherishing, fidelity, and the intrinsic and infinite value of each individual as created and loved by God".

Your leader comment (same issue) notes a change in the Archbishop's presidential address from "love" in the context of female bishops to a tone that "mirrors the sternness at the end of the House of Bishops' statement" in the context of sexuality.

You and your correspondents are probably referring to the section at the end of the appendix which says: "Getting married to someone of the same sex would . . . clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy . . . need to be honoured as a matter of integrity." "At ordination clergy undertake 'to accept and minister the discipline of this church, and respect authority duly exercised within it'. We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking."

The question is, are love and discipline contradictory? And is a note of discipline necessary in this matter? The appendix also points out that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act comes into force in March 2014. It reminds us that "from then, 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 as held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer".

This is a new situation, and it seems to me that it requires clear instructions for the clergy in how to respond - in the context of all the positive, encouraging, and open paragraphs also in the appendix.

You suggest that the current situation is "a holding position". It is probably true that we will be in a different place in ten years' time. If it were only a matter of "Church of England doctrine", it wouldn't be difficult to guess where changing secular culture would have taken us. But scripture makes all the difference to the authority of church doctrine. It may be that we are heading for a radical rethink of how we read the Bible, akin to that which followed scientific findings in the 19th century. But it needs to be much deeper than pick-and-choose interpretation, and at least as good as the principle that Old Testament law is best read in the light of New Testament affirmation or reformation. At the moment, that principle radically challenges the alleged assumptions of the current generation in matters of sexuality.

12 Abbott Road
Kent CT20 1NG

From Mr Jon Payne

Sir, - So, if you're gay, you can now have a wedding blessing, but it won't be called a blessing, because you're gay, and being gay is naughty. It'll be called "prayers", because, although it's naughty for you to be gay, and you can't, therefore, be "blessed", it isn't quite naughty enough for you to be denied "prayers" - unless you're a priest, in which case you can't have a blessing or "prayers", because being gay and wearing a clerical collar is very naughty.

If you're not a priest, but want to become a priest, that's fine, so long as you don't have a blessing (sorry, "prayers"), because, if you do, you'll be stopped from becoming a priest. If you're already a priest and go for broke with a blessing, well, frankly, that's so naughty that there's probably a special dungeon reserved for you at Lambeth Palace.

This is the sort of crystal clarity that the issue has been needing for so long, and I am sure we would all want to thank the House of Bishops.

The Wardens, Widney Lane
Solihull B91 3JY

From the Revd Dr Joanna Collicutt

Sir, - Jesus made no recorded statements about same-sex relationships. He was, however, a first- century Galilean Jew, and so he is likely to have been as troubled by the notion of gay marriage as he was by an importuning Syrophoenician woman. But he did have something to say about the religious leaders of his day: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23.4). As his followers, our calling is not to burden, but to bless.

Karl Jaspers Lecturer in Psychology and Spirituality
Ripon College, Cuddesdon
Oxford OX44 9EX

From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, - Your leader comment suggests the St Valentine's statement will not hold because it is a pastoral disaster. This deeply held cultural taboo will not hold because there is no convincing New Testament evidence that consensual, faithful, loving, and equal same-sex relationships that are neither promiscuous nor abusive are against the mind of Christ.

39 St Michaels Road
Liverpool L17 7AN

From Canon Daniel Burton

Sir, - What on earth is going on in the House of Bishops? One of their stated aims in expediting the process for women to become bishops was to regain some credibility in the nation. Yet, in the same week, they issued their statement on same-sex marriage, which can only be interpreted as a very firm NO to all who are committed to equal marriage, thus losing all credibility with the very constituency that they were trying to impress.

Most worrying of all is the claim that this statement is "generous" when it is the very opposite. The Church and the nation deserves better than this: the Bishops should be ashamed.

In my church last Sunday, a wedding album was being passed around, showing photographs of Laura and Helen's Civil Partnership Ceremony at Manchester Town Hall in December: Laura is the grand-daughter of a former incumbent. Everybody wanted to see the album and to share their joy. This is not Islington or Brighton: this is Salford. This is the real world -but the Bishops do not inhabit it.

The Rectory, 92 Fitzwarren Street
Salford M6 5RS

From the Revd Dr K. G. Riglin

Sir, - From a time when there was strong disagreement about who, if any, of the ordained ministers of the Church of England should marry, Article XXXII gives us clear teaching: "Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of singlelife, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness."

This surely provides sufficient guidance for today's disagreements: it leaves the discretion and judgement to individual ministers, avoids the threat of sanctions, and does not divide the Church.

Chaplain, King's College, London:
St Thomas' Campus
Prideaux Building
Lambeth Palace Road
London SE1 7EH

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