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Further responses to the Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on gay marriage

07 March 2014


Sir, - The clergy do not simply do a job, but fulfil a vocation. They are not alone in this: others, such as nurses and many medical practitioners and carers, do so as well. The unusual thing about the clergy is the extent to which their spouses share their work, unpaid and often unsung.

Arguably, they knew what they were taking on; but nevertheless it is a daunting prospect. Very often there will be an expectation that they will fulfil certain functions, and may well be criticised for failing to step up to the plate if they do not, even though they may have demanding professional commitments of their own, which often bring financial security to the relationship. They are, however, the rector or vicar's wife or husband, and that has always been seen as an honourable position.

There is, however, a very different picture for same-sex partners. They will usually still provide financial stability and support, and be expected to fulfil certain obligations within the church, and congregations expect to use them as a personal secretary to the incumbent, taking messages, organising appointments, etc. But, on the other hand, they remain totally unrecognised in other situations in a way in which the vicar's or rector's wife would never be ignored. How they feel about becoming suddenly invisible is not an issue: they just have to deal with it and learn to hide their hurt behind a smile.

I have been the same-sex partner of a clergyman for 21 years. Apart from my own very demanding career, earning money that enables us to own a home post-retirement, providing emotional support when my partner was faced with difficult ministerial challenges, and coping with his breakdown when he had been dumped on once too often by an uncaring employer, I am no one. And the House of Bishops is determined to uphold that position.

Even though our lives in no way contravene the requirements of the Church for clergy in same-sex relationships, and even though I am not a clergyman, I am denied the basic human right to marry the person I love, even though the law says that I can. Jesus said "Love one another," but the House of Bishops was not listening.

Name and Address Supplied

From Ruth Harris
Sir, - I have read many responses to the recent Pastoral Guidance from the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage. Do you want to know how it feels for someone who is gay and Christian to receive this "guidance"? It makes me feel diminished as a person.

I wanted to get ordained, and have been working on that for at least three years now; but I also campaigned for equal marriage, which I believe is right and good. My fiancée and I got engaged a year and a half ago, and we have been excitedly hoping and waiting to get married ever since. It makes me feel sick that I have to choose between going forward for ordination and marriage - both are a vocation. I have been crying intermittently ever since the announcement was made the day after St Valentine's Day.

According to legend, St Valentine was martyred by the Roman Empire because he carried out weddings for people the State didn't want to get married, for political reasons. He stood up for what he believed was right, and for love. I wonder how many gay priests will stand up to this cruelty from the Church, because they believe it is the right thing to do, and because they don't want their love and relationship to be diminished. I read somewhere that the Church was ready and expecting people to "martyr" themselves for the cause after this "guidance".

In their "pastoral" letter, the Bishops say that the clergy must live their life "according to the way of Christ". I wonder whether Christ is on the side of those who are always being martyred by the authorities, or on the side of those authorities who legislate against marriage?

Address supplied

From Mr Michael Keeler
Sir, - May I congratulate Mr Jon Payne (Letters, 28 February) for writing perhaps the funniest letter ever to be sent to the Church Times. As a "naughty" member of the Church in my twenties, who has somewhat despaired at the "pastoral" guidance issued by our bishops recently, my pain and deeply felt sadness regarding the issue regarding welcome of LGBT people in our Church was somewhat eased. However many restrictions are put on our homosexual love by the leaders of our Church they still cannot restrict our laughter, albeit now at their expense.

I pray that this good humour expressed by Mr Payne will be shared by others, and that our struggle for dignity will, in the end, be recognised by a Church that finds leading on matters of 21st-century social justice a task that it finds ever harder to bear.

5 The Mill, The Green
Wickhambreaux, Kent

From Mrs Anne Eyre
Sir, - When are the House of Bishops going to have the courage to study the science and psychology of human sexuality at real depth? Although the Bishops' Pastoral Guidance does contain an appeal to obedience and honour, nevertheless that appeal is asking members of the clergy to deny their own nature. Such an appeal is unethical, and displays fearful leadership.

If it is true that some are born to be attracted to people of their own gender, then to put the restrictions on them that are proposed, and to limit the pastoral services on offer to their parishioners, is scandalous. The Church is saying to God "You should not have made people like this: we are going to make life so painful and full of fear that they'll not be the person you created."

The State is trying to put sexuality, stability, and respect in the laws of the land. It is worth remembering that the report Putting Asunder (1966), which led to a change in the divorce laws, was drafted by the Church (an Archbishops' Commission) at the request of the Government. This was an attempt to enable openness and honour to prevail in the realm of divorce, without undermining the institution of marriage.

Now, as noted above, the State is trying to act justly in the realm of sexuality, marriage, and the law. And the response of the Church? It preaches that we are all equal and equally loved by God, but practises declaring exceptions to this equality.

A proper study, using the resources of science, psychology, and theology, of the nature of human sexuality: how it thrives; how its overwhelming nature can be channelled for the fulfilment of all, might arrive at a theology of marriage that makes sense to all truly loving people. Society needs this vital work of mission. Can the House of Bishops offer something that really helps in this area, or will it continue to fly into fear?

32 Exe Vale Road, Exeter
Devon EX2 6LF

From Mr Alan Bartley
Sir, - Minor caveats apart, it is good to see the House of Bishops' statement forbidding blessings on "gay marriage" and forbidding "gay marriage" to clergy and licensed lay workers.

They are, however, making themselves hostages to fortune if they leave it at that. What if a cleric or lay worker ignores the prohibitions? If bishops follow through with suspensions or by withdrawing licences, what will be the perception? What if they fail to follow through?

As Professor George Lakoff has observed, in modern communications "Framing is everything" (Don't Think of an Elephant: Know your values and frame the debate, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004). He explains that most of the time the media deny us any opportunity to make our case. All we are allowed is to use sound-bites to invoke existing ideas and their baggage. Thus, if the perception is that "gay marriage" is good for homosexuals and good for society and part of the "good" of equality and diversity, our stubborn opposition will only make us look ridiculous.

According to Professor Lakoff, our only option is to coin alternative sound-bites and clothe them with a framework of ideas and an air of reasonableness. Hence the only thing that can prevent our becoming a laughing stock over the Bishops' stand on "gay marriage" is a sustained campaign to change the public mind.

That is to establish in the public mind that it is both godly and rational to hold that homosexual practice and "gay marriage" are both bad for homosexuals and bad for society. If we are unwilling to do this, then we should save ourselves the humiliation and throw in the towel now.

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

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