NO OPTION is off the table for recognising same-sex relationships in the Church in Wales, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has said.
Speaking after the Governing Body of his Church voted 76 to 21 that the status quo was “pastorally unsustainable”, Archbishop Davies said that, although decisions had not yet been made, every option would be considered.
“What provision might you make? There is marriage; there are prayers, civil partnerships, blessings,” he said. “It remains to be seen where we go. Nothing is off the table, but, at the moment, nothing is on the table.”
The Bench of Bishops had presented a short paper to the Governing Body which stated that they all believed that offering nothing for same-sex couples was unjust. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, was then invited to give a presentation about how his Church had gone about permitting same-sex marriage (News, 8 June 2017).
But, speaking after the Governing Body had voted its assent with the Bench, Archbishop Davies said that he and his colleagues had not been attempting to steer the debate in any particular way.
Instead, he had been impressed with the careful listening process undertaken in Scotland, and wanted Bishop Strange to offer it up as a model that Anglicans in Wales might choose to follow.
“Talking to people, with people, not about people. Actually engaging with people from all different sides of the debate, all different shades of opinion. And then thinking what is just to do in these circumstances. That’s all we were seeking.”
After a lengthy debate, members of the Governing Body voted in a secret ballot either Yes or No to the statement “It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships”. Ultimately, more than three-quarters of the members indicated their support for the bishops’ position.
Archbishop Davies said that he was very pleased to have won the backing of the Governing Body to move forward, reflecting that it would, in his view, have been “hard” to vote against the statement except for those committed theologically to “conservative orthodoxy”.
For him and the bench, it was simply a question of “justice”, he said. “We have people in our congregations in committed same-sex relationships who can be baptised, confirmed, admitted to holy communion, and even be ordained in the case of civil partnerships. To say to them that, when it comes to formally affirming [and] recognising your relationship in some form, we can’t do that, and you must retreat into the shadows at the moment. . . I don’t think it’s any longer fair or sustainable.”
Several speakers during the debate raised fears that any change to the canons would mean that conservatives would be branded as “homophobes” and “bigots”. One conservative Evangelical, the Revd Dean Roberts, said that many of his like-minded colleagues were too afraid to speak their mind on the issue, fearing that they would be barred from promotion. Others had told him that, should the Church in Wales permit same-sex marriage, they would immediately resign their posts and move to the Church of England.
But Bishop Strange had urged the Governing Body to believe that their province could hold together even as it introduced same-sex marriage, and Archbishop Davies agreed. “Inevitably, I think, there would have to be some provision for people’s conscience, as there currently has been for decades about remarriage for divorcees,” he said. “There will be people for whom this is a step too far but want to stay within the family.”
One option might be to “get out of the marriage business altogether” and change the law, so that anyone seeking a Church in Wales wedding would need to procure a civil union first, he suggested.
This would protect clergy who could not, in conscience, conduct same-sex weddings, but it would also reduce opportunities for mission around marriage preparation, he said.
“[There will be] lots of thinking on the road ahead, but I hope it will not just be thinking but frank, honest, respectful, and thorough conversation,” he concluded.
“We ought to trust each other to do that. We’ve got to trust each other — we are part of one body, and, if we don’t actually trust each other, we won’t get very far.”