Bishop of Oxford resists gay-marriage amendment

08 March 2019

Croft warns peers that external pressure could be counter-productive

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ANOTHER attempt to remove the exemption of the Church of England from same-sex marriage in churches was made in the House of Lords last week.

A similar attempt was made last month at the committee stage of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill (News, 8 February).

Lord Faulkner, a Labour peer, attempted last Friday, with Lord Collins, to remove the exemption of members of the clergy from solemnising the marriage of a same-sex couple, but withdrew his amendment.

Lord Faulkner told peers that his amendment “says to the Church of England and the Church in Wales that Parliament will not stand in their way when they eventually get round to extending the right to marry in church to same-sex couples. . .

“You will know this is an extremely contentious issue in the Church of England at present. But I hope you will also be aware that there are very large numbers of clergy and lay people who are supportive of equal marriage, and would like to be able to conduct such marriages in our churches. As things stand, these views are not being represented by our current House of Bishops. . .

“I hope that, by debating this amendment today, this House will send a message to the Church of England and the Church in Wales — and to the Anglican Communion worldwide — that we in this House, at any rate, think it is time that they moved forward at rather more than the glacial speed we have seen so far. This amendment is intended to help them.”

Lord Collins said: “Certainly, since the Committee Stage of this Bill, I have received emails, some coming from the opposite camp in the Church of England. I did not realise that what I had been through [same-sex marriage] was an abomination, but apparently that is what it was, and no doubt that forms part of the debate in the Church of England.”

Responding on behalf of the Church, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, resisted the amend­ment.

He told peers: “As a Church, we need more time for deeper reflection and prayer; for listening, recognising the urgency of the situation; for listening to those outside and within the Church; and for developing our responses.”

He said that the legal powers already existed that enabled the C of E and the Church in Wales to start to solemnise same-sex marriages, should they wish to do so.
“That change will be registered through a change in the doctrine of marriage and therefore in canon law,” he said.

“It is important for the overall process that the Church is seen to make its own decisions first, and only then for those decisions to be taken through Parliament.”

Asked by Lord Griffiths, a Labour peer, why the Church was taking so long to make up its mind on same-sex marriage, Dr Croft replied: “Our decision-making processses natur­ally set up to be conservative and to take time to implement serious change after careful thought.

“To change canon law, there will need to be significant majorities in favour of such change in the General Synod. . . Therefore, I anticipate that this debate will continue into the lifetime of the next Synod, which begins in 2020. . .

Dr Croft continued: “One of the things which impedes that change of view in the life of the Church is a fear lest it be seen to be in any way compelled to make up its mind by external forces, even if that is not the intention of the amend­ment. I recognise it is not, very clearly. However, that external pres­sure would itself be a rallying call to those opposed to change.”

He also referred to the ad clerum “Clothed With Love” sent by the Bishops of Oxford, Dorchester, Reading, and Buckingham, in October, calling for “an attitude of inclusion and respect for LGBTI+ people” (News, 2 November).

He said: “That letter has been warmly welcomed by many LGBTI clergy and laity, and more widely across the Church by those who want to see further change. It has led to many fruitful conversations.

“However, it is also a sign of where the Church is, and of the deep views held in good conscience on the issue, that the same letter has dismayed and unsettled some others who fear that the Church will change what is regarded as essential and core doctrine.”

Withdrawing his amendment, Lord Faulkner said: “If this is going to Synod next year, I hope that will be the occasion when the House of Bishops takes a lead and wins over other members of the Synod. I am not seeking to dictate or force the Church of England and the Church in Wales to do things that they do not want to; I want them to understand just how much support there is for a change of this sort.”

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