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Bishop of Liverpool calls for gender-neutral marriage canon

28 June 2021

Diocese of Liverpool

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes

THE Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has called for a gender-neutral marriage canon in the Church of England and the universal blessing of same-sex unions “as a necessary but not sufficient first step” towards equality in the Church.

Bishop Bayes was delivering the keynote speech on Saturday for the network Mosaic Anglicans — a church coalition which brings together campaigns on issues of race, ability, sexuality, gender, and gender identity (News, 26 February).

The Living in Love and Faith process had clarified his own thinking on sexuality, he said, but it must come to a conclusive and “good destination” that did not split the Church (News, 25 June).

“I want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon, such as they have in the Episcopal Church [in the US] or in the Scottish Episcopal Church,” he said. “And, as a necessary but not sufficient first step, I want to see conscientious freedom for the Church’s ministers and local leaders to honour, recognise, and, yes indeed, to bless same-sex unions, whether civil partnerships or civil marriages.

“I want to see an abolition of the foolishness that sees the call to ordained ministry as a call to a state morally higher than that of the baptised, as though baptism called us to a lesser holiness. I want to see an end to LGBTQ+ people hiding who they are for fear of being exposed to conversion therapy or to being forbidden to minister in churches. I want to see an end to the inquisition of ordinands about their private lives. I want to see all this before I die.”

He continued: “I do want us to remain one Church, and, within that Church, for example, I want to see the conscientious rights of conservative people preserved for them. But I don’t want any longer to see the conscientious rights of progressive people, who believe the truth of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York when they ask for a radical NEW Christian inclusion, I don’t want to see their consciences ignored and explained away and overridden and indeed criminalised by the power of conservative groups and people.”

Bishop Bayes has long advocated for LGBT inclusivity in the Church and has been a campaigner in favour of banning conversation therapy (News, 18 December 2020). He told the online conference at the weekend: “Inclusion speaks of love, and inclusion is seamless.” It was better for the Church to be accused of being “woke” than of being asleep, he said.

“In the areas we’ve been addressing — increasingly in the area of racial justice and disability justice, and overwhelmingly in this area of sexuality, as well of course as in the area of secrecy and abuse — the arc of the moral universe keeps on bending towards justice.”

The long-running debate on same-sex marriage was, he suggested, the latest “ditch to die in” for conservative Christians. “Divorce, contraception, the place of women in ministry — all these are now yesterday’s battles, though they were all the last ditch in their time.

“And now in our time, to hear some talk, you would think that sexuality in general, and same-sex relationships in particular, is the line that somehow God has always wanted us to draw in the sand, so that . . . the faithless and Godless may be condemned and paralysed from action and, if necessary, excluded.”

Same-sex love and the blessing of its expression had become his “agenda” as bishop, he said. “Although I never asked for this agenda before I came to Liverpool, I am glad to have inhabited that space now. As I grow older and the arc of my own ministry draws close to its end, I am glad to be able to speak wholeheartedly for a vision of Christian community that does not stink of oppression or of hypocrisy in the nostrils of the world.”

Bishop Bayes expressed his support for the voices calling out discrimination and abuse of LGBT Christians, including charitable organisations such as One Body One Faith and the Ozanne Foundation, of which he is a supporter.

The charity is led by Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the General Synod. She said on Monday: “I know that a very significant proportion of the Church will want to join in me thanking Bishop Paul for his powerful speech at the Mosaic conference, which summed up the hopes and longings of so many who yearn for a far more inclusive Church of England. I salute him for calling for a gender neutral marriage canon, which most know that the Church desperately needs in order to recognise vows that LGBT+ couples wish to make before God but few are actually prepared to say.”

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