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Evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage outline their proposals to the Bishops

19 October 2022


Canon John Dunnett, Director of Strategy and Operations at the Church of England Evangelical Council

Canon John Dunnett, Director of Strategy and Operations at the Church of England Evangelical Council

GROUPS opposed to the introduction of same-sex marriage in the Church of England have had meetings with bishops as the College of Bishops ponders what to present to the General Synod in February.

A meeting in Lambeth Palace on Tuesday of last week was attended by representatives from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), the Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS), the Church Society, and Junia, a group for ordained women in the Evangelical tradition.

A representative from Living Out also attended the meeting. Living Out is an organisation that describes its mission as “to see Christians living out their sexuality and identity in ways that enable all to flourish in Christ-like faithfulness”.

All the groups hold that marriage is the only acceptable context for sexual relations, and that a marriage can be only between a man and a woman. They met the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain.

Dr Chamberlain is the only openly gay Church of England bishop. At the time of his appointment, he confirmed that he was living in accordance with the House of Bishops’ guidelines, which state that gay clergy cannot be in sexually active same-sex partnerships (News, 9 September 2016).

The CEEC’s Director of Strategy and Operations, Canon John Dunnett, attended the meeting in his position as the chairman of EGGS. “I thought it was a good meeting,” he told the Church Times last Friday.

“The meeting was set up so that [the bishops] could hear from us in the same way as they heard from other groups,” Canon Dunnett said.

The meeting last week followed similar “listening exercises” at the start of the month involving campaigners for same-sex marriage to be permitted within the Church, and for priests who are in such unions to be allowed to officiate (News, 5 October).

Canon Dunnett described the position of the CEEC and the other groups present on Tuesday of last week: “We remain convinced that what might be called the historical, the inherited, or the traditional view of the C of E is both true in scripture and there for the flourishing of all. We’re saying what we’d love to see and pray for is for the College of Bishops to recover a confidence in that.

“If the General Synod embrace change in the Church’s doctrine and liturgical practice, we will have to contend against that, because we think that’s asking us to accept things that scripture says we can’t accept.”

The CEEC has recently released a film examining the splits over same-sex marriage that occurred in Anglican Provinces in North America and New Zealand, followed by extended lawsuits over church property (News, 21 January).

“Do we want to go down the same kind of route that’s gone down in North America? No, we don’t,” Canon Dunnett said on Friday

The film argues that “a settlement without theological compromise is the best way forward for all.” Asked what form that might take, Canon Dunnett pointed towards a paper produced by the CEEC in 2016, “Guarding the Deposit: Apostolic truth for an apostolic Church”. The paper outlines various options, including arrangements for the provision of episcopal ministry similar to those provided for those unable to accept the consecration of women as bishops.

Other alternatives are outlined in the paper, and explored in more detail in a later and longer document published in 2020, Visibly Different. These include the proposal of a “new provincial structure” in the C of E, in which the Province of Canterbury remains committed to the current definition of marriage, while the Province of York permits same-sex unions.

The CEEC has said that it will release another film in due course, in which it will outline its proposals.

There was a desire among Evangelical groups, Canon Dunnett said, to “move on” from the issue and find a settlement without compromising on theology. “We want to get back to evangelism,” he said.

Last Friday, a spokesperson for the Bishops confirmed that all the planned meetings had now taken place, but that “In the course of the meetings, another interested group has been suggested to us, and we are considering how best to engage with them, given the tight timetable we have before the next meeting of the College of Bishops, which is being held at the end of the month.”

The spokesperson reiterated Bishop Mullally’s earlier statement that the meetings had been “productive and fruitful”.

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