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General Synod digest: Bishops’ plan to bless same-sex couples approved with one amendment

17 February 2023
Max Colson/Church Times

THE General Synod welcomed the Bishops’ proposals for providing prayers to bless same-sex couples in church on the Thursday — but with a last-minute proviso that their use would not contradict the Church’s current teaching on marriage.

The debate on the motion (News, 20 January), which began on Wednesday afternoon, overran by several hours, and concluding before the lunchtime adjournment on Thursday with vote by Houses on the amended motion.

Voting was: Bishops 36-4, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 111-85, with three recorded abstentions; Laity 103-92, with five recorded abstentions.

Most of the original motion from the College and House of Bishops survived, despite dozens of attempts to alter and remove clauses — or, in one instance, rewrite the motion entirely — over the two days. All but one of the amendments were lost. The final motion therefore included the original apology for the Church’s treatment of LGBT community and a commitment to replacing the guidance Issues of Human Sexuality.

The motion was the culmination of six years of discussion about a way forward for the Church on sexuality, under the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project. This was instigated after the Synod voted down a previous report from the Bishops on sexuality in 2017 (News, 17 February 2017).

Before the debate, the chair, Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester), warned that the discussion would be uncomfortable for everyone. “If we believe that we are capable of disagreeing well, now is the time to show it.” He also urged Synod members to keep their speeches brief, even given the five hours set aside for the debate.

Introducing the motion, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, warned members not to allow synodical procedure to overtake the “relational mode of engagement that is so much more fruitful”.

Disagreements between the Bishops had not changed, she said, but they had, nevertheless, discerned a call to walk together, which was set out in the motion. While some believed this to be a betrayal that warranted a schism, and others considered this to fall too far short of equality, many wanted to remain together. “We wanted to create a space where we could just about touch each other, understanding each other and embracing radical Christian inclusion.”

This underlined the motion, which committed the Church to a “journey of repentance” for a failure to love LGBTQ+ people. It also sought to push forward with the Pastoral Principles — the guidelines on how to discuss sexuality which had been drawn up earlier in the LLF process — and called for a replacement of the current guidance used by bishops, Issues in Human Sexuality. This was a chance to review all existing guidance, pastoral statements, and teaching documents relating to sexuality, civil partnerships, and marriage. The new work would also cover areas on which there was currently no guidance, such as singleness and celibacy.

Introducing the proposed Prayers of Love and Faith for same-sex couples, she said that the Bishops had wanted to listen to the Synod and create space for conscience, with “freedom and protection” for clergy who chose to use the prayers in different ways or not use them at all. “The House of Bishops commends this motion for your prayerful consideration,” she concluded.

Speaking next, the Archbishop of Canterbury argued that the Church was not divided: it simply disagreed. In terms used at last year’s Lambeth Conference, he said that both conservatives and liberals cared about scripture and the authority of Christ, and that both had arrived at their position with great care and pastoral need. What the Bishops were seeking was what they thought was right, not convenient or easy.

The Archbishop acknowledged that some feared that this motion represented a slippery slope towards same-sex marriage in church, but he urged members to trust the Holy Spirit. “Each of us will answer to God at the judgement for our decisions today,” he said.

“I am supporting these resources not because I am controlled by culture, but because of scripture, tradition, and reason evidenced in the vast work done over the last six years so ably by so many. I may be wrong, of course, but I cannot duck the issue any more.” Synod must vote for itself, he warned, not because of what outside groups or lobbies were telling it what to do.

Quoting Pope Francis, he concluded that it was vital to talk about individuals, who were all indispensable members of God’s Church, rather than groups.

Max Colson/Church TimesArchbishop Welby addresses the Synod

Canon Vaughan Roberts (Oxford) supported some elements of the motion, but could not endorse it whole. “There is a lot that we agree on,” he explained, including the good that could come from same-sex relationships, and that LGBTQ+ people should be fully included in the life of the Church. But “the fundamental issue that divides us is about sex,” he said. By carrying the motion, the Synod would be “naming as holy” that which in the Universal Church “has always before now been called sin”. The message to same-sex-attracted Christians, like himself, who had lived a celibate life was that they “needn’t have bothered”, Canon Roberts said. If the doctrine could not be reaffirmed in the motion, he asked for a “mediated settlement, which takes seriously the very deep, irreconcilable differences that are between us, that seeks to find maximum unity without theological compromise”.

In a speech that did not directly address the motion, the Chair of the House of Laity, Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), said: “However we decide, I do pray that we can hold together in this debate, that we can respect one another, and keep well hydrated.”

Against the motion, the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, said that the Bishops had had only six days to work through six years of LLF, and asked what the basis was for replacing Christian teaching on sex held for 2000 years. The Church had always been out of step with wider culture, but that did not mean that it was necessarily unattractive, she argued. Women, in particular, found Jesus’s teaching on sex liberating and respectful, she said.

The gift of LLF was having open conversations on difficult things in public: “Let’s not lose that in a last-minute rush.” The motion would be an unwarranted seismic change in teaching and would alienate same-sex-attracted believers and Christians overseas.

In favour, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, quoted Christ’s words of knowing his disciples by their fruit. There was too much bad fruit in present pastoral practice, he said, including deception, harm, and overly heavy burdens for LGBTQ+ people. Conversely, much good fruit stemmed from loving, permanent, faithful, and stable relationships, and he thanked God for LGBTQ+ disciples whom he knew. “Their pain and witness have caused me to revisit scripture and change my heart and mind,” he said. “I am so sorry it took me so long to change. I hope and pray this journey will lead to equal marriage in our Church.”

Not all hearts and minds would change, he acknowledged. He, too, called for a mediated settlement such as that proposed by Canon Roberts, which would honour and respect conservatives. The C of E would continue to need the conservative tradition, he said, which would also need the wider Church.

Max Colson/Church TimesSam Margrave (Coventry)

Also in favour, the Revd Robert Lawrance (Newcastle) said that “becoming polarised will not serve us or the wider society well. . . “We should accept that marriage is not the foundation stone of Christian doctrine.” He queried a distinction, recently promoted by the House of Bishops and in a note from the Church of England Legal Office, between holy matrimony and civil marriage (News, 30 January). This was “not Anglican polity”, he said. Gender was “only one of a range of considerations” when thinking about love, and the Synod should take a “less totemic view of marriage”, he said.

Sam Margrave (Coventry) withdrew two of his amendments to allow more voices to be heard, before speaking to his next amendment to rewrite the entire motion to rearticulate the Church’s existing teaching on sex and marriage. The Church should be clear in calling the nation “away from sin and towards repentance”, he argued.

Bishop Mullally resisted. Over the past five years, the Church had completed the widest possible listening exercise, and to accept the amendment would undermine all that work. It would also strip out the apology to LGBTQ+ people and the need to write new pastoral guidance on sexuality.

The amendment lacked the necessary support of 25 members, and lapsed.

Mr Margrave then moved an amendment to reaffirm Canon B30 that marriage was a permanent union between one man and one woman.

Bishop Mullally reiterated that the Bishops had taken the view that the doctrine of marriage was unaffected by the proposed prayers of blessing, and that “the right context for sexual intimacy is within lifelong, committed, and faithful relationships.” But she welcomed further debate on the amendment.

Abigail Ogier (Manchester) opposed the amendment, because the Synod was not of one mind on the definition of marriage. It would also have a negative impact on people watching from outside, including her daughter who was married to a woman. Doctrine already did not follow current practice, because people like herself had been married in church after a divorce, she said: the doctrine of marriage needed to be revisited, and so should not be reaffirmed.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, one of the 14 Bishops to publish a defence of “marriage as the Church of England has received it” last week (News, 3 February), agreed with Mr Margrave’s theological position, but could not condone the manner of his campaign to achieve this, on social media and elsewhere. Untold hurt had been caused to LGBTQ+ people in his diocese because of this conduct, Bishop Snow said.

Mr Margrave made a point of order, and Bishop Snow was asked by Mr Tattersall to finish his speech without further reference to specific Synod members.

“Come what may, I will support the LGBTQ+ people in my diocese against those using hurtful words,” Bishop Snow continued, to loud and sustained applause, which prompted a light-hearted rebuke from the chair.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 28-1, with 11 recorded abstentions; Clergy 115-54, with 26 recorded abstentions; Laity 113-67, with 17 recorded abstentions.

Max Colson/Church TimesJayne Ozanne (Oxford)

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) then moved an amendment to remove the Bishops’ apology for the Church’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. This was meaningless, she argued, because the proposals continued to uphold inequality. “The primary purpose [of apologies] is to make you feel better,” she said. The Bishops had, instead, caused anger, because the prayers did not even bless relationships, only the people in them. “Can I suggest that these words are saved until something is done to remove the discrimination and the harm that the Church’s teachings inflict?”

Bishop Mullally said that the apology had been “heartfelt” and agreed that “repentance presumes a commitment to change.” She resisted the amendment, however, because the apology was still important, she said.

Supporting the amendment, the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) recalled how black Christians had been barred from his church by his predecessor because of the colour of their skin. Even when they were allowed in, they had been made to sit at the back and had been refused communion, he said. He could no more change his race than his friends could change their sexual orientation. Please allow his church to welcome all God’s children, he said. “Let’s err on the side of grace and generosity.”

The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs) had sympathy with Ms Ozanne’s arguments. He had been fully involved in the LLF process as an Anglican ethicist and as an LGBTQ+ person who believed in the Church’s current teaching. It was vital that the Synod should avoid creating headlines such as “The Synod refuses to apologise to LGBT people”. The rest of the motion remained very problematic to him.

The amendment was lost by 309-102, with 30 recorded abstentions.

Mr Margrave then rose to move his next three amendments, to remove the letters Q and T, and the + sign respectively from the apology. It was important to be clear whom the apology was for and why: simply causing offence was not enough to warrant one. He described “+” as a “blank cheque” for an expanding list of sexual identities. He was also sceptical of queer theory, represented by the letter Q, which, he said, had “roots in the work of paedophiles”. The Synod must not validate what has not been properly explored by the Church before.

Resisting the amendments, Bishop Mullally reminded the Synod that the apology was about a failure regarding real people who had been harmed by the Church, and that the letters were used by these people to denote their identity. The Church was not at liberty to rewrite that, she said.

For lack of support, the amendments lapsed, and Mr Margrave did not wish to move his next amendments, by which he had sought to allow the Synod to debate each clause of the motion in turn. They lapsed.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe chair of the debate, Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester)

Busola Sodeinde (London) moved an amendment to request that the Synod’s Secretary General, Sir William Nye, “consult personally the Primate of each Province of the Anglican Communion about the potential impact of the proposals [for prayers of blessing] on its relationship to the Church of England, the life of the Province and the effectiveness of their mission, and report on the outcome of those consultations for consideration by this synod before the prayers are commended”.

Mrs Sodeinde, a Church Commissioner and a PCC member of Holy Trinity, Brompton — which, she said, was 42 per cent global-majority heritage — said that it would be racially unjust to bring forward same-sex blessings without further consultation across the Anglican Communion. She feared an “exodus of diverse communities from our parishes”, which, until now, the Church had worked so hard to encourage, and suggested that the motion would cause friction as a result of the “arrogance” of the Western Church. Her amendment suggested an audit of each Province.

Resisting the amendment, Bishop Mullally said that Archbishop Welby had been consulting extensively with the Primates since 2016, as had LLF staff who had visited the Anglican Consultative Council. It was not the Secretary General’s role to consult.

The Revd Folli Olokose (Guildford), quoting Archbishop Welby, said that the Provinces of the Anglican Communion were “independent, autonomous, but interdependent”. By accepting the Bishops’ proposals, “we are throwing a stone into the middle of the Anglican Communion without thinking about the effect.” The repercussions would be “throwing [Christians in the Global South] under the bus”, opening them up to persecution, owing to their association with a Church that was accepting of same-sex relationships. The C of E risked not just driving a nail into the coffin of the Anglican Communion, but “burying it”.

Canon Andy Salmon (Manchester) said that his congregation included refugees who had fled persecution over their sexuality. These draft prayers would be a “useful tool” for his parish, and to delay the prayers in favour of consulting around the world would feel like a travesty to them, he said.

Archbishop Welby said that he was “genuinely torn by this: the differences we have here are small compared to those with many around the Communion”, but “this isn’t just about listening to the rest of the world: it’s about caring. Let’s just be clear on that. It’s about people who’ll die; women who’ll be raped; children who’ll be tortured. So, when we vote, we need to think of that: this is not just about what people say: it’s what they’ll suffer.”

After pausing to compose himself, Archbishop Welby said that if the amendment was rejected, he would go to the ACC’s Secretary General, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, and ask him to speak to Primates; but he could not ask the Synod’s Secretary General to do so, because “it’s not his job.” He therefore rejected the amendment, not because of its spirit, but because it was “wrongly structured”. “I beg you to believe that there is nothing in my life or heart or prayers that comes as high as the safety and the flourishing of the people I love in the Anglican Communion,” he said.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 38-2, with three recorded abstentions; Clergy 121-71, with eight recorded abstentions; Laity 115-75, with ten recorded abstentions.

After a short break, Mr Margrave attempted another amendment to remove the welcoming for replacing Issues in Human Sexuality.

Resisting this, Bishop Mullally said that the one consistent call heard throughout LLF was a desire to replace Issues. The Synod had been consulted on what sort of information and issues should be included in the new pastoral guidance, she reminded members.

Max Colson/Church TimesCanon Kate Wharton (Liverpool)

Debbie Buggs (London), supporting the amendment, asked how many members of staff would be allocated to the project, which she considered “very ambitious” to achieve by July.

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Joe Hawes, said that clergy lived in fear of the application of Issues and of intrusive questions.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 37-2, with three recorded abstentions; Clergy 136-60, with five recorded abstentions; Laity 120-68, with 11 recorded abstentions.

Christopher Townsend (Ely) moved an amendment to “note” rather than “welcome” the decision to replace Issues, arguing that no information had been given about the contents of its replacement.

Bishop Mullally acknowledged the concerns about the lack of detail on future pastoral guidance, but the Bishops were trying to do this process with the Synod. She resisted the amendment because the “breadth of the Church of England” welcomed the replacement of Issues.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) agreed that “noting” was safer than “welcoming”.

Samuel Wilson (Chester) said that, as long as the new guidance did not present LGBT people like him as “inherently promiscuous”, it would be a “damn sight better” than Issues and, as such, should be warmly welcomed.

In a vote by Houses, the amendment fell because it was lost in two: Bishops 30-7, with six recorded abstentions; Clergy 107-92, with one recorded abstention. It was carried by the Laity by 103-95, with two abstentions.

Christina Baron (Bath & Wells) moved an amendment that the new pastoral guidance “should allow freedom of conscience for clergy and ordinands”. Issues had never been intended to bear the weight that had been put on it, she said, and several clerics “had lost their livelihood because of it”. There were no other areas, except for sex, in which personal lives were “micro-managed”. She asked whether the Church of England really wanted to “make windows into men’s bedrooms”.

Bishop Mullally said that the House of Bishops was “very aware of the concern about the lack of pastoral guidance”, but resisted the amendment, as it would take the Bishops who developed the new guidance “hostage to fortune”.

Max Colson/Church TimesThe Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark)

The Revd Graham Kirk-Spriggs (Norwich) supported the amendment. “If we reject these proposals, it will damage people like me,” he said: “All I want is equal dignity to be judged with the same standards as my straight colleagues. Is that too much to ask?”

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) argued that there were few, if any, members of the Synod who thought that clergy should be allowed to order their personal lives with no constraints, and that it was up to the Bishops to decide what these constraints should be.

The amendment lost in all Houses: Bishops 34-3, with seven recorded abstentions; Clergy 116-74, with ten recorded abstentions; Laity 118-81, with two recorded abstentions.

Miss Buggs then moved an amendment that the new pastoral guidance be “consonant with the doctrine of the Church of England and the responsibility of its ministers to order their lives according to the same”. Issues was out of date and should be replaced, but there had been no change in the doctrine of the Church. Following Jesus meant living counter-culturally and in a way that was odd to the secular world, she argued, including the MPs over the road.

Bishop Mullally, resisting, said that the guidance would, of course, be consistent with church teaching, but noted the word “minister” was ambiguous .

Contrary to the Archbishop, Anna De Castro (Sheffield) argued that the motion did not make a commitment to scripture, reason, and tradition. There was a deafening silence around sex and intimacy, she said. “How can we vote in favour of a motion when we don’t have clarity on these issues in the pastoral guidance?” she asked. The amendment gave the overall motion greater integrity, she argued. Ms De Castro suggested that it was “a comforting myth” that liberalising on LGBT issues would entice the young back to Church.

Nicola Denyer (Newcastle), opposing the amendment, said that nobody during her discernment process had asked whether she was sleeping with her unmarried partner; so why were gay people being put under such scrutiny? Her teenage children did not believe her when she told them the Church operated outside of equality and diversity law, she said. Why should her bisexual son, if he was called into ministry, have to answer questions that she was not asked?

On a point of order, the Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) said that this was the second amendment in which the Bishop had indicated agreement in spirit but resisted on a technicality. He asked that this be avoided with better drafting of amendments.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 29-7, with seven recorded abstentions; Clergy 114-85, with one recorded abstention; Laity 103-95, with three recorded abstentions.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesDaniel Matovu (Oxford) holds up a sheet of blank paper: all the details that the Synod has so far about the pastoral guidance

The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) moved an amendment requesting that a draft of the pastoral guidance be brought to the Synod for approval before publication. This was necessary for reasons of “unity, legality, and rapidity”, and would be helpful for unity.

Bishop Mullally resisted the amendment because feedback would be better given in further group work than in a Synod debate.

The Synod should not delay, the Revd Chantal Noppen (Durham) said.

Dr Ian Johnston (Portsmouth) said: “We have an opportunity here for the Bishops to trust Synod.”

The amendment fell when it was lost in two Houses: Bishops 39-4, with one recorded abstention; Clergy 106-94. It had the support of the Laity: 104-96, with two recorded abstentions.

A similar amendment from the Revd Kate Wharton (Liverpool), that the prayers and pastoral guidance be assessed by the Synod “at the earliest point reasonably possible” was also lost. It invited the Synod to report on their usage in five years, with a request for “further legal, theological, and practical consideration”.

Her purpose was not to end the entire conversation around LLF, but she warned against an “unhelpful rush” at the end of the process. “What a shame it would be to squander all we had learned by rushing through prayers that don’t quite suit anyone and guidance not yet written.” It was better to delay to allow for robust legal advice.

Bishop Mullally pointed to the book, resources, and study course produced by LLF, and said that the Bishops had been given legal advice and theological reflection, and that this would continue. If the amendment was carried, the Prayers of Love and Faith would still exist, but without a synodical welcome, and many consequential amendments would lapse automatically.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), supporting the amendment, argued that unclear decisions would have negative consequences for members of the clergy. “As a result, we need a detailed and continuing say,” he argued. The liturgical materials should come to the Synod via the Liturgical Commission as Article 7 business, he said. “We need to do that deeper work on the issues of sin.” Clarity was needed in the area of sex and sin.

Miss Buggs, raising a point of order, tried to amend the amendment to change the word “proper” to “comprehensive” in Ms Wharton’s amendment on legal advice, but the chair refused permission.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, said that he had pledged to make the views of MPs known to the Synod. Several had expressed a hope that the Church would alter its doctrine to make same-sex marriage possible in church, he reported. Others had contacted him privately to offer their support for traditional marriage teaching, and to reaffirm the Synod’s right to legislate for itself. It was not Parliament’s job to decide the Church of England’s doctrine, but Parliament’s patience might not be infinite, he warned. He also criticised those who sought to bring the Church into the ambit of equalities law as an infringement on religious liberty.

Dr Ros Clarke (Lichfield) said that she had been astonished to read the Prayers of Love and Faith when they were published, describing this as an unintentional but “outrageous piece of formalised homophobia”. There was no theological rationale for their “radical new inclusion”, she said. There should first have been a theological paper, then pastoral guidance arising from that, from which to draw up prayers, she argued. The Synod should accept the amendment so that it could hear the Bishops’ reasoning for their proposals.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesVicky Brett (Peterborough)

Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester), opposing the amendment, said that theological reflection and discernment had been going on for as long as she could remember. Clarity about what was being brought forward would be found together, but not on the “bruising floor of a debating chamber”.

The debate on this amendment was closed by a procedural vote by Houses, and the amendment was voted down in all Houses: Bishops 27-15, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 108-90, with two recorded abstentions; Laity 104-97, with one recorded abstention.

Dr Paul then moved his amendment asking the Bishops to “offer a full theological rationale for the proposed Prayers of Love and Faith”, with reference to previous House of Bishops statements on marriage. Doing theology meant reflecting on God’s “divine best” for ourselves and one another: it was a way of being loving, he said. “Trust in episcopal leadership is at a catastrophic low,” he said. “If you have done the work, how can it be difficult to show us?”

Resisting his amendment, Bishop Mullally pointed to a range of theological material throughout the LLF process.

The Revd Dr Paul Chamberlain (Portsmouth) said that he was a gay man who held to the historic teaching of the Church on marriage and sex. It had not been easy, he said, but he had never regretted his decision. He suggested that the Bishops had not made any effort to explain and justify their decision.

Canon Anderson Jeremiah (Universities and TEIs) said that, yes, there needed to be a lot more theological rationale from the Bishops, but he appreciated the desire to take action that was required now. For too long, the Church had permitted misogyny, racism, and other discrimination because there was not yet a settled theology.

The amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 29-8, with six recorded abstentions; Clergy 108-89; Laity 99-89, with one recorded abstention.

Mr Margrave then moved an amendment to remove the clause welcoming the Bishops’ decision to commend the prayers, along with various Annexes. It was “an ecumenical matter”, he said. Bishop Mullally “clearly” resisted this, as it would reject many of the key outcomes of LLF.

Benjamin John (St Albans), imploring the Bishops to withdraw their proposals, called on them to “be the shepherds that God is calling you to be” and not to endorse “this teaching that perverts the grace of God into a licence for immorality”.

The Revd Graham Kirk-Spriggs (Norwich) said that it had broken his heart when he first conducted a marriage, realising that, as a gay man, he could not partake of this event himself. It was not fair or good news that straight couples who had no interest in God could get a church wedding, and he, a lifelong Anglican, could not. “I am treated like a second-class citizen, unable to profess a faithful, loving relationship before God and his people,” he said. “Where is the good news in that?” The Synod should reject this amendment so that finally people like him could have their voice recognised in church, he said.

The amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 38-1, with two abstentions; Clergy 118-77, with four recorded abstentions; Laity 111-82, with three recorded abstentions.

Ms Ozanne moved a further amendment to remove the “welcome” of the Prayers and add a stipulation that the Bishops reflect on “feedback from the General Synod”. “We need something that will see us through to the time that we eventually legislative for same-sex marriage, which I believe we will one day do,” she said. The prayers as currently formulated were inadequate: for example, in their silence on the morality of sexual activity between same-sex couples.

Max Colson/Church TimesThe Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, addresses the Synod

Bishop Mullally resisted the amendment. This cut would also remove other items in the Bishops’ response, and the LLF resources were always much more than same-sex marriage, she said.

Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford), supporting the amendment, said that the Bishop’s concerns were unfounded.

The Revd Steve Wilcox (York) said that he was abstaining on this amendment, and planning to vote against the motion as a whole. A “safe space” was needed for those who disagreed with the proposals, he said, and many felt that the strength of their objection to the proposals was not being recognised.

As the final act before the debate was adjourned, Archbishop Welby made a point of order asking for an ecumenical reprsentative, Archbishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox Church), to speak. Archbishop Angaelos said that he “felt called to speak” and hoped that he would be heard as a “trusted friend”. He said: “I want you to know that decisions here will impact the world outside of this chamber” both in the UK and around the world, and he referred to Archbishop Welby’s warnings about repercussions.

Archbishop Angaelos said that he was “very aware of the difference between a blessing and holy matrimony”, but the distinction would “sound like a mere technicality” to many around the world. The current proposals would not bring closure on the issue.

The amendment fell after it was lost in two Houses — Bishops 38-2, with one recorded abstentions; Clergy 81-66, with 49 recorded abstentions — despite being carried by the Laity 89-67, with 39 recorded abstentions.

The debate was adjourned.

 

“MAMMA mia, here we go again,” the chair, Mr Tattersall said as the debate resumed on Thursday morning. The chair of the Business Committee, Robert Hammond (Chelmsford), then altered the agenda to allow it more time; and yet more amendments were lost.

Clive Scowen (London) sought to authorise Prayers of Love and Faith via the Canon B2 process, with a synodical vote that would protect clerics from legal challenges. In some contexts, the prayers would indicate a departure from the Church’s doctrine, and the mere possibility of legal proceedings against priests using them was horrendous, he said, especially if they believed wrongly that they were protected by the Bishops’ endorsement.

Once again, Bishop Mullally said that trust was needed between the Bishops and the Synod, in both directions. “We as the House of Bishops will listen and review the comments you have made,” she said. The prayers would be commended under Canon B5, allowing priests to exercise discretion whether to use them, rather than authorised under Canon B2.

In favour of the amendment, Daniel Matovu (Oxford) called the Bishops’ handling of the sexuality discussions a “fiasco”, and said that the Anglican Communion’s Secretary General had told him that there had been insufficient time for the contents of the draft prayers to be considered. “The Bishops can’t see that the draft prayers are out of sync with, inconsistent with, and undermine that doctrine of marriage as in Canon B30. They should have gone to Specsavers,” he said.

Referring to a question that he had put to Bishop Mullally — whether the prayers would be available for use to all same-sex couples, “even those engaged in a sexual relationship” — he said that her response was insufficient, because the guidance did not yet exist. He held up a sheet of paper showing the details of the pastoral guidance that the Synod was supposed to approve. It was blank.

Opposing the amendment, Julie Dziegiel (Oxford), an accountant, said that, while she liked things to add up, in this instance, the Church should be brave and step into a space which was “messy and difficult, in order to love some people we have desperately hurt”. There was not the two-thirds majority needed to change doctrine in any of the three Houses, which she lamented. Therefore, if this motion was “not quite making sense”, but was still a form of progress, that would do.

The amendment fell in all Houses: Bishops 29-3, with six recorded abstentions; Clergy 109-85, with one recorded abstention; Laity 101-90.

Another amendment was introduced by the Revd Dr Tom Woolford (Blackburn). It required both the incumbent and the PCC to vote in favour of using Prayers of Love and Faith before any service of blessing could be held. This could not be compared to priests’ sole discretion about marrying divorcees, because blessings were more controversial.

Resisting, Bishop Mullally said that the Pastoral Principles from LLF were a good way to navigate disagreement in parishes, and that ultimately, use of the prayers was at the priest’s discretion of the priest, not that of the laity of the PCC. Carrying this amendment would require an amending canon, she warned.

Clare Williams (Norwich) said that the amendment would enable “all voices to be heard” by giving the PCC a say.

The Revd Dr Susan Lucas (Chelmsford) said that her benefice contained the same breadth of opinion as the Synod, and that, as the incumbent, she “would not find this amendment helpful”. Giving the PCC a formal say would make it harder for its members to reflect the views of all the people in the parish, she said.

The amendment fell after being lost in two Houses: Bishops 27-5, with six recorded abstentions; Clergy 107-83, with seven recorded abstentions, despite the Laity’s 95-94, with six abstentions, in favour.

An amendment from Ms Ozanne to replace the final clause of the motion — which asked the Bishops to monitor the use of the prayers and report back to Synod in five years — with a request to bring forward proposals for same-sex marriage to the next sessions in July was also lost. “I would like to get married one day,” she told the Synod, and this marriage would have to take place in church. She argued that more Anglicans wanted to celebrate gay marriages in church than did not. Ultimately, she said, the Church needed to deal with the question whether LGB people could have sex — an issue that, she said, had been fudged by the Bishops.

Bishop Mullally said that equal marriage had not been endorsed by the House of Bishops, who had favoured a period of reception after the Prayers had been released.

In favour, Simon Friend (Exeter) said that caring for a man dying of AIDS had changed his views. “I had no need to fear that the basis for my faith and salvation would unravel if I changed my deeply held views; but gloriously redemptive love, not redemptive violence, leads us to an unfolding generosity towards others and myself.” Bishops should reaffirm that holy matrimony was the proper place for sexual intimacy, but at the same time extend marriage to people of the same sex.

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said that bishops were called to “heal, not to hurt”, and that the amendment would open a wide and deep hurt in the household of faith. It would be a devastating blow to the Church’s work of revitalisation, and would undermine trust in the Anglican Communion. The Church must continue to celebrate its doctrine of holy matrimony, ignoring politicians who urge it to “get with the programme of modern life”, which was not the Church’s calling.

Vicky Brett (Peterbrough) said: “We need to accept and acknowledge that there are a diversity of views on equal marriage,” and live together. She compared this diversity of views to dietary choices: some were vegetarians, others were not, but all were welcome at the table. “Don’t insist on your own way,” she said. “If you think same-sex marriage is wrong, don’t marry someone of the same sex for you,” but don’t block others from being able to do so, she urged.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesStephen Hofmeyr (Guildford), applauded for his suggestion that the Bishops abstain from voting

Ed Shaw (Bristol) said that singleness did not equal loneliness. He was opposed to equal marriage, but was willing to draw up proposals that would allow for its introduction, as long as it was allied with differentiation for people who could not accept it. That conversation needed to happen now, he told the Synod. He had supported Ms Ozanne’s two previous amendments, but her latest one did not include the call for the negotiated settlement that was required if gay marriage was brought in; so he could not vote for it.

“I look forward to the day when you can get married in your local Anglican church according to your conscience,” he told Ms Ozanne, as long as that happened in a different part of the Church from his.

After competing points of order on the voting mechanism to be used, the amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 33-1, with seven recorded abstentions; Clergy, 105-79, with 12 recorded abstentions; Laity 102-89, with seven recorded abstentions.

On a point of order, Stephen Hofmeyr (Guildford) argued that votes by Houses on proposals from the Bishops were inappropriate, as it gave the Bishops an “in-built power to block each and every amendment”. This prompted loud and sustained applause from all sides of the chamber. He reminded the Synod of the pastoral principle “Pay attention to power,” and suggested that the Bishops should, instead, be abstaining on each vote. Responding, the chair, Mr Tattersall, said that he was constrained by the Standing Orders, which permitted the House of Bishops to vote as a House.

An amendment from Mrs Brett asked to test the mind of Synod on the question of equal marriage within the next two years. The legal advice from the Bishops seemed to suggest that civil marriages, even for straight couples such as her, were all invalid, which, she said, was absurd. God was eager to bless love, she argued, and was not obsessed with sex, but with love. Conservatives who did not want to use the blessings could abide by their consciences, but what about the consciences of those who, like her, longed to marry gay couples?

Bishop Mullally resisted the amendment: building trust with the Synod involved doing what they had made it clear that they would do, and the decision of the College and House of Bishops had been not to put forward proposals for equal marriage.

The Revd Gini Williams (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), speaking by video link, said: “It feels like we’re in a bit of a mess at the moment, but creation is messy.” She commended the amendment as an “honest way forward”.

The Revd Vincent Whitworth (Manchester) said that changing the message that marriage between a man and a woman was the only proper context for sexual intimacy would have a negative impact on mission and evangelism.

The amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 30-6, with four recorded abstentions; Clergy 97-95, with five recorded abstentions; Laity 100-96, with two recorded abstentions.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs

Mid-morning on Thursday, an amendment was finally carried. This was the first of two from Canon Andrew Cornes (Chichester), who spoke to them together before moving them separately.

The first asked the Synod to “endorse” the Bishops’ decision not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage (between one man and one woman), and clarified that “the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”.

Canon Cornes said he had “walked and wept” with many gay men in his ministry, and understood that his proposal would be hurtful to some. But there remained a huge lack of clarity about whether the C of E was changing its teaching on sex, and his amendment offered that clarity, he said. Christ was radically inclusive and radically conservative, he argued, and Christ had not been afraid to engage with those breaking sexual norms; yet he had called even first-century Jews to a higher standard of sexual morality.

In his own research on Jewish thinking on homosexuality, Canon Cornes said that every source had condemned all same-sex activity. If Jesus had not agreed, he had “grossly misled” his listeners by not making this clear when he otherwise condemned sexual immorality, he said. The Church, therefore, could not bless sexual relationships that Jesus called sinful.

Although, Bishop Mullally said, the House of Bishops had already been clear that they were not changing the doctrine of marriage and that the prayers did not contradict this, she was interested to hear the debate and, therefore, did not resist the amendment.

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, said that carrying this amendment would not only reaffirm what was implicit in the Bishops’ proposals: it would affirm the substantial conservative minority in the Synod. Without it, many would be unable to vote for the motion, he said.

Opposing the amendment, the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Liverpool), a historian, said that it was not true that there had been a settled definition of marriage throughout Christian history. “The Church has not taught consistently for 2000 years that sex outside of marriage is a sin,” she said. Much of the historical discussion about marriage had primarily been about power rather than sex.

Sophie Clarke (London) said that she was delighted to have recently become engaged, and that she and her fiancé were waiting for marriage before having sex. “I am devastated at the possibility that my leaders and shepherds of this Church might be telling me that our decision to deny ourselves in order to follow Christ is unnecessary.” She spoke with emotion about Jesus’s “distinct counter-cultural call for holiness”, and said that the proposals would make things harder for those who attempted to answer it.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Samy Fawzy Shehata

Kenson Li (UKME Co-opted) urged the Synod to resist the amendment strongly and support the motion. The story of creation, incarnation, and fellowship of Christ’s body “tells us that God desires us unreservedly. We are created precisely so we can be caught up in this glorious vision.” Theology must choose truth over “safety”, he said.

The amendment was carried: Bishops 22-14, with four recorded abstentions; Clergy 100-94, with three recorded abstentions; Laity 98-96, with four recorded abstentions.

Canon Cornes then moved his second amendment, that the prayers “should not be used so as to indicate or imply affirmation of sexually active relationships outside Holy Matrimony or to invoke God’s blessing on such relationships”.

Bishop Mullally said that the use of the term holy matrimony was ambiguous, and could mean no longer blessing heterosexual couples who had had a civil wedding; so she resisted the amendment.

In favour of it, Dr Simon Eyre (Chichester) said that the “health” of the Anglican Communion was at stake: the prayers in their current form implied that it was acceptable to bless sexual activity between people of the same sex.

Paul Waddell (Southwark), opposing the amendment, said that LGBTQ+ people were suffering in his congregation, and some had even given up on church. The gay Christians he knew exhibited wonderful fruit in their lives, he said. The proposed compromise by the Bishops would pour balm on the wounds in his church.

The amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 38-3, with eight recorded abstentions; Clergy 111-82, with six recorded abstentions; Laity 107-90, with two recorded abstentions.

Debate resumed on the motion as amended.

The Archbishop of Alexandria, Dr Samy Fawzy Shehata, a Global South Primate, affirmed his Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The Church today could not claim to understand Jesus’s teaching better than the apostles, he said. Blessing same-sex unions would cross a line and alienate 75 per cent of the Anglican Communion. “Please, please, do not surrender your unique position as the mother Church of the Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop of York said that the proposals needed to be understood as a single package: no change to the doctrine of holy matrimony, while acknowledging the legal and pastoral reality of same-sex partnerships. These services were purely optional, he reiterated. The Synod needed to start talking about protections for conservatives. It broke his heart that he was unable to share communion fully with everyone in the C of E, but he accepted that this was for the greater good of the Church.

“Division doesn’t have to lead to conflict,” he said. “I won’t be able to commend these prayers until we have the pastoral guidance and pastoral provision.” He asked Bishop Mullally to offer this reassurance that there would be discussions about a settlement for conservatives. Baptismal identity must trump theological disagreement, he concluded.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Synod applauds the chair, Geoffrey Tattersall

Canon Judith Maltby (Universities & TEIs), speaking on video link, linked the debate to one on safeguarding later that afternoon. She referred to reports, including that of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which said that the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality had contributed to safeguarding failings over the years. “Let’s make the Church a safer place and support the motion,” she said.

Alison Coulter (Winchester) said: “Many of us around the wider Church are upset about this issue for different reasons; this is the cost of free speech.” As an Evangelical, she was “outside of her tribe” on this issue. Tolerance and freedom of conscience were crucial, she said. “We need to accept and respect that we have different views, and that we mustn’t judge each other for those views.”

Temitope Taiwo (London), opposing the motion, echoed Canon Cornes’s language about Christ’s being both radically inclusive and radically conservative. He feared that the C of E was moving away from its historic formularies and the distinction between blessing and holy matrimony was a mere technicality to many around the world. The Prayers of Love and Faith created a false dichotomy between welcome and witness, resting not on the “cornerstone of Christ”, but on the “wobbly stone of culture”. He and other young Christians needed clarity and conviction for the future.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said that the debate had shown how the Church of England was divided. “Despite our sympathy for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters,” he said, “some of us just can’t join in what sometimes feels like an inevitable journey, eventually, to equal marriage.”

He referred to a recent paper from a group of bishops of whom he was one, defending a traditional conception of marriage, and described the Bishops’ proposals as “probably the best compromise we can come up with, if we’re honest”. He endorsed calls for a “settlement” that would provide some degree of structural differentiation for those who felt unable to accept the new prayers.

The Revd Zoe Heming (Lichfield) said that she had learned a lot through the debate, noting that addressing ignorance was another of the pastoral principles, as was paying attention to power. Those seeking to maintain the status quo wanted to present themselves as an “oppressed minority”, but were they truly? The motion felt like crumbs from the table, and she wanted to go further.

Dr Laura Oliver (Blackburn), said that the proposals made her, as a gay Christian committed to celibacy, “invisible”. She called on Synod to reject the motion. While the Bishops had acknowledged that they had failed LGBTQ+ people, the proposals amounted to an “even greater failing. . . We are failing people like me because we’re not telling them the better story that God had for us, and we are leading them away from the life-saving truth of Jesus.”

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, valued deeply the Church’s unity, he said, especially within his own diocese, through LLF, and was therefore shocked at the backlash against the Bishops’ proposals. The C of E was caught between “the West and the rest” and between historic teaching and modern society: “This puts us in a difficult position.” He welcomed the amendment that had been carried and could, therefore, support the motion, holding on to his commitment both to the doctrine of marriage and to the unity of the Church.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesSynod members vote on the blessing of same-sex unions

Then Miss Wharton spoke of Ephesians, in which St Paul wrote about love, and Sandi Toksvig’s recent call to “come out for love” (News, 3 February). The latter “made a good hashtag”, she said, but was unclear in what it really meant. She was unable to support the motion, as she held to the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of sexuality. “I’m 44, a single, celibate virgin, and incidentally not lonely,” she said. “I fear that the impact of this motion is not to draw us together, but to push us apart.”

The chair then took a vote for the closure of the debate, which carried by 287-140 with 11 recorded abstentions.

Replying to the debate, Bishop Mullally acknowledged that past eight hours had been “difficult and costly”. The House of Bishops had been listening carefully to what had been said. Urging the Synod not to act out of fear, she dismissed suggestions that the divisions over sexuality were too great to be bridged.

The debate and motion was not about winning or losing, but trying to find a space to walk together with people one disagreed with. She had heard the calls for greater theological reflection, and pointed to the work already done in the LLF process.

“We know we need to provide pastoral reassurance and protection, to enable some to use or not to use the prayers,” she said. She also recognised the “anxiety” around the unwritten pastoral guidance, and pledged to bring this back to the Synod once it had been drawn up.

“The motion commits the Church to a journey of repentance, and repentance does require change in the way we behave in our life together.” This would not be easy, and mistakes would be made, she warned; but the Synod must commit itself to this journey, nevertheless.

At the end of a period of silence, Archbishop Welby prayed for the “gift of peace”.

The motion was carried in all three Houses: Bishops 36-4, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 111-85, with three recorded abstentions; Laity 103-92, with five abstentions. It read:
 

That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:

(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;

(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;

(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;

(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;

(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining,

commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;

(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;

(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.

 
As the chair of the Next Steps Group, Bishop Mullally acknowledged some would be grateful for this vote, while others would be “hurting”. In the coming months, the Bishops would reflect on what had been said. Chief among these concerns would be how to guard the conscience of those for whom the proposals went too far.

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