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Ben Bradshaw warns against C of E ‘backsliding’ on same-sex blessings

15 March 2023


Ben Bradshaw MP is pictured in Westminster, in February 2022

Ben Bradshaw MP is pictured in Westminster, in February 2022

THE Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has sought assurances “that there will not be any backsliding” on the implementation of the General Synod’s vote to allow the blessing of same-sex couples (News, 9 February).

In the House of Commons on Thursday of last week, Mr Bradshaw, who is a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, asked the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, “what steps the Church of England is taking to implement the decisions of the General Synod on same-sex relationships”.

Mr Selous replied: “At the General Synod last month, it was agreed that the Prayers of Love and Faith would be finalised, that pastoral guidance for clergy would be produced, and that a culture of welcome towards LGBTQI+ people would be embedded throughout the Church.”

In a follow-up question, Mr Bradshaw pressed Mr Selous for “an assurance that there will not be any backsliding on the timescale on that, and that the pastoral guidance will deal finally with the issue of priests being able to marry and be freed from the current celibacy rules”.

Mr Bradshaw referred to opposition in parts of the Anglican Communion (News, 20 February) and in the C of E (News, 1 March).

“Is it not increasingly clear that a small minority in the Church of England will never be reconciled with treating lesbian and gay people equally, and it would be better to let those people go, so that the Church can focus on the majority of Anglicans in this country who support treating lesbian and gay people equally?” Mr Bradshaw asked.

Mr Selous replied: “The pastoral guidance is being worked on, and the bishops remain committed to implementing their response to Living in Love and Faith” [the six years of conversation about sexuality and the Church]. He said that the timing would depend on the outcome of the July meeting of the Synod, which “cannot be guaranteed in advance”.

On the question of splits in the Church, Mr Selous, who is also the Conservative MP for South Bedfordshire, said: “We need to learn to disagree well.”

Next Tuesday, Mr Bradshaw will present a Private Member’s Bill under the Ten Minute Motion Rule, which seeks to remove the legal barriers that C of E priests face who wish to conduct same-sex marriages.

At a fringe event during the February meeting of the Synod, a former Second Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said: “Such legislation would not oblige a single priest to do anything against their will or conscience, but would reflect what is happening elsewhere in the United Kingdom” (News, 7 February).

Mr Bradshaw’s Bill has support from senior backbenchers, including the Father of the House, the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, and Harriet Harman, who is the longest-serving female MP in the House of Commons, and was a minister in the last Labour government.

The long title of the Bill makes clear that its purpose is “to enable clergy of the Church of England to conduct same sex marriages on Church of England premises in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes”.

On Tuesday, Mr Bradshaw told the Church Times that it was important for Parliament to remain engaged on this issue, after several interventions before the February Synod debate (News, 25 January).

Owing to lack of time in the current parliamentary session, it is unlikely, however, that Mr Bradshaw’s Bill will become law, even with MPs’ support.

Despite their low chances of success, Mr Bradshaw said that Ten Minute Rule Bills were useful to “draw attention to an issue and to show the level of support for an issue”, and that it “could well be a precursor to actual legislation”.

Futher questions on marriage were put to Mr Selous that day. The Conservative MP for Don Valley, Nick Fletcher, said that “marriage is a sacred bond between man and woman.” He asked Mr Selous whether he agreed that “we should promote marriage at every opportunity and bring back tax allowances to suit.” He went on to ask: “What steps the Church of England is taking to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage?”

Mr Selous replied: “The Church will always support marriages and family relationships that are committed to mutual flourishing — Jesus’s first miracle was, after all, at a wedding in Cana in Galilee.”

He went on to say that the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households was due to report in April, and would put forward “a range of measures to support marriage” (News, 18 March 2021). France, Germany, and the United States had “a lower burden of family taxation” than the UK.

The Commission was originally scheduled to report in winter 2022. On Monday, a Lambeth Palace spokesperson said that it would be published on 28 April.

The Democratic Unionist Party MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, said that he “believes very much in the sanctity and importance of marriage”, and asked what could be done to ensure that couples “having difficulties” had access to counselling “to ensure that their marriage can last for all their lives”.

Mr Selous said: “It is certainly my hope that churches across the country will be involved in the best possible marriage preparation, but also marriage support, because all of us get into bad habits.”

The Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, Dame Andrea Leadsom, asked what steps the Church was taking to support the policy recommendations in the paper The Best Start for Life: A vision for the 1001 critical days, published by the Department of Health and Social Care two years ago.

Mr Selous said: “The Church is already supporting many of the Best Start for Life recommendations through our messy-church and toddler groups.” He also drew attention to churches’ ecumenical and community partnerships. “I am pleased to say that there is lots of momentum: long may that continue.”

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