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Campaigners respond with fear and dismay to Bishops’ proposals to bless same-sex unions

18 January 2023

No great welcome for what Bishops call ‘a step forward’ for the Church


SUPPORTERS and opponents of same-sex marriage have responded with fear, dismay, and frustration to the proposal to offer blessings, but not weddings, to same-sex couples.

Jayne Ozanne, a member of the General Synod’s House of Laity and a campaigner for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church, said that the proposal for blessings, but not same-sex marriage, was an “utterly despicable outcome”.

In a message posted on Twitter, she said “We have had countless apologies over the years but no action to stop the harmful discrimination. It’s insulting to all who trusted the process.”

In a statement to the Church Times, she said that, because the new order of blessing would not be an authorised rite, LGBTQ+ people would remain “second class and discriminated against, even with this really small concession”.

The Revd Nigel Pietroni, who chairs the Campaign for Equal Marriage, said that such a “pathway” had “always been a central demand of LGBTQ+ Anglicans and remains a priority for our continued campaign”.

Of the proposed apology to LGBTQ+ people, he said that apologies “only actually mean anything if the person or institution offering it changes their behaviour.

“These proposals to offer commendations and blessings, whilst undoubtedly a small movement, continue to treat LGBTQ+ people and their relationships as inferior and second-class. Our relationships are not considered as equal to those of heterosexual couples. This is not good enough.”

Meanwhile, the director of strategy and operations for the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), Canon John Dunnett, said that, while “grateful that the House of Bishops seem to be indicating they don’t wish to change the doctrine of marriage”, members of the CEEC might worry that the proposals in effect would amount to a “Trojan horse” for doctrinal change.

Canon Dunnett told the Church Times that “we need on the conservative side to recognise that the liberals want something that is so different to what we believe is right,” and that this required clear differentiation between those in the Church of England who held different views.

A conscience clause for clergy, similar to that concerning the marriage of divorced people, would not be sufficient, he said, as this would leave a priest who declined to perform a blessing for a same-sex couple open to public criticism.

“When they say no, on social media in their town, they’re going to be the dinosaur, the homophobe, and no one’s going to cover their back because the bishop will say, ‘Well, I can’t issue a public statement in favour of you because I’ve got to be a bishop to everybody,’” Canon Dunnett said.

What was required, he said, was more formal differentiation, involving the creation of a “new space in the Church of England for those wishing to pursue change” (Comment, 6 January).

Bishops, however, including those who had publicly argued for same-sex marriage to be permitted within the Church of England, have defended the proposal for blessings.

On Wednesday morning, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that the proposal as it stood was “pretty historic” saying: “While I recognise that it isn’t enough for some people, and it’s also too far for others, to propose prayers of thanksgiving and dedication for same-sex couples is, I think, a huge step forward.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said on Wednesday that “there are very worthwhile things in these proposals,” despite having been in favour of more significant change (News, 3 November 2022).

“It’s important to note that hopes have been high. A lot of people will be disappointed that we’re not able to make greater progress at this time,” Dr Croft told the Church Times.

He urged people, none the less — and General Synod members in particular — to read the explanations for the Bishops’ proposals, to be published on Friday. He said that he was “disappointed that we are not travelling the whole distance that some of us wanted to travel”. What the Bishops proposed, though, was “a good step forward”, he said. “It will correct some injustices, and offer a tangible public service that wasn’t available before.”

One thing Dr Croft noted was that there had been much greater honesty among the bishops. They no longer maintained an illusion of public unity, as in the past, and this contributed to a more open process of discernment.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, wrote on Twitter that, while the media might present the proposal as “bad news”, “in fact, though it does not go as far as some of us would have liked, it is a huge step forward.

“We shall, for the first time, be able to affirm and pray for God’s blessing on faithful monogamous gay relationships,” he wrote.

Dr Eeva John, who assisted the bishops throughout the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process of discernment, said that the process had been an “authentic journey for the bishops” and that they “came to this new place together”.

The statement announcing the Bishops’ proposals suggests that the creation of new pastoral guidance to replace the 1991 statement Issues in Human Sexuality, which imposed celibacy on clergy living with a same-sex partner, would be the subject of a vote in the Synod. The inference is that this stipulation will disappear, but this was not made clear in the press release.

Bishop Mullally said that the Bishops had “heard very clearly that people want Issues to go”. Bishops were “not in the position”, she said, to propose what might replace it, but would listen to discussion in the Synod about what pastoral guidance should be put in place.

“We’re proposing a way forward which gives us an opportunity to do as much as we can, in a way that seek views from Synod but doesn’t actually require legislation,” Bishop Mullally said.

Leader comment: Blessings? Really?

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