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Leader comment: Silent for now: the majority who watch the same-sex debate with astonishment

24 November 2023

SINCE last week’s vote on Living in Love and Faith in the General Synod — essentially confirming what the Synod agreed to do in February — we have heard from the parties involved. The liberals have been less audible, having read the Synod’s list of members like tide tables, and discovered that the surge towards the full equality of same-sex couples has turned slack, and might even be on the ebb, at least until after the election of the next Synod in 2026. The winning side after a vote tends to be the quieter in any case, but, in this instance, the victory won in February seemed to them to have been placed back in the maw of defeat, only to be tugged out with difficulty. The amendment, asking the Bishops politely whether they would consider stand-alone blessings for same-sex couples as a temporary experiment, made it through the House of Laity by just one vote. The overall motion was four lay votes away from defeat.

In contrast, the conservatives — if we can still use single-word labels — have been vocal. Ostensibly disappointed at not being able to vote down stand-alone services of blessings, they were actually surprised to have come so close, and had already set up an infrastructure to respond to the imminent arrival of “experimental” blessings, namely informal oversight by retired conservative bishops, and a fund into which parishes can divert their giving. All the while, they are confident that they have the numbers in Synod to vote down the blessings — as well as any aspects of the draft pastoral guidance governing clerical behaviour that they do not like — when these return for formal approval and must be carried by a two-thirds majority.

The people from whom we have not heard belong to another group altogether. These do not want their Church to be split between two conflicting parties. They dislike the ignominy of belonging to a body that argues endlessly about sex. They shy away from the prospect of having to examine a website before deciding where to worship. They are perfectly willing to sit in the same pew as someone who holds opposing views on any number of important topics, from climate change and migration to who should form the next government. They have no idea, beyond hearing names read during the banns, who is married to whom in their church during the year — and would consider it absurd for the whole congregation to be severed from neighbouring parishes, and perhaps the wider diocese, because of one or two of these couples. They have good, friendly, and respectful relations with Methodists, Roman Catholics, Hindus, and Muslims, and wonder why this courtesy cannot be extended to fellow Anglicans. And so on.

At the moment, these people are silent. This encourages the activists and the reactivists to continue in their efforts to order the Church to their liking. But we predict that, if structural separation ever becomes more than talk, this third group will make their views known, and will have to be heard.

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