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Letters to the editor

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27 January 2023

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The Bishops’ proposals for the blessing of same-sex unions in church: readers respond

From the Dean of Canterbuy and 27 other Deans

Sir, — Cathedrals serve all the church and community and often have track records of being safer places for LGBT+ people in a Church that can be poor at radical Christian inclusion.

We recognise change has been too slow and that perfection can be the enemy of the good. Therefore, we generally welcome the new proposals from the College of Bishops following LLF. Cathedrals will look forward to officially offering services using Prayers for Love and Faith with gay and lesbian couples.

Many of us still yearn to go further and to be able to offer equal marriage services. We recognise this is a legitimate hope about which there need be no unhealthy conspiracy of silence whilst others will disagree with that hope.

We also recognise that dismantling homophobia is not a quick or painless task in our cathedrals, and so we commit to taking the words of apology from our bishops and turning them into local actions that will address harm caused to so many siblings in Christ.

DAVID MONTEITH
Dean of Canterbury and chair of the College of Deans
The Deanery, The Precincts, Canterbury CT1 2EP

Rogers Govender (Manchester), Abi Thompson (Sheffield), Dominic Barrington (York), Simon Robinson (Acting Truro), Mandy Ford (Bristol), Jo Kelly-Moore (St Albans), Tim Stratford (Chester), Christine Wilson (Lincoln), Joe Hawes (St Edmundsbury), Jonathan Greener (Exeter), Peter Atkinson (Worcester), Simon Cowling (Wakefield), Matt Thompson (Birmingham), Dianna Gwilliams (Guildford), Anthony Cane (Portsmouth), Catherine Ogle (Winchester), Mark Bonney (Ely), Chris Dalliston (Peterborough), Sue Jones (Liverpool), Andrew Nunn (Southwark), Nick Papadopolous (Salisbury), Jane Hedges (Acting Newcastle), Nicola Sullivan (Southwell), Andrew Braddock (Norwich), John Dobson (Ripon), Nicholas Henshall (Chelmsford) and Andrew Tremlett (London)


From the Revd George Day

Sir, — One of the issues being raised concerning the bishops’ proposals on same-sex relationships is the apparent lack of coherence in allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages, in spite of the fact that the Church’s continuing teaching on marriage declares them to be sinful.

However, it seems to me that coherence is sometimes the enemy of godliness. We see this when the Pharisees and teachers of the law bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. Their position is clearly totally coherent — it says in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy that she should be put to death. On the other hand, Jesus, who taught that not a jot or tittle would pass from the law, engineers the situation so that the woman is not killed, i.e. that the law is not carried out, a position that at the very least is far less obviously coherent. For him mercy seems to trump coherence.

Similarly at the Council of Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts chapter 15, the conservative side is totally coherent in maintaining that the scriptures required circumcision for the men and the keeping of the law of Moses. But James ruled that circumcision was not needed, and that the full demands of the law were not required: a far less coherent position, and this lack of coherence is seen in the compromise enshrined in the letter to be sent to the Gentile believers, which retained some things derived from the Jewish law, such as not eating blood, while not retaining others. Here it seems to be unity that trumps coherence.

Of course it is good when we can have neatly sewn-up, coherent positions on everything. But in the present situation of trying to hold the opposing sides together it is surely better at least for now to accept lack of coherence in order to preserve unity, not only within the Church of England, but in our wider Anglican relationships.

GEORGE DAY
5 Abbey Grange Close, Buckfast
Devon TQ11 0EU


From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — The decision to allow prayers of blessing for same-sex relationships can be seen as a step forward, but there are three problems.

First, the bishops’ position is intellectually incoherent. There is no convincing theological rationale for why there can be prayers for a same-sex relationship, but not same-sex marriage. It is a compromise that arises from church politics. Next, the headlines have been very negative (“Bishops reject gay marriage”), and predictably so. The Bishops have inflicted yet more reputational damage on a Church that already had poor national standing.

Finally, though the bishops may have done their best in present circumstances, their decision will leave many Christians feeling alienated from the Church of England and its leadership.

FRASER WATTS
2B Gregory Avenue,
Coventry CV3 6DL


From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — Hitching the Church to the spirit of the age comes at a cost: the bishops have trashed consecration vows, trampled upon the faith of the Church, and driven a coach and horses through the scriptures, the canons, and the liturgy.

Same-sex blessings are simply not possible — they are unlawful, a doctrinal novelty which cannot fly. Nonsense doesn’t cease to be nonsense just because bishops pronounce it.

1. The Church can’t bless what is forbidden. The teaching of scripture is clear and the Canons ground the Church’s doctrine in the holy scriptures. To proceed lawfully the bishops must first change the canons.

2. The blessing of same-sex marriages contradicts the Church’s doctrine that marriage must be between a man and a woman. It is therefore unlawful. The bishops’ assertions to the contrary are absurd and untenable — likewise their novel distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony: marriage as a creation ordinance means it is the same for everybody.

3. The bishops are arrogating to themselves the right to dictate to the Church. They have not consulted their own synods or sought the views of their clergy or laity (apart from LLF participants), and intend to ignore General Synod. We are supposed to be a Church synodically governed.

Centuries of teaching have been dumped overboard, and an alien ideology imported wholesale with its lexicon of identity politics. The issue is not just sexual ethics, but what it means to be human, the meaning of the gospel, repentance, salvation, holiness, the authority of scripture, and the nature of the Church.

It will rend the Church from top to bottom. The centre cannot hold. Odd to embarrass our new King by forcing him to consider his duty as Defender of the Faith even before his coronation.

PAUL BURR
The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB


Sir, — I am a Church of England cleric who has been in a loving, committed, faithful same-sex relationship for well over 20 years.

And now the Church of England tells me, if all goes well at General Synod next month, I can have sex with my partner, but I can’t get married in church. Does the Church of England prefer sex outside marriage?

I also hear that the Church of England wishes to apologise for the hurt and exclusion that LGBTI+ people have been subject to. I have to wonder: do they really think we’re going to feel included now?

I know this is “a step in the right direction”, but please get real! We’re still excluded, made to feel second-class Christians. Who but the very committed would choose to join or stay in this Church and wait for another 20 years for a bigger step forward?

Thank you to those bishops who have been brave enough to speak out for us. And to those who will bless marriages that the Church still doesn’t recognise.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED


From Mr Robert Zampetti

Sir, — So, the best our divided bishops can do is collectively “apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people.” They say they “affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued.” Unequivocally, btw, means “in a way which leaves no doubt”. What could be more equivocal than the stance they have now taken on same-sex marriage?

It’s the sort of apology a child might get from a bully. The teacher forces the bully to do so. As he pronounces the words, the bully looks down, not into the eyes of his victim. The hurt child is then asked to shake his bully’s hand and accept it. And we know what happens later. Do not ask the hurt child to “behave” and “move on”. God demands much more on behalf of that child.

So to apologise for punching me when you intend to punch me again, is . . . well what would you call it?

In Luke 13 we learn that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. A woman was there who needed healing. So he healed her saying, “Woman you are set free.” But the indignant head of the synagogue accuses Jesus of breaking the law. “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the sabbath.”

Were Jesus alive today, our bishops in the role of Pharisees would advise him to say a carefully scripted “blessing” over her and tell her she needs to wait for the actual healing.

ROBERT ZAMPETTI
(General Synod member)
257 Empire Square West
London SE1 4NL


From the Revd James Oakley

Sir, — Two details shock me in your article “Bishops’ same-sex plans do not need General Synod’s consent”.

First, the College proposes authorising a suite of prayers to bless same-sex marriages without synodical approval, because Canon B5 allows.

We are told that this only covers forms of service “neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”. We are also told that the Church’s doctrine of marriage will not be changed. If the church’s doctrine of marriage remains that it is exclusively for one man and one woman, then surely prayers to bless same-sex marriages are contrary to that doctrine. I expect better from the bishops than Orwellian doublespeak.

Second, the disregard for Synod is outrageous. The Bishop of Manchester is quoted essentially as saying that the synodical process would fail to pass a vote, and they have therefore devised a process that does not require one. They know Synod would reject the proposals; so they won’t ask permission. It is a scandal to disregard decades of episcopal leadership matched by careful scrutiny from an elected, representative body. If Synod would say “No”, they should abandon rather than bludgeon the proposals.

Once before, Synod refused to “take note” in protest. Hopefully, some such opportunity will present itself next month.

JAMES OAKLEY
155 Burniston Road
Scarborough, YO12 6QX


From the Revd Peter Simpson

Sir, — Am I alone in thinking the Church of England’s bishops have acted unwisely concerning their proposals for the best way forward when ministering to same-sex couples?

I spent six years as a deacon in the Scottish Episcopal Church between 2012 and 2018. During that time, the General Synod voted in favour of clergy (who were comfortable with the idea) conducting same-sex marriages in church.

Although I only participated in discussions at the diocesan level, my bishop handled the debates with care. However, it was clear that most people either strongly favoured same-sex marriage or strongly opposed it. There weren’t many people sitting on the fence.

PETER SIMPSON
32 Cardinal Court, Bishophill Junior
York YO1 6ES


From Mr Philip Almond

Sir, — I hope and pray, whatever the outcome of LLF, that Evangelicals will recognise that the Church of England needs to reaffirm and recommit herself to believe and preach the terrible doctrine of the wrath to come which the unsaved face now, and will face in eternity, unless they heed the warning and repent and turn to Christ, because this is more important than the marriage/sexuality disagreement; and that the Church of England Evangelical Council will set about mobilising all Evangelicals to formally challenge the Church about this at all levels of the Synodical set-up.

PHILIP ALMOND
35 Arnold Close,
Ribbleton, Preston
Lancs PR2 6DX


From the Revd Jonni Elvin

Sir, — So the truth is out. According to Jayne Ozanne (Letters, 13 January), “The years and money invested in Living in Love and Faith have been in vain.” What a strange thing to say. It’s only in vain if you think that people taking time to discuss, challenge, and reflect (as many of us did) must result in them taking your point of view. Is that what she really thought might happen as a result of the LLF process?

If you listen to someone but end up disagreeing with them it doesn’t make you “open neither to reason, experience, nor alternative interpretations of scripture”. It may just be that you are less convinced by their argument or their interpretation of scripture than by 2000 years of Christian teaching and practice.

She labels the teaching of Living Out as a “useful scapegoat” and “significant safeguarding risk”. As far as I can see they are trying more than most to support, walk alongside, and include LGBT+ people.

JONNY ELVIN
23 Couper Meadows
Exeter EX2 7TF


From the Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green

Sir, — Christians view the sacraments in a similar way to how, in Jesus’s time, the sabbath commandment was understood — as a sign of God’s grace and presence. And yet the sabbath was time and again used by the religious authorities to deny Jesus’s acts of healing. His response was to alert them to the true purpose of sabbath: the furtherance of love, never its denial.

Is it time therefore for us to be similarly courageous and, in view of our present understandings of human sexuality, dare to recognise, as Jesus did with the sabbath, the underlying purpose of the sacrament of holy matrimony? It’s the blessing of God’s extravagant grace, for committed, loving relationships.

God surely gave us the sacraments to support us with this loving presence, but we seem to be on the verge of using this sacrament, as the sabbath was used against Jesus, to deny or exclude true love.

LAURIE GREEN
4, Rotherfield Avenue, Bexhill-on-Sea
East Sussex TN40 2AP


From the Revd Peter Macleod-Miller

Sir, — Secular legislation has been an answer to prayer for gay Anglicans fleeing discrimination and persecution but ironically the only place they still find themselves vulnerable is within the petrified cloister of religious institutions where their weapons against their own are provided by legislative exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation .

These new church blessings for gay civil unions are washed down with a vintage spoonful of pre-enlightenment prejudice and the result should be anger, not gratitude.

PETER MACLEOD-MILLER
PO Box 682, Albury
NSW 2640, Australia


From Mr Robert Gould

Sir, — Could I point out that same-sex marriage is allowed in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and that, at least for the time being, runaway couples do not require to produce passports at Gretna!

ROBERT GOULD
80 Strathearn Road,
Edinburgh EH9 2AF


From the Revd Paul Cawthorne

Sir, — Mission gets so much harder when we appear to younger generations to lack compassion. I don’t have strong feelings either way about gay marriage. I can see strong doctrinal reasons for a variety of stances. I can see a variety of integrities including godly respect for difference, and that all humanity needs a physician not just “them”. I already gently support a few gay people, some of the most elderly of whom have been in committed monogamous relationships for decades.

In our mundane little rural villages, most people seem to think that there are more important things in life. They most value the way people of all sexualities contribute to supporting the widow and the orphan, feeding the hungry, and binding up the broken-hearted.

How have we become so fixated on this one issue while the planet burns, war rages on Europe’s border, despairing refugees drown, and we continue to pour raw sewage into our rivers?

What is going so wrong? Is much of this furore mere displacement activity? WWJD?

PAUL CAWTHORNE
The Vicarage
Shrewsbury Road, Hadnall
Shrewsbury SY4 4AG

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