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Leader comment: Dr Croft rebukes the Alliance

05 July 2024

IN decades gone by, bishops never seemed to bother very much about the “figure of unity” bullet point that sat somewhere in their job description. Perhaps they weren’t given a job description. Be that as it may, we have been disappointed in recent years to see how the latest generation of bishops interpret that commission. It is one thing to embrace all shades of theological opinion in your diocese — for all shades will be found there. It is another to affirm them all as equally valid, as modern bishops appear to do. We confess to feeling the same disappointment with the Bishop of Oxford when he published his 50-page booklet Together in Love and Faith (News, 4 November 2022). He argued powerfully, drawing on scripture, that the extension of marriage to same-sex couples bears good fruit, concluding that: “Overall, our society has been enriched, not diminished, by the encouragement of stable same-sex unions.” Yet his booklet included a concession to those clergy and parishes who believed that, in conscience, they needed to distance themselves from the parts of the Church that affirmed same-sex relationships. It seemed too much to concede too soon, and was seized upon by a faction in the Church that is looking for a remarkable degree of separation even though marriage has been taken off the table. Since the booklet’s publication, we have seen the diversion of parish funds into a “safe” account, and threats of schism at every juncture.

For all we know, Dr Croft might still believe in some form of alternative episcopal provision for those unable to agree with their bishop’s stance on same-sex relationships. (We do not hear, incidentally, corresponding threats from liberal clergy against conservative bishops.) But this week he tackled the new letter from the self-appointed Alliance whose signatories, we gather from correspondence to this newspaper, appear not to represent by any means the whole of the constituents that they serve. Two years on from his booklet, Dr Croft displays a more robust approach to unity by calling out those who threaten it. In his blog this week, he points out that the 27 signatories have been content to remain in a Church that accepts lay people in same-sex marriages without censure. Even people who are deeply opposed to homosexuality recognise that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”, to quote the 1998 Lambeth Conference report on which Resolution 1.10 was based. It is therefore an oddly clericalised approach from the conservative end of the Church to argue that to allow priests the same freedom of conscience as lay people is somehow to change the Church’s theology. The interpretation of pastoral provision has customarily been a wide one, and there is no reason not to extend it to clergy. And no reason to threaten schism over an issue about which the Church has been divided for years without feeling the need to break apart.

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