I warmly welcome the commitment of the House of Bishops to the Biblical definition of marriage, which provides a clear context for our future work.
The report recognises that the Church is wrestling with how best to uphold and promote this good gift from God, while showing real pastoral care for all in our communities, irrespective of the nature of their relationships.
I particularly welcome the proposals in the report which:
- Will help us distinguish between the Church’s understanding of marriage and that currently held by the State
- Insist that any services in the Church must uphold its doctrine of marriage
- Do not move away from questioning ordinands and clergy about their lifestyles, but seek to ensure that the questioning applies to all, whatever their sexual orientation
- Look forward to confident teaching both about the gift of marriage and the gift of singleness
- Recognise that we need to act within the context of a worldwide Anglican Communion where the great majority of Provinces hold to a traditional understanding of marriage and sexual relationships.
Thoughtful Anglicans might be disappointed by the statement that the House of Bishops wishes to allow ‘maximum freedom’ within existing law and guidelines. They will be concerned over the proposals that in order to change the Church’s ‘tone’ towards those in same-sex relationships, special events could be held and that fresh guidance on pastoral prayers is to be provided. Their fear is that this might result in a wide range of church activities and practices which effectively undermine the Church’s doctrine. The absence of proposals to tackle issues of discipline heighten these concerns.
However, this is not a report which should lead to a ‘believe and do what you like’ form of false unity in the Church. It makes clear that our current agreement to work together is provisional and that future work must take place within the parameters of the Church’s doctrine as expressed in the laws by which it is governed. If it does not, the effect will be fundamentally divisive.
We must now both work for, and pray, that future work does indeed follow, rather than undermine, this course. We long for an approach which starts by engaging with Scripture and then drawing from that the practical lessons we should learn. We must also continue to pray for – and draw alongside – those who feel great pain that the relationships they value cannot be reconciled with God’s Word. We praise God that as we all seek in our frailty to follow His will, however hard it may be, there is great blessing and peace.