The leaders of the Church of England are facing strong criticism from within their own ranks for their attack on same-sex marriage yesterday (12 June).
Eight Christian organisations, all of which include many Anglicans, today issued a joint statement backing same-sex marriage and accusing Church leaders of a “scandalous” failure to consult their own members.
Three of the eight groups to sign the statement are evangelical organisations, disrupting attempts by some to portray the controversy as a dispute between liberals and evangelicals.
The Church of England's statement yesterday was the denomination's official response to government plans to introduce civil ceremonies for same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The eight organisations to sign today's statement insist that “the official Church of England response to the government misses the key point”.
Senior figures in the Church of England – such as its Director of Mission and Public Affairs, Malcolm Brown – yesterday argued that the government's plans would reduce marriage to a “contract” rather than a covenanted relationship. In response, the signatories to today's statement point out that many same-sex couples want to marry precisely because they want to have a relationship that goes beyond a legal contract.
The statement explained, “For many same-sex couples, equal marriage is not about legal rights, but a recognition that marriage offers something more – that marriage embraces something deeply spiritual which strengthens both the couple and society. In failing to recognise this, the Church of England has impoverished its own teaching on marriage.”
The signatories say that “the fact that there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be a cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church” because marriage is “holy”.
Three of the signatories are evangelical groups – Accepting Evangelicals, Courage UK and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians. Another three are specifically Anglican groups – Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude and the General Synod Human Sexuality Group.
They are joined by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, along with the Sibyls, a group of transgender Christians. The eight groups are members of the LGB&T Anglican Coalition.
They have sharp criticism not only for the Church of England's official statement but for the process that led to it.
They declared, “The widespread criticism of the statement from within the Church of England that has followed its publication reflects the scandalous lack of consultation in its preparation”.
They said that there has been no discussion in the General Synod or in the dioceses. They said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans, and the organisations representing them, were “excluded” from discussions.
The government's plans would continue to bar religious groups from holding legally recognised marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, even if they wish to do so and are allowed to hold them for mixed-sex couples.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Liberal Judaism and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches have all asked the government to amend the plans to give faith groups the right to choose to hold same-sex weddings if they wish to do so.
Following the Church of England's official statement yesterday, the Christian thinktank Ekklesia reaffirmed their support for same-sex marriage. They called on the government to go further and to begin a thorough overhaul of marriage law to reflect the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society.