Bishops face searching questions on same-sex marriage guidance

By Savi Hensman
February 24, 2014

In an open letter, the LGBTI Anglican Coalition has asked the Church of England’s House of Bishops some searching questions regarding Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage. Criticism of the bishops’ guidance, which ruled out clergy being married same-sex partners and services of blessing, has been widespread.

Scholars have pointed out that one of the bishops’ key claims, that the legal definition of marriage in England has never before been different from that of the church, is inaccurate. Meanwhile some congregations and priests have indicated that, as a matter of conscience, they will not go along with any ban.

The Coalition brings together Accepting Evangelicals, Changing Attitude, Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, Inclusive Church, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Sibyls, Two:23 Network and UK Intersex Association.

Earlier it issued a statement suggesting that, following the guidance, it was “ludicrous to speak of the Church ‘Welcoming’ lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, or to pretend that this statement is in any sense ‘pastoral’”, and urged that it be withdrawn.

The guidance was issued largely to appease the most strongly anti-inclusive leaders of overseas sister-churches, and quotes heavily from resolutions of international Anglican gatherings. However the letter highlights other resolutions which the bishops have appeared to ignore.

It explains that “We remain committed to the need for prayer and facilitated conversations, as recommended in the Pilling Report and requested by the Church of England. However, it is hard to see how such conversations can be productive, in the light of this statement. In an attempt to re?establish some positive foundations, we request answers” to a number of questions.

Emphasising “the traditional Anglican ‘insistence upon the duty of thinking and learning as essential elements in the Christian life’ (Lambeth Conference 1930) and ‘facing with intellectual integrity the questions raised by modern knowledge’ (Lambeth 1958)”, it asks how the House of Bishops has informed itself of the work of theologians arguing for greater acceptance from 1940 to the present.

Three-and-a-half decades after the start of a formal process of studying sexuality, including dialogue with lesbian and gay people, it asks how the findings have informed the thinking of the House of Bishops.

The letter also makes the point that “there are many LGBTI clergy who, in good conscience seeking to model their household according to the way of Christ, are intending to marry or to convert their civil partnership to marriage”, and asks “How will you ensure that these clergy can contribute fully and equally to the proposed discussions, without fear of sanction?”

In addition “we would ask how you intend to resolve the issues of the presumed bipolarity of male and female in gender and sexual orientations and in their relationships in the light of the latest scientific and theological knowledge” so that all “who seek to enter committed, loving and faithful relationships can find their rightful place within a renewed church which draws its teaching from the New Covenant and the unconditional love of Christ?”

This adds to the pressure on bishops to reconsider their approach.

The letter is available on


© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare, sexuality, theology and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

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