Dear fellow Clergy,
I believe I do not need to explain in detail the very mixed response to the House of Bishops’ Report MARRIAGE AND SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS AFTER THE SHARED CONVERSATIONS.
‘Taking note’ is a synodical procedure which is a way to introduce documents to the Synod thus allowing them to be used as a source, or basis, for future work. These reports usually contain suggestions and recommendations, sometimes they might include more detailed ways forward. Normally, there is nothing special in taking note.
About a week before the Synod, it was clear that the vote on GS2055 would be seen differently. It was given much wider meaning, as was to the Report itself. Some hoped the Report to confirm the Church’s teaching on marriage and others were disappointed by the prospect that the report would stop all discussion or any possible change. Many in the LGBTI+ community saw the report as hurtful and discriminating. Some who hold conservative view on marriage were in support of the report and considered it as a good basis for further work in Synod based on maximum freedom.
Not depending on how the report, or the vote was perceived, from the synodical governance point of view the situation was quite clear: it was only a report to feed in to the further debates and proceedings. Legality does not always cling with reality: words do carry different message to different audiences, a working document intended to Synod for debate can be seen as a message to wider church. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out, we are talking about humanbeings, not ‘problems’ or ‘issues’.
The motion to take note was lost in the House of Clergy. In order for the Synod to take note, the motion should have been carried in all three houses. The question now is ‘what happens next?’
The report, GS2055, can not be brought back to the Synod during this synod’s lifetime. However, it is possible for the Bishops to introduce a new report. it is likely that they will do precisely that in due course. This vote was by no means the end of discussion. On the contrary the debate in the Assembly Hall was graceful, profoundly deep and honest. I am encouraged that the Bishops can now work, with a clear support from the Synod, to create a more clearer roadmap which will allow us to move forward.
Taking note of the Report would have not changed the current position of the Church of England on Marriage or same-sex relationships. Nor is its defeat in the General Synod to be interpreted as a sign of any legal change in the Church of England. The current guidelines still apply. The doctrine of the Church of England remains to be that marriage is a life long union of one man with one woman.
The Church’s teaching on working against any kind of discrimination, homophobia and stigmatization of any people, as set out in the Lambeth resolution I.10 (1998) and Some issues in human sexuality (2003).The recommendations and findings of the Pilling Report (2013) urges us to show pastoral support and love to all people whatever they sexual or gender identity might be.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has published the following statement on his website:
“No person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people.
How we deal with the real and profound disagreement – put so passionately and so clearly by many at the Church of England’s General Synod debate on marriage and same-sex relationships today – is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.
To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.
The vote today is not the end of the story, nor was it intended to be. As bishops we will think again and go on thinking, and we will seek to do better. We could hardly fail to do so in the light of what was said this afternoon.
The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”
I have shared this message with David Coulston, the Chair of the Diocesan House of Laity, who asks you to share this with your congregations.
Chair of the Diocesan House of Clergy
Member of the General Synod