Church of England says it wants ‘maximum freedom’ for gay followers, but no marriage
The Church of England has re-affirmed its opposition to marriage equality.
A new document from the House of Bishops says the Church should adopt a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for gay people.
It calls for a the Church’s guidance on gay and lesbian clergy “to provide maximum freedom” – but will not support marriage equality.
However the Church does look set to relax its rules on individual clergy celebrating civil partnership or same-sex marriages of gay churchgoers.
Asked if clergy would be reprimanded for blessing a same-sex marriages, Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden said that “individual cases will be treated individually”, refusing to say they should expect sanctions.
The new document also affirms that informal prayers for churchgoers in same-sex relationships will permitted.
The last time the Church of England issued guidance on same-sex relations was in their “Issues” document published in 1999.
Bishop Graham Jones said the new document is needed for “adopting to fashions”.
They rejected prior reports that the Church would be embracing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, such as that previously seen in the US Armed Forces.
Currently gay clergy members are asked to remain celibate when they change jobs or seek out a promotion to Bishop in order to carry out relationships with people of the same gender.
The new document calls for “new guidance to be prepared about the kind of questions put to candidates for ordination – irrespective of their sexuality – about their lifestyle”.
However Bishops were unable to offer any examples of what the changes will look like.
Asked how the new proposals will affect gay churchgoers, and the suggestion that the new proposals amount to minimal change, Bishop Jones said: “There will not be a change tomorrow, no, but maybe in the medium term.”
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement expressed its disappointment at the report, which comes after several years of tensions within the church, for failing to go far enough.
Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of LGCM, said, “To echo Una Kroll’s words, we asked for bread and we’ve been given stones. LGBTI+ people who have participated in this process in good faith, at considerable personal cost, will feel angry and disappointed that there appears so little real change.
“Despite us knowing that many individual bishops favour a move towards a more gracious, compassionate and inclusive church, collectively they’ve failed to deliver – promising only more reflection. We stand ready to engage in the process of changing the tone of the conversation – but this has to lead to tangible change. This is another missed opportunity which further undermines the mission of the established church to convey the gospel promise of good news for everyone.”
Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of LGCM, said, “The waiting is over. What we’re saying now to the bishops is that LGBTI+ Christians are here, are part of the church, and are happy to work with those who want change. But LGCM can no longer wait for episcopal leadership.
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“The Spirit is moving in God’s faithful people and we’re seeking to be obedient to that movement. It’s a very exciting time.”
The Synod will consider the recommendations put forward in February.
14 married gay and lesbian clergy who make up Changing Attitudes, a C of E pressure group, called for a relaxation on gay relationships,
In September, a number of clerics revealed that 11 bishops were gay which sparked a meeting to discuss the Church’s attitude towards the LGBT community.
If no movement is made to increase acceptance and intolerance, members have suggested that they will engage in protest in the form of civil disobedience. For example, celebrating marriages elsewhere.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who is in a civil partnership, criticised the policy. Bradshaw believes that it will just promote secrecy and clergy people would still be expected to remain celibate.
He told the Sunday Times: “It is progress for them to stop asking the celibacy question but it still leaves the Church of England policy based essentially on dishonesty and encouraging its clergy to lie.”