Church of England bishop calls for clergy to deny communion to ‘unworthy’ gay people
A Church of England Bishop has appeared to suggest clergy should deny communion to people in gay relationships.
For several years the Church of England has been debating proposed changes to its teachings on LGBT issues, with the liberal wing of the Church calling for a more inclusive approach to keep step with modern society.
Last month (May 28) four bishops in the Lichfield Diocese published a guide on ‘Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ people’ that says people “of any sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcomed and honoured in our churches.”
The guide, which was sent to all clergy and lay ministers in the diocese, calls for “radical Christian inclusion”, adding: “Nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
However the Bishop of Maidstone Rod Thomas has underscored the deep divisions in the church with his response to the guidance.
In the public letter noted by Ekklesia, Thomas said: “While I recognise that your [guidance] does not seek to deal with contested theological or ethical questions, the expressed doctrinal position of the Church (…) speaks of marriage between a man and a woman [and[ speaks of the need for all sexual relationships outside marriage to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.”
He added: “This issue comes into focus when considering the question of participation in the Sacraments.
“Your letter mentions the need to let all people know that there is a place at the table for them.
“As part of the national church, I would fully agree that we want to encourage everyone to participate in the life of the church to the maximum extent possible.
“However, I wonder whether the reference to ‘a place at the table’ for all might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion.
“This understanding would create a tension with the [Book of Common Prayer doctrine] distinction between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation.”
He added: “One of the practices in many churches is to draw attention to this distinction and to welcome those who have sought to repent and have placed their trust in Christ’s atoning work on the cross; it is then up to the individual members of the congregation to decide on their participation.
“In this respect, the Church of England has always had the practice of ‘charitable assumption.’
“This approach is, I hope, one which avoids inappropriate ‘exclusion’ or intrusive questioning. However, there may be some private pastoral discussions where people bring issues to us which require very gentle probing in order to clarify what is involved. These conversations may well provide opportunities for participants to open the Bible together, and can lead to a number of different conclusions.
“In some cases they might lead to a decision not to participate in Holy Communion for the time being.
“In others, there might be enthusiasm for further discipleship development (as has often been the case in my own experience with heterosexual couples enquiring about the baptism of their children).
“In the case of those with concerns over gender identity, we know that a wide range of issues may be involved and in some cases the suggestion of counselling would be appropriate. I do hope that clergy would be supported in the help they try to give in this respect.”
Pro-LGBT campaigners in the church have voiced shock at the letter.
In a letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Reverend Colin Coward MBE wrote: “In coded language and nuanced phrases Bishop Rod is subtly outlining a practice that is in direct contravention of the House of Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriage.
“[The House] affirmed that the Church of England should not exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and who, instead, chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship.
“[Guidance says] that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion.
“I would like to know what action you will take to ensure that the Bishop of Maidstone is made fully aware of the contents of the House of Bishops Guidance and will in his practice of episcopal ministry ensure that the Guidance is followed.
“Many LGBTI people continue to experience rejection when they are treated with anything less than an unconditional welcome by the Church in the name of God whose unconditional love for creation was exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ.”