Tuesday, February 25, 2014


So the House of Bishops very kindly issued a statement of pastoral guidance on same sex marriage the day after Valentine's Day.

Props for the timing, boys.

It has a couple of technical problems.

The first same sex marriages on England are expected to take place in March. From then there will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer.
There has been quite some internet chatter about this. I'm not an ecclesiastical lawyer, though I did talk to one. Off the record.

However, rather than rehash what others have said, do read Scot Peterson on this here. He covers both sides, but finds that actually it isn't the first time there has been such a divergence. Marriage law changes and the Church deals with it - though his conclusion is interesting because he does see a real difference in this change. Previous changes have left applications in localities to the individual conscience of the clergy; this constructs a blanket ban.

Look, it's interesting, but it's minutiae. Their Graces should've done better than pander to conservative propaganda on this. An untruth has been published in their names because they swallowed something which one of the factions in the Church has shouted loudly enough to become accepted reality - when it is no such thing. But it isn't the heart of the matter. It's illustrative of the process. It's sad. It doesn't really matter.

So on to the Second Technical Problem - and perhaps I read the wrong internet sites, because I've seen nobody else comment on this, and for the life of me I struggle to understand this.

In the appendix to the statement there is a section on how the bishops see the law applying to clergy. Within this we read (emphases as per original):

23.  At ordination clergy make a declaration that they will endeavour to fashion their own life and that of their household 'according to the way of Christ' that they may be 'a pattern and example to Christ's people'. A requirement as to the manner of life of the clergy is also directly imposed on the clergy by Canon C 26, which says that 'at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.'
At all times he shall be diligent. Fashion his life. His family. Make himself and them. As in him lies.

We've had women priests for twenty years. We have the legislation for women bishops. And the canons of the Church of England still only have male clergy. Someone sack the lawyers, or sack the Synod, or sack the Bishops who allow this stupidity. Changing this language is simple and necessary, and leaving it in such archaic form is - well, I want to find it insulting, but actually, in the context it is being used, it becomes laughable.

Lesbian clergy - you're OK. It's only the men the rules apply to.

This week, the Telegraph commented on how the government's change in marriage law was causing a redrafting of all sorts of legislation going back 700 years, so a man couldn't be Queen. You'd think the Church could sort it's own laws out to recognise a woman can be a priest.


This is technical stuff, and in the grand scheme of things, regarding the subject matter of the Guidance, neither point is really central to the argument. But actually both things together begin to matter.

Because when the House of Bishops issue Pastoral Guidance, they speak words that impact real people, real lives, real relationships, real faith, real hopes and real fears. They have a duty of care to get the small things right because it demonstrates that every person counts as a person and not just as a cause or a faction or a vote or a voice. We are the Church of God in this place and we should jolly well act like it or repent when we get it wrong.

It so happens that a very senior Bishop in the Church of England came to me mid-week and apologised for the Guidance. Actually, I hadn't read it then. I thanked him - and came home and read it to see why he should say what he had said. And then I understood that I had just met a godly man.

We will disagree on how the Church in its fulness responds to all sorts of questions. Some of those disagreements will get resolved, some won't. In the process, we must love one another and not take short cuts, we must demonstrate love and not produce slogans that make our neighbour less than us. We must be Christians.


Yes, I think their Graces might yet seek more of the same, as might we all, and I would not be of their number or carry their responsibilities, but I would, will and do pray for them.