The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said, in a statement from 16th February:
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.
Responses from Bishops
The Bishop of Manchester complains about the argument of conservatives, which “asserts that until the law and the canons change, wider teaching is fixed”. He calls this “the logic of logjam.” Instead, he proposes “much more than ‘maximum freedom’”, and “the possibility of exploring our prayers, our discipline, our outreach, our ministry and our teaching, and doing so with the expectation that things are going to look significantly different afterwards.”
The Diocese of Hereford has included the following motion for its Synod meeting of 4th March:
‘That this Synod requests the House of Bishops to commend under Canon B4 an Order of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Partnership or Same-Sex Marriage, indicative of no departure from the doctrine of the Church of England on any essential matter, and furnished with ample safeguards that no parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service.’
This comes immediately after the Bishop of Hereford declared in an ad clerum, before the Synod vote,
my own position as one who wants to affirm same sex relationships while seeing marriage itself as being by definition between a man and a woman. In other words, as the Report puts it, “Interpreting the existing framework to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law or the doctrine of the Church.”
The Bishop of Portsmouth has issued a Statement in which he says this:
I'm committed to using the maximum freedom, which was encouraged by all the bishops in their report, to welcome and affirm everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, nationality or any of the ways in which people can be so hurtfully differentiated. I’ll be exploring how this inclusion can be supported in our diocese including some guidance to clergy and lay leaders.
The Bishop of Bradwell (Suffragan of Chelmsford) says, after a moving account of living with untreatable cancer in a letter to clergy, says:
More time does need to be given to a well-founded theology of relationship, friendship and marriage which I hope will lead in time to a full acceptance of same sex marriages in the Church of England. That will take time. However, that should not hold us back in the immediate from proper recognition through prayers, blessing, celebration and affirmation of all that is good and wholesome in a wide variety of relationships including stable, faithful, committed and God given same sex relationships.
The Bishop of Selby (Suffragan on York) gives his view:
we need to explore a more creative way ahead for faithful human relationships rather than remaining where we are or simply offering maximum freedom within the present settlement. To do this will involve a major re-engagement with and renewal of Anglican anthropology…I do feel that our tradition has the resources to bless other relationships of love, longevity and depth.
Other Bishops will no doubt make similar statements in due course, and excerpts will be posted in updated versions of this briefing.
We can assume that the Bishops are responding to a signal from the Archbishops, indicating a move towards official acceptance and affirmation of same sex relationships, within the boundaries of the Canons which at the moment do not make provision for same sex marriage. Technically, Canon Law does not allow for a change in teaching and practice which implies the Church’s approval of same sex relationships, as the original GS2055 Report made clear. However unless this teaching and practice is enforced, in terms of discipline for those who transgress it, it is meaningless.
Senior leaders who contradict the clear teaching of the Bible and the Church, and/or who enter into same sex marriages or publicly celebrate them, should be a problem to the Church in the same way that any blatant violation of the norms of any organisation by its office holders are a problem. However the Archbishops have explicitly said that
"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.”
This can reasonably be interpreted as saying that no action will be taken against any Bishops or clergy who openly contradict Christian doctrine and/or who violate its canons in the area of sexual ethics.
The response from conservatives
But what of those for whom this new reality of “radical inclusion” is a false innovation, running counter to the universal Church's understanding of the Gospel? There will be those who are prepared to accept the removal of boundaries in terms of belief and behaviour in the wider church, as long as they themselves are free to continue orthodox faith and practice in their local churches and networks. They will not be seen as a “problem” as long as they do not challenge the new thinking publicly. But already there are an increasing number who, because of historic biblical convictions, find themselves in impaired communion with their Bishop if he or she has publicly moved away from apostolic Christian teaching at a foundational level.
GAFCON UK stands with such clergy and lay people, who accept item 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration:
We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and turn to the Lord.
We are maintaining good relationships with confessing Anglicans who are looking for a solution providing protection for the orthodox within the Church of England.
We are also actively working with those for whom in conscience this is no longer an option, who are looking for alternative Episcopal oversight and ultimately, a new way of being Anglican in Britain; part of global Anglican orthodoxy under the ultimate authority of the word of God, not a human institution, place or leader.
Further reading. Some good articles critiquing the Archbishops’ statement from a conservative perspective can be found here:
The tragic cruelty of “radical inclusion”, from ACNA
Dear Archbishops, what is “a radical new inclusion”?, by David Baker, Christian Today
An Anglican understanding of inclusion, by Martin Davie, Reflections of an Anglican Theologian
The historical basis for policy of ‘radical inclusion’ in the C of E, satire by Melvin Tinker, Anglican Ink
It’s time for the Church of England to lay down the law on marriage, by Andrea Minichiello Williams, Telegraph