The Church of England has refused to change its stance on same-sex marriage, a ruling that may lead to a rebellion from LGBTI supporting priests.
Bishops said they wished to uphold the ‘traditional teaching’ that marriage is between one man and one woman but urged for church law to provide ‘maximum freedom’ for gay and lesbian people.
The report gave guidance that ‘maximum freedom’ would be there without a change of doctrine or any concrete change.
LGBTI rights campaigners condemned the report as ‘cruel’ and ‘an utter failure’.
The report has said anyone seeking ordination will still face questions about their lifestyle, irrespective of their personal sexual orientation. Gay clergy are required to commit to celibacy.
While bishops recognize priests will rebel and perform blessings on same-sex marriages, these clergy will be ‘dealt with’ on an individual basis.
But if there is no change to doctrine to reflect modern day society, clergy says it is unrealistic for them not to perform what they consider to be a part of their duties.
In an open letter, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said the LGBTI faithful are being treated as ‘second-class citizens’.
They write: ‘It is now clear that the process has almost entirely failed to hear the cries of faithful LGBTI+ people. You are proposing to formalise ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ among clergy in same-sex relationships. This essentially asks clergy to dissemble and keep the nature of their relationships hidden – far from equalising the situation between straight and gay clergy it pushes LGBTI+ clergy back into the closet. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” diminishes everyone’s integrity: where it was used in wider society it was eventually discarded and discredited. Why are you introducing this now?
‘You write in your report about the need establish “across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people”. You say also that your responsibility is to clarify the issues at stake not find solutions. The issues at stake are principally the lives of these lesbian and gay people. You tell us that the bishops are not going to change an iota of the current teaching of the Church of England. If that is the case, then changes of tone will do nothing to improve the second-class position of the LGBTI+ faithful. Their relationships will be merely tolerated or judged wanting, and LGBTI+ clergy will be vulnerable if their relationships become known.
‘You have done nothing to acknowledge the goodness or sanctity of the relationships of LGBTI+ people, lay and clerical. Anglican LGBTI+ people are still labouring under the Higton motion and Issues in Human Sexuality as the last word on this matter. You could have made clear that issues of sexuality are not first order theological issues and that same-sex relationships, which the Archbishop described as sometimes being of “stunning quality”, could be a means of grace to those in them. You have done nothing. There is a failure of leadership and theological insight in the Church of England.
‘This outcome is an almost complete betrayal of the trust that has been placed in you by faithful disciples of Christ. There is no space for good disagreement. The old lines of dishonesty remain intact. Not an inch has been given to support LGBTI+ inclusion.
‘We have to tell you that this is completely unacceptable. Echoing the words of the late Una Kroll, “We asked for bread, and you gave us a stone”. You make much of starting processes to write more documents, but our observation is that anything written is unlikely to move the situation forwards. LGCM and Changing Attitude, who are shortly to merge, will now begin a series of campaigns to change this situation. We will use the levers of power available to us and will oppose and challenge your stance where it is intransigent at every opportunity. Those of us who are members of the Church of England will remain in communion with you and will insist on making our protests and acting in ways that seek to hold the Church of England together. We will work to help it move to a more diverse and inclusive future, bringing the message of Christ alive in the present day. Like you, we are deeply concerned with the decline of the Church of England not simply numerically, but in the estimation of the English people. Our concern is, therefore, missionary as well as pastoral and political.
‘Your actions and inactions will not commend your church to ordinary people. We will work to make the Church of England a body of which all Christians can be proud again. We are glad that your proposal for a new report to replace Issues will engage and include LGBT Anglicans in the writing of it, and we remain ready to participate in that. In other initiatives where you allow us we will work with you, but our clear focus is on the changes that need to come.’
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s CEO, said they were ‘disappointed’.
‘LGBT people of faith need to be respected and included in their faith communities, just as they need respect and acceptance in wider society,’ she said.
‘But, there is some encouraging news from today’s response from the House of Bishops. The recommendation for new guidance on same-sex relationships is a positive sign of hope ahead.
‘We’re also pleased that the Bishops recognize that it’s time for the Church to adopt a “fresh” approach to how lesbian, gay and bi people are treated.
‘We know this will also be very welcome news to LGBT Christians, alongside the recognition in the response that the Church needs to follow Christian teachings on this issue, specifically that ‘we should love one another as ourselves.
‘This is an opportunity for the Church to work closely with LGBT communities to get this next stage right, and we, alongside many others, including faith leaders who support LGBT equality, will be watching this closely.
‘We’ll continue to stand by the side of LGBT people of all faiths, and we’ll continue to work with faith communities and faith schools to help them support LGBT people.’