(This is the text of a speech by the Rev Julian Mann at the April 19th meeting of Ecclesfield Deanery Synod in Sheffield Diocese in a discussion about the arguments within the Church of England over human sexuality)
The Church of England in its present teaching is not only clear that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. It is also clear that it is God’s will that sexual love be expressed within man-woman marriage and nowhere else. To quote Canon B30, Of Holy Matrimony:
‘The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.’
The Canon states that this is our Lord’s teaching, which means it is our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching and not only his divine teaching in the four Gospels but his teaching consistently in the Holy Spirit-inspired Holy Scriptures, which, according to the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion, are the supreme and final authority in matters of Christian faith and conduct.
Faithfully reflecting objective biblical truth, the Canon is clear that marriage between one man and one woman for life is the God-given context for ‘the hallowing and right direction’ (that is, the offering to God in holiness) ‘of the natural instincts and affections’ (that is, God-created human sexuality). So, the Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s biblical teaching, that sex is for heterosexual marriage and that it is not holy or right anywhere else.
It is also vital to note that this Canon does not restrict our Lord’s teaching to the clergy. This is a universal biblical definition of sexual holiness and its exclusive attachment to man-woman marriage, so this is divine teaching for the good of the whole of humanity across all cultures.
Very arguably, the General Synod’s decision in 2003 to allow clergy who so choose to conduct remarriages after divorce has led to some practical slippage from the Canon’s affirmation that marriage is permanent and lifelong, which is why some of us oppose that change. But still the Canon stands.
Whether we are married or single, surely we all need the transforming grace of God through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ to obey the biblical teaching it expresses?
Because it is our Lord’s teaching, how can Anglican Christians who wish to uphold it possibly enjoy ‘good disagreement’ with those who are campaigning for the Church to celebrate sexual relationships outside of man-woman marriage?
Surely it is pastorally disastrous to depart from our Lord’s biblical teaching? Surely it is unloving and damaging to the Body of Christ to do so?