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Same-sex marriages and today’s urgent prayer for godliness


AT the Queen’s funeral service in Westminster Abbey in September, the Archbishop of York read out the Book of Common Prayer Collect for today, the 22nd Sunday after Trinity:

‘Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it (Archbishop Cottrell said ‘she’) may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

This Collect includes prayer for the Church of England of which the Queen was Supreme Governor but ‘thy household the Church’ here is not restricted to a particular denomination. The Collect is referring to the universal Church for which intercession is made in the Prayer Book service of Holy Communion, that the Lord would ‘inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord’.

This universal Church, described in the Apostles’ Creed as the holy Catholic (inclusive of all nationalities) Church, embraces as members of God’s family all true believers in Jesus Christ the world over. That universal Church finds visible expression in local churches, gatherings of Christian believers in particular places.

Notwithstanding its broader remit, it is true that this Collect is urgently relevant to members of the universal Church who meet in local churches affiliated to the Church of England. They have had a dreadful fortnight.

It has become clear after a residential meeting of the C of E’s College of Bishops from October 31 to November 2 that the leaders of the national Church are poised to ditch the traditional Christian sexual ethic. The College, comprising the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 106 diocesan and suffragan or area bishops, met in Hertfordshire to debate the outcome of the CofE’s Living in Love and Faith (LLF) consultation on marriage and sexuality.

At the end of the meeting, Church Times editor Paul Handley was given a lobby-style briefing by a high level C of E source. 

Handley reported on November 2: ‘Although no decision has been made about what formal proposals will be presented to the General Synod in February 2023 – these will be finalised at the next College of Bishops meeting, 12-14 December – it is understood that the bishops acknowledge that simply to restate the existing ban on same-sex blessings or marriage in church is not an option.’

On November 3 the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, became the most senior C of E diocesan bishop to come out in favour of allowing same-sex marriages in parish churches. So far, only a handful of bishops, mainly suffragans, have backed his call so it looks as if he has overplayed his hand.

It is unlikely that the full same-sex marriage package would get the necessary two-thirds majority in the General Synod. The more likely outcome of LLF is that the House of Bishops comprising the 42 diocesan bishops will bring a ‘compromise’ proposal to February’s Synod to allow clergy to bless same-sex couples after civil marriage. That is the route the Anglican Church in Wales took last year.

Still, such a change would be drastic for the C of E. It would be abandoning the teaching upheld in the Book of Common Prayer for centuries that the expression of sexual love should be confined to the God-created institution of heterosexual marriage. The Prayer Book condemns sex outside this God-given context in strong terms as ‘fornication’.

Following the Bishop of Oxford’s intervention, Christian Concern’s chief executive, Andrea Minichiello Williams, a former General Synod member, spoke up clearly for Anglican orthodoxy, as she often does: 

‘The Church’s official position matches the clear teaching of scripture by saying that sex belongs within one man, one woman marriage. Nevertheless, bishops and clergy have been allowed to sow endless doubt about what Christians throughout history and around the world have recognised is God’s pattern for sexuality.

‘Their theological arguments have been debunked time after time by genuine scholars; Jesus himself clearly upheld the sexual ethics of the Old Testament while demonstrating grace and offering forgiveness to all who sought it.’

She summed up the motivation of C of E revisionists pushing to forsake the traditional teaching: ‘For many years it has been clear that the driving force behind these revisionists is not the study of scripture nor listening to the Holy Spirit but a relentless desire to mirror society’s values.’

With the prospect of the C of E abandoning Christian orthodoxy and turning itself into a neo-Marxist religious pressure group, the Collect for today is urgent. In the present crisis, may orthodox members of the universal Church, in the C of E for now, indeed be kept in continual godliness that through the Lord’s protection they may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve Him in good works.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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