IT WOULD seem that the response by the bishops of the Church of England to the latest attempt in the House of Lords to force clergy to conduct same-sex weddings was driven by tactical considerations rather than by transcendent truth.
Although the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, resisted the amendment by Lords Faulkner and Collins to remove the CofE’s exemption from solemnising same-sex marriages, his remarks were notable for their political tone:
‘One of the things which impedes that change of view (towards embracing same-sex marriage) in the life of the Church is a fear lest it be seen to be in any way compelled to make up its mind by external forces, even if that is not the intention of the amendment. I recognise it is not, very clearly. However, that external pressure would itself be a rallying call to those opposed to change.’
Does that not effectively amount to the CofE hierarchy pleading with the secular political establishment: ‘Please don’t bounce us into same-sex marriage now because that will fuel the reactionary forces opposed to the change that we eventually want to make through the General Synod’?
Significantly in his remarks, Dr Croft referred to the letter he sent in October, together with the Bishops of Dorchester, Reading, and Buckingham, to the clergy of Oxford Diocese, setting out their expectations for LGBT+ inclusion:
‘That letter has been warmly welcomed by many LGBTI clergy and laity, and more widely across the Church by those who want to see further change. It has led to many fruitful conversations. However, it is also a sign of where the Church is, and of the deep views held in good conscience on the issue, that the same letter has dismayed and unsettled some others who fear that the Church will change what is regarded as essential and core doctrine.’
That is a reference to the letter of ‘grave concern’ in January of this year from more than 100 clergy in Oxford Diocese. These Anglican ministers serving conservative evangelical, evangelical charismatic and Anglo-Catholic churches are united by their commitment to the CofE’s current teaching on sex and marriage as set out in B30 of its Canons (rules),Of Holy Matrimony.
They asked their bishops ‘to recognise the seriousness of the difference between us: advocacy of same-sex sexual intimacy is either an expression of the love of God or it creates an obstacle to people entering the kingdom of God. It cannot be both. The situation is serious. If not addressed, we would all struggle to support the leadership of our bishops in this matter and a number of our churches may want to seek alternative means of receiving episcopal ministry, in recognition that your position is seriously differentiated from theirs. This would be a tragedy.’
The signatories to this letter of concern included ministers of some of the largest churches in and around Oxford. The practical reality is that if these churches were to leave the CofE, they could form an Anglican network that on current trends in 20 years’ time could be larger, more financially viable and younger than the established Diocese of Oxford.
That would involve a big sacrifice for these churches in that they would have to leave their buildings, which are owned by the CofE. But, in the light of these latest comments from their diocesan bishop in the House of Lords, might that not appear to them to be a price worth paying for their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ?