The Church of England’s parliament, the General Synod, spent a total of eight hours discussing same sex marriage and blessings on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 February, in debates recorded here. The painstaking process involved recorded votes on 28 amendments which were passionately argued. Bishops proposed a continued ban on same sex marriage, while allowing blessings for same sex couples and it went through largely intact, with one amendment that any future prayers for blessing should not depart from the CofE doctrine on marriage. The final vote was 250 in favour and 181 against with 10 abstentions . Here is a selection of quotes from the debate:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:
“We are not divided but we disagree, and that is very painful…. I know there is fear of a slippery slope, of what may or may not happen at some point in the future, but let us not give in to the fear of a future which we can neither predict nor control…
“We should not be swayed on the issue by groups or lobbies or outsiders…. I have heard them over the last two weeks in Parliament and been told exactly what to do. I am not doing any of it”.
Rev Vaughan Roberts, of St Ebbe’s Oxford: “Now for the first time, if these proposals proceed we will be allowing clergy to bless sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and a woman and that will mean a de facto change in our doctrine.”
Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft: “I thank God for the LGBTQIA+ clergy, lay ministers and disciples I’ve been privileged to know. I pay tribute to their resilience and dedication and commitment … I’m very sorry it has taken us so long to change.. I hope that this is a stepping stone in the journey and for me I hope that will be equal marriage in our church”.
Rev Robert Lawrence, Newcastle: “Marriage is not a foundation stone of Christian doctrine and nor should we allow the false distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony to persist.”.
The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, said he could not condone the social media campaign against the motion: “I do want it to be known that untold hurt has been caused to LGBT+ people in my diocese and therefore as chief shepherd of the diocese of Leicester I cannot stay silent while people are hurting in this way”.
Jayne Ozanne, leading campaigner for LGBT rights: “We’ve had numerous apologies – words, words and words – but we have had absolutely no action to stop this ongoing discrimination and abuse. We continue to teach a doctrine of theology of difference, that tells people like me that we are second class and that our understanding of the holy scriptures is un-Christian”.
Busola Sodeinde, London, a church commissioner spoke about the impact on the global church and the diaspora here in England, strongly connected with its roots: “There is an arrogance which I recognise, maybe unintended of, one time colonialism which insists that western culture is progressive while dissenting voices in Africa and everywhere else is silenced…I want to address the impending racial injustice, disunity and racial segregation in the church if we were to introduce same sex blessings without further consultation… I am worried that there may be an exodus of diverse communities from our parish churches and of having a profound impact on racial diversity which until now we have tried so hard to encourage.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury replied: “I’m generally torn by this… This isn’t something I take lightly. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever known…. This isn’t just about listening to the rest of the world. It’s caring. Let’s just be clear on that. It’s about people who’ll die; women who’ll be raped; children who’ll be tortured. So, when we vote, we need to think of that”, then adding at the end: “We must also do right here as part of the church Catholic”.
Last week, the Archbishop met around a dozen MPs in Parliament and it was reported that he said he would rather see the Church of England lose its privileged status as the established church of the country than risk the global church fracturing over disagreements on the issue. Lambeth Palace said the conversation was “more nuanced and complex”.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP: “It is not the job of parliament to decide what the doctrine of the CofE should be, but I am conscious that parliament’s patience may not be infinite and indeed there have already been cross party meetings of MPs to look at a private members’ bill to require the church to go further. Should synod decide to change marriage doctrine at a future point, a measure produced here going through parliament will provide the necessary legal opt-in. There is no need therefore for parliament to act independently to change the 2013 Marriage Act. Those here and in parliament who wish to force that or to remove the rights of conscience from equality law should be careful what they wish for. It would infringe on the settled principles of religious freedom, overturn a century of measured devolution from parliament to synod and be likely to call into question the rights and protections of conscience for other denominations and faiths as well as the Church of England. .. I was deeply moved by Archbishop Justin’s passionate plea for unity on Monday but I am struggling to see how we achieve that as the present position has managed to upset many on both sides of this debate and a small number of MPs tell me they believe churches will leave the Church of England over this issue”.
Rev Dr Ian Paul, Southwell & Nottingham: “We are deeply divided on this and I think in many parts of the church, trust and confidence in episcopal leadership is at a catastrophic low. We long to trust you, we long to follow your leadership, we long to be guided by you as our shepherds, but we cannot do that if you will not show us the theological working, how you are building on all the good work that’s been done in the past. If you do not do this I think we will find now and in July, we are more divided than ever”
Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox and ecumenical representative to synod: “Having been here for almost 30 years and having been enriched by my experience, I am very aware of the difference between a blessing and holy matrimony. It is used here in this chamber and used in the Church of England. But that distinction will not be readily understood by many around the world. The distinction will sound like a technicality. The one observation I will make is that the current proposal certainly does not give overall rest to any party. And so maybe time may be an option”.
Jayne Ozanne, LGBT campaigner: “I would like to get married one day. It’s been a long journey. 20 years of conversion therapy do leave their mark. And like many survivors, I can still find intimacy challenging, but I love I yearn to love and be loved. And there’s a wonderful woman I longed to ask a dear friend who I fear is blissfully unaware. However, if she is watching, I’m free on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day. And if I do finally find the courage to ask her and if she does say yes, but it would be inconceivable for me not to marry in church…. Even if we do agree to equal marriage in the summer, it will take at least another five years for equal marriage to become a reality. So sadly, probably not in time for me to be married and church. However, I will hold tight to the hope that it might feel with God all things are possible, including the fact that the woman I love might just I hope say yes”
Simon Friend, Exeter, who was a member of Holy Trinity Brompton and was asked to offer pastoral support to a man dying from HIV: “I had the immense privilege to be at his bedside with one or two others. We sang hymns and read scripture, and had his actual passing. I had this incredible sense of the presence of angels, ushering him into heaven. I had never been so aware of God’s presence by His Spirit. It was the most beautiful and revelatory moment… That led me to years of prayerful study of Scripture. And I began to recognise .. that I had no need to fear the sexual other, as I recognise that we are all made in the image of God, that I had no need to fear that the basis of my faith and salvation would unravel”
Ed Shaw, Church of England Evangelical Council: “I’m one of a number of people who are opposed to equal marriage, who are wanting to sit down and draw up uniting proposals that will allow for its introduction, alongside imaginative new structures that will permanently protect our different consciences. And I think it’s now in this stage of the civil debate that we need to start that conversation soon… Jane, I look forward to the day when you can get married in your local Anglican Church, according to your conscience. But according to my conscience, I’m afraid that will have to be in a different part of the Church of England”.
Sophie Clarke, London: “I’m 27. And I’m engaged. I’m ready to get married in two months’ time and I’m absolutely delighted. I and my fiancé have never had sex. We are convinced in accordance with scripture, that the doctrine of this church is that God’s calling for us and for everyone seeking to follow Jesus is to live this way that sex has to happen only within lifelong union of holy matrimony. I am devastated at the possibility that my leaders and shepherds of this church might not be telling me that our decision to wait to deny ourselves in order to follow Christ is unnecessary, and is unimportant”.
Rev Andrew Cornes, former director of training at All Souls, London: and now pastor of All Saints Church, Crowborough, East Sussex, moved the only successful amendment, which said prayers for same sex blessings should not depart from the doctrine of marriage in the church: “..We must lovingly welcome all who enter our doors. We can joyfully offer prayers to those who want to live sexually celibate lives, as surely painful as this will be to some of us. We cannot bless a relationship which in its sexual aspect, Jesus calls sinful. This has always been the Church of England’s teaching. And we owe it to all and above all, to Christ, to say that this teaching has not changed”
Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, historian and acting archdeacon of Liverpool: “I want to challenge this idea that the church has always had one fixed doctrine of marriage…In the early church debates, marriage did not mean sex, marriage meant the state’s socio economic status of being a householder, slaves could not get married.….For most of Christian history, we had no marriage liturgy. For elite families, marriage was primarily concerned with property, inheritance and alliances….In the 19th century, there were protracted legal debates about whether women are counted legally as persons ….in 1938, first reports of the doctrine commission speak of marriage as between two Christian persons. So as a historian, no, the church has not taught consistently for 2000 years, that sex outside marriage is a sin. And one of our pastoral principles is to pay attention to power. So let’s be honest that for much of our history, discussions about marriage have not been about sex primarily, but about power”.
Samy Fawzy, Archbishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria, invited to respond for the global Anglican communion: “We affirmed that resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth conference as the teaching on marriage and sexuality of the Anglican Communion. One of the clauses states, this conference cannot advise, legitimising or blessing of same sex unions, nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions. .. This is how we understand the scriptures tradition and reason of the Anglican Church… In our understanding of marriage and sexuality, there is a red line, we will never cross crossing this line of blessing same sex unions will alienate 75 per cent of the Anglican Communion and endanger the ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This shift in practice will lead eventually to impaired and broken communion. We inherited the traditional Orthodox faith of the Church of England. So please, please do not surrender your unique position as the mother church of the Anglican Communion. It is your choice”.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell: “No one has to offer these services, and no one will be disadvantaged if they choose not to, it is an option… it is really, really important that this reassurance is made abundantly clear…The pastoral guidance will be issued and will settle some of those questions that will then replace this using human sexuality, that will happen. But I think we need something in addition to that…we need to get together and sit down and start talking about so what kind of reassurance could there be that I know that I have my place…Disagreement doesn’t have to lead to division, division doesn’t have to lead to conflict. Archbishop Samy, I want us to live together in one Anglican Communion, but as was said at the Lambeth conference, in order to do that we need we need that reassurance. I want to give you this pledge that I won’t be able to vote, I won’t be able to support commending these prayers until we have the pastoral guidance and pastoral provision. I’m going to ask Bishop Sarah, could you on behalf of the house of Bishops give that reassurance to all of us that we will have those discussions about some kind of settlement?”
The Bishop of London Sarah Mullaly, closing the session: “I recognise that there are those who are deeply thankful for this. And those there are those who are hurting the house in the College of Bishops will now begin the various tasks set before us. As we do this, we will continue to be mindful of the deep divisions that continue to exist within our church…. Over the next few months we will reflect on everything which has been said as we go to our task. And I hope that you will judge whether we have heard when we come back to Synod in July. Chief among these concerns will be how we continue to guard the conscience of those for whom these proposals go too far”.