Having just come back from the SCM conference, I've been a little slow to react to the news from the Bishops regarding forthcoming legislation on same sex marriage. To pre-empt changes in the law, the Bishops have issued guidelines that effectively do three things:
1) ensure that no priest or church, regardless of how much they might be in favour of same sex marriage, are allowed to bless such a union.
2) to say that no-one will be allowed to enter the church and serve as deacon, priest or bishop if they have had a legal same sex marriage.
3) to warn that anyone who is already ordained is forbidden from entering such a marriage. If they do, will face risk of sanctions (even expulsion from ordained ministry)
The new Archbishop has made a disappointing error of judgement in pushing the bishops in this direction for a number of reasons:
1) The Church of England, slowly recovering from the shame of its slow acceptance of women bishops, now looks even deeper out of touch with issues of equality and justice.
2) The church hierarchy has now officially adopted not a pastoral stance on this issue (as one would expect from bishops) but an authoritarian one. Effectively, it has said that it will not tolerate any other position, whilst trying to make out that it is in some sort of 'dialogue'.
3) The bishops are making it much harder for many of us involved in mission, especially those of us who work with young people. The youth of today seem to have a much better moral compass than the church does, and they ask themselves, 'why would anyone want to be part of an institutionally homophobic organisation?'
4) They have broken the hearts of many faithful and committed clergy, many of whom long for the opportunity to express themselves through marriage.
5) The Church of England will face the public humiliation every time it now seeks to punish clergy and exclude people from ministry because of their sexuality and legal marital status.
It is such a shame. The Bishops could have adopted a more pastoral role, and also allowed for the diversity of opinion within the church. Many clergy, churches and even some bishops (quietly) want the freedom to bless the marriages of faithful LGBT Christians in their congregations and dioceses. Most of us understand that not all Christians and Churches accept same sex marriage, and nobody should be forced to do a blessing or have a Gay married priest if their congregation does not accept it. But refusing to allow those of us that do accept LGBT couples the chance of acknowledging that is a denial of our calling and ministry. It is quite simply wrong, in the same way that all discriminatory practice is wrong.
Like the vote not to allow women bishops last year, I hope that the error of this guidance will quickly be rectified. But I suspect it will be a much longer and tougher battle. Let us be compassionate in our debates, but also determined to point out when our leadership is wounding the body of Christ, and needs to repent.