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House of Bishops drives through proposals to bless same-sex unions

House of Bishops drives through proposals to bless same-sex unions



By Nikki Howlett
February 10, 2023

The General Synod of the Church of England has been meeting in London this week at Church House, Westminster, for its regular annual London gathering in February. The main item of business, concluded today, is a set of proposals and prayers published by the House of Bishops to enable the clergy of the Church of England to bless same sex unions, either civil marriages or civil partnerships or other less identifiable unions.

It seems that a careful calculation was made of the likely strength of opposition to such changes. Accordingly no proposal was made to change Canon B30, which states the Church's doctrine of marriage in the traditional terms of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

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.

To alter it would require a 2/3 majority in each House of Synod: Bishops, Clergy and Laity. There was no realistic possibility of securing this. So the Bishops decided to make a virtue out of leaving it intact on the statute book, although they indicated that this will be revisited five years from now.

Instead they used the powers granted to them as the House of Bishops to put forward a series of prayers for the use of clergy wishing to bless either same-sex civil marriages, same-sex civil partnerships, or various other unspecified commitments at the discretion of the minister concerned.

Normally any new form of worship has to be approved by all three Houses of Synod with 2/3 majorities in each. But here the Bishops bypassed the hurdle of special majorities by issuing the documents on their own authority. Today they achieved bare majorities in the Houses of Clergy and Laity. They would not have achieved approval if the regular practice had been followed. Only 4 out of 42 of the bishops voted against. The House of Bishops is now just 10% orthodox.

There is a clear theological conflict between affirming the biblical doctrine of marriage on the one hand, and promoting the blessing of unbiblical relationships on the other. But by a remarkable sleight of hand the Bishops issued legal guidance which distinguished for the first time between marriage conducted in church, which it now terms "holy matrimony" and civil marriage, which has always hitherto been regarded as a valid marriage in ecclesiastical law where it is a union of husband and wife. The bishops now claim that they are blessing the persons involved in such a relationship rather than the relationship itself. And in doing so they studiously avoid the question of whether a civil union between sexually active same sex partners is intrinsically sinful. Little mention was made this week of sin.

At the end of the debate today the Synod gave approval to the Bishops' proposals, which are to be further refined and accompanied by an as yet unwritten statement of Pastoral Guidance, and finally voted on at the next meeting in July before publication.

But everyone can see that the target remains a formal change in doctrine. The Archbishop of York has indicated that the process is far from settled, with Canon B30 to be reviewed in five years' time. Five years in which the Canon will be eroded by the adoption of public prayers designed to contradict its authority and meaning. Five years in which services of blessing resembling weddings in all but the legal detail will be used to blur the difference between true holy matrimony, and unbiblical civil and sexual unions.

Today the House of Bishops has dealt the Church of England one of its final death blows, the latest in a series in which a revisionist House has wilfully damaged their Church, by liberating sex from virtually all biblical restraints, beginning with the ordination of divorced and remarried candidates; the removal of restrictions on remarrying in church after divorce; the appointment of clergy in civil same-sex unions (including bishops); and today leaving Canon B30 to wither on the (un)theological vine of their public role as teachers of the Church.

The Church of Scotland, a much more conservative (presbyterian) Church recently opened its doors to the marriage in church of same-sex couples. It immediately lost a number of its wealthiest congregations, who walked away and took their money with them. It is now closing down large numbers of its churches, lacking ministers and worshippers, who have fallen away in a sharp downward spiral. It has doomed itself to irrelevance.

Today the Bishops of the Church of England have achieved the same outcome. The few areas of church life which are growing are largely conservative and orthodox, either Evangelical or (in much smaller numbers following the ordination of women) Anglo-Catholic. Some are already withholding money from their dioceses. More will follow, and some will walk away, leaving empty church buildings behind them. There was already a desperate shortage of money in the dioceses, and a growing list of clergy vacancies. All that will now be exacerbated.

A church which is indistinguishable from secular society, having rejected the authority and teaching of the scriptures and instead modelling itself on the BBC, does not attract new converts. The General Synod today was largely peopled with gray hair. The public identification of the Church of England from today onwards as a "gay church" will cause many remaining in the pews to leave and few to join who are not already members.

Church attendance was dramatically cut by Covid lockdowns, enthusiastically demanded by Archbishop Justin Welby and his bishops, and is not recovering to pre-Covid levels. Today's news will confirm many in their decision to leave and not to return. The confirmation in July of the proposals approved today will mark 9 February 2023 as the moment decline became terminal for the Church of England. The fingerprints on the knife in its back are those of its Bishops.


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