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There has been worldwide press coverage of the decision of the Bishop of Hereford, Richard Jackson, not to give permission for the Revd Mpho Tutu van Furth, the daughter of late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to officiate at the funeral in Shropshire of her godfather, Martin Kenyon, because of her being in a same-sex marriage.

By M. Barratt Davie
October 5, 2022

Understandably, she was very upset about the decision. According to the BBC she said: 'It's incredibly sad ... It feels like a bureaucratic response with maybe a lack of compassion. It seemed really churlish and hurtful.' [1]

Equally understandably, those campaigning in favour of the Church of England agreeing to celebrate same-sex marriages were also very critical of the decision.

Thus, Jayne Ozanne wrote in a letter published in The Guardian:

'The Church of England's decision to bar Mpho Tutu van Furth from conducting her godfather's funeral in church has now solidified its reputation in the nation as institutionally homophobic, cruel and unloving -- the very opposite of what it is meant to stand for. No wonder we are haemorrhaging people and inoculating younger generations from wanting to have anything to do with us, squandering the millions we are currently pouring into mission and evangelism.

Unless our bishops recognise the damage their silence and inaction has done and apologise for the lives that they have upset and harmed, we risk becoming a laughing stock to the nation. We need a Church of England that serves and honours the whole of England, not just the chosen few.' [2]

Thus also, The Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England declared:

'It is astonishing that any Christian, let alone a Church of England bishop, should think it to be right to bar a priest from taking the funeral of her godfather, whatever her marital status.

This is pharisaical legalism of the worst kind.... it is a sign and symptom of the deep spiritual malaise of the Church. Jesus said "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." (Luke 11:42) Why can't some church leaders see that these incisive words are a challenge to them?

And alas it is typical of the hurtful discrimination that the Church metes out to its priests who dare to marry the person they love, if it's someone of the same sex. An immediate end to such cruel mistreatment is one of the demands of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England.' [3]

In the face of these criticisms there are two questions which need to be asked about the bishop's decision.

First, was that decision properly made in accordance with the law of the Church of England?

The answer to this question is clear. Tutu Van Furth is a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States and therefore she could only have been given permission to officiate at her godfather's funeral by the Archbishop of Canterbury if she met the terms for the giving of such permission contained in the regulations for 'Overseas ('Archbishops') Permission to Officiate.' These regulations require 'Proof that the diocesan bishop is content to allow the applicant to officiate in his / her diocese and grant PTO (diocesan permission to officiate).'[4] In the case of Tutu Van Furth such proof was not forthcoming from the Bishop of Hereford and therefore Permission to Officiate was not granted by the Archbishop.

No criteria (other than those relating to safeguarding) are given in the regulations to guide a diocesan bishop in deciding whether or not they should be content to allow someone to officiate in their diocese and such criteria are equally lacking in the 2018 House of Bishops Policy on PTO. All that the 2018 policy says is that: 'the bishop should not give PTO to a cleric unless he or she is confident about his or her ability to officiate, and is happy to recommend him or her to clergy in the diocese.' [5]

However, even though this is not spelled out in the PTO regulations, it would obviously be inappropriate for a bishop to grant PTO to a member of the clergy, whether ordained in the Church of England or overseas, whose manner of life was not in accordance with that expected of the clergy of the Church of England in general. The reason for this is that otherwise PTO would become a back door for unsuitable people to exercise ministry in the Church of England.

If we apply this criterion to the case of Tutu Van Furth what we find is that the fact that she is in a same-sex marriage means that her manner of life is not in accordance with that expected of Church of England clergy and that therefore the Bishop of Hereford was right not to give his consent to the Archbishop granting her PTO.

The Church of England's expectations of the clergy in relation to same-sex marriage are laid out in paragraphs 23-28 of the 2014 House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage. The paragraphs run as follows:

'23. At ordination clergy make a declaration that they will endeavour to fashion their own life anthat of their household 'according to the way of Christ' that they may be 'a pattern and example to Christ's people'. A requirement as to the manner of life of the clergy is also directly imposed on the clergy by Canon C 26, which says that 'at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.'

24. The implications of this particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church have been explained as follows; 'The Church is also bound to take care that the ideal is not misrepresented or obscured; and to this end the example of its ordained ministers is of crucial significance. This means that certain possibilities are not open to the clergy by comparison with the laity, something that in principle has always been accepted '(Issues in Human Sexuality, 1991, Section 5.13).

25. The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.

26. Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.

27. The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives.

28. The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking toavoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking todiscern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Nevertheless, at ordination clergy undertake to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.' We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.' [6]

These paragraphs make it clear that the policy of the Church of England is that it is not appropriate for the clergy of the Church of England to enter onto a same-sex marriage, or for those in a same-sex marriage to be ordained. It follows therefore that those in same-sex marriages should not be granted permission to officiate, and that consequently the Bishop of Hereford was right not to consent to Tutu Van Furth receiving PTO.

The fact that the Episcopal Church is content with her marital status is irrelevant to the issue. It is the discipline of the Church of England that matters, not that of the Episcopal Church.

We can therefore say that the decision was properly made according to the law of the Church of England. For PTO to be given the Bishop of Hereford had to give his consent and his refusal to give it was in line with the official policy of the Church of England that clergy should not be in same sex marriages.

The second question that then arises about the bishop's decision is whether the policy of the Church of England that underlies it is itself correct.

There are two points to bear in mind here.

The first point is that there is clear apostolic teaching in the New Testament that the clergy need to be exemplary in terms of their marital relationships. In 1Timothy 3:2 and 12 we are told that bishops and deacons should be 'the husband of one wife' and the same criteria is laid down by Paul in Titus 1:6. What this means is that a member of the clergy should be someone who is married to one woman in a lifelong marriage and who is sexually faithful to her.' [7]

If we ask why Paul lays down this requirement, the answer, as Tom Wright notes, is because:

'Paul has grasped, following the words of Jesus in Mark 10 and elsewhere, that God's long-term plan, intended from the very beginning, was for faithful lifelong partnerships of one man and one woman. That is what Church leaders should model.' [8]

The second point is that in ruling out same-sex marriage for the clergy the Church of England is simply following this New Testament teaching. What the clergy are called to model is the God given pattern of marriage between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriages do not fit this pattern but are a man made alternative to it. Therefore, the clergy cannot enter into them.

Individuals such as Jayne Ozanne, and bodies such as the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, are, of course, free to argue that the Church of England should accept same-sex marriages. However, the insuperable problem with their argument is that, as Article XXXIV puts it, the limit to what the Church can rightly do is the requirement that 'nothing be ordained against God's Word.' Because in Scripture marriage as established by God is exclusively between one man and one woman, the acceptance of same-sex marriages breaks this limit and can never therefore be a legitimate thing for the Church to do. [9]

For the reasons just given, the policy of the Church of England which the Bishop of Hereford has followed is therefore correct.

A final argument against the Bishop of Hereford's decision is that it was cruel. However, this argument misunderstands what it means for an action to be cruel. To qualify as cruel an action has not only to cause distress but do so unnecessarily.[10] If the bishop had banned Tutu van Furth from attending the funeral or taking any part in it then, that would have been cruel because the distress caused would have been unnecessary since there would have been no good reason for either ban. By contrast, not consenting to PTO, although a cause of distress, was necessary for the reasons given above and therefore cannot be classified as cruel.

The bishop did what he had to do under the rules of the Church of England, and in line with the teaching of the New Testament, and the criticisms of his refusal of PTO to Tutu van Furth are therefore unjustified.


[1] 'Church of England bars Desmond Tutu's daughter from leading funeral.' the BBC, 22 September 2022, at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63003282.

[2] 'Church of England's homophobic cruelty risks making it a laughing stock,' The Guardian, 25 September 2022.

[3] 'Churlish and hurtful,' The Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England at https://cofe-equal marriage.org.uk/churlish-hurtful/.

[4] 'Applying for the Archbishop's Permission to Officiate' at ; https://www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance/legal-services/legal-opinions-and-other-guidance

[5] House of Bishops Policy on Granting Permission to Officiate, 6.7 at: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2018-07/House%20of%20Bishops%20Policy%20on%20PTO%20July%202018.pdf

[6] House of Bishops pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage 2014, at https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2017-11/House%20of%20Bishops%20Pastoral%20Guidance%20on%20Same%20Sex%20Marriage.pdf

[7] For this point see Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006), p.166.

[8] Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone -- The Pastoral Letters I and 2 Timothy and Titus (London: SPCK, 2003), p.30.

[9] For a comprehensive study of this point see Darrin Belousek, Marriage, Scripture, and the Church: Theological Discernment on the Question of Same-Sex Union (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021).

[10] For example, both athletic and military training may involve forms of physical and mental distress, but the distress involved does not meaning that the training was cruel unless it can be shown that the distress was unnecessary.

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