The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil after its general assembly threw out a report on same-sex relationships in a rebuff to bishops following almost three years of intense internal discussion and intractable divisions.
The C of E’s synod, meeting in London this week, voted on Thursday to effectively reject the report, which upholds traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Although there was a clear overall majority in favour of “taking note” of the report, it needed the support of all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The clergy narrowly voted against, by 100 votes to 93, meaning the motion was lost.
The de facto rejection of the report is a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who pleaded with the synod to accept the report as “a basis for moving on, a good basis, a roadmap”.
Welby presides over the House of Bishops, which has met four times since internal discussion groups wound up last July to chart the way forward between two apparently unreconcilable wings of the church.
Responding to the vote, Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said: “I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”
He added: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”
Acknowledging that the next steps were unclear, Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, said: “In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce…. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to synod.”
The issue has dominated the current four-day session of the synod, and has been the subject of bitter debate within the C of E – and the global Anglican communion – for decades. At the moment, gay clergy are forbidden from marrying or having sexual relationships, and same-sex marriage services are prohibited in churches.
In a debate lasting more than two hours, about one in three members of the synod requested to speak from the packed floor of the auditorium. Many contributions included personal testimonies from gay people.
Jayne Ozanne of Oxford accused the bishops of putting “political expediency ahead of principle”. Fearing a split, they had “chosen not to lead but to manage”.
Simon Butler of Southwark, an openly gay member of synod, said that “only when fracture comes can new possibilities emerge”, and quoted Genesis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
Lucy Gorman of York told the synod that “outside these walls, we are being heard as lacking in love”. No wonder, she added, that fewer young people were coming to church. “Why would people become part of a church that is seemingly homophobic?”
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SOURCE: The Guardian – Harriet Sherwood