Yesterday, at General Synod, the following motion was passed:
That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:
(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;
(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;
(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;
(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;
(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;
(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;
(g) endorse the decision of the College and the House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.
People are thinking about whether it is now all over.
To answer that that question it is important to look at what Synod didn’t, or couldn’t, support.
The fact there were 28 tabled amendments suggests that the clergy and laity were far from content with the House of Bishops' proposal. Most were proposed by the more orthodox members of General Synod.
Some sought to ensure that the doctrine of marriage was upheld in deed as well as word, such as those:
Affirming that “there is only one truth on issues of human sexuality which is rooted in Canon A5 and sets forth that sexual acts and relations outside of the framework provided for within Canon B30 is sinful.”
Welcoming “the reaffirmation by the College of Bishops of Canon B30 that “marriage is a union permanent and lifelong of one man with one woman” and reaffirms that “sexual intercourse as an expression of faithful intimacy belongs within marriage exclusively.”
Calling “upon the House of Bishops, when further refining Prayers of Love and Faith, to include instructions making it clear that they should not be used so as to indicate or imply affirmation of sexually active relationships outside Holy Matrimony or to invoke God’s blessing on such relationships.”
Others tried to find ways for General Synod to hold the Bishops to account for their actions by:
Inviting “the College and House of Bishops to offer a full theological rationale for the proposed Prayers of Love and Faith, grounded in the Scriptures and the formularies of the Church, and which engages with the previous statements made by the House on the nature of marriage.”
“…bringing the refined version back to this Synod as liturgical business for approval pursuant to Canon B2.” and “bringing back a second draft of the Prayers for this Synod’s scrutiny prior to commending and issuing them.”
Asking that General Synod to be able to make a final decision in July Synod before the House of Bishops take forward their recommendations.
Requesting “the Secretary General of the Synod to consult personally the Primate of each Province of the Anglican Communion about the potential impact of the proposals in GS 2289 on its relationship to the Church of England, the life of the Province and the effectiveness of their mission, and report on the outcome of those consultations for consideration by this synod before the prayers are commended.”
Yet others looked ahead to the practical implications of the change by:
Expecting the Pastoral Guidance to be “consonant with the doctrine of the Church of England and the responsibility of its ministers to order their lives according to the same”
Restricting the use of the prayers to “those churches where both the incumbent so desires and the PCC votes in favour of their use.”
Significantly, all these amendments failed to gain sufficient support from those voting.
Synod only accepted one orthodox amendment which added paragraph (g) above - but in reality that merely underlined what the Bishops had already proposed.
It is fair to say that the more dramatically “progressive” amendments, including two advocating the introduction of equal marriage, also failed to gain sufficient support.
While it would be good to end on that note, there was a sting in the tail.
Not only can the bishops now commend the new prayers without the future approval of Synod but the Bishop of London also said that the Pastoral Guidance will be brought back only for “Group Work” in July, allegedly so that more voices can be heard and we know how that works out.
Stepping back, perhaps the most worrying element of all was the breakdown of the voting. At almost every stage, a call for the General Synod to vote in 'houses' was accepted - meaning that the votes of the bishops, clergy and laity were counted separately and there needed to be a majority in all three 'houses'.
The detail of the amendments can be found here and the table below sets out what happened in each case:
It can be seen that the Bishops, who had brought the motion to Synod in the first place, then used their votes to resist, it might be said to veto, any attempt to amend it. The sole exception was that one amendment, in paragraph (g), that made no substantial change to their original proposal but offered reassurance to a few floating voters.
In this way the Bishops used their power both to defeat the amendments and drive the motion through. When, during the debate, lay member Mr Stephen Hofmeyr raised the question of whether the bishops were taking advantage of their positional power, there was a spontaneous and sustained round of applause.
And so it seems, if nothing else, what is over is any effective further synodical scrutiny and trust in the House of Bishops.
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