This is not a prediction - we offered that a year ago - it is a thought experiment - an opportunity to think through the consequences of one possible outcome of the LLF process.
We know that the plan is for General Synod to consider proposals from the College and House of Bishops, and that a clear direction of travel will be agreed, in February 2023.
What if… this was a summary of the bishops' response to Living in Love and Faith?
"Five years ago, as bishops of the Church of England, we set out to find “a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”[i]. After “long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature[ii]”, we recognise deep differences within the Church of England over matters of human sexuality. For many, “the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, [iii] " whilst in other parts of our community traditional teaching is “making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack” and “challenges their very existence.[iv]” “As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues,[v]”
The current doctrinal position of the Church of England on Holy Matrimony is found in Canon B30.
“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.[vi]”
We also recognise that “stable, faithful homosexual relationships can “embody crucial social virtues” of fidelity and mutuality,[vii]” and that one way that our culture acknowledges this is through civil partnerships and civil marriages.
These different relationships, while sharing some common elements, are not coterminous, so after careful study and legal advice, we are convinced there is no conflict with current doctrine or liturgy, if pastoral accommodation is made.
We, therefore, commend a Service of Prayer and Dedication after Civil Marriage/ Civil Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples, which clergy may use at their discretion under Canon B5. We would expect all clergy to be welcoming and pastorally sensitive to those who request such a service, but no member of the clergy will be compelled to offer this service, nor will they have to offer their church building. To avoid embarrassment, we suggest that churches are transparent about whether the service is offered – with a statement on websites and noticeboards.
We acknowledge that we are in a period of discernment within the Church of England, and the wider Anglican Communion, and are not convinced that intrusive questioning or threat of discipline is helpful in building healthy relationships.
We request that the Faith and Order Commission bring a report to General Synod in 2024, setting out the theological and practical issues raised by any future change to the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage.
We recognise that some clergy might seek extended episcopal oversight from bishops who share their theological conviction on this matter. We are committed to providing such arrangements using current suffragan bishops and the Next Steps group will be considering the details of how that might be arranged."
What if .... such a proposal was presented by the bishops and was accepted by a simple majority of General Synod in February 2023?
What effect would that have on you, your church and your community?
Could you live with the decision to ‘bless’ same-sex relationships?
Would an opt-out be sufficient for you/ the clergy who lead your church? Or would you want a clearer form of ‘differentiation’ such as a non-geographical diocese or separate province?
Would pushing the decision down to the parish level offer you freedom, or place you in the frontline?
If you are part of a team ministry, how might it affect relationships?
How would you respond to a future change in doctrine?
Anglican Futures is offering a number of on-line Ideas Exchanges to discuss these questions – we hope that you can join us.
Sign up for your free place at https://anglicanfutures.eventbrite.com
[i] https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-media/news-and-statements/letter-archbishops-canterbury-and-york-following-general-synod [ii] https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/speaking-writing/speeches/lambeth-call-human-dignity-read-archbishop-justins-remarks [iii] ibid. [iv] ibid. [v] ibid. [vi] https://www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance/legal-services/canons-church-england/section-b [vii] https://www.gloucester.anglican.org/content/pages/documents/1485513614.pdf