Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Magazine Article: Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships report

This is the article I wrote for the magazine about the House of Bishops report on marriage and sexuality. Since then, the report has been debated, and the Synod voted not to 'take note' of it, which means there is now a commitment to do more work on the issue.

Dear Friends

As I write this, the General Synod of the Church of England will be holding a ‘take note’ debate about the House of Bishops report called ‘Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’, known as GS2055.

Questions around sexuality and marriage, and the church’s official stance on homosexual relationships has been headline material since at least the 1980s. In 1991, the Issues in Human Sexuality report1 stated that sexual relations were only appropriate within heterosexual marriage, yet the church should welcome and value LGBT people. It was accused of double standards, as it was more tolerant of gay relationships amongst the laity than the clergy. However, when the law changed to allow people of the same gender to enter civil partnerships, and subsequently to marry, new questions faced the Church, including:
  • Would marriage of same-sex couples be allowed in church?
  • Would there be any official provision for blessing/dedicating civil partnerships or civil marriages of same-sex couples?
  • Would clergy be allowed to enter civil partnerships or marry a partner of the same gender?
When the law changed, it remained illegal for the Church of England to carry out such ceremonies, and clergy are not allowed by the Bishops to bless marriages of same-sex couples2. We are allowed to pray with them, but no official prayers are provided. Gay clergy are allowed to enter civil partnerships, as long as they comply with the church’s teaching, but have been disciplined for marrying their partner, as it is seen by the Bishops as undermining the church’s teaching on marriage.

For the last 2 years, ‘Shared Conversations’ brought people together from all viewpoints, to enable open and honest discussion of faith, marriage and sexuality. It was hoped that a new way forward might emerge. The latest report has been prepared for the Synod from those conversations.

In the event, GS2055 restated the 1991 line on sexual ethics and marriage. It asked for a gentler tone in how these issues are discussed, and suggested clarification on what prayers clergy may use with couples. Criticisms of the report are that it says a lot about how difficult this issue is for the bishops, yet it doesn’t seem to say as much about the experiences and struggles of LGBT people in the church. It could be stronger on acknowledging the presence and contribution of LGBT members of the Body of Christ. As some have noted, it refers to welcoming them, but they don’t need welcoming into something they are already part of. This suggests there is still ‘us and them’ thinking in the group who write the report.

3 questions come out of this for me:
  1. Have we studied the questions, scriptures and discussions around these questions?
  2. Have we listened to Christians who identify as LGBT, currently struggling with these issues?
  3. How do we live together peaceably in fellowship when questions like this divide us?

May God give us humility and openness as we continue to learn together.

Mike Peatman


1.Issues In Human Sexuality. A Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England. December 1991. Church House Publishing. Chapter 5 can be downloaded here.
2. The House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage can be viewed by following this link. Sections 12, 19-21 and 27 of the Appendix are particularly relevant.