Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

CoE bishop given permission to remarry after divorce

The chairman of Forward in Faith (UK), the Rt. Rev. Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, has been given permission by the Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury to remarry following his divorce to his wife.

The chairman of Forward in Faith (UK), the Rt. Rev. Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, has written to his clergy informing them that he has been given permission by the Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury to remarry following his divorce to his wife.

In a letter dated 22 Oct 2014, Bishop Baker states he intends to marry in the spring of next year. “The marriage will be a private civil ceremony, and this will be followed by a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of London, with prayers of dedication and thanksgiving” at the Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West.

I hope very much that you will understand that I have only reached this decision after a great deal of thought and prayer. I believe honestly that this is the best way of ordering my life and will provide a strong and stable future for me by the grace of God. I want to add just one or two things by way of context. While I have, of course, sought the permission of the Bishop of London as my Diocesan Bishop, I have also had discussions with the bishops of The Society, led by the Bishop of Pontefract, and he and they have been very supportive. I hope that those of you who exercise your right not to conduct further marriages in church can be reassured that that is a position I fully respect and understand, and that I will support you in continuing to adopt such a policy – and would defend and explain it to anyone who came to me for advice.

Earlier this year Bishop Baker generated controversy among conservatives by endorsing the majority position in the Pilling Report. He has also come under fire for the shifting editorial stance of the society’s magazine, New Directions.

Bishop Baker declined to respond to queries about his letter, citing the press of work. However as the “flying bishop” for traditionalist clergy in the Diocese of London, his proposed second marriage has raised concerns. Some Fulham clergy tell Anglican Ink that it they are at a loss to understand how the bishop dedicated to providing pastoral support for traditionalists can himself adopt a stance at odds with the position of most traditionalists — and at odds with the public position taken by Forward in Faith on divorce and remarriage.

While conventional wisdom ascribes the creation of the Church of England to Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, Henry was opposed to the new doctrines surrounding divorce and remarriage put forward by the Continental reformers. Henry’s four “divorces” were “annulments” granted by Archbishop Cranmer, which allowed the king to marry again. During the short reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI, divorce and remarriage were permitted, but the practice was stopped under the Catholic Queen Mary. Divorce and remarriage was illegal in civil and canon law under Queen Elizabeth, though a legal state of spousal separation was created, which nevertheless forbad remarriage while an estranged spouse was still living. However, the Rev. John Thornborough, Dean of York, was granted a separation and went on to marry a second time while his first life was still living. In 1592 he was appointed Bishop of Limerick over the objections of the Archbishop of York, Matthew Hutton, who charged the new bishop with bigamy. Bishop Thornborough was later translated to Worcester, dying in 1641.

The 1604 canons of the Church of England ruled out divorce and remarriage, though in 1670 divorce could be granted by a special act of Parliament. Until the law was abolished and divorce permitted under law in 1857, 300 civil divorces were granted by Parliament. In 1981 the widowed suffragan Bishop of Repton, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Verney was permitted to remain in office after he married a divorcee while serving as a bishop, and in 1997 the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt. Rev. Mark Santer, was granted a faculty by the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey to marry a divorcee. The first clergyman to remarry after divorce while serving as a bishop in the modern era was the suffragan Bishop of Hull, the Rt. Rev. Richard Frith. Consecrated as suffragan Bishop of Hull in the convocation of York in 1998, Bishop Frith was divorced the next year after his wife left him. In 2006 he married a second time with the permission of the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu. In July 2014 it was announced Bishop Frith would be translated to Hereford.

In 2002 the General Synod of the Church of England amended its canons allow divorcees to wed in church under exceptional circumstances. Those seeking ordination as deacons or priests who were divorced and remarried or married to a divorcee are required to obtain permission, a faculty, from their bishops prior to ordination. But until 2010 priests who had been divorced and remarried were blocked from the episcopate.At the May 2010 House of Bishops meeting, the bishops softened the prohibition, after being advised by the church’s lawyers that it was not unlawful for a divorced person to serve as a bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams supported relaxing the rules, while Dr. Sentamu was opposed. The issue arose in the popular press after a prominent London cleric who had married a divorced woman was said to have been blocked from consideration as Bishop of Southwark. The Rev. Nicholas Holtam was subsequently appointed Bishop of Salisbury after General Synod gave its endorsement to the bishop’s stance.

In its report to Synod on divorce, the bishops noted the issue was controversial and that the church was not of one mind. “The Church of England’s teaching is that it can be said of two living people that they were married and are no longer married. The Church of England recognises the sincerely held convictions of those who do not believe this because, on theological grounds, they hold that marriage is indissoluble. It also respects the convictions of those who, while not holding an indissolubilist view, believe that further marriage after divorce is not an option for those in ordained ministry.”

The national secretary of Forward in Faith at that time, the Rev. Geoffrey Kirk said its members believed that Scripture was clear in stating that divorce and remarriage were not permissible for Christians. He told the Sunday Telegraph: “The doctrine of matrimony is closely associated with ecclesiology and so it would seem utterly unacceptable that divorce and remarriage be part of the regimen of those who are called to represent and effect the unity of the Church.”

“Promoting divorced bishops is a far more serious matter than homosexual bishops because it is undermining one of the fundamental teachings of scripture.”

Fr. Kirk, who has since joined the Anglican Ordinariate stated: “Either Jesus said what he did about divorce and marriage or he didn’t. If you allow yourself not to take notice of this can you then allow yourself to take notice of anything else he taught?”

He told the Church of England Newspaper: “It is a further example of the ‘Sweden-isation’ of the Church of England. Just like the Church of Sweden we are becoming progressively liberal. The Church of Sweden is no longer a church and we will soon be like that.”

Divorce and remarriage in the Episcopal Church of the USA was permitted in 1973 when General Convention lifted the prohibition against remarriage in church during the lifetime of the estranged spouse. In 1808 General Convention recommended allowing clergy to solemnize the second marriage of divorcees if they were the injured party in a divorce caused by adultery. This exception was granted formal status by the canons of the church in 1873, and over the course of the century the canons were revised to allow bishops to grant a decree of nullity. A motion to forbid all divorcees from remarrying in the church was rejected by the 1904 General Convention. Divorced and remarried clergy were uncommon, however, until the late 1950’s. Bishop James Pike of California was one of the first divorced and remarried bishops in the Episcopal Church. In 2007 the General Convention gave its approval to the election of the Rev. Barry Beisner as Bishop of Northern California, after debating his suitability for office after having been twice divorced and thrice married.

N.b., this story has been updated since first released.


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