Divisions over Christian essentials on view at Hereford synod

Vote for gay blessings congruent with Welby’s call for “radical inclusion” says Bishop Frith

The Bishop of Hereford has told the BBC his diocesan synod’s vote last week asking for rites for the blessing of gay couples was driven by pastoral necessity. However, the resolution which was adopted by a vote of  41 to 18, with four abstentions, saw senior members of the diocese divided on essentials of Christian doctrine and belief, with the Bishop of Hereford urging adoption, while the Bishop of Ludlow and Archdeacon of Hereford were adamant in their opposition.

Speaking on the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 on 22 Oct 2017, the Rt. Rev. Richard Frith said the decision was: “right and consistent with the approach which the Church of England is adopting in trying to be more welcoming to such couples, and we are wanting clear guidance as to what we may be able to do, without changing the doctrine.”

The Hereford vote follows upon the February 2017 statement by the House of Bishops following the defeat of a “take note” debate on a teaching document on homosexuality that sought a “fresh tone and culture of welcome” for gays and lesbians.  On 15 February 2017 the Archbishop of Canterbury released a statement after his defeat in synod calling for the “radical Christian inclusion” of gays and lesbians.

Sources present at the Hereford debate reported the proposer of the motion was given seven and a half minutes to lay out the case for adoption. Speakers were then allowed three and a half minutes each to respond, and Bishop Frith spoke at the end, offering his views.

Calls for adoption were couched in terms of social justice, pastoral need, and experience. “They love each other so why should we not bless them?” or “Look how many gay people help at services,” and “How can we not welcome them?”, were examples of arguments put forward by supporters, our source reported. Other speakers stated that same-sex attraction was innate and unchangeable, rejecting the work of the Core Issues Trust and others working in this field. Bishop Frith and others claimed the resolution was an example of Archbishop Welby’s “radical inclusion” in action.

Opponents of the resolution offered arguments from Scripture, doctrine and church order. The Rev. Ian Naylor the rural dean of Telford Severn Gorge observed that a “takeover” of the church was underway by activists seeking to impose the “gay agenda”. A partisan agenda was also at work, seeking to limit the choices for a new bishop in light of Bishop Frith’s anticipated retirement, by forcing the diocese to the hard left.

The Ven. George “Paddy” Benson, Archdeacon of Hereford acknowledged the concerns voiced by supporters but urged its defeat as being incongruent with Scripture and the teachings of the church. The Bishop of Ludlow, the Rt. Rev. Alistair Magowan, (pictured) spoke to God’s purposes in creation as revealed in the first two chapters of Genesis, noting that all people are disordered and can seek wholeness through Christ — not through affirmation of their brokenness. Other speakers opposed to the motion echoed these views arguing that the notion of taking up one’s cross or dying to self, was being rejected by those in favor of the resolution. However, the Bishop of Hereford rejected this argument stating that gay people were not disordered.

On 21 Oct 2017 the Church of England press office released a statement in response to the vote.

“We are aware of the resolution passed by Hereford Diocesan Synod calling for the General Synod to debate a motion on services of prayer and dedication for same-sex couples.

“The diocesan synod’s decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the Church.

“Under the Standing Orders of the General Synod, the motion will fall to be debated at the Synod at a time to be decided by its Business Committee.

“Clergy of the Church of England are unable to marry couples of the same sex and, under the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Same Sex Marriage, ‘services of blessing’ should not be provided for those who enter into civil partnerships or same-sex marriages.

“It is recognised, however, that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality and the House of Bishops has recently embarked on the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.

“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God.”

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