Gay marriage tipping point for the CoE reached?

Dr Ian Paul calls upon the English bishops to end the current farce

The same-sex wedding, or wedding-like ceremony of two seminarians last week may have been the tipping point for the Church of England’s House of Bishops’ policies on partnered gay clergy.

Writing on his website Psephizo, the Rev. Dr. Ian Paul, a leading evangelical and member of the Archbishops’ Council has called upon the Church of England to ban same-sex unions for the clergy as the current compromise has become a farce. With Dr. Paul’s intervention, the House of Bishops may no longer be able to sustain a policy that is widely viewed as dishonest and hypocritical.

His article follows reports in the Sunday Times on 7 October 2018 of the wedding-like ceremony of two theological students. Edwin Wilton-Morgan and Taylor Wilton-Morgan, both ordinands at the Cambridge seminary Westcott House. Social media posts appeared to show the couple’s church service had all the hallmarks of a wedding and was described as one on Facebook, but in a statement given to the newspaper, the Wilton-Morgans said “the relationship descriptor used on our social media accounts was misguided.” They had entered into a same-sex civil partnership, they said.

In February 2017 Westcott House came under fire for allowing its students to hold a gay-slang version of evening prayer. One of the prayers used in the Christian worship service offered hosannas to the “Fantabulosa fairy” and ended: “Praise ye the Duchess. The Duchess’s name be praised.” Psalm 19 was reworded to refer to “O Duchess, my butchness”.

Notes attached to the service leaflet explained this had been “an attempt at queering the liturgy of evening prayer, locating the queer within the compass of faith, and recovering for the Christian tradition a sense of its own intrinsically subversive jouissance.”

The Wilton-Morgan nuptials and the disavowal that they were nuptials in the Times prompted charges of hypocrisy from conservative church leaders — and silence from the House of Bishops.

In his 9 October 2018 article entitled “Is the Bishops’ Policy on Civil Partnerships Sustainable?”, Dr. Paul outlined the history behind the current policy which he stated rests upon three principles.

1 A clear distinction in law and practice between Civil Partnerships and marriage; 2 A presumption of integrity of those who enter into Civil Partnerships, that they are indeed abiding by the teaching of the Church; and 3 A consistent application of this standard across the Church.

Dr. Paul argued “The loss of any one of these principles would undermine the coherence of current practice. But in fact each one of these is seriously compromised.”

Dr. Paul does not refer to the Westcott House seminarian case, citing examples and anecdotes from amongst the ordained members of the Church of England in his essay. He concluded there appear to him to be only three ways forward for the House of Bishops.

“[A]ccept and bless monogamous same-sex relationships. This might be what some hope the Pastoral Advisory Group would do, and it was also the hope behind the Hereford Diocesan Motion passed last year. But to do this would be to drive a coach and horses through any connection between pastoral practice and doctrine; it would short-circuit and so destroy all the other discussion; and I think it would face insuperable legal and liturgical obstacles because of its incoherence.”

“The second option would be to stay as we are. But, … this would surely be a decision to collude with ongoing dishonesty and damage; it would continue to lack credibility; and it would be ever more vulnerable to the ‘guerrilla’ actions of flags flying on cathedrals, ‘rainbow eucharists’ and non-marriage marriages.”

“The third option would be to revisit Issues and the other teaching documents, be honest about the impossibility of the differentiations made, and stay with the current teaching on marriage and sexuality until after the whole process of Living in Love and Faith concludes. It would be to extend the prohibition for clergy of same-sex marriage to Civil Partnerships given that they are now being identified as marriage in all but name. Of course, that is likely to enrage those seeking change in the Church’s teaching. But, given that we cannot have our Civil Partnership cake and eat it, is there any other responsible way to respond to the real concerns [raised]?”

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