Living in Love and Faith: A Predicted Outcome (Oct 2021)

Anglican Futures predicts that the Church of England will allow the "blessing" of same-sex marriages by February 2023 - whatever the final results of the General Synod elections.

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The Living in Love and Faith resources were published in November 2020 and at the moment parishes, deaneries and dioceses, throughout the Church of England, are being encouraged to engage with the resources and feedback their responses to the bishops, who themselves are about to begin a series of ‘focused conversations’ to help them discern a way forward.

After all this talking and listening we are promised “a clear sense of direction about a way forward by November 2022,” [1]

That is only 13 months away.

If the experience of the Church in Wales teaches us nothing else, it is that we need to prepare for the possibility that the way forward is not one that faithful Anglicans will warm to. Of course, there could be a miracle. God may act in an extraordinary way – and we should certainly pray for such an outcome.

But Anglican Futures is about thinking ahead – in the light of the evidence we see today – so that we can inform our prayers and prepare effectively.

What Paths Could Be Taken?

Looking around the Anglican Communion there are a number of different paths to take:

1) Change canons to allow same-sex marriage.

The Episcopal Church (USA) 2015

Scottish Episcopal Church 2017

Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil 2018

2) Don’t change canons – but agree there is a diversity of understandings of existing canon and allow dioceses to offer same-sex marriage.

Anglican Church of Canada 2019 – (19 out of 30 have elected to do so)

3) Keep doctrine of marriage but accept ‘different views’ and allow churches/ clergy to offer blessings of same-sex relationships.

Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia 2018

Church in Wales (2021)

4) Maintain the status quo – orthodox doctrine, though in practice there are no boundaries for lay people, however involved they are in the ministry of the church; clergy, including bishops are free to campaign for a change in doctrine; and there is very little appetite for disciplining clergy who flaunt the rules.

5) Maintain orthodox doctrine and discipline.

Church of Uganda or Church of the Province of Myanmar, for example.

“But we are English” – What is the likely outcome here?

The evidence would suggest that the bishops are unlikely to promote the introduction of same-sex marriage in November 2022. Changing the marriage canon would be very controversial both in England and in the wider Anglican Communion, it would be a long process and there is always the risk of failure (and the associated bad press) if such a move did not pass through General Synod. This rules out both options 1 and 2.

The rejection of GS2055, (Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops – 2016), the ensuing decision of the Archbishops, “to deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church,” the LLF process itself, including the acceptance that the bishops are divided on the issue, would suggest that it is very unlikely that the bishops would put forward a more orthodox position or even will feel able to maintain the status quo. This rules out both options 4 and 5.

Which, leaves the bishops with option 3. Affirming the doctrine of marriage, while acknowledging the diversity of views and permitting, but not requiring, clergy to offer a service of prayer and dedication after the civil marriage/ partnership of two people of the same-sex (or at the very least making clear that those offering such a service would not be disciplined).

Why is such an outcome likely?

At the start of the Shared Conversations in 2014, the forerunner to the LLF process, David Porter, Chief of Staff and Strategy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said,

“It is my job to reconcile. I hope that 80% of the Church of England can find a place of compromise. Fracture will happen.”

By 2020, at the end of the Living in Love and Faith Book, the Bishops of the Church of England, again recognised the tension but committed themselves to promoting peace and unity.

“We feel the tension among ourselves between uniting the church in its differences and pressing for decisive decisions in contested areas about which each of us feels strongly. Nevertheless we are united as bishops in our commitment

to promote peace and to strive for the visible unity of the church.”

(LLF p423)

The desire to promote peace and strive for visible unity is clearly the priority.

So, we need to ask, how might the bishops chart a way forward which offers the most hope to the most people? And perhaps, having learned the hard way after the first women bishops measure was defeated, how might they offer a way forward without risking the defeat of another revisionist measure on the floor of General Synod?

How might such an outcome be achieved?

The legal advice at the end of GS2055 offered a way that the House of Bishops could offer something concrete to those who long to welcome and affirm same-sex relationships in the church. As with the request for new liturgy to welcome and affirm transgender people, this would be a compromise. But it would be the mark of something new – and, perhaps more importantly, it would not require General Synod to approve the decision.

The legal opinion stated that the House of Bishops could make no legislative change (and therefore not require General Synod to vote on the matter) and

i. make it clear to the clergy that it is not lawful for them to use a form of service which either explicitly or implicitly treats or recognises the civil marriage of two persons of the same sex as equivalent to holy matrimony, but

ii. explain that it would be lawful for the clergy to use a form of service which celebrated the relationship between two persons of the same sex provided that the form of service did not explicitly or implicitly treat or recognise their relationship as equivalent to holy matrimony.

The following suggestion is based on the timeline published in GS Misc 1284, updates from the Next Steps Group and the legal advice provided in GS2055.

November 2021: Inauguration of new General Synod

College of Bishops focused conversations – “Centred on Christ:

Conversations on the Way” begin.

February 2022: General Synod

Gift of the Church” presentation

Motion expressing desire to live out the unity we are given by God:

Unity is found in Christ, it is a gift of grace, witnessed by the bonds of

baptism, and made visible in our commitment to love and honour one

another despite our differences etc (simple majority vote)

April 2022: Deadline for responses to the Living Love and Faith materials

May 2022: House/College of Bishops Meeting:

Report on initial findings of LLF

Initial discernment and reflections on implications for decision-making

June 2021 College of Bishops focused conversations – “Centred on Christ:

Conversations on the Way” completed.

July 2022: General Synod:

Report on initial findings of LLF

Group work – engagement with implications for decision-making

A motion – which would:

  • Acknowledge cost of taking part in process;
  • Acknowledge the diversity of interpretation among Anglicans only reflects the difference of opinions found within the Anglican Communion;
  • Recognise that stable faithful relationships, other than holy matrimony, can embody the crucial social virtues of fidelity, mutuality and fruitfulness (language used by House of Bishops in GS2055);
  • Recognise it is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships (Church in Wales 2018)

August 2022: Lambeth Conference

No decision will have been made – which will make conversations with

all provinces easier.

September 2022 College of Bishops Meeting

Reflect on the views expressed by General Synod about implications

for decision making

November 2022 “a clear sense of direction about the way forward”

There is no need for a full General Synod Meeting in November.

Instead the House of Bishops could publish a statement or letter setting out the following points:

  • We have listened.
  • We uphold the doctrine of holy matrimony (Canon B30).
  • We recognise that other stable faithful relationships can embody the crucial social virtues of fidelity, mutuality and fruitfulness.
  • We recognise the diversity of views held by faithful Anglicans in the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion.
  • We do not believe that Holy Matrimony and civil marriage are equivalent.
  • We believe that celebrating relationships other than holy matrimony is neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.
  • We suggest publishing a temporary/ experimental form of service for prayers and dedication of stable faithful relationships other than holy matrimony for approval [by the Archbishops for the use of clergy in their Provinces (under Canon B4 (2))] or, [by each diocesan bishop for the use of clergy in their diocese (under Canon B4 (3)).]
  • We commit to ensuring that the conscience of all clergy and PCCs is honoured – therefore these prayers can only be used in church buildings where both the clergy and PCC have requested permission to use it.
  • We will invite a diverse group of lay people and clergy to join the Next Steps Group during the dates set aside for General Synod in November 2022 to discuss the detail of this way forward.

February 2023 – General Synod

The House of Bishops present their final report, which would have the agreement of the majority of those in the group they brought together to discuss the detail. This would include:

  • A teaching document – explaining why civil marriages and civil partnerships and not equivalent to Holy Matrimony.
  • A service for prayers and dedication after the marriage or civil partnership of two people of the same-sex or for a stable faithful relationship between two people of the same-sex.
  • The process by which this service will be approved and how churches/ clergy can opt in to using it in their churches.
  • The date by which this service will be available.

There would be no need for a vote on this report because the service is neither permanent nor does it change current doctrine or liturgy. The bishops introduced the service for “blessing” civil marriage after divorce in a similar way.

It is therefore very likely that in 16 months time faithful Anglicans in the Church of England will be facing the same dilemma as their brothers and sisters in Wales.

What must we do?

  1. Pray: This is first and foremost a spiritual issue. We need to pray alone and pray together. We need to pray for our own congregations, our bishops, our General Synod representatives.
  2. Prepare: We need to take this time to prepare our congregations theologically, pastorally and practically for the possible consequences of such an outcome.

Whether you agree or disagree with this prediction we would love to hear from you. Please email us or engage with us on our Facebook page.

This is an updated prediction based on the Report of the Anglican Futures Ideas Exchange on Living in Love and Faith The original report set LLF in its historic context and suggested that the House of Bishops would introduce an experimental liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions without a vote at General Synod. It can be downloaded here.

[1] https://www.churchofengland.org/media-and-news/press-releases/llf-next-steps-group-meeting-july-2021