Bishops of Gloucester back gay blessings as consonant with their understanding of Scripture

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On 17 January 2023, the Bishops in the Church of England met for the final time at the end of the Living in Love and Faith process as originally planned in 2017. The General Synod of the Church of England meets at the beginning of February (6-9) and will discuss the Bishops’ response, as agreed by a majority in the House of Bishops. Wednesday’s press release is here. It is important that this letter from both of us is read in the context of all this material.

Before we comment on our own personal views, we want to reiterate three things laid out in our letter in December 2022 which are paramount for us as we live the days ahead. (Our letters following the meetings of the College of Bishops in November and December 2022 can be found here.)

*Firstly, we want to reiterate our shame and sadness regarding the way those who identify as LGBTQI+ have too often experienced hostility and judgement within the Church rather than being cherished as members of the body of Christ with names and stories. As your bishops in this diocese, we are deeply sorry and repent of our part in that.

*Secondly, we are committed to being faithful to scripture, alongside tradition and reason, clear that the Bible is God’s living and active word speaking to us as we respond to the call to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation. As we dwell in God’s word, we rejoice in the truth that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth[1] and therefore we need not be fearful as we hold fast to our oneness in Christ in whom all things hold together[2]. We are required to faithfully abide in Christ and pay attention to the branches of the vine bearing fruit[3], and we pray for the Fruit of the Spirit[4] to evermore shape how we live as this cannot be separated from the what.

Of course, we recognise that across the spectrum of perspectives there are some people who believe that there is only one scriptural view regarding same-sex relationships, and we have heard and read what people have said and written. This relates to our third point.

*Our third ‘stake in the ground’ is our commitment to our consecration promise that with God’s help we will ‘promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and in the world’ and our promise to ‘strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church.’ This commitment to Christ’s call that we should be one[5] is not about bringing everyone to a place of agreement, but it is about ensuring that every individual and worshipping community across a range of theological views has an equal place in this diocese. It is important that communities and individuals, not least our lay and ordained leaders, can live and express different views as a matter of conscience, whilst always treating one another with love respect and humility[6]. As your bishops, we will ensure that our commitment is lived out in practice and is not mere words.

Having now reiterated these three important points and the ground they mark out, we are finally willing to say something about our own personal views. We have not done so until now because we have wanted to remain true to the process and timeline of Living in Love and Faith.

Both of us have longed for the Church of England to celebrate and bless faithful monogamous same-sex relationships, and we are thankful for the goodness and gifts such relationships continue to bring to the Church and wider society. Therefore, we are fully supportive of where we have reached at the end of this Living in Love and Faith process. Neither of us is pushing for a change in the doctrine of marriage, yet both of us are committed to continuing to listen, taking part in conversations and prayerfully reflecting over the coming months and years.

We recognise that we cannot fully convey the tone, nuances and richness of our discussions within a letter and therefore, in the coming days, we intend to record a short conversation which we will share with you. Furthermore, we look forward to engaging with individuals and groups who would like to discuss these issues further. We are glad that Gloucester Diocesan Synod will give some time to all this on 11 February, after the General Synod has met in London.

We are of course aware that there will be a range of reactions and responses to what is contained in the initial press release and what will be presented to General Synod, yet our strong hope and prayer is that you will acknowledge your initial reactions and then be committed to a slower prayerful and reflective response over the coming days, weeks and months.

This comes as ever with our prayers and our thanks for our partnership in the gospel.

Bishop Robert's signature

[1] John 16:13

[1] Colossians 1:15-19

[1] John 15:5

[1] Galatians 5: 22-23

[1] John 17:20-23

[1] Philippians 2:3-4

The bishops of the Church of England have also made a direct public apology to LGBTQI+ people for the way in which the Church has rejected or excluded them, admitting: “We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.”

The apology is set out in a pastoral letter which also recognises the diversity of views and proposes a way forward.