Andrew Cornes

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Anthony Poggo, is being regrettably naïve in his criticism of the Global South Primates’ rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s spiritual leadership. He is claiming that the Church of England still has an orthodox doctrine of marriage, but he is not wise to the political game played by revisionist Bishops in the General Synod debate on same-sex blessings.

In his statement on Monday after the decision by the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) effectively to sack Justin Welby as the global spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Poggo highlighted a successful amendment in the Synod debate on February 8th and 9th to the measure introducing the blessings for same-sex couples. This has stipulated that the Prayers of Love and Faith, when they are published prior to the next Synod meeting in July, ‘should not be contrary or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England’.

Bishop Poggo was referring to the amendment moved by Canon Andrew Cornes, a member of the Synod’s House of clergy representing Chichester Diocese. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who has been the lead Bishop in the Living in Love and Faith process, fielded the amendments during the debate for the House of Bishops. Under Synod rules the Bishops had a veto on all the amendments moved during the eight-hour debate.

At the press conference at Lambeth Palace on January 20th, when Bishop Mullally, flanked by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, announced the CofE Bishops’ intention to introduce services of same-sex blessing, she claimed the CofE’s marriage doctrine was not being changed. So, the Cornes amendment did not pose any political problem for her.

It duly passed but significantly his second amendment did not. Canon Cornes, a retired conservative evangelical vicar, tried to insert a ‘call upon the House of Bishops, when further refining the Prayers of Love and Faith, to include instructions making it clear that they should not be used so as to indicate or imply affirmation of sexually active relationships outside Holy Matrimony or to invoke God’s blessings on such relationships’.

Bishop Mullally resisted that amendment as she did an earlier amendment moved by Sam Margrave, an orthodox lay member of Coventry, and she and her supporters did so for political reasons. They knew that any change to the CofE’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman would not get the necessary two-thirds majority in a Synod vote. But they were determined to unhook from the marriage doctrine the idea that sex is exclusively for heterosexual marriage in line with Bishop Mullally’s statement at the Lambeth Palace press conference that some of the LGBT people being blessed in the Prayers of Love and Faith would be in sexual relationships

In their behind-the-scenes manoeuvres before the debate, revisionist Bishops were reportedly very concerned about the ‘optics’ of certain amendments, particularly in the eyes of LGBT activists in Parliament and the secular media. The Margrave amendment deliberately kept the traditional definition of marriage and sexual exclusivity together so in sinking his, the Bishops were forced to torpedo both convictions at once.

But in moving two separate amendments, one affirming the CofE’s present doctrine of marriage, the other calling for heterosexually-married exclusivity in sexual relations, Canon Cornes arguably helped Bishop Mullally and company out of a political hole they had dug for themselves, caused by their resistance to the Margrave amendment in which they appeared to reject the doctrine of marriage they had earlier claimed was being retained.

That is why the Cornes amendment is a lame duck. The General Synod has now approved the blessing of sexually-active relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.

The GSFA has well understood the political significance of the revisionist Bishops’ determination in the Synod debate to decouple the traditional Christian sexual ethic from the CofE’s developing doctrine of marriage. Bishop Poggo unfortunately has not understood their Machiavellian tactics.