The Bishop of Oxford has called on the Church of England to allow clergy to bless and marry same-sex couples.
Rt Rev Steven Croft has published a 52-page essay entitled, Together in Love and Faith.
In it, he states the Church should now give freedom to local churches and clergy to offer public services of blessing for same-sex relationships and remove the legal barriers to the formalisation of same-sex marriage in the Church of England. He also said clergy should be able to marry their same-sex partner.
He told Premier the essay has been a long time in the making, as he’s spent more than a decade reflecting on same sex marriage and how the Church relates to it. He explained that his views on the issue gradually changed after listening to people in the LGBT+ community.
“So the listening first of all, has been to the deep pain and hurt of LGBT people across the Church,” he said.
“People feel sometimes rejected in in their very selves because of the Church's present response. So the fruits of our present understanding are not good for many people's lives, and that that's been particularly the case since the society has moved so far in accepting and affirming same sex relationships, and with particularly with the Same Sex Marriage Act in 2014”.
He also cited his friendships and work relationships with LGBT+ people as another factor in changing his stance on same sex marriage.
“I've been married to my wife for over 40 years, that relationship is one of the most precious gifts in my life. And when I see long-term, same-sex relationships, I see many similar qualities in terms of stability, and mutual love and support, and the context for the stable rearing of children. And all those things seem to be very good,” he said.
He added that theme of “God’s love for all people” and “God's acceptance of all people” in the scriptures has caused him to “reassess those small number of texts, which seem to prohibit same sex relationships, and to reassess those in the overall context”.
Bishop Steven acknowledged that the majority view in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion is that the Bible only allows marriage between a man and woman.
He said his desired change of clergy being allowed to marry gay couples should not infringe upon those who don’t agree. He proposed that some clergy and parishes may need the oversight of bishops in the Church of England who hold to the traditional view.
The bishop told Premier: “It’s not that we should be uncritical about adopting values from the culture, but we should discern very carefully in each case. I don't imagine that the whole Church is going to change instantly on this.
“We will continue to hold both traditional views and views in favour of change in the life of our Church for some time to come. But what I am seeking is greater freedom for those who do think there should be affirmation of same sex relationships to be able to put that into practice within the life of the Church of England.”
Bishop Steven’s essay has been well-received among some in the Church.
Jayne Ozanne, founder of the Janyne Ozanne Foundation, which works to end LGBT+ discrimination in the c=Church tweeted:” I've just been reduced to floods of uncontrollable tears. At last a full heartfelt apology for the pain so many of us have gone through - the trauma runs very deep.”
However, the bishop’s reflections has also been met with strong opposition.
Dr Ian Paul from the Church of England Evangelical Council told Premier: “I think Stephen says some very strange things about, firstly, the relationship between the Church and the world. He says that we are here to serve our culture, and we can't do that if we are at a moral distance from it. He says there is a disjunction that's opened up between the Church and society, which is a very strange thing to say with someone who said he's in the past being committed to evangelism, because evangelism is precisely calling people across that disjunction from one way of life and one set of values to another.”
Bishop Steven’s essay comes at a poignant time in the Church of England. The College of Bishops met this week and part of the talks were about the next steps of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) discernment process.
The LLF process consisted Anglican churches across the country discussing whether to allow same-sex marriage in the Church of England.
A recent report on the LLF consultation confirmed there’s a desire for the Church to be more inclusive in regards to same-sex marriage. However, it showed that there also those who believe allowing gay marriage in Church would be a departure from Biblical teaching.
There was a consensus though for the need for bishops to give clear leadership on the issue.
The bishops' will be brought to the February 2023 General Synod for decision-making.
Listen to Premier's interview with Bishop Steven Croft here: