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'I cannot believe it's inherently sinful': Bishop urges C of E to change teaching on same-sex marriage

by Heather Preston
Bishop John Inge Worcester thumb.png - Banner image
Diocese of Worcester

The Bishop of Worcester has written an open letter to his diocese detailing why he thinks same-sex unions should be celebrated by the Church.

It comes after a number Church of England bishops declared their support for same-sex marriage last November.

Rt Rev Dr John Inge has written an open letter to the Diocese of Worcester, setting out why he believes the "celebration and honouring of monogamous, faithful same-sex relationships" is a good witness and the Church of England's teaching on the issue should change.

Last year Bishop John confirmed his support for same-sex marriage in response to a booklet published by the bishop of Oxford entitled, 'Together in Love and Faith'. On Monday, he published a document to "set out his reasoning" for this support.

Bishop John argues that scriptures need to be re-examined in the light of modern culture and science.

"Most Christians […] would consider those who hold to creationism a gift to atheists and vocal agnostics like Richard Dawkins. Those of us who accept the theory of evolution and still hold to the scriptures as being the inspired Word of God ‘containing all things necessary unto salvation’, find in the passages in question truth at least as profound as literal historical fact," he states.

"Much has been made of the analogy between the present debate over same-sex relations and the grudging acceptance by the Church of England of contraception and marriage of divorcees in church, as well as the long battle for the acceptance of women’s ministry as priests and deacons."

Bishop John claims that whilst being "bound by the scriptures", the Church interprets them through the living "application of reason and experience" and as a result it has caused him to reassess his reading of them.

"Over the years I have observed good, faithful, monogamous relationships between people of the same sex which I cannot believe to be inherently sinful. Equally affectingly, I have been moved by the pain inflicted on gay people by the Church. That pain has remained constant even though society, in my view, has become more enlightened."

"I have been forced to ask myself the question, how is the Church’s teaching good news for gay people, created in God’s image? I feel bound to say, rather late in the day, that it is not."

Bishop John went on to apologise for his silence on the issue and all those impacted as a result, claiming his "reticence was motivated by a commitment to the unity of the Church”.

"I believe the time has come for all of us to be honest about the convictions we have reached after prayer, study of scripture and theological reflection, often over many years. My prayer is that such honesty might lead us into a deeper understanding of one another and so into a richer unity," he added.

He also shared his views on specific scriptures that condemn homosexuality saying their context needs to be considered.

"It must be admitted that wherever instances of same-sex sexual activity are found in the Bible they are unequivocally condemned but what I believe the Bible condemns is something that every gay person in the Church today would also condemn - abusive, oppressive, exploitative relationships.  The Bible never explains why same-sex sexual activity is condemned."

"When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he pinned nearly all that was wrong with Roman polytheism on the empire’s sexual morality. Paul had discovered a dif­­ferent kind of freedom.

"Nowadays, the slave economy has gone, at least as an official policy. In a liberal society, no one has the right to anyone else’s body.

"Christian freedom, based upon will, is now commonly ex­­pressed in the notion of consent. Love is the basis for sexual re­­lation­ships, not ownership. Cele­brating sexual love is now to witness to the freedom to be found in Christ."

Bishop John says he has great respect for those who hold traditional views towards marriage but asks them to be gracious as their views can come across as homophobic, regardless of the intention.

He concluded with a challenge to the Church of England to change it's teaching on the subject of same-sex unions for the sake of mission.

"Not to change our teaching would be a missional error of grave proportions," Bishop John added.

"I do not want to treat anyone who holds a traditional view lightly or carelessly. I reiterate they must continue to have an honoured place within the Church of England, as do those who are in conscience opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops. I hope and pray with all my heart that whatever our views on this issue we shall be able to disagree in love and continue to walk together."

Bishop John's letter comes ahead of General Synod in February 2023.



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