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‘I have a responsibility to ensure to the highest possible degree of Christ's unity’: Latest bishop to speak out on same sex marriage in CofE

by Sophie Drew
Christopher Chessun 1.jpg - Banner image

The Bishop of Southwark has shared his thoughts on same-sex marriage in an address to the diocesan synod, weeks after the Bishop of Oxford published a document giving his support.

Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, began by saying he ‘rejoices’ and ‘gives thanks for all God’s people,’ regardless of their sexual orientation.

However, he went on to offer his support for civil unions, recognised in law but not officiated by the church, and said same-sex unions and marriage were entirely different, according to theological doctrine.

He said: “I do not expect to see the marriage canons changed in my lifetime.

“I also said publicly before the Lambeth Conference that the Church of England has for a long time had a polity in which the Bishops in each and every Diocese encourage partnered gay and lesbian ordinands and clergy to consider civil partnership.

“We already respect the dignity of same-sex unions in this regard and we are not being honest with ourselves if we say otherwise.

“The civil law of the United Kingdom – and of other countries – has moved to legislate for same-sex marriage. Some have made the case for the Church to change the marriage canons.

“But I observe that it is theologically coherent to conceive of vocational and covenanted relationships as a category that includes marriage as one constituent and same-sex unions as another.

“It is inaccurate to say that marriage is the only form of covenanted relationship because it has long been the wisdom of the Church to bless those single people who see their life in terms of a covenant with God, whether they live that covenant in community or not.”

Mere weeks ago, the Bishop of Oxford published a 52-page booklet outlining his reasons for supporting changes to C of E rules, allowing same-sex couples to be married and blessed.

Clarifying his position on the subject, he said: “I support a generous pastoral provision that respects freedom of conscience by the provision of a liturgy of affirmation and commitment for same-sex couples and a conscience clause that means no priest is required to officiate at such a service.”

The Church of England is now on the last phase of its Living in Love and Faith process, an invitation to all churches to think about sexuality and gender identity in the church, while all committing to praying and listening to each other's convictions.

As the process comes to an end next year, the House Bishops has met to discuss the findings of the consultation. Bishop Christopher says there is no "will to kick a decision into the long grass".

But for him, whatever the House of Bishops recommends to the General Synod "there will be disappointment".

He continued: “In making my view clear, I am aware that some here will be disappointed that I advocate a proportionate change and others that I do not advocate a great change.

“I have a responsibility to ensure to the highest possible degree the unity which is Christ’s command to his Church. I also have a responsibility to ensure that the Church is safe for everyone – and at present it is not safe for those who are in same-sex unions.

“But we must also take care that we do not make the Church unsafe for those who in conscience cannot accept same-sex unions – making accommodations with mutual respect and forbearance is a defining characteristic of Anglican identity.”

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