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Church of England
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Church of England
UK News

Q&A: Every word from the Church of England’s same-sex marriage press conference

by Premier Journalist

On Friday, the Church of England held a press conference to announce its plans for same-sex relationships in the church. 

While same-sex couples will not be allowed to marry in church, prayers for the dedication and blessing of the couple will be made available for priests to use. 

During the event, Archbishop Justin, Archbishop Stephen and Eeva Johns, coordinator of the Living in Love and Faith process, made an address. 

Here are all the questions asked by journalists during the press conference.

Reporter: Archbishop Justin has been commendably clear on the fact that he will not offer blessings himself personally. And has been very clear about the reasons for that. Archbishop Steven, you haven't said whether you will. Could you clarify that please? 

Archbishop of York: I will. I completely support and understand Archbishop Justin's position, but his position is different to mine. So that's what I imagine will happen. This is all stored to go through, but yes.

Reporter: With the teaching that Holy Matrimony remains between a man and a woman and the teaching has always been that, in a dual sense, gay people should remain celibate and that sex should take place within marriage. What is the position for the church now? People, gay Christians, have been asking: 'if we can have a civil marriage, come to church and have that relationship blessed, are we still expected by the church to remain celibate? Or is it now understood if the marriage is blessed, and sex should take place within the marriage, then gay couples are allowed to express themselves sexually as well?

Bishop of London: Thank you for your question. I recognise it's a question that many, many are proposing. I think that what we recognise is that within the College of Bishops, there will be a range of views that are held on that. What we're doing is proposing prayers for people as a stage of their relationship. And within that relationship, and we're specifically saying it is a faithful, lifelong relationship between two people. One thing I have learned through listening is that there is a whole range of ways in which people will express that relationship. Some will be sexual, some will not, some will be friendship, and some will be sexual. And so the prayers are there that can be offered. And I think that the way they will be used is there will be a range of ways in which they will be used in that. So there will be the opportunity for those people in a same-sex relationship to come and have that relationship blessed. And, of course, some of those will be sexual.

Reporter: You mentioned there was a range of views in the House of Bishops, just on that question, perhaps Archbishop Stephen, Bishop Sarah, can I just ask for your personal views? Do you think that gay sex in the context of a loving, committed lifelong relationship is a sin?

Archbishop of York: I think as Bishop Sarah has just said, as I imagine this going forward if people who have entered into a same-sex civil marriage come to the church seeking one of these services of love and faith in the same way that actually with heterosexual couples, who come seeking Holy Matrimony and one notices, they have the same address for instance when they fill in the forms, I don't ask them questions about it. I celebrate the fact that they are wanting to commit themselves in a stable, loving relationship. I believe the great gift of sexual and physical intimacy to be cherished belongs in stable, loving, committed relationships. And therefore, I will celebrate the fact that people are living that way and expressing their intimacy that way.

Reporter: Given the census figures on the decline of religious belief in this country, what do you say to those who would say that this is a pretty desperate attempt to appear more relevant to secular society while also in a way engaging with those who hold the Orthodox position on human sexuality?

Bishop of London: I think there's a lot that we need to learn from the data that we see both about declining and people identifying as religious as well as where we've seen decline within the church. I think that we have to take that seriously. Often, I recognise that is patchy. There are some churches that are growing, and that would be true with the London diocese holding its own if not growing, but I think that in London, I think that people may actually be more have they make a greater commitment now to be part of a church than they have previously, I sit, you know, I confirm huge numbers of people, huge numbers of people who want to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ. So actually, I think those figures we have to pay attention and look at. And also I think that people tend to be spiritual, although not always belong. So there's a real date, that I wouldn't underplay the need for us to reflect on them, but also to recognize where the where the church is in contact with people.

This has been a process where we have been as a church, listening to people's lived experiences, we have been reading Scripture, we have been very aware of our tradition. And in a sense, that is what we have been reflecting on, not necessarily the question of relevance to our society, that that isn't, of course, we are part of, you know, there is a church in every single community, we we are the established church. So therefore, part of our listening has been to those around us, but it's not about relevance, it has been about trying to discern what God is calling us to do. And I think we recognize that within the church, there is a diversity of view as with is, as there is within the College of bishops. And I think what we're saying is recognizing that diversity, this is our response that we're making to that, that living in love and faith. And I do think that one of the things for me about a first, I mean, there's always been difference in the College of bishops. But this is a first and probably say, well, actually, there is a difference. And actually, our risk, our response was over, it was overwhelmingly a majority to put this proposal, this proposal, this is our response forward. And therefore we are saying that with our divine diversity, we are seeking to walk in unity, which it isn't about forcing it, but about saying, with the grace of God, we will continue to do that. So yes.

Reporter: If I'm understanding this correctly, you're saying that sexual intimacy is now up to each couple to decide. Is that the case for gay priests as well? And what would you say to those who might argue that the role of the church is to have a clear doctrine stance on this issue and for its members to abide by it?

Bishop of London: What I do realise is that a lot of the questions that have been put to us, not from journalists, but from an individual, relate to questions that individual clergy will have. And I think one of the things that we had very clearly was that in terms of our pastoral response to the LGBTQI people who are clergy, is that we haven't done that well enough. And a lot of that discernment of vocation and where their role is has been shaped partially by issues in human sexuality, which was a book that was written, I think, probably 30 years ago, it wasn't written for that purpose. And so, therefore, we have clearly heard that that is not acceptable to continue on using that book.

There will be pastoral guidance that will be put in place, and therefore, the use of that book for that reason will stop when that happens. And I think one of one of my regrets is that I couldn't be sitting here today and saying these are the pastoral guidance. But that's not where we are, we would hope that certainly by the time the Synod met in July, there would be clear pastoral guidance in place, and part of the opportunity at Synod is also in the group work to listen to people's reflections about where the areas in which we want to focus on those guidance.

Archbishop of York: We agree that there needs to be clarity, moral, ethical, and doctrinal clarity. So we would agree. But obviously, what we are framing here, and what will be articulated more in the pastoral guidance, is where those boundaries are and how we are going to live faithfully within them. But yes, we do need to acknowledge there is a change today that we are acknowledging the goodness and faithfulness of same-sex, civil marriages and civil partnerships within the life of the church. And that opens up a number of questions for us, which the pastoral guidance, I suppose, will answer not all of them but will answer the really pressing ones.

Eeva John: Just to say, on this question of sexual intimacy in relation to marriage, although the canons of the Church of England don't say anything explicitly about that, it has been the teaching of the Church of England that marriage is the best place for sexual intimacy. And I think we do need to acknowledge that there is difference among the bishops and within the church about that. Some people would say that that absolutely stands, that that sexual intimacy is only good in a heterosexual marriage, Holy Matrimony. Whereas others would take a more generous stance. So it is something that we disagree about, but we're talking about it and I think that is hugely helpful and healthy. One of the things that we point out in the pastoral principles is the danger of silence, and having opened up this conversation is, I think, really important and really helpful.

Reporter: Archbishop of Canterbury, you referred to the Lambeth Conference and the joy of that. Do you think that you're self-denying ordinance will be enough to keep the Anglican Communion together, considering what the Global South Fellowship said at Lambeth about not being able to walk together with those who bless same-sex relationships?

Archbishop of Canterbury: The Lambeth conference was an extraordinary moment because, on the Tuesday of the Lambeth Conference, we discussed this at some length, knowing how deeply divided we were and knowing that there were very extensive groups outside the hall and outside the bishops who were using all kinds of ready quite unpleasant methods to try and get people to split and divide, offering money and things. And so it was a really remarkable moment. The afternoon ended with people of entirely opposite views embracing each other and spending the rest of that week in united prayer and agreement. It was a very remarkable thing.

We've been quite clear, and we were quite clear on that Tuesday, that there are widely different views that the vast majority of the Anglican Communion hold to the traditional view and since that point, I've been regularly in contact with the primates of the Anglican Communion in the 42 other provinces and visiting a number of them. Not to talk about this, but talking about it in the course of the visit, and we had a special primates meeting just before Christmas. I've been in touch, just before the press release was issued, and the response has been predictable but muted and generous.

I can't predict the future. I don't know what the response will be to my self-denying ordinance. I'm not doing it in order to hold the community together. I'm doing it because I think it's right. And I'd add that to what Sarah and Stephen said, No, this is not a desperate effort to reverse the decline in the Church of England, that didn't come up in the discussions. We did it, not out of expedience, because we think it's right. And I would add when you see the press in the way they're written and thought about, that they fall very clearly, within to lapse into technical language, what is described as Lambeth 1.10 1998, which has about six paragraphs or five paragraphs I can never quite remember. And there's one which you mentioned, which says we can't bless same-sex marriages. And this seeks to bless people and that's really important. And there are other paragraphs that say we cannot exhibit homophobia. Very, very clearly, that bit is usually forgotten and very often ignored. And we've had some, I've had some very public disagreements with primates of the Global South who have ignored the latter part as well as the former part. So will it hold? I don't know. I'm hopeful, I pray it will because I believe that it is emphatically Jesus's prayer and command that the church holds together through its disagreements. And failure to do that is to go straight against the prayer and command of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Reporter: How can the church offer God's blessing on something which, because of doctrine, it says it can't recognise or accept? And what would you say to couples who think that it's pointless to look for a blessing from a church that doesn't actually really want to marry them?

Bishop of London: I want to start with the second one because I actually think this has been a significant change here and that for the church to be able to offer prayers of blessings that somebody who wants their partnership blessed in church, this is will be possible. But of course, we've also said they are voluntary and therefore, it may well be that not every church will offer them. But that is still the position around the marriage of those that are divorced in church. Not every church offers that. And therefore, I think that if a couple were to approach a church that were not offering the prayers in the same way as that happens now, that they would be generously welcomed and actually helped along the way to find the church nearest that could offer it. And I think also going back to a point that ever made that my expectation is that if this is a couple that would also like to celebrate, they want God's blessing on them. It's about celebrating their faithful relationship, recognising that they want to do that with God involved. And therefore, I sort of hope that these are couples that are also involved in the local church. So they already have a relationship with the church. And I think that's the real opportunity. So therefore, I would hope that they would explore that conversation because this is really the first time that they will be able to do that.

Reporter: At the start of this week, MPs from across the political spectrum publicly expressed their hopes that the Church of England would endorse same-sex marriage. And many of them added that the established status of the church could be up for discussion if the church did not do so. Do you think that what has been announced today will placate those MPs? Or is that an ongoing concern? 

Archbishop of Canterbury: I think it's a question for parliament. I think you'll have to ask them. We are in constant touch with parliamentarians with all sorts of views I don't think I've got a valuable answer to them. It's not intended to placate them. It is not intended to placate them, that had no influence at all. This is not an expedient point. It is a point that we felt was right. And I remember, like Stephen, his face and name came to my mind just as you were asking the question, of someone who was a very strong member of the Church, where I was many years ago, very many years ago, when I was a parish priest. 

He was single. And I suppose some years after I left, when he came out as gay wasn't a huge surprise. But the next thing I heard was that the pressure of living with the church's attitude had led to his suicide. I still mourn him. And I wish he was here today because I think he would be able to feel that perhaps it wasn't everything you wanted, but it said that he wasn't a lesser. What we've done and are doing and will go on doing says he's not less he's not excluded, and he's not unloved. He's not unwanted. But he's as much a valuable, loved, saved member of God's people because he's put his trust and life in the hands of Jesus Christ as any other person who has done that.

So I'm, in a sense, like, Steven, I'm really pleased that we've done what we've done, and I just wish that certain people could be here today and know about it. Thank you.

 

 

 

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