A same-sex attracted CofE leader has told Premier that the House of Bishop's statement and process on same-sex blessings has left many "painfully" crying for clarity about where the church stands on issues of sexuality.
The Church of England’s House of Bishops says it has "agreed in principle that prayers asking for God’s blessing for same-sex couples – known as Prayers of Love and Faith – should be commended for use".
The House, which met in London, also concluded that structures for special services for same-sex couples, based on Prayers of Love and Faith, should go forward to be formally authorised under canon law.
The bishops will bring proposals to General Synod next month which will pave the way for a process that would lead to the authorisation of these special services.
Ed Shaw, Director of Living Out, a network seeking to support same-sex Christians live for Christ, explained to Premier that the bishops are attempting to establish a new category of marriage, a move which he says will mostly confuse members of the church.
"So we've now got this category of holy matrimony, which is what the Church of England is saying it recognises as marriage, which they're saying, continues to be the lifelong union of a man or woman. But there's also other categories of marriage, which they think are open to same-sex couples. And one of the things they're trying to say is that these can be blessed by a Church of England minister while not being recognised as holy matrimony.
"So people will be listening, thinking, 'Oh, my goodness, I never realised there was this distinction before'. It's quite a new distinction for the Church of England to make. And there's really big questions about theologically, legally, pastorally, whether that distinction works at all, let alone whether anybody on the street would ever make any sense of what they're saying."
The bishops say the process is expected to take until 2025, and would involve consultation with every diocese and require approval by General Synod.
The Church of England says the bishops gave serious consideration to an alternative legal process which could have "enabled special services to be authorised almost immediately - but temporarily".
Shaw, who's the pastor of Emmanuel City Centre church in Bristol, says the CofE's communications currently leave same-sex attracted Christians, on both sides of the debate, in a horribly uncertain position spiritually.
"As somebody who's a Christian, who happens to be gay, what I most want from the church is just some loving pastoral clarity on whether or not I can get married to another man, whether or not that relationship could be a sexual relationship or not. I've fashioned my life around the Church's teaching up to this point, which is that for someone like me who's gay, (I'm called to) to live a single life and to flourish as a single person, as Jesus did.
"And there's been a wonderful clarity for me in the Church of England, that (being single as a gay Christian) is good for me and good for society. That is now being undermined, with just incredible ambiguity as to whether or not that is still what the Church of England is teaching. And that's painful, really painful for me.
"But obviously, on the other side, it's really painful if you are a gay Christian who wants to get married in church to your same sex partner, as many friends of mine do, brothers and sisters in Christ do, they've got a total lack of clarity as to when that will be possible, or if that will ever be possible.
Proposals for the Prayers of Love and Faith were discussed in a historic debate at the General Synod in February of this year. Synod called on the bishops to work on Pastoral Guidance and other arrangements needed to implement that decision.
The Church of England says the proposals will be discussed in detail at a meeting of General Synod in London on November 13 to 15.
Shaw claims the whole process has been one of promises and delay.
"We were promised back in February that we'd get pastoral guidance, particularly on what will be possible for ministers in the church, whether that's lay ministers are ordained ministers.
"We're told that would happen in July, (and then) in November.
"What I'm sort of picking out is that this won't happen in November. And there are a lot of people who are hanging on with the Church of England begging for clarity, begging for loving, kind, Christian clarity from the House of Bishops and a moment we don't seem to be getting that, which is sad for everybody, particularly sexual minorities, that settlement."
Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, who co-chaired the steering group which has brought the proposals forward, acknowledged "there are some who would like this process to move faster," while insisting that "the move to full authorisation will provide clarity and wide consultation ahead of a final decision by synod in 2025.
“I know that for some, these measures go too far and, for others, not nearly far enough and the bishops discussed the need for pastoral reassurance, and for some the need for formal structural pastoral provision.
“But the heart of the gospel is reconciliation – our desire is to remain together as one Church in our uncertainty, finding ways to live well with our different perspectives and convictions.”
Evangelical LGBTQ+ campaigner Jayne Ozanne called on X for "a vote of No Confidence" in the church's leadership, accusing the bishops of not implementing the wishes of Synod.
"The bishops are doing all they can to obfuscate & delay, proving yet again that the church does not really truly want to welcome LGBTQ+ people. Synod made a clear decision in February, which is not being respected."
Whilst Revd Canon John Dunnett, National Director of the CofE Evangelical Council, described the statement as "deeply concerning", claiming it does not transparently convey the bishop's "intent on pushing full steam ahead toward something that is contrary to both Scripture and the historic and apostolic teaching of the Church of England."
“The press statement from the Church of England is slippery, at best, on several central matters and can be read in a number of ways. I am concerned that the House of Bishops might be pulling the wool over the eyes of the General Synod by planning to introduce changes through the pastoral guidance after November that are tantamount to doctrinal hand grenades.
“More than ever, we are convinced that the only way ahead for the Church of England is to pursue a settlement for differentiation that protects and provides a safe space for those on both sides of the debate.”