Wednesday 28 February 2024

Church of England’s divisions over same-sex marriage sink unity measure at General Synod

The Church of England closed its most recent meeting of General Synod still deeply divided over attempts at greater LGBTQ+ inclusion, with both sides unhappy with the pace of progress and unable to agree on proposed language for framing their future discussions.

LGBTQ+ Anglicans and their allies argued that the church should offer its newly approved blessings for same-sex couples as part of stand-alone services, while Anglicans who are opposed to same-sex marriage warned that they could not accept changes seen as altering the church’s traditional theological teachings on marriage.

The Feb. 23-27 meeting of General Synod, the Church of England’s primary governing body, had considered a proposal seeking a unified path forward based on 10 shared “commitments.” 

That resolution, however, failed even to make it to a vote, with synod members instead deciding through a procedural motion on the meeting’s final day to simply move on to other business.

Bishop of Leicester Martyn Snow, who as the lead bishop in the church’s Living in Love and Faith initiative introduced the commitment resolution, drew some hope from what he described as “the generous and gracious tone of the debate.” 

He and other church leaders pledged to continue the work of building bridges between the segments of the church that are divided over issues of human sexuality.

“I believe my brothers and sisters on synod would not have been here if they did not believe that some degree of communion is still possible,” Snow said. “That gives me great hope and great reassurance that we will find a way through this.”

Same-sex couples began receiving the blessings in December 2023 after the prayers were endorsed by General Synod as a culmination of the six-year Living in Love and Faith initiative. 

Parliament in 2013 legalized same-sex marriage in England, but couples still are not allowed to marry in Anglican churches there. 

The church’s prayers of thanksgiving and dedication for the couples can be included only in regular worship services, not in services arranged just for the couples.

This month’s General Synod was asked to review a range of options for a trial period for stand-alone services for blessing same-sex couples. 

With no agreement, those options remain up in the air, as do calls from LGBTQ+ clergy for assurances that they can marry their partners in civil services without it jeopardizing their ability to serve in the Church of England.

The 10 commitments proposed at this General Synod aimed at “cultivating unity as far as possible, enabling as many as possible to stay within the Church of England and equipping the church’s mission to the nation.” 

The text of the commitments emphasized a spirit of “reconciliation” between Anglicans on differing sides of the marriage issue. It also affirmed that the church “will not begin any discussions about same-sex marriage” in the next five years.

After the proposal failed to come to a vote, Snow acknowledged, “there is more work to be done to develop concrete proposals on really important questions we face, and a number of people thought it would not be helpful to proceed to a vote without those concrete proposals. I can see the logic in that.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby previously has said he will not personally bless same-sex couples, though his openness to greater LGBTQ+ inclusion has led to deep rifts with other interdependent, autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion that all have roots in the Church of England.

Some Anglican provinces, including The Episcopal Church, have gone further by allowing same-sex couples to marry in their churches, though this is still rare in most other provinces.

Conservative Anglican bishops, particularly those from provinces in the region known as the Global South, have strongly objected to the blessings. 

Because of these developments in the Church of England, they have said they no longer can accept Welby’s role as a historic “focus of unity” in the Anglican Communion.