Bishop of Chelmsford calls for “prayers of thanksgiving” for same sex relationships
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream
In his Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday 11 March 2017, Bishop Stephen Cottrell has given one of the clearest indications yet of the next stage of major change in the Church of England’s approach to sexual ethics.
Referring to the Archbishops’ call for “a radical new Christian inclusion”, he says:
LGBTI+ people are welcome in the churches of the Chelmsford diocese… we want to listen to them and work with them so as to find appropriate ways of expressing their love – for it is not good for human beings to be alone – in permanent, faithful, stable relationships…there is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships – perhaps a Eucharist – cannot be offered.
Earlier he justifies his call for this change by referring to the “missiological damage” caused by the Church’s teaching on sex, and also that we need to “look again” at the Scriptures, “for what we know now is not what was known then”.
The Bishop recognizes the validity of the “principled objection” by those who “are remaining faithful to the church’s traditional and canonical understanding of marriage and human relationships”, and appears to genuinely believe, despite the Philip North fiasco (to which he refers), that two integrities can coexist peacefully within the Church of England.
A brief response.
- This is a further indication that Archbishop Justin Welby’s call for “radical inclusion” has given a green light for Diocesan Bishops to publicly express a preference for abandonment of more than 3000 years of Judaeo-Christian anthropology and sexual ethics. Chelmsford follows Manchester, Hereford, Portsmouth and Liverpool in recent weeks.
- Bishop Stephen’s call is the most explicit yet, and comes as part of his Charge to Synod, formal and authoritative, focused on his role as the focus of unity and guardian of apostolic teaching to which he refers at the start of his address.
- He expresses lack of confidence that Scripture’s teaching can be relied on today. These arguments are not new – in fact they are restatements of the old heresies which have been refuted over and over again – but they are, significantly, coming from the Bishop’s Chair.
- He says clearly that the church must change its message to fit in with what non-Christian culture believes and approves of. It is difficult to see how his role as guardian of a distinctive, counter-cultural apostolic truth has not thereby been forfeited.
- He devalues the sacrificial lifestyle of celibate singleness displayed by our Lord and many thousands of godly men and women down the ages. By taking “not good to live alone” out of context, he suggests that a sexual relationship is essential for happiness and even being fully human, ignoring the fact that loneliness can be experienced in cohabitation and marriage, and complete fulfillment can be found by single people living in relationship with Christ, in non-sexual relationships of love, friendship and community with others.
- He is sending a message to those holding to the traditional position, that while he apparently respects their position, they will not be allowed to block change any more. The implication is that if progress is not made towards celebrating same sex relationships in church, it is the conservatives who are not “listening”, and they are the ones responsible for continued conflict by not being willing to live with diversity.
[Charles Raven of Gafcon makes these comments:
1. Bishop Stephen says: “…let me be loud and clear on this issue: whether you believe there should be same sex marriage or the blessing of same sex unions or whether you do not, you are still a faithful Anglican.” Here we have a straightforward denial of Lambeth I.10. Same sex marriage is relegated to a secondary issue, and Cottrell appears to be giving this as principle of the Church of England, not as a personal view.
2. The Bishop continues: “I have my views and opinions, of course I do, but I am also ‘Father in God’ to all of you; and all clergy and licensed ministers make an oath of canonical obedience to me, regardless of disagreement on some issues.” This very direct statement flows from the logic of the first. There is no recognition here that SSM could be a first order issue of conscience. He is attempting to bind conscience and this tough line may be an indicator of real fear that post General Synod and Philip North, unity can only be maintained by force.]
It is now over to the orthodox clergy and laity in Chelmsford Diocese, first, to see what they will do. Some will be talking about looking for some form of differentiation, perhaps alternative oversight, whether informal or more visible. Some, especially laity, will be looking for another denomination. We hope that those who continue to recognize the Bishop’s spiritual authority and do nothing, will see the need to join others in taking principled action. This pattern will be repeated in other Dioceses in coming months.