C of E: Another senior bishop calls for change in sex and marriage doctrine

Nov 21, 2022 by

From Anglican Mainstream:

Bishop of Southwark calls for liturgical blessing of same sex relationships, and permission for clergy in such relationships to marry, but stops short of endorsing the solemnisation of same sex marriage in church.

In his Presidential Address to the Synod of Southwark Diocese, Bishop Christopher Chessun shared his views on the sexuality issue, saying that this was appropriate following the conclusion of the Living in Love and Faith process.

He began by outlining his achievements in promoting unity in the Diocese across a wide variety of “different traditions and perspectives”. The Diocese has made progress in demonstrating its commitment to anti-racism and climate action, as well as evangelistic mission initiatives.

Turning to “the area of sexuality”, he noted that the LLF process has not necessarily changed peoples’ minds, but has enabled people from different viewpoints to meet and listen in respect to one another. But now the Church needs to make a decision. The outcome will inevitably be disappointing to some, and will not go far enough for others, he said.

As one of the “principal ministers of word and sacrament” and “chief pastors”, the bishop has refrained from giving his personal view up till now, so as not to “stifle the work of the Holy Spirit”. But now, he feels it is time to speak, assuring those with all different views of his respect.

“I do not expect to see the marriage canons changed in my lifetime”, he concedes. The Diocese “respects the dignity of same sex unions”, and encourages “partnered gay and lesbian ordinands and clergy to consider civil partnership”. He does not refer to the current assumption that such relationships among clergy should be celibate – in fact he does not refer to sex or abstinence at all, perhaps assuming that such questions should not be asked any more. Instead, he calls for the “provision of a liturgy of affirmation and commitment for same-sex couples”, accepting that this is different from a marriage, but nevertheless a “covenanted relationship” which should be blessed and supported. Such services of blessing would have a conscience clause attached – “no priest is required to officiate at such a service.”

He does not attempt to argue theologically for this change, but says that the move would be “almost an exact parallel to that about the remarriage of divorcees a generation ago”, and currently the church is “not safe for those who are in same-sex unions.”

The full text of Bishop Chessun’s address can be found here [PDF] Presidential Address_Diocesan Synod_November 2022.

Anglican Mainstream comment: +Southwark has publicised his views two weeks after +Oxford. It may be that there is no planning to the timing. But it could be seen as part of a process in which bishops will now at regular intervals give a clear steer towards the acceptance, normalisation and liturgical celebration of same sex relationships in the Church of England. There will be many who feel that +Oxford went too far in endorsing a change in the understanding of marriage, but that +Southwark’s proposal is an acceptable compromise. Those in the Church of England who believe historic biblical teaching on sex and marriage, will need to decide whether such an innovation would “cross the line”, or whether it would enable all to stay in the Church of England in good conscience.

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