Church of England softens up parishioners for marriage change

Jan 16, 2020 by

by Julian Mann:

The Church of England is preparing the ground to change the definition of marriage enshrined in its 1662 Book of Common Prayer as exclusively between one man and one woman. The Church’s Pastoral Advisory Group, which ‘supports and advises dioceses on pastoral responses to issues that arise concerning LGBTI+ clergy and lay people’, is pursuing a campaign to soften up parishioners for the impending change.

Members of the group, which include the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, and the historian, Helen Berry, are now promoting ‘pastoral principles’ designed to overcome grass-roots resistance to the CofE hierarchy’s ‘good disagreement’ and ‘radical inclusion’ strategy over sexual morality. This approach aims to persuade parishioners that the issue of whether Christians are allowed in the will of God to have sex outside heterosexual marriage is a secondary one which they can legitimately disagree on.

The six principles ‘for living well together’, as outlined in a new video presented by group members, ‘invite church communities to examine afresh their life together, seeing our many differences as gifts that can build us up in trust and mutual affection’.

The principles are: ‘Acknowledge prejudice’; ‘Speak into silence’; ‘Address ignorance’; ‘Cast out fear’; ‘Admit hypocrisy’; and ‘Pay attention to power’. ‘Using them’, the group claims. ‘could be transformative for your church community and for the church as a whole’.

The video features Ed Shaw, a CofE clergyman in Bristol, who speaks of his ‘same-sex attraction’ and says that he is ‘celibate’. On the same video Helen Berry mentions her ‘wife’.

She says: ‘I’m actually an LGBT person and there are people who have points of disagreement, in relation to their theological position, and so we’ve had to find a way of working respectfully with one another.’

Declaring that he has ‘really enjoyed’ being on the Pastoral Advisory Group, Ed Shaw commends the principles for discussion at parochial church council meetings, in small groups and church youth groups.

This timing of this Marxist-style re-education programme for parishioners is significant. Five-yearly elections to the Church of England’s governing body, its General Synod, are due to take place later this year.

The Synod, with new members committed to the change and those with their reservations softened up by initial assurances that no parish church will be required to host a same-sex wedding, could agree to revolutionise the established Church’s understanding of marriage in the next five years.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, the joining together of one man and one woman in ‘holy Matrimony’ is ‘an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’.

Read also:

[…]  What can be seen from this and the rest of the document [LLF Pastoral Principles] is that these so-called Principles are not easy to understand – they appear to be speaking in code, using language about analysis of power structures, the promotion of diversity and inclusion mixed with recognizably Christian themes. On the surface some of this is uncontroversial (eg a call to love and respect one another), but it assumes the primacy of the unity of the Church despite major differences on theology, ethics and lifestyles. In fact such differences must be celebrated as a “gift”.


On closer reading, this pastoral guidance appears slanted towards an implication that conservative Christians are prone to prejudice, creating a culture of fear and silence, excluding those who differ from the norm, putting up barriers between people. For me, the way this has been done is highly manipulative. It raises the question whether, however carefully and lovingly the historic, bible-based teachings of the church about sex and marriage are presented, they will be seen to contravene these Principles.


(from Pressure on Orthodox Christian Views politely and gently increased in Nation and Church by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream, February 2019)


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