Oxford Clergywoman conducts celebration of same sex marriage – updated

May 23, 2016 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, 52, is an assistant priest at St Michael and All Angels Summertown in the Diocese of Oxford, and acts as the Bishop’s Advisor for Special Projects, including inter-faith initiatives. She is an Associate Faculty Member of the Theology Department at Oxford University, and has a long Oxford pedigree, having been previously on the staff of the University Church of St Mary’s.

On 7th May, according to reports in Cape Town’s City Press, she officiated at a same-sex marriage in South Africa. Oxford has a long standing relationship with the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa. Rev Bannister-Parker lived there for a while in 2008, helping the Church to develop its HIV/AIDS ministry.

Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, the daughter of Desmond Tutu who has long been an advocate for the Anglican Church to welcome fully same sex relationships and bless gay marriage, was ordained in the Episcopal Church USA and now works as the Executive Director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

Marceline van Furth is Professor of paediatric infectious diseases at Vrije University in the Netherlands, and “Desmond Tutu Chair of Diversity” which has been working with the Foundation on fundraising and special projects. The Foundation’s aims include the support of “Healthy intimate partner relationships… happy families and safe, flourishing communities.”

The two women were married  in a civil ceremony, in Holland, as reported in January. Like the Church of England, the Anglican Church in South Africa is deeply divided on the issue of Christian faith and human sexuality, and remains opposed to same sex marriage, although there is an ongoing conversation about the issue. The Archbishop of South Africa, Thabo Makgoba did not want to comment on the marriage in January, and accused Western media of “using African Christians as proxies in their own culture wars”. However at the time an Anglican insider was quoted as saying that even though Ms Tutu-van Furth was not ‘canonically resident’ in South Africa, the publicising of her marriage there would have implications for the church as she lives in Cape Town.

On 7th May the couple held a second church-style ‘wedding’ at Richard Branson’s wine estate in Franschhoek. The report says that Ms van Furth is an atheist and had to get “out of her comfort zone” by reading 1 Corinthians 13 during the ceremony. Both women have been previously married to men, and have children who were present at the occasion. They are not planning to live together. Revd Bannister-Parker was quoted as saying “this union is so special”.

Questions are now being asked about the participants in this story. A licensed clergywoman in the Church of England has conducted what looks very much like a same sex marriage or certainly a blessing of a civil marriage, even though it is in a different Province. Many clergy travel overseas to conduct the increasingly lavish weddings of their parishioners or relatives – when they do so, are they bound by the canons of the Church of England? Were Revd Bannister-Parker’s actions approved by her parish Rector and by the Diocese of Oxford, given the high profile nature of the ceremony? Is there any connection between the Tutu Foundation funds and the Diocese of Oxford’s “Special Projects”?

Currently the Diocese of Oxford is awaiting the arrival of a new Bishop after more than 18 months of vacancy. Despite the orthodox beliefs of acting Bishop Colin Fletcher (Suffragan of Dorchester), and his noble efforts in running the Diocese in addition to his own region, there have been plenty of opportunities for liberal activists to take advantage of his work load and temporary position. Oxford has become a centre for a campaign to change the Church’s understanding of sexuality and marriage, as evidenced by the recent high profile contributions of Alan Wilson, (Bishop of Buckingham), Martyn Percy (Dean of Christ Church), Jayne Ozanne, (Member of General Synod and regular media contributor), and the strong revisionist presence in the Oxford team at the Shared Conversations.

What message are being sent by this event? A same sex marriage reported in the media, celebrated by a clergywoman/academic from privileged North Oxford, gives the impression that the Diocese of Oxford and indeed the Church of England now blesses gay relationships, even if official spokesmen deny it (see below). This party in the Cape winelands held on an estate owned by a very rich and influential businessman, suggests that those with privileged positions and connections with the powerful can ride roughshod over the agreed teaching of the Church for two thousand years, and indeed the recent clear pronouncements of Anglican Primates after the January conference in Canterbury.

As someone who has served for several years in the townships of South Africa and an outer estate of low cost housing in the English midlands, I would question whether this public action will help the poor and marginalised of the world. For disadvantaged communities, loving, faithful marriage between a man and a woman is a major buttress and support against poverty, and the best environment to raise children in safety and security. With this Cape Town ceremony it appears that the church has instead been made complicit in undermining one of the major gifts of God to human flourishing.

Today the media reports that Revd Tutu-van Furth has resigned as a licenced priest in the Diocese of Cape Town, as the Province does not accept clergy in same sex marriages. Rev Bannister-Parker should do the decent thing and do the same, having acted in a manner contrary to her ordination vows where she promised to uphold the doctrines of the Church and abide by the teachings of Scripture.

Latest update: Anglican Mainstream has received this message from the Diocese of Oxford’s Communications Department:

I’d like to correct your report on the marriage of Mpho Tutu, please. Your report on Anglican Mainstream is simply factually inaccurate. I imagine it’s based on an equally inaccurate newspaper report from South Africa.

To be quite clear:

  1. The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker accepted the invitation of Mpho Tutu to lead a celebration of her marriage to Marceline van Furth in her capacity as a friend of the family.
  2. She did so with the permission of both the Bishop of Saldanha Bay, the Rt Revd Raphael Hess, and the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher.
  3. Contrary to some press reports, it should be made clear that the event was NOT a wedding, and nor was it a blessing of the couple. It was simply a celebration of a wedding that took place in the Netherlands in December last year.

Please would you make this clear in your article which is currently misleading.

Thank you. Kind regards, Sarah Meyrick
Diocesan Director of Communications

Readers may like to read the City Press article and look at the photo again, and decide for themselves what was happening on that day. We are also free to ask whether there will be similar ceremonies taking place in England soon, with equally strong denials from official spokesmen that they have anything to do with ‘weddings’ or ‘blessings’.

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