Getting it in writing

Mar 24, 2023 by

from Anglican Futures:

If Sarah Mullally told this week’s London Diocesan Synod that the “Prayers of Love and Faith” had not changed the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage once, she quite literally said it ten times.

And that was just in the written answers:

So, for example – in reply to question D(c),

“The doctrine of the Church of England on marriage as being a lifelong, faithful relationship between one man and one woman is unchanged.”

Or to question E(1.1),

“The prayers of Love and Faith… do not indicate any departure from the orthodox doctrines of the Church of England”.

And so on and so on.

Written answers matter – they allow a properly considered response to be placed on the record, with appropriate nuance and precision. The ambiguities frequently and unavoidably present in answers given extempore can be avoided in a concise, well-thought out piece of text.

So, all is clear – the Prayers of Love and Faith can be offered after a civil marriage, but they have no impact whatsoever on what the Church’s understanding of marriage has been up to this point.

Which makes this exchange in the same set of questions and answers rather interesting,

“I. From Jeremy Thomas to the Diocesan Registrar…

In view of the change to marriage law that prohibits from 27th Feb under 18’s getting married, can the proposed prayers be used for 16-18’s who feel themselves to be in a committed relationship?”

To which the answer came,

“No. The secular law has changed, largely in response to safeguarding concerns in respect of those under the age of 18, and it would be irresponsible for the Church of England to seek to undermine care for young people. A genuine committed relationship can be expected to stand a brief wait until the parties are both of an age to marry”.

So, the Prayers of Love and Faith do nothing to change the Church’s understanding of marriage, save that if the state changes the definition of marriage the use of the prayers must reflect that. Okay…

Of course, the chaste committed relationship of a holy sixteen year old boy and equally godly sixteen year old girl has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. They may just wish to show their commitment and ask for the Lord’s aid in their relationship before one moves away, or abroad. Perhaps, in the form of a ‘covenanted friendship,’ as proposed by the bishops themselves. So why the ban?

The only reason given is… safeguarding, which has nothing to do with such a relationship either. If anything this youthful relationship, might itself be a protective, even life-enhancing, blessing. So, again, why can’t this couple be blessed?

Clearly, the actual reason is because of the state’s position on marriage. So, it’s almost as if these prayers do after all impact the Church’s understanding of marriage, especially given the emphasis that getting married is what our hypothetical young couple have to do to have their relationship blessed two years down the line.

Incidentally, quite why two sensible teenagers have a mandatory two year qualifying period to prove the ‘commitment’ of their sexually abstinent relationship, when the local pair of serial adulterers, or anyone else does not, is anyone’s guess, but back to the Bishop of London.

Read here


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