The Anglican Church is soon to lend its blessings to same-sex couples who are civilly married. With an eye towards bolstering its ‘inclusiveness’ through the measure, it could well jeopardize unity among its worldwide membership.
The Church’s ruling body passed the motion approving such blessings on Thursday, February 9th, at its General Synod. An eight-hour-long ‘landmark debate,’ spread over two days, preceded the decision.
A comfortable majority of the body’s 500 members (comprising bishops, lower clergy, and laity) voiced assent: 250 of them voted in favor, 181 against, while 10 abstained. Notably, among the bishops, opinion was considerably less divided, as 36 bishops voted for, only 4 against, with 2 abstentions.
In a joint statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said:
It has been a long road to get us to this point. For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly, and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church.
“The church continues to have deep differences on these questions which go to the heart of our human identity,” the archbishops continued. They said they are
committed to respecting the conscience of those for whom this goes too far and to ensure that they have all the reassurances they need in order to maintain the unity of the church as this conversation continues.
The motion had acknowledged the Church’s “failure” to welcome people who identify as homosexual, and acknowledged “the harm” that those people “have experienced, and continue to experience, in churches.” The synod also voted for a future review of a ban on clergy contracting same-sex civil marriages and one of a celibacy requirement for clergy in same-sex relationships.
While same-sex civil marriage has been legal in England and Wales since 2014, the Anglican Church has never changed its teaching on the issue.
The motion, therefore, constitutes somewhat of an uneasy compromise, as it tries to accommodate both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage.
Indeed, as reported by The Guardian, an amendment from the conservative side of the aisle, which would formally endorse marriage as only between a man and a woman was close to being approved.
Concurrently, those keen on redefining marriage proposed an amendment demanding a vote on recognizing same-sex unions as marriages within two years. By a slim 52% to 45% margin, the synod moved to reject this as well.
Negotiations on the matter of blessings for same-sex couples started six years ago. Over this and other doctrinal matters, the global 85-million-member community of the Anglican Church has seen much division and confusion. While in England, the denomination is known to be liberal on a myriad of issues, the same can not be said of other churches, such as those in Africa, where the Anglican Church has a strong presence.
Indeed, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, representing over 20 provinces of the Anglican Communion, said it “laments” the decision, arguing that it “goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.” It voiced skepticism of the claim that the doctrine [of not allowing same-sex marriage] had not changed, citing the principle that “Anglican liturgy expresses its doctrine”—otherwise known as the Christian motto ‘lex orandi, lex credendi.’
The statement went on to note that “The church cannot ‘bless’ in God’s name the union of same-sex partnered individuals, much less sexual relationships between same-sex persons which in God’s Word he declares to be sinful.” In view of the Archbishop of Canterbury voting in favor, the fellowship now questions “his fitness to lead what is still a largely orthodox worldwide Communion.” With great sadness, the group said “the Church of England has now joined those provinces with which communion is impaired.”
The Church of England Evangelical Council proved equally alarmed, characterizing the move as a “lose-lose” position that would appease neither progressives nor conservatives. In a statement, it said:
Those who wanted more change will continue to ask and push for greater change. Those of us who have been trying to uphold the historic and biblical understanding of marriage and singleness say change has gone too far. This decision has settled nothing and has only served to deepen divisions and cause deeper hurt.
“The Church of England now appears set on a course of action that rejects our historic and biblical understanding of sex and marriage, by departing from the apostolic faith we are called to uphold,” the council went on to say.