Somewhat under the radar, the Church of England has just completed one of the most significant General Synods in its recent history. After a knife-edge vote, the church’s governing body agreed this week to introduce, on a trial basis, standalone blessings for same-sex relationships in England. Very soon, Christian lesbian and gay couples will be able to commit themselves to each other in a church ceremony that validates and affirms the status of their love.
This breakthrough, after more than a decade of bitter, acrimonious debate, very nearly didn’t happen. Although a previous synod in February opened the way to same-sex blessings, conservative Anglicans appeared to have persuaded the House of Bishops to put back implementation to 2025. At that point, a two‑thirds majority across bishops, clergy and laity would have been required to begin the blessings – a threshold that would have been very difficult to achieve. It was only after a late intervention by the bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev Steven Croft, that the synod voted to circumvent the resistance campaign.
LGBTQ+ Anglicans understandably view this as a step in the right direction, rather than a great leap forwards. The “blessing” of a civil union is not the same as being married at the altar, and an “experimental period” is not the same as a permanent reform. Mired in toxic divisions over sexuality for far too long, England’s established church has become unsustainably detached from the far more tolerant views of the society it supposedly serves. By contrast, Methodist chapels moved to permit same-sex marriages in 2021, and the Anglican Church in Wales began offering blessings two years ago.
Nevertheless, the depth of conservative opposition testifies to the potentially transformative impact of this week’s synod vote. In supportive churches, LGBTQ+ Christian couples will be able to invite friends and family to services featuring bespoke liturgical elements and chosen hymns. There will no doubt be other rituals associated with a traditional marriage ceremony. No priest will be obliged to conduct a service, and dioceses will have to find ways to develop a modus operandi. But many members of the clergy will be glad to be finally given the chance to “opt in” to a more welcoming, expansive and loving church.
As these joyful occasions become part of the religious life of sympathetic parishes across the country, the possibility of a subsequent return to the status quo ante is remote. In previous years, the Church of England has changed its position on the remarriage of divorced people in church, the ordination of women and the appointment of female bishops. Each reform was fiercely opposed, but arguments based on the gospel message of inclusion and equality before God triumphed over those based on a narrow interpretation of scripture. There have been no significant moves to turn the clock back.
In a remarkable essay charting his own change of heart on same-sex relationships, Mr Croft has written that “the foundational trajectory of scripture is of recognising … dignity, worth and equality”. There is still a battle to be fought to achieve full recognition. But the decision to push ahead with blessings means that the bishop’s insight will finally, and belatedly, be applied to loving, committed partnerships between two people of the same sex. That is a cause for celebration.
Title: The Guardian view on the C of E and same-sex relationships: love finds a way | Editorial
Source: World news: Religion | guardian.co.uk
Source URL: https://www.theguardian.com/world/religion
Date: November 17, 2023 at 07:00PM
Feedly Board(s): Religion