A “canon of gender neutral marriage” for the Church of England?


General Synod of the Church of EnglandChurch of England

What are the chances that Bishop Paul Bayes will get his “canon of non-sexist marriage” through the new General Synod after the October elections? The change Bishop Bayes is asking for is drastic because the current teaching of CofE as expressed in Canon B30, of the holy marriage, is crystal clear about the heterosexual nature of marriage. It is also clear that the expression of sexual love should be limited to marriage:

“The Church of England affirms, according to the teaching of our Lord, that marriage is by nature a permanent union and for life, for better or for worse, until death do part them, of a man with a woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and education of children, for the holiness and good direction of natural instincts and affections, and for mutual society , the help and comfort that one must have of the other, both in prosperity and in adversity. “

A major change such as changing the CofE’s historic teaching on marriage would require a two-thirds majority in each of the three chambers that make up its governing body.

There is the Chamber of Bishops with 42 unelected diocesan bishops and 9 suffragants or zone bishops elected by their peers (there are 73 suffragents who help diocesans in their episcopal duties, somewhat in the relationship of a parish priest to a vicar. ); the House of the Clergy has 191 members elected by their confreres of the clergy in each diocese; and the Maison des Laïcs, 205 strong, is elected by the members of the synods of local deaneries, of which there are several in each diocese.

The current synod should have ended its five-year term in 2020 but the elections have been postponed until this year due to the Covid crisis.

If the elections result in more revisionists arriving at the Synod, it is possible that a change of this magnitude could gain a majority in each of the three Chambers by 2026. But among bishops and laity, it could well not getting the necessary two-thirds. More than two-thirds of the clergy would likely vote for change because their House tends to be the most clearly revisionist of the three in synod votes.

As a “necessary but not sufficient first step” towards its canon of non-sexist marriage, the Bayes Bishops want “to see freedom of conscience for ministers of the Church and local leaders to honor, recognize and, yes in. effect, to bless homosexual unions, whether they are civil partnerships or civil marriages ”.

Perhaps in the next five years there will be some rigging in the form of episcopal leadership under which the clergy can adapt the existing liturgy to bless same-sex couples in their churches? In 2018, the House of Bishops produced a “pastoral guidance” under which the clergy could use the “Affirmation of Baptismal Faith” liturgy to “welcome transgender people”. There is therefore a precedent for innovating through the liturgical backdoor.

But that’s not enough for Bishop Bayes and the politically correct activists of the Anglican Support Movement for an Inclusive Church (MoSAIC) at Saturday’s national conference, where he launched his call for a marriage. non sexist. They want full equality for LGBT people in CofE through a doctrinal change resulting in legally permitted marriage services for same-sex couples.

In the vote for women bishops in 2012, the Houses of Bishops and Clergy supported the change by a two-thirds majority. There was a majority in the Maison des Laïcs but it was just below the required threshold and therefore the measure fell. But it was adopted two years later, in 2014. This is because lay members who voted against it in 2012 were convinced that there were legal provisions for churches and clergy who could not in conscience accept the rule. ministry of women bishops.

The change desired by Bishop Bayes is more problematic for the revisionists to pass the Synod than the measure of women bishops. Bishops are likely to be more nervous because of the strength of sentiment among conservative members of the CofE for whom this is a top-notch doctrinal issue.

But the problem for conservative Anglicans, especially Evangelicals, is that the makeup of the synod does not reflect the size of their churches. The vicar of a large evangelical conservative or charismatic church with several hundred members has the same vote for a representative of the House of the clergy as the vicar with a congregation of 25. The evangelical vicar of a large church may have three or four vicars on its team with one vote, but an average diocese usually has no more than two or three of these churches. So there is little they can do to shake the Liberal majority in the House of Clergy.

The problem is similar for the Maison des Laïcs. Each church parish council (PCC) of a local CofE church has two or three lay members who are elected as representatives of the deanery of the synod. These are the people who have the right to vote in elections to the General Synod.

A large church can have three deanery synod members due to the size of its CCP, but every church, regardless of size, receives two. This means that the small number of large evangelical churches in an average diocese cannot weigh with the weight of the size of their congregation, which does not suit conservative opponents of politically correct pressure on the CofE.

So even though Bishop Bayes and his supporters might not be successful with their canon of gender-neutral marriage in the new synod, they might get what they want after 2026. It would be made possible by more awakened people of the generation. Z (those born after 1997) elected and new bishops ordained priests for the first time in the 2000s.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Morecambe, Lancashire.

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