Marriage Debate Erupts in Church of England as Bishops Campaign for Change

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The Church of England’s long-running internal strife over the question of same-sex marriage has boiled over as a number of bishops made the choice to issue public statements following their most recent meeting. The bishops had met as part of the “Living in Love and Faith” process which appears to have satisfied very few of those involved in the debate.

Following their meeting this week the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, has published a 52 page essay “Together in Love and Faith“. The Church Times has published an extract.

Croft’s argument is not novel, even though it is the most significant such statement by a Church of England bishop. Its timing demonstrates that revisionists in the English House of Bishop no longer consider that there is any need for restraint. The matter will be brought before the General Synod in 2023.

Like many before him, Croft argues that not changing would leave the church “out of step” with society:

We, therefore, now have a profound dislocation between the Church of England — the established Church, aiming to serve the whole of our society — and the society we are called to serve.

This dislocation is about more than an attitude to some forms of partnership or sexual expression, it is a fundamental disagreement about justice and fairness: we are seen to inhabit a different moral universe.

The next decade seems to me to be a cultural crossroads for Church and society, and the Church of England’s own response to the question of same-sex partnerships and marriage is critical. There may still be time (just) for the fissure that has opened up to be healed, or at least for the healing to begin. But if we delay further, I fear that the consequences for the future mission and life of the Church, for our relationship with the nation, and for the future course of the Christian faith in this country, will be severe.

Extend goods of marriage to all. Steven Croft. Church Times

There have been a number of significant responses already to Croft. Ian Paul writes and doesn’t hold back:

I found so many bizarre claims in what Steven has written—and there are more that I have not commented on. His approach appears to be completely at odds with the processes that were agreed in the Church and by the bishops; he repeatedly makes quite implausible claims; he appears to be entirely out of touch with key areas of debate in relation to psychology, culture, and the biblical witness; and he offers the most peculiar interpretation of the relation of the Church to the world.

But, following the article title, I need to ask one final question: what is Steven Croft thinking?

The Church has long been facing a decline in attendance, which is rapidly coming to a crisis point in many dioceses. At the same time, these dioceses were also already facing acute financial pressures, which were then exacerbated by Covid. In response to the missional challenges, there has been proposed from the ‘centre’ a rethinking of the Church’s focus and activities, and this has faced stiff opposition from many quarters for a variety of reasons. Clergy have been increasingly feeling under pressure. And both churches and dioceses are now facing stern challenges with the cost of living increases, including energy prices. At the same time, on a wider scale, the Anglican Communion appears to be in its dying days as a meaningful fellowship.

Into this context, Steven now wants to bring division and disunity. This will have a direct impact on confidence, on mission and growth, and on finance. It feels as if the good ship Church of England is running on one engine, listing to port, holed at or below the waterline—and Captain Croft wants to grab the helm and steer her onto the rocks.

Lord have mercy.

Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbes Church in Oxford, has also published a lengthy response through Latimer Press [pdf download]. Roberts is himself same-sex attracted and has been a respected voice for orthodoxy in the Church of England and Beyond.

Roberts first dissects Croft’s argument and then turns to consider what the future might look like.

Many would feel the need for much more radical differentiation if the Church’s official position was to change. If any believe that the numbers involved would be small, they should learn from what has happened in other provinces of the Anglican Communion, which have already acted to bless same-sex unions.

Some seem to have the naive belief that, in the event of revisionist change, almost all clergy in parishes would accept it, without the need for any radical disruption, even if they personally did not participate. A look across the Atlantic at The Episcopal Church in America should make us think again. In the last few years, as they have made moves to bless gay unions, they have lost 100,000 members, many hundreds of clergy have left or been deposed, and vast sums have been spent in litigation over the ownership of buildings. The cost, of course, has been far more than just financial, and has had an horrific emotional, spiritual and missional impact. I have long feared that we are sleep-walking towards a similar disaster here. We need to learn from the experience of other provinces in the Communion (which is the focus of the video from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) ‘Learning from Elsewhere’) and urgently seek to find a better way.

The underlying tensions in the Church of England have now clearly been brought fully out into the open. Whether the House of Bishops agreed to this significant change in approach is not yet clear. What is now obvious, however, is that the dam has burst and Croft will surely not be the last. But will conservative bishops in the Church of England speak clearly? And what of Welby? He sought to hold a fractured Lambeth Conference together and failed, being rebuked by bishops representing the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. Now his quest for “unity” has to face a deep division in the Church of England which looks like it will continue to plummet in relevance and numbers like every other western province before it that embraces (as Croft puts it) “a different moral universe”.

image: Steve Croft, Diocese of Oxford

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Leighton

    While all those well-meaning but misguided church leaders are attempting to support and justify SSM with nice-sounding headings like “Together in love and faith”, they repeatedly avoid addressing the most fundamental issue.
    Billy Graham always ‘hit the nail on the head’ in his preaching when he so often stated: “The Bible says . . .” (But also note, he never said:”the church teaches . . . .”)
    I lay this challenge to all those church leaders trying to justify SSM for whatever reason – what does the Bible say about homosexual acts? Further, please show me anywhere in the Bible where God blesses (or even endorses) SSM, or homosexual acts?
    Only where church leaders preach what “the Bible says” will God’s Church grow again.

    1. Andrew

      They’ll fudge the issue, probably. They’re likely to say something about Jesus never said anything against homosexuality.

      You hinted at it not being rocket science. It surely isn’t.

  2. Colin Cooper

    Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the Law many times calling them blind and hypocrites (Matt 23). I wonder what he would say today to those Bishops who teach and do things which contradict the bible?

  3. Paul Nolan

    A split Church of England, in England, is inevitable as is the case with the Episcopal Church in America & the ACA here. The only winners are the anti organised-religion mob in all its guises, the Marxist-Leninist mob (sigh) and the faithful, but necessarily breakaway groups, such as Gafcon.

  4. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

    In the midst of this debate, it’s interesting to consider what has happened with some of the advocates of homosexual acceptance within the church. The Sydney Morning Herald recently had an interview with the 88 year old Uniting Church minister Dorothy McRae-McMahon. McMahon had been an early advocate of homosexual acceptance within the church, and was homosexual herself.

    With only a short time left for her to meet the Lord, the SMH summarised some of her thinking thus:

    McRae-McMahon is not concerned that the last census showed the percentage of Australians who identify as Christian has continued to decline to the point where it is almost matched by “no religion”.

    “None of my family go to church and that doesn’t worry me at all,” she says.

    “I don’t worry about what people believe. I worry about who they are. And if they’re people of kindness and justice and respect and add to life in all sorts of ways, well, who knows what’s true?

    “If you believe in God and are a person of faith, you can’t prove that that’s true. That’s your decision about what’s true and to live from that.”

    In short, she doesn’t care about Christianity or the Christian church at all. She might as well be agnostic. A tragically ironic end to her life as a Christian “minister”.

  5. Anthony Douglas

    The huge irony in the section you quote from Croft is that, were these words to come from a totally orthodox leader, they would be eminently true. Or at least, optimistically true. The church should indeed occupy a completely different moral universe (kingdom of light vs kingdom of darkness). Now if only the C of E determined that yes, it was right to stick to the gospel…well, then there’s a chance of ‘healing that fissure’ by bringing the unbelievers to Christ. Then the title ‘Together in Love and Faith’ would actually be meaningfully true.
    Well, we can dream, can’t we?

  6. Elisabeth Holland

    As someone who is an Australian who lived in England for nearly 20 years and was a member of the C of E, this announcement from the bishop of Oxford is deeply troubling. Why does he not leave the C of E if he wants to espouse different doctrines than the ones he received? What did he promise to be a guardian of?
    I can only imagine the confusion for ordinary people, the distress and dismay for those truly understand what this signifies, but at the same time the “delight” or probably better “schadenfreude,” in other circles. This is the face of division that will echo down through history.
    I find myself thinking of Psalm 1 – it talks about fruit, but it is the fruit of the tree drinking the water of delighting in God’s Word and its plain commands, rather than stepping out those who oppose God and his ways, who choose the company of mockers and who in the end are like the chaff which the wind drives away. We can rejoice that God watches over those who trust in him, even in the darkest days.
    Come Lord Jesus.
    Psalm 1
    1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
    2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.

    3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

    4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

    5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

    6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

    Elisabeth Scott Holland

    1. Robert Bruce

      Elisabeth, you have said it. The face of division will flow down through history.

      The “ordinary” Anglicans will be distressed and dismayed. How could they be otherwise, when their bishop is preaching doctrines that conflict with what he has stood for in the past?

      Satan must be rubbing his hands together in glee.

      The Lord Jesus must be weeping as He did over Jerusalem.

  7. JPRankin

    The Bishop of Oxford and indeed many other Bishops who have followed him, I believe feel that can do make this statement now because Archbishop Welby opened the door for them. He did this at Lambeth 2022 when he recognized that the two views on marriage are equally valid and both based on study of scripture. If this is true for the Communion as a whole then logically it should be true for the CoE.
    The impression I was left with is that for the Bishop of Oxford worships the CoE and not our Lord. The problem then becomes how to have a vibrant church. The solution is the church is they are out of step with society and as such it cannot serve everyone, therefore, the church must become like the society but kinder and gentler. A place where universal affirmation is given to the people. But this is not the Bible, Christ’s Word we are told is like a doubled edged sword. If I want to worship society then church becomes irrelevant. We as Christians are not called to be conformed by society, but by God! One wonders if those like the bishop, truly believes in the whole message of God, or pick and choose the parts they like. To do this is to worship the god of this world. To do this does not lead to salvation and eternal life with God. To do this is to break their ordination vows.

  8. Robert Bruce

    What a strange life l’ve led.

    In 52 years as a medical practitioner, l’ve seen homosexuality go from an illness (which l’ve treated, successfully) to a valid life choice protected from criticism.

    I’ve also seen (some) Anglican bishops go from respected servants of the Word to liberal apostates, leading the charge against the teachings of Jesus, and actively encouraging others to follow them into the lake of fire.

    Have these apostates never read 1 Corinthians 6, verse 9?

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