Saturday 7 July 2012

Questions & Answers (& more Questions)

Every session of General Synod contains an Agenda item called “Questions” in which ordinary members of Synod can table questions.  These Questions are a little like Parliamentary Questions which MP’s can table in the House of Commons.  In parliament, the relevant Government Minister must stand up and answer the question.  In General Synod, it is the relevant Bishop, Archbishop or Chair of the relevant committee.

And last night the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had their work cut out as question after question was tabled about the recent Church of England response on same-sex Marriage.
'Who was the author?  Synod members wanted to know.  Who saw it?  What was the membership of the group who finalised it?  Who voted on it and by what authority was it submitted as “the view of the Church of England”?  Who can truly claim to speak for the ‘Church of England’ on an area where there is such diversity of opinion?  Why was Synod not consulted?  Why are the votes of the House of Bishops not recorded and published?

To be fair, the Archbishop of Canterbury took it on the chin.  He tried to be helpful, and took the final responsibility with the Archbishop of York for signing off the response before it went to the Government.
As a result of the Archbishop's answers, we now know that the response was drafted by ‘staff’ at Church House in Westminster and presented to the Archbishops Council and House of Bishops in May.  The basis for the response was Canon B30 which says:

 The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do us part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.  

Suggestions were made and the House of Bishops “agreed the general shape of the response, considered a number of detailed suggestions … and invited the Archbishops to finalise the draft.”
But the answers only raised more questions…

A key question is who were the mysterious and anonymous ‘staff’ who drafted the response?  This is significant because we know of staff at Church of House who are sympathetic to the aspirations of same-sex couples, and we know of staff who are definitely not!  Without knowing which members of staff were tasked to write the response, we cannot know if it the group or individual was balanced, neutral or partisan.
Other questions followed from members of Synod…

If Canon B30 was the basis for opposing same-sex marriage, how is it that the Church of England can embrace the many church members (and indeed members of Synod) who have not lived up to its rigorous ideals of life-long union to the exclusion of all others?  Many marriages are not permanent and lifelong, but the Church does not exclude or oppose 2nd, 3rd or further marriages after divorce. 
If marriage is for the procreation of children, what about couples who cannot or do not want to have children?  The Archbishops answer appeared to stretch Conon B30 to breaking point when he responded that “The Church of England has never regarded the validity or value of marriage as dependent on the possibility or intention of having children.”

What consideration was given to the pastoral impact of issuing such an unequivocal rejection of the possibility of same-sex marriage, as many same-sex couples (including many Church members) woke up on the 11th June to find their hopes and aspirations crushed?  The response was non-committal.
Were there any plans to revisit and review Canon B30?  “No” was the clear and definite answer.

Is the House of Bishops aware of the level of dismay and discontent the response had produced among faithful Anglicans?  “One cannot be anything but aware of this” the Archbishop said in response.
Last night was very revealing as Synod members probed the response which had been made in their name, but as often happens, the answers raised more questions than they answered.  At the end of the day, 4 key questions remain:

1.      Who were the ‘staff’ authors of the draft response and what personal perspectives did they bring to the task before them?

2.      If the Church is able and willing to recognise divorce and participate in remarriage without contravening Canon B30 insistence that the  nature” of marriage is “permanent and lifelong”, why is the church not also able to consider recognising and (perhaps one day) participating in marriage of same-sex couples?

3.      If “the Church of England has never regarded the value or validity of marriage to be dependent on the possibility or intention of having children”, how is it that opponents of same-sex marriage can hold up the issue of procreation as a reason why gay people can’t get married?

4.      Given the coach and horses which these answers drive through the Church’s definition of marriage, why are there no plans to revisit and review Canon B30?

This is an issue which won’t just go away…


  1. Indeed, the issue simply isn't going away. I think the question I would have like to ask is when ++Rowan so radically changed his views on this issue, and why...

    1. From a meeting with ++Rowan which I attended about 3 years ago, I am clear that he has not changed his views. He repeatedly made a distiction between himself as an individual and the office of Archbishop which had been entrusted to him.

      I believe that he has been living in the impossible tension between his own convictions and his responsibilities ever since he was appointed to the 'Chair of St Augustine' (as he himself expressed it).

      It will be interesting to see what happens when he steps down later this year.