So, the bishops of the SEC are against marriage. Living together is fine, even taking some kind of vow is fine, but actually marriage – that is not fine. Gobsmacked? I was.
Oh if you are straight, yes, then you can marry. But not if you are gay. You can live together, enter a Civil Partnership (so far, who knows what lies round the corner) but you cannot commit yourself to another person of your own gender solemnly before God and in church – and that is how the bishops want it. Unbelievable, isn’t it? They would rather their clergy and their laity lived together without marriage.
The bishops have just issued guidance, which you can find here. It begins innocently quietly enough with a warning to the clergy that if they give the impression they are conducting a marriage of two persons of the same gender at the present time, they will be acting against the laws of the land. It is true, largely because the bishops have chosen to have it so, but it is true. I must say I do not know any clergy who are unaware of this, and all the clergy I know who bless partners of the same gender make it plain that it is ‘just’ a blessing, so the warning appears to be unnecessary, but it is at least true. It is a statement of current fact.
Then it leaves the rails. It makes the jump to declaring it illegal under church law for clergy and lay readers to marry persons of their own gender. It makes a statement that nobody should be considered for recruitment to the ordination process who is considering same-sex marriage.
These two latter matters, the marriage of current and prospective clergy, have not at any point been considered by General Synod, and there can be no warrant, at all, for this step. It is, of course, true that the bishops can (in our system) behave an a totally autocratic manner, but one does ask oneself just how wise it is for them to do it. How far they are willing to alienate the younger members of their church, not just by espousing discriminatory views which are anathema to most younger people, but by governing in a way which, frankly, simply turns the stomach. It is so totally undemocratic as to be nauseating.
It goes on in much the same vein. For instance, it states, baldly, that none of the current marriage liturgies are suitable for the solemnising of marriages where both people are the same gender. Well, plainly there is one that is. This is really just a matter of fact. (Unless of course you feel that marriage between people of the same gender should be an apologetic affair with a good deal of misery and repentance as its key note). It also appears to try to shut down the blessing of CPs and marriages.
When I read the statement, my immediate reaction was to think of leaving the SEC. But I have been a member for a long time, and I am lucky enough to worship in a large, inclusive congregation which my grandchildren love. For now I stay. But be very sure that most normal people with normal views will be reluctant to be part of such an organisation as the bishops want.