‘Churlish and hurtful’

Desmond Tutu’s daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth – also an Anglican priest – was prevented from taking her godfather’s funeral service in church because she is married to her wife Marceline.

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) was a beacon of Christian faith and hope in his native South Africa and throughout the world. He delighted in the God-given variety and inclusivity of God’s people – not only bringing together those of different colours and races, whom he called “the rainbow people of God”, but also those of different sexualities. He spoke prophetically and clearly against homophobia, and was entirely supportive of his daughter Mpho, an Anglican priest, when in 2015 she married her same-sex partner Marceline van Furth.

Martin Kenyon was the first person in the UK to receive the Covid vaccine.

In April 2022 Mpho Tutu van Furth’s 92-year-old godfather, Martin Kenyon, a long-term friend of Desmond Tutu, asked her to preside at his funeral. In mid-September Mr Kenyon died, and the funeral service was to take place at St Michael and All Angels, Wentnor, in Hereford diocese. That is, until the Bishop of Hereford, Richard Jackson (a conservative evangelical), intervened to prevent it on the grounds that Mpho was married to another woman. The diocese said that its actions were “in line with the House of Bishops’ current guidance on same-sex marriage”.

Fortunately the funeral could be moved to a marquee in the grounds of the former vicarage next door, where Mpho could preside free of the bishop’s jurisdiction.

This sad affair has been reported in the national media:

It is astonishing that any Christian, let alone a Church of England bishop, should think it to be right to bar a priest from taking the funeral of her godfather, whatever her marital status.

This is pharisaical legalism of the worst kind. Comments from family and friends include:

  • “People are appalled at what has happened. It’s unchristian and unjust.” (a family friend)
  • “To plead that things are difficult is not good enough … We urgently need to make space for conscience, space for pastoral care, and space for love.” (Paul Bayes, retired Bishop of Liverpool)
  • “That she can’t do something out of love for her godfather and for the family just because of the same-sex marriage … that’s something that upsets me.” (Mpho’s wife Marceline)
  • “It’s incredibly sad. It feels like a bureaucratic response with maybe a lack of compassion. It seemed really churlish and hurtful. But as sad as that was, there was the joy of having a celebration of a person who could throw open the door to people who are sometimes excluded.” (Mpho Tutu van Furth herself)

What can one say?

It is, of course, a PR disaster for the Church of England – the headlines say “Church of England bars …”, even though this was a diocesan action, not a national one. It will confirm (if confirmation were needed) the general view that the Church is homophobic.

More importantly, it is a sign and symptom of the deep spiritual malaise of the Church. Jesus said “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42) Why can’t some church leaders see that these incisive words are a challenge to them?

And alas it is typical of the hurtful discrimination that the Church metes out to its priests who dare to marry the person they love, if it’s someone of the same sex. An immediate end to such cruel mistreatment is one of the demands of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England.

See also the reflection by Jeremy Pemberton, partly based on these events.


Jayne Ozanne says in an excellent letter to The Guardian that the Church of England’s homophobic cruelty risks making it a laughing stock: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/25/church-of-englands-homophobic-cruelty-risks-making-it-a-laughing-stock.

Ben Bradshaw mp tweeted the following comment:

“Utterly shameful decision. It’s increasingly clear the ⁦@churchofengland can no longer justify its established ⁦@churchstate status & privileges & that Parliament must now act.” [https://twitter.com/BenPBradshaw/status/1573277038034956289]