A present with nothing in the box

In February 2023 General Synod voted to allow the blessing of same-sex couples and for the odious Issues in Human Sexuality to be given the boot and replaced by new, more progressive, Pastoral Guidance – see https://cofe-equal-marriage.org.uk/b/1Ae for full details.

Since then we have been waiting expectantly to hear news of the progress made in implementing these decisions. We didn’t waste time but continued to campaign for a generous implementation as a step towards our aim of equal marriage. We took part in the consultation meetings with bishops and were encouraged by what we were told both privately and in the meetings. We were given assurances that led us to believe real change was coming at the November Synod.

But when the relevant Synod paper GS 2328 was published in mid-October, we were horrified and angry to find that no real change had been offered. It was “A sum total of nothing”, as Charlie Bell (a member of Equal’s organizing team) put it in this excellent article.

As soon as possible we sent all the bishops, diocesan and suffragan, the following email, which you can download from https://cofe-equal-marriage.org.uk/b/1HJ:

Dear Bishop __________

I am writing on behalf of the Equal team to let you know our reactions to the Synod paper GS 2328, ‘Living in Love and Faith: Setting out the progress made and work still to do’.

After the decisions made at the February Synod we had been waiting expectantly to hear news of the progress made in implementing them. We have taken part in the consultation meetings with bishops and were encouraged by what we were told both privately and in the meetings. We were led to believe that real change was coming, without more delay:

  • Issues would be replaced by a much more inclusive Pastoral Guidance document
  • Clergy would be free to marry their same-sex partner without penalty
  • LGBTQIA+ clergy, ordinands and lay ministers would no longer be discriminated against
  • Committed same-sex couples would be able to have a public service of blessing in church, and there would be legal protection to prevent cases being brought against clergy who performed such services as well as those who are unwilling to do so
  • These changes would apply to the whole Church, with diocesan bishops not being able to ignore them.

We have made it very clear to bishops that these are genuine red lines for us. So it was with disappointment, frustration and anger that we found, on reading GS 2328, that we were being offered none of them, except perhaps as vague possibilities some time in the future – “jam tomorrow”.

To understand the reasons why we feel so strongly, please read the article ‘A Sum Total of Nothing’ by the Revd Dr Charlie Bell. It is attached to this message and published at https://viamedia.news/2023/10/21/a-sum-total-of-nothing-the-prayers-of-love-and-faith-return-to-synod/.

Charlie, who is a member of the Equal team, was writing personally, but all of us agree wholeheartedly with what he has to say. He writes with clarity, feeling, and a concern for truth – Charlie points out several paragraphs in GS 2328 in which the author makes claims that are demonstrably untrue.

I hope I have shown why the Equal Campaign cannot support GS 2328 as it stands. Minor tweaks will not help. The bishops’ task was to implement the decisions made in February, not to delay and obfuscate. As Charlie Bell says, “You offered us bread but gave us a stone.”

We hope and pray for something much better, something that will nourish the whole Church and begin to heal the wounds of those of us who have suffered from injustice for decades. If that is not forthcoming we will have to encourage our supporters and allies to vote against the motion.

Our aim is equal marriage in the Church of England. We supported the offer of blessings because we saw it as a first step towards that end. But that only works if the progress is genuine and timely.

With our prayers and all good wishes,

The Revd Nigel Pietroni
Chair, the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England

Since then we have gathered that, extraordinary as it might seem, most of the bishops had not seen the wording of GS 2328 before it was published, so perhaps it may be revised before Synod. If not, our team members and allies in Synod will argue strongly in favour of amendments to make radical changes to the paper. If the paper still breaches our red lines (the bullet points in the email to the bishops, see above) we will encourage Synod to vote the motion down.

If GS 2328 is passed in its unacceptable form, and the bishops get mired in endless wrangling, we won’t waste more time in fighting for blessings. They were never anything but a possibly useful step towards equal marriage, and if that is no longer the case we will lose nothing by focussing even more clearly on our chief aim – equal marriage.