The bishops of the Church of England plan to maintain a prohibition on same-sex marriage but intend to add certain prayers that would allow same-sex couples to have a ceremony to recognize stages within a same-sex relationship.
A series of proposals will be debated and considered at the Church of England’s General Synod, which will meet in London from Feb. 6 until Feb. 9.
The proposals uphold the traditional Christian teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman and that members of the clergy cannot preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“The formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorized liturgies — that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life — would not change” under the proposals, the bishops announced earlier this week.
The Church of England was established in 1534 when King Henry VIII renounced the authority of the papacy after the Catholic Church refused to grant him an annulment. The church is part of the Anglican communion and is not in communion with the Catholic Church.
Church of England leaders met with other members of the Anglican communion last summer at the Lambeth Conference, in which the hierarchy discussed questions related to sexuality and same-sex marriage. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is the senior bishop of the Church of England, concluded that the majority of the clergy affirms the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, though some members disagree.
However, the proposals would substantially change the Church of England’s pastoral approach for how it handles same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships. The proposals would add certain prayers that could be used in ceremonies to celebrate certain stages in their same-sex relationships, such as civil partnerships or legally recognized civil marriages.
The draft prayers would be optional for same-sex couples and optional for members of the clergy. The Church of England would also allow flexibility for the new prayers that would allow members of the clergy to use different combinations of prayers to reflect the diversity of thought on these issues within the church. The prayers would be known as “Prayers of Love and Faith.” The changes are partially based on feedback the Church of England received through its six-year-long Living in Love and Faith project, which sought to look into questions related to sexuality and marriage.
“I would like to thank all those across the Church of England who have participated in this deeply prayerful and theologically grounded process of discernment over the last six years,” Archbishop Welby said in a statement. “This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships, and marriage — I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church. I am under no illusions that what we are proposing today will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, but it is my hope that what we have agreed will be received in a spirit of generosity, seeking the common good.”
The archbishop added that he hopes these changes would demonstrate that the Church of England believes that all Christians, especially those with same-sex attraction, are welcome and valued in the Body of Christ.
According to the announcement, the proposals are meant to “reaffirm a commitment to” the bishops’ call at the start of the discernment process for a “radical new Christian inclusion founded in Scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology, and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it — based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.”
Some members of the Church of England’s clergy have come out against the traditional Christian teachings on marriage in recent years. This has included some members of the church leadership, such as Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft, who said about two months ago that members of the clergy should be allowed to celebrate same-sex marriages.
The relaxed and sometimes ambiguous position on certain moral issues, such as same-sex relationships by members of the Anglican hierarchy, has led to some bishops converting to Catholicism over the past decade and a half. Since 2007, at least 19 bishops left Anglicanism and came into full communion with Rome.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate, the Church of England established the personal ordinariate for former Anglicans, which eased the conversion process. Clergy who wish to convert can maintain certain Anglican liturgical practices and can remain married when becoming priests in the Catholic Church.