The Student Christian Movement in Britain, and especially its LGBTQ+ Anglican members, express deep disappointment at the news that Church of England bishops have not recommended that the Church adopt marriage equality for all. After the vulnerability and good faith with which LGBTQ+ members of the CofE shared their stories of hurt and exclusion at the hands of the Church during the Living in Love and Faith process, it will be difficult and upsetting to hear that the CofE will not honour their stories with a change in its teaching on marriage.
We welcome the progress that has been made with regards to the recommendation that Anglican Churches in England bless same-sex civil partnerships and marriages; this is surely an improvement in the Church’s position on LGBTQ+ people and relationships. We welcome too the planned disposal of Issues in Human Sexuality, a document which represented a cruel and archaic way of viewing LGBTQ+ people.
However, there remain some glaring inconsistencies in the bishops’ recommendations. In one breath, LGBTQ+ people are said to be precious and created in the image of God, but in the next they are said not to be equal enough to marry in the Church. In one breath the Church apologises for its mistreatment and exclusion of LGBTQ+ people, but in the next it recommends the continued exclusion of the very same people. In one breath, the Church repents of its behaviour, but in the next it fails to turn away from its exclusionary ways. In one breath, LGBTQ+ people are welcomed unreservedly, but in the next marriage is reserved only for those in opposite-sex relationships.
Given these contradictions, it will be difficult for LGBTQ+ members of the CofE to take any of these recommendations seriously. It will be confusing and difficult to hear that LGBTQ+ people are not equal enough to enjoy the same rights to marriage as their straight siblings. It will also be difficult for them to hear that the Archbishop of Canterbury “rejoices” in the diversity of theological thought on marriage in the Church – how can the Church be truly sorry for the way it has treated LGBTQ+ people, all whilst celebrating the very theology which has driven their exclusion? If LGBTQ+ people are to believe this apology, it must be made with actions and not just with words.
We gently remind the bishops of the wisdom found in the Book of James, that both blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth (James 3:10). We remind them too of Jesus’ advice that, “all you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’,” (Matthew 5:37 NIVUK). If the CofE claims that those in same-sex marriages should receive God’s blessing, then why can those same relationships not be proclaimed and dedicated to God in marriage in the Church? We believe in a God who does not bless his children from a distance, but who lived amongst us and blesses the meek, marginalised, and persecuted.
While today’s recommendations fall short, there is still time to proclaim good news for the poor; there is still time to put the wellbeing and care of LGBTQ+ people and their relationships first. SCM stands by its LGBTQ+ members today and reminds them that whatever the position of the Church of England, that they are loved and truly equal members of the body of Christ. The Church of England can and must join with its Episcopal counterpart in Scotland and allow marriage for all.