Not in my name?

There have been many recent statements from senior bishops and others within the life of the Church of England which have raised questions in my mind as to the nature of our Church and its relationship with our country. In response to the Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage, public statements have been made which purport to give the ‘mind’ of the Church of England. We seem to have got ourselves into an invidious position in, on the one hand, trying to support gay people in their relationships and affirm the love they hold and not to appear homophobic and, on the other hand, seeking to uphold a traditional view of marriage as being exclusive to a man and woman. I am sure that all the statements that have been made are sincerely put, but they appear anodyne because of the tension between the two positions. However, they are united in affirming that marriage is not just about a legal contract but that there are also, perhaps more important, sacred matters to address and the way in which God’s grace inhabits human relationships and reveals Himself to us through them. For those guarded about same-sex marriages, the fact that God’s creativity is shared in human marriage through giving birth to new life in children is an essential part of the married state. For those in favour of such marriages, it is the primacy of divine love which is at stake. But it is another question that the intervention of the good bishops raises in my mind…

Which is: ‘in what way can the statements of the prelates be taken to be the mind of the Church of England in this and other related matters?’ For, in truth, the bishops in the media have not spoken for me or the way in which I understand this thorny matter and, I suspect, they do not speak for a sizeable minority or even majority within the life of the Church. However, it is possible that I will soon be approached by the local media to defend the position taken up by my colleagues and the pressure will be on to ‘toe the line’.

The issue is therefore, for me, one of freedom.

You see, the Church of England is not like the Roman Catholic Church or other ecclesial bodies in having a central magisterium which speaks authoritatively for the Church on any given matter. So, the Church of England has never been able to come up with the ‘party line’ about contraception, for instance, in the way that the Church of Rome has. Despite the countless people who ignore the injunction, the fact still remains that to be a Catholic is not to be a user of contraceptives. Still less is the Church of England like a political party with a manifesto that needs to be publicly shared by all adherents regardless of private belief. The religious life within the Church of England should not be about conformity to centrally created opinions at all costs-as the ‘voice of the institution’-but more ‘pilgrimaging’ together within the complexities and dilemmas of life under the refreshing and renewing guidance of the Holy Spirit. The ability for the Church in England to see things differently and to honour diversity was a hard won freedom at the time of the Reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries when folk died for the right to see the Mass, Baptism, the Bible and many other matters of the soul from different perspectives from those handed down through the, then, closely held traditions of the Church. It is this freedom of interpretation and of the need for structural adjustment to changing circumstances that has allowed our Church to leave many things to the individual’s conscience but also to make serious advancements such as the ordination of women to the priesthood. When we have veered from this freedom we have, for instance,  caused ourselves the embarrassment of condemning Darwin. At the heart of this very attractive aspect of the Church of England’s life is the knowledge that we are a diverse and highly inclusive Church from which there can be no unified voice or opinion in these matters, and it this aspect of our Church that has kept me faithful to Anglicanism all my life.

So, I am forced to say that those of my colleagues who have spoken out on same-sex marriage do not speak for me and neither, I dare to say, do they speak for the Church of England-they are rehearsing their own opinions.

~ by Tim Ellis on June 13, 2012.

59 Responses to “Not in my name?”

  1. Sadly true; well said: thank you.

  2. A very thoughtful and powerful response: thank you!

  3. […] AN EXCELLENT and challenging post from Bishop Tim Ellis of Grantham this afternoon, responding to the Church of England’s recent statement opposing equal marriage, Not in my name? […]

  4. Wow! Thanks for saying this – much needed corrective.

  5. Tim, I feel for you. Good luck with the media. I agree with you that there are two areas of tension. One about the issue and the other about the nature of the organisation. It is interesting that we have slipped into pontificating mode (something for pontifs) when we could, because of the nature of our grace-ful (and, could we be playful as well?) organisation be showing that we can have better disagreements than others and manage our differences better than others. These big statements do stress a lot of us don’t they? By the way, the bishops didn’t ask me what I thought. I therefore assume they know they are not speaking for me – but then that doesn’t always come across. Understanding of marriage have always been relative.

  6. Thank you, Tim. Having allowed my head to go over the parapet on this subject a few weeks ago, I have had about 80 messages in one form or another reacting. Those in favour of developing conventional understanding of this outnumber those agreeing with the House of Bishops document by a factor of about ten to one. On the basis of that evidence, I’d say you have a good point.

  7. Thanks, Tim.
    Interestingly, nowhere in the 13 page document is there an author or authors named. Do we know who actually wrote it?

  8. Wholehearted thanks for this honest piece. There’s a cost involved in any form of “sticking one’s head above the parapet” (one way or another) so I’m particularly grateful for those who do, but – as you say – the Anglican way has, in former times, modelled a way for us to hold different opinions in love.

    The bishops haven’t invited my opinion either (!) and – much as I want to offer loyalty, support and encouragement to those who seek to guard and to uphold the “Unity of the Church” – I’m also firmly on the side of radical inclusion for all, sincerely believing that this is what Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God was / is really all about.

    Marriage is about covenant relationship; to say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman flies rather in the face of “the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church”.

    So I would respectfully invite our House of Bishops to announce and to “rehearse their own opinions” in complete freedom, whilst they recognise that I’ve been invited, in complete freedom, by the Lord of the Church, to rehearse my own.

  9. Thank you. For the past 24 hours I have never felt less happy with my Church over this matter, which was neither the subject of consultation nor the synodical process. I too, seek to disassociate myself from this submission to the Government, which does throughout claim @David to speak on behalf of the Church. It would be my hope that, as like so many other things, such as the Marriage of Divorcees, the matter is for the conscience of the Incumbent who conducts such things.

  10. Thank you, Bishop Tim. I knew quite well that the group who issued the statement did not speak for the Church of England, but it’s good to have my view reinforced. I hope more bishops will speak out.

    I live in the U, and I am a member the Episcopal Church. For now, we are still in the same Communion as the Church of England, thus my interest in the CofE.

  11. Your honesty and courage to speak in opposition to the status quo of your peers is commendable. But unfortunately you are stained by their ilk. My suggestion is to do a 180 degree about-face within your ranks and tell them what you’ve been telling us. This sort of nonsense is killing the church, especially with the youth.

  12. Brilliant, Tim! Good to see the Brothers Ellis posting sense here and elsewhere.

  13. Thank you, Tim. I was so angry and depressed yesterday. This gives me a glimmer of hope in a system that seemed to be succumbing to the dead hand of centralising pressure.

  14. Thank you. Individuals in the Church I love do not speak for me either….

  15. On 15th March this year, the following was released to the press from the Church of England:

    ‘The Church of England/Archbishops’ Council will study the Government’s consultation on whether to redefine marriage to accommodate those of the same sex and respond in detail in due course.’

    The Archbishops’ Council is constituted under the National Institutions Measure 1998 with wide responsibilities ‘to co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the work and mission of the Church of England’.

    As you know, this measure was approved by General Synod.

    In the annual report 2010, the council says it ‘aims to further its statutory object by:
    • providing an informed Christian view in public debate;
    • promoting the views of the Church of England to parliament and government;’

    In 2009, the Archbishops’ Council responded to over 50 public consultations. Did you take issue with its role then? Apart from ex officio members, a significant number are elected by the three houses.

    So, no, not in your name, but in the name of the Church of England that authorised the council and consistent with its canons.

    • The question is not whether the Archbishops’ Council is legally empowered to make such statements, but whether in this case it has operated within its remit. It has to justify its claim to be interpreting the mind of the Church of England on each occasion; and it is far from clear that it has done so in this instance. It is not part of its remit to create a single view out if the rich diversity of Anglican debate, but to reflect and interpret that diversity to a wider audience.

      • After many synod resolutions, the position enunciated in the response is representative of those resolutions. The position of the Archbishops’ Council is also supported by the Canons of the church.

        It’s therefore surprising that you suggest that the Council acted ultra vires by presenting the result of these resolutions as the mind of the church.

        If a Tory spokesman is asked for the mind of his party regarding Proportional Representation, should it reflect all shades of minority opinion versus actual resolutions within the party on the matter?

  16. Well said. Not in my name eifher.

    I hate to sound like a pedlar of “instant outrage” but that was pretty much my experience when hearing the item on Tody. For this to be marketted as the official input of the C of E in response to the Government’s Consultation was,well, outrageous. It sounds like they have found a teeny little wrinkle regarding the legal position of a parish priest and souhht to magnify this into a threat to the established status. Quite shocking.

    And then to claim that Civil Partnerships have always been supported is a pretty bare-faced lie.

    It is all so sad.

  17. I enjoyed reading this. It makes so much sense.

    Why have I never heard of this blog before ?

  18. At last a Bishop has the courage to speak out.

  19. Father, thank you for the wise words expressed in your blog.
    I have been suprised at some of the positions that are being adopted by the bishops over same-sex marriage. Bishops that were in favour of the Ordination of women Priests for example using exactly the same language and position of those that were opposed to women’s Ordination i.e. the NATURE of marriage being defined as a union between a man and a woman necessarily by definition excludes same-sex union, (same argument used against women’s Ordination – the Priesthood is a intrinsicly a male state of being or grace and therfore excludes women).
    The other argument used is that of TRADITION, we haven’t had same-sex marriage in the past and we don’t have the AUTHORITY to change this position, ( again an identical argument tha was used against the Ordination of women).
    I am puzzled, to say the least, to see some of the same Bishops that were so vocal in ensuring that the injustice of excluding women from the priesthood was brought to an end within the Church of England are now using the same arguments as were expressed by their opponents to deny same-sex marriage.

  20. Thank you, Bishop Tim, for sharing your thoughts. Tuesday 12th June was a terrible day for me when, as a priest in the Church of England, I heard opinions and submissions being put around in the name of the Church I love and serve that simply made me feel angry and ashamed.
    The degree of hurt caused to both straight and gay Christians by the “official” submission has, I suspect, yet to be realised; the sense of desertion and betrayal is tangible.

  21. Remarkable that not a single commentor disagrees with you!
    Fraid I’ll break the pattern…..
    So, where ARE the boundaries in this all-inclusive church you imagine?
    Bishop I’m afraid it is only your imagination that says noone else can speak for you. But further you are not in reality free. You were surely asked this question at your consecration:

    “Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and will you hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?”

    You are not free to define the boundaries of Christ’s church.
    Christ’s own doctrine has already done that for you.
    The duty of any Bishop is to fulfil their promise to teach Christ’s doctrine and to refute error.

    • After many synod resolutions, the position enunciated in the response is representative of those resolutions. The position of the Archbishops’ Council is also supported by the Canons of the church.

      It’s therefore surprising that you suggest that the Council acted ultra vires by presenting the result of these resolutions as the mind of the church.

      If a Tory spokesman is asked for the mind of his party regarding Proportional Representation, should it reflect all shades of minority opinion versus actual resolutions within the party on the matter?

      • Lord have mercy and may the church never become like political parties with party lines and three-line whips taking precedence over freedom of conscience…

    • There can be no boundaries to the church, as there are no boundaries to God’s love. How many of Jesus’s parables (Christ’s doctrine which Bishops promise to teach) tell us that our love must go beyond boundaries (the good samaritan being but the most famous example), and the judging we leave to God. Christ’s doctrine is not about being right and refuting those who are wrong but about loving our neighbour and inviting all to the wedding banquet, it seems to me.

  22. Unimportant note: One tows a barge, toes a line.

  23. […] Taken from: Not in my name? […]

  24. Thank you for putting into words wiser than mine how I feel. It is a relief to know that there are bishops who feel as disappointed with this as the lowly ones of us. God Bless and Good Luck.

  25. “majisterium” is more usually spelled “magisterium”

  26. Absolutely! Ridiculous argument anyway… The church should be the first to welcome gay people and celebrate their relationships as a matter of justice. If you leave civil partnerships as purely civil with no religious or spiritual elements in the service or the theology you have hugely weakened that experience.
    If marriage is so important and fundamental to society then it has to be what everyone deserves a chance at.

  27. Thank you so much Bishop. I am deeply grateful for your courage and given some hope.

    I was priested on the very day the statement was released to the press, 18 years ago. Ten years ago I left full-time ministry, unable to continue a double-life as a gay priest in the CofE. My reaction to the statement was that I could never take any step back towards the “fold”. Your response – and the comments of others – do give me a little more hope.

    I recognise what’s been said about the Archbishop’s Council. However I do not recall being consulted at all about its establishment when I was then in full-time ministry. This in itself flags up one of the real problems for me with the CofE structures and processes.

    Consider this. The government proposes a change in legislation (opening up civil marriage cermonies to same-sex couples). It sets up a DIRECT consultation with members of the public. Anyone, anyone, can respond via the Home Office website. In addition, public consultation meetings are held around the country, one of which I attended in Preston.

    The Church of England produces a response document. In doing so it does NOTHING to open up the process to those in its congregations. Neither does any official representative of the Church of England attend the public consultation in Preston to discuss views / listen to views of others. Whether it’s legally entitled to act in this way is not what concerns me. The fact that it chooses to behave in this way is an insult to its people and to the wider public.

    It goes wider than this. National Government is elected directly by the population. The laity of the General Synod are not elected directly by electoral roll members but indrectly via those elected to local Synods. This creates such remoteness from the grass roots as to be almost risible.

    Thanks again Bishop. I’m very grateful for your contribution.
    Every good wish

    • Mark,

      I disagree with your contrast, but I agree that Deanery Synods role in election to the House of Laity limits the franchise.

      The reason that I disagree is that the manifesto promise: ‘We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage’ is not the same as launching a 12-week public consultation on the means to introduce same-sex marriage, not the case.

      Since when, in a deliberative role, did the word ‘consider’ mean ‘affirm’? That tactic of half-truth is not quite the openness that you claim, is it?

      Regarding synod, many who run for deanery synod representative of the parish, run unopposed. As you know, the number from each parish is related to parish share.

      The parish electoral roll is open to every over-16 baptised person who has attended public worship for the previous 6 months. They have right to vote at the APCM for the new Deanery Synod Representative, who has a three-year tenure.

      Until, the grassroots roll up their sleeves and re-engage with baptised individuals who live in each and every parish, nothing will change. Until, you get them onto the electoral rolls and get them to vote like-minded reps onto every deanery synod in the UK and thence to General Synod, the make-up of the House of Laity won’t change significantly.

      Anglican electoral roll registration will not overthrow the canons of the church, nor the governance of the House of Bishops, but it will ensure a more nuanced response next time. It’s what the civil rights activists did in the 60’s.

      How many here have the endurance to do that today?

  28. Thank you to all show have contributed to this conversation, both for and against. This post has had the most responses I have ever experienced, therefore we have touched a serious subject.
    Thank you to those too who have pointed out spelling mistakes – it was written in haste!
    Where next?

    • Where next? Well I’m sending David Cameron (@Number10gov) and BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4Today) a tweet to say: read this and listen up, guys – that statement is not representative of the C of E. Maybe others would care to do likewise?

    • I suppose that the first step is one of accountability. The “official” submission was said to be in the name of the Church of England, yet the Church of England was not consulted before the submission was made and, as Mark Chilcott reveals, the CofE does not appear to have involved itself in the wider public consultative process.
      Sadly, a similar scenario became apparent late in 2011 when under the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011, religious bodies in England and Wales were given the right to register same-sex Civil Partnerships as well as religious weddings, should they wish to do so. My understanding is that a decision relating to these matters can only be taken by the CofE’s General Synod, yet as soon as the revised procedures were announced a statement was released by Church House Westminster saying that the Church of England had no plans to avail itself of these provisions. To my knowledge the General Synod has still not even discussed the new regulations let alone decided that the CofE would not avail itself of them.
      Statements made on behalf of the Church of England MUST be just that; anything else is disingenuous and verging on the dishonest.
      There needs to be a thorough investigation into how this submission came to be made, and people must be held accountable for their actions.
      Tuesday 12th June was a day of ignominy for the Church of England, and I think that the Church of England deserves an apology

    • For any who may wish to retweet:

      • I wrote “deserves” an apology because I’m hoping that whoever authorised the submission will be man enough to admit that they have done the wider CofE a great disservice, and apologise.
        Perhaps I’m being naive?

      • I think the Coalition owes the voting public an apology for a Same-Sex Marriage proposal that does not reflect and interpret the diversity of public opinion on the subject. The document doesn’t even purport to discern whether a majority of us wants it.

        Perhaps, a bit of that righteous indignation could be directed at the Coalition!

  29. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Bishop.

    Your words have given great comfort to me and the many Church of England faithful who have had to put up with the opinions of a small minority and turn the other cheek.

    I’m a church organist who has struggled with my sexuality at church for many years. I am completely open about my sexuality in the rest of my life and have been for years. Having been a Secondary School teacher for 9 years, I have been completely open to my colleagues and pupils and have received in return understanding, acceptance and inclusion.

    However, when I was open at one local church, they quoted Leviticus to me and told me I could attend but not be actively involved (Play the organ).
    I then moved to another church, as advised by the Bishop of Wolverhampton, and approached the vicar about my sexuality, to which I was not preached to, but asked to continue without speaking to anyone else in the congregation about it. This is the situation I now find myself in still. My partner won’t attend church because of the situation, understandably, as nobody knows about him, and so I am left wondering if I should carry on with this facade or not.
    Perhaps we should move to a more tolerant parish!

    Thanks again Bishop, there are many of us who are grateful for your contribution.

  30. Thank you Tim. Writing from Canada, it saddens me deeply how often the most visible parts of the Cof E exhaust themselves on a Vatican-like way of being Church. What saddens me even more are the treasured, generous faithful who are leaving the C of E over this. What these prelates fail to realize is that they are essentially forcing such good people to choose between their purple shirted pontifications and bullying-in-the loo, and the embodied faith and love they know in the LGBT folk around them. Nothing short of the sin of ‘scandal’ according to the bits of ‘Catholic theology’ i remember from my past.

  31. Where next? – Lambeth, perhaps, for you, banishment for me 😉

    But seriously, perhaps only the Messiah can answer that one. We really need to get a grip somehow, and pretty quickly, too, on the reality of a Church of England that SAYS “Every member matters” whilst BEHAVING as though some – usually small, vociferous minorities, or worse, ecclesiastical elites (no-one else understands the issues like we do) – matter more than others.

    I’d been under the impression that great swathes of the vast and diverse African population were absolutely anti-all-things-gay, for example, until I started hearing the voices of individual Africans who were not being spoken for by high profile Church spokespersons.

    My own nearly 500 strong congregation – made up of people of a vast array of opinions, life-skills and faith – is instinctively disinclined to adopt absolutist positions on any subject at all – and we encourage each other in that openness. We believe that we’re about nothing AT ALL if we’re not about basic hospitality, anointing after the pattern of the Anointed, and welcome FOR ALL.

    Is every Evangelical “Sydney Christian” ant-gay? I seriously doubt it. And neither am I entirely sure that I’m in touch with exactly the same, clearly identifiable, clear-speaking, non-negotiable, already-entirely-and-once-and-for-all-revealed Christ as some folks (Catholic, Evangelical and all shades in between) want me to believe they are. It all depends on perspective. I can only know a few facets of Christ, you’ll know a few more. None of us “know it all”. Not even the inspired authors of Holy Writ – dare I say it – past, present and future!

    But we need to grapple with the fact that there HAS been a time, for many of us, when we believed that the Church DID speak for us, and further that it was her responsibility to do so. Life has moved on though. Two World Wars, to name but two examples, have persuaded billions of us that individual responsibility and individual voices matter hugely – within and alongside the corporate voice – and are frequently far more effective and pastorally sensitive.

    The problem with allowing “The Church” (absolute, indisputable, universally held definition, please, anybody?) – to do all our thinking and speaking for us is that we grow used to abrogating our own personal responsibility to others. That makes for diminished, twisted, hide-bound, ill-thought-out ecclesiastical / political / philosophical trench positions and does nothing to build “Big Society”. Jesus was person-specific: “If a man says he loves God and hates his brother then he is a liar”.

    So: many have already answered the question “where next” … and the answer, for them, has sadly been “anywhere but Church”. And they’re getting on with their lives and growing in their discipleship. If there’s one sentence that bears repeating in ecclesiastical circles, until kingdom come, it is that “these issues are not going to go away.”

    Please forgive the length of this note. Again, very many thanks. I’ll return frequently to follow the train of others’ thoughts.

  32. Thank you, Bishop Tim. I had begun to think I was completely out of step with the CofE and Anglicanism. I wrote on this matter on my own Blog yesterday under the title “The Great Marriage Debate.”( ) Though I am now a member of the Old Catholic Church in Germany, I remain an Anglican at heart and it grieves me to see it being hijacked and dragged toward fundamentalist visions by the minority elites and ‘politikers’ infesting its Synods.

  33. The submission restates the Church of England’s teaching embodied in Canon B30: “The Church of England, affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union, permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side….”

  34. Good one, Father. Keep it up.

  35. Why is it that we Christians who are disciples of a Teacher who placed a love of God and a love for our neighbour above all else find ourselves institutionally bound by socially conservative leaders. The Churhes in this country have it seems been on the wrong side, at least initially, of every progressive movement of the last 300 years. The fact is that the inclusive church members need to rise up in their thousands to say what Bishop Tim has said even if the cost of that is schism, paradoxical as that may seem. The softly softly approach to the insights of biblical scolarship, psychology and anthropology must be abandoned and then they must be taken into our theology, teachiing and social practice and witness. I am of late middle age at best but I vow that what time remains for me will not be as timidly approached as I fear some time past has been. Institutional conservatism must give way to institutional reform across the denominations – I am a Methodist but this statement is the last straw

  36. Of ecumenical friends who might agree with ‘Not in my name’, some may ask who is sticking themselves above the parapet to speak directly for the Lord? Whose role is this – the synod, the bishops, the people? Ecumenically, who is the spokesperson?

  37. […] Not in My Name on Bishop Tim Ellis’ blog For, in truth, the bishops in the media have not spoken for me or the way in which I understand this thorny matter and, I suspect, they do not speak for a sizeable minority or even majority with the life of the Church. However, it is possible that I will soon be approached by the local media to defend the position taken up by my colleagues and the pressure will be on to ‘toe the line’. […]

  38. This is one of the most balanced responses I have heard in all of this. As a counsellor, I spend much of my time enabling others to undo the damage as a result of inherited values of one kind or another. It is a real privilege to witness a spirit set free. It is not for me to impose my values ( as I interpret them) on others, but to allow others to engage with and respond to their own conscience. We are simply there to accompany our fellow travellers on their journey toward wholeness. Imposition of power only achieves one thing: a broken spirit.

  39. Well said.

  40. Thank you, Bishop Tim.

  41. Hope you are well and have not been banished from the blogosphere… after the mini tornado. Best, Mark

    • Hi Mark, no I’ve not been gagged! Just been on a three month study leave and finding it hard to re-engage. I’ll start again soon with the blogs. Hope you are well, it would be good to see you

      • Good to hear that, hope you enjoyed the study – I always wanted to be a perennial student. If I do travel up your way I will be sure to drop you a line, be good to have a beer and a natter.

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