Church of England clergy should have the freedom to bless and marry same-sex couples, says Bishop of Oxford.
The Bishop of Oxford has published 52-page essay, Together in Love and Faith, on Friday 4 November, setting out the ways his own views have changed on same-sex relationships over the last decade.
In the light of ten years of reflection and massive changes in the society we serve, many in the Church, including Bishop Steven, now believe it is time to enable local churches and clergy to offer public services of blessing for same-sex relationships and remove the legal barriers to the solemnisation of same-sex marriage in the Church of England. Clergy should also be given the freedom to order their own relationships according to their conscience and to marry a same-sex partner.
Bishop Steven writes:
“I need to acknowledge the acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church. I am sorry that, corporately, we have been so slow as a Church to reach better decisions and practice on these matters. I am sorry that my own views were slow to change and that my actions, and lack of action, have caused genuine hurt, disagreement and pain.”
Bishop Steven also reflects that many Christians in the Church of England hold and will continue to hold a traditional view of marriage and this should be honoured and respected by those who are seeking freedom to change. This is the majority view across the worldwide Anglican Communion at this time, although some Anglican Provinces have already made the decision to allow the blessing of same-sex relationships. Clergy and parishes will need the freedom not to opt in to any new arrangements. Some clergy and parishes may need the oversight of bishops in the Church of England who hold to the traditional view.
Bishop Steven writes:
“Any settlement must be founded on love and respect: love and respect for LGBTQ+ people and their families within and beyond the Church, love and respect for those who take different views... This love must be the hallmark of our debates and conduct through this season”.
Bishop Steven’s essay is a significant new contribution to the present process as the whole Church seeks good and fruitful ways forward and as the bishops together discern what proposals to bring to the General Synod in February 2023.
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There has been extensive national media coverage of the bishop's essay, Together in Love and Faith and, as of 18 January, the news that the House of Bishops are commending a move for the Church to bless same-sex relationships.
A selection of clippings is shown below.
- Bishop of Oxford calls for an end to ban on same-sex marriage in Church of England – Church Times, 3 November 2022
- Extend goods of marriage to all – Church Times, 4 November
- National and local BBC radio, and UCB (see our SoundCloud channel) – BBC, 4 to 7 November
- Bishops join call for Church to bless same-sex marriage – The Times, 4 November
- Bishop of Oxford calls for Church of England to accept same-sex marriage – Daily Telegraph, 4 November
- Bishop of Oxford says church should marry gay couples – BBC, 4 November
- BBC South and ITV Meridian (see our YouTube channel) – BBC South and ITV Meridian, 4 November
- Don’t condemn the Church of England for its stance on gay marriage – Spectator Magazine, 4 November
- Bishop of Oxford breaks ranks and calls on Church of England to allow same-sex marriage – Pink News, 4 November
- Oxford: Bishop backed by other church leaders in blessing gay marriages – Oxford Mail, 4 November
- More will join the call for same-sex weddings, declares bishop – The Times, 5 November 2022
- Five more bishops call for Church of England to allow same-sex marriages – Daily Telegraph, 5 November
- Bishop of Reading backs marriage for gay couples – BBC, 6 November
- Same-sex marriage and the Church of England – BBC Radio 4, Sunday Programme, 6 November
- The Guardian view on LGBT+ Anglicans: finally grounds for hope? – Guardian editorial, 7 November
- The Church is seen as unjust because of its treatment of LGBTQ+ people – Daily Telegraph, 10 December 2022
- Church must allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages – The Times, 9 January 2023
- Not to change our teaching would be a missional error of grave proportions – Bishop of Worcester, 9 January 2023
- Practical Theology comes of age with “Together in Love and Faith” - Nigel Rooms, Practical Theology Hub, 12 January
- Bishops propose prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples - Church of England, 18 January
- The Bishop of Reading, comments on the news that the Church will allow the blessing of same-sex relationships - LBC Radio, 18 January
- The Bishop of Dorchester talks to Premier Christian Radio about the changes recommended to Synod - Premier Christian Radio, 18 January
- The Bishop of Reading's message to same-sex couples on news of the Church of England's stance on same-sex marriage - BBC Berkshire, 18 January
- The Bishop of Buckingham speaks to BBC Three Counties Radio about the changes to allow the blessing of same-sex relationships - BBC Three Counties, 22 January
- The Bishop of Dorchester speaks to Times Radio following a new survey of Church of England clergy by The Times newspaper - Times Radio, 29 August
- All four bishops in the diocese are among 44 Church of England bishops to say that the Church should not delay guidance allowing priests to be in same-sex marriages - Church Times, 1 November
- The Bishop of Dorchester is one of 600 evangelicals who are signatories to a letter that calls for the full authorisation of Prayers of Love and Faith (including the standalone services) for immediate use – Church Times, 10 November
- The Bishop of Oxford speaks with BBC Radio 4 following the General Synod decision to allow special services of prayer and dedication asking for God’s blessing for same-sex couples – BBC Radio 4, 15 November
- The Bishop of Oxford speaks with Premier Christian Radio about the General Synod decision and his own faith journey listening to LGBTQIA+ Christians – Premier Christian Radio, 16 November
Does everyone agree with the Bishop of Oxford's essay?
- The Bishops of Worcester, Portsmouth, Dudley, Reading, Buckingham, and Dorchester publicly endorsed +Oxford's call for change when it was published. Following the publication in January 2023 of the House of Bishops response and draft Prayers for Love and Faith, the bishops of Bristol, Manchester, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Dunwich have also spoken of their desire to see same-sex couples married in church. In November 2023, 44 bishops published a letter of support.
- The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has commented in the Daily Telegraph and also in his BBC Reith Lecture: "Same-sex marriage has already has been accepted by quite a few Anglican churches around the world... I think the trajectory is very much in one direction at the moment." More recently, in October 2023 Pope Francis suggested that gay couples could be blessed.
- Not everyone agrees. Vaughan Roberts offers an exemplar in 'good disagreement' in his own essay available online here. The two bishops of the Diocese of Carlisle, The Rt Rev James Newcome and The Rt Rev Rob Saner-Haigh have written to their diocese to say “Many of you will know that, as bishops in this diocese, we hold a traditional view of Holy Matrimony and that we have argued for this [in the College of Bishops]."
- However, on 29 August 2023, The Times published the results of a survey of 1,486 priests. "A majority of priests want the church to conduct same-sex weddings for the first time and formally drop its centuries-old opposition to premarital and gay sex, in a historic shift that campaigners hope will lead to a change in teaching," says the paper. Read Shifting attitudes of frontline clergy revealed in landmark poll (£) | listen to Bishop Gavin's initial response to the survey on Times Radio.
Living in Love and Faith is a three-year process of study and discernment about human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage involving every diocese of the Church of England. The essay Together in Love and Faith is Bishop Steven Croft’s response to the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith process.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, is a member of the House of Lords and responsible for one of the largest dioceses in the Church of England. Following the publication of Together in Love and Faith, Bishop Steven offered a commentary and reflections on the next stage of the Living in Love and Faith process. A recorded version of the presidential address given to Diocesan Synod on 12 November 2022 is available on his blog.
Civil partnerships and the church
A civil partnership in English law dates from December 2005; civil partnerships are not recognised as marriage but are a legal means, not involving any church, by which two people (of the same or different gender) can create a bond which, for the purposes of secular law, gives them the same legal entitlements as if they were married. Church of England clergy are currently prohibited from blessing a civil partnership in church and cannot conduct a marriage service for a same-sex couple.
Same-sex clergy relationships
Some gay and lesbian English clergy have entered civil partnerships. They are currently bound by the rule that sexual relationships must only be within marriage as recognised by the Church and are not allowed by being in a civil partnership. Abstention from sexual relationships (celibacy) is required of all unmarried clergy, whatever their sexuality.
Hear the Bishop of Oxford on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme
The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft spoke to BBC Radio 4 following the announcement that bishops in the Church of England propose prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples.