Canon Jeremy Pemberton should be disciplined over gay wedding

Published 16 April 2014  |  
(PA)

Canon Jeremy Pemberton's decision to enter into a same-sex marriage has pushed the Church of England into something of a crisis.

Aggressive pursuit of discipline against Canon Pemberton will offend those looking for more acceptance of homosexual clergy, but for others, allowing the issue to simply slide would be like making a mockery of official Church guidelines.

The House of Bishop guidelines state: "It would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives."

In a letter published alongside these guidelines earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, said: "All in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged."

For many within the Church of England, unless some form of action is taken, the truth of that statement will be tested severely.

Reverend Rob Thomas of the evangelical Anglican group Reform was quoted by the Christian Institute as saying: "If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying 'we really didn't mean what we said.' It will precipitate a crisis."

Lee Gatiss, director of the Church Society, argues that as the House of Bishops has already determined that entering into a same-sex marriage is inappropriate, Canon Pemberton is "liable to discipline by the relevant authorities".

Speaking to Christian Today about the need to maintain discipline, Mr Gatiss said: "No one has a right to continue as a clergyman in the Church of England if they so flagrantly flout the teaching of the Scriptures, not to mention the discipline and authority of the church. 

"Article 26 of The Thirty-nine Articles, the Church's doctrinal foundation, states that after a proper process in line with the Scriptures (such as 1 Timothy 5:17-25), such ministers should be removed from office."

Reverend Colin Coward, director of the pro-LGBT Anglican campaign group Changing Attitude, praised Canon Pemberton for his actions, saying: "Jeremy has done what is right for himself and his partner and has legalised and confirmed the relationship in which he has been living for several years. They have dedicated themselves to each other in love.

"If [Archbishop Welby] acted against Jeremy he would be condoning people living together in an unmarried state.

"I would like him to agree to suspend the Pastoral Guidance issued by the House of Bishops and withdraw any threat of legal action against clergy who marry and bishops who have until this moment fully supported their gay clergy."

Mr Coward further suggested that a failure to do this could result in serious consequences for the Church of England, as it would create "an even more impossible situation of legal challenges and legal bills and the uncertainty of success in any legal action".

Others disagree, however.  The Reverend Reginald David Baldock, of St John's Church in Bournemouth, said that if rules are in place, ignoring them should not be without consequence.

"What the Church says is what we should abide by. They have made that decision that he shouldn't enter into that sort of marriage," he said.  

"There should obviously be some strong discipline to say to him 'no, that's not right'."

Lay Reader John Riddiough, of St Paul's Church in Seacombe sympathised with Archbishop Welby, saying he was in a very difficult position and that "whatever decision he makes, he will be criticised".

Despite the criticism, Mr Riddiough suggests that the consequences of leniency would be worse than if the rules are enforced.

"What form the disciple will take, I am not sure, but I don't think you can afford to stand by and ignore it," he said.  

Reverend Steve Donald, of St John the Evangelist Church in Carlisle, agreed that the statement from the House of Bishops rather spoke for itself.

"The logic of the statement was that same-sex marriage was not something that clergy should be doing. If you are in a same-sex marriage, you can't be ordained," he said.

"Someone who is ordained who goes against the statement of the House of Bishops should be unfrocked, they shouldn't be a clergyman of the Church of England."

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