Evangelicals lament Church of England's plans to introduce blessings for same-sex couples

(Photo: Unsplash/François Genon)

Evangelicals have come out in strong opposition to today's announcement by the Church of England outlining plans to introduce blessings for same-sex couples.

Under the proposals, to be debated at next month's General Synod, same-sex couples will still not be able to marry in a Church of England church but will be allowed to have a service with prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or God's blessing after entering into a civil marriage or partnership.

Bishops have drafted a set of prayers called Prayers of Love and Faith to be used for the blessing services. 

The Church of England said that the blessings "offer the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the Church's doctrine of Holy Matrimony for same-sex couples".

The blessing services would be voluntary, it added. 

In further changes, Issues in Human Sexuality, the Church of England's existing pastoral guidance holding clergy to celibacy outside heterosexual marriage, is to be replaced.

The announcement follows a meeting of the House of Bishops on Tuesday to discuss the Living in Love and Faith process of discernment around the issues of marriage, sexuality, relationships and gender identity which has been ongoing for the last six years. 

A letter of apology to the LGBT community is also to be issued by bishops later this week urging CofE congregations to welcome same-sex couples "unreservedly and joyfully". 

The letter apologises for "rejection, exclusion and hostility" towards the LGBT community and speaks of 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".

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chaired the group of bishops which led the process of discernment and decision making, said: "I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all who have participated in the process which has brought us to this point.

"I know that this has been costly and painful for many on all sides of the debate and has touched on deeply personal matters and strongly held beliefs.

"We have been moved by what we have heard and seen. And what has come through very clearly, even though there continues to be disagreement among the bishops and among the wider church on these questions, is a strong desire to continue to share our life together in Christ with all our differences."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "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.

"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.

"Most of all I hope it can offer a way for the Church of England, publicly and unequivocally, to say to all Christians and especially LGBTQI+ people that you are welcome and a valued and precious part of the body of Christ."

Responding to the announcement, Susie Leafe, director of Anglican Futures, said that the statement was "as lamentable as it was predictable" as she questioned what provision would be made for clergy who cannot in conscience offer such prayers. 

"The idea that celebrating 'equal civil marriage' will not undermine 'Holy Matrimony' is laughable. Anglican Futures is already providing practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans," she said.

"As they reassess their relationship with the bishops of the Church of England, this announcement is likely to bring many more enquiries."

Andrea Williams, Christian Concern CEO and former lay member of the General Synod, said the announcement amounted to a "capitulation by the Church of England".

"Christianity teaches that sexual expression is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. Any other form of sexual relationships are sexually immoral. The Bible calls it sin. The Church of England is now encouraging the celebration of sexual immorality," she said. 

"This is a landmark moment and will go down in history as a turning point in the decline and fall of the Church of England – unless these proposals can be decisively resisted by the faithful in Synod."