Is it too late for the Church of England?

(Photo: Church of England)

Last night, after three hours of debate about the introduction of prayers of blessing for same-sex couples, the Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, summed up the "intractable trickiness" Synod faced in the need to answer two questions.

"Will the House of Bishops maintain, or will we relax, the discipline which currently prohibits clergy from entering into same-sex civil marriage?"

And, "Will we maintain, or will we relax, the frequently stated position of the House of Bishops that the only proper context for sexual intimacy is heterosexual marriage?"

These are two questions which go to the heart of whether or not these prayers can be introduced without changing the doctrine of the church.

Those in favour of introducing these prayers are convinced the bishop must relax both discipline and practice, whatever theological and legal questions remain. For them, it is a matter of justice, an outworking of God's grace and a change that is desperately needed if hatred, homophobia and oppression are to be challenged.

In the words of Mr Paul Robson, who spoke just before the bishop, "We must go forward in order to stop the abuse and the harm continuing," and Rev Canon Andrew Dotchin, who spoke after him, "We can wait no longer."

Others are equally convinced that the House of Bishops should maintain the current discipline and teaching. They are not persuaded by either the legal or theological evidence provided for change.

Dr Ros Clarke told Synod, "It is not progress to be presented with a motion that relies on legal advice most of us have not been allowed to see and which has divided those who have seen it."

Rev Will Pearson-Gee described the motion as "a tragic suicide note", saying, "We are being walked towards a cliff-edge – we know it is not really about same-sex marriage – it is instead about the authority of Scripture."

In her opening speech, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, warned against trying "to bully other people into life changes that we know will be good for them".

It remains to be seen whether she, and others at General Synod, will allow the time and space for these two key questions to be answered before allowing same-sex blessings or whether they will vote to drive through change, whatever the temporal, global or eternal consequences.

The debate will continue today.

Follow live on the General Synod Livestream from 9am - 4.45pm.