The Church of England could finally be preparing to admit they have been wrong about LGBT+ issues and to embrace same-sex marriage.
Rumors suggest they may even allow clergy to conduct same-sex weddings – despite vigorously campaigning against marriage equality.
However, the church could still go the other way and reinforce ‘traditional’ dogma against marriage equality, sexuality and gender.
It all comes down to how the church reacts to The Living in Love and Faith project. Around 40 people – including just five LGBT+ people – pulled together materials to help teach Church of England leaders about gender identity, sexuality and modern social attitudes.
The bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, led the project. He admits the group found that the church’s historic doctrine is ‘ripe for development’.
And The Guardian reports that he also agrees it could lead to the Synod – the church’s ruling council – accepting same-sex marriage.
Cocksworth said the project will ‘help the church eventually to face that sort of question’.
Meanwhile in the foreword to the material, both the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell apologise for the ‘huge damage and hurt’ the church has inflicted on LGBT+ people.
An obsession with sex while love is forgotten
It represents a mark shift in tone from earlier this year when bishops faced humiliation after issuing new guidance on sexuality.
The Anglican bishops’ ‘pastoral guidance’ says marriage should only be between ‘a man and a woman’.
Critics dubbed it the ‘no sex, no gay marriage rule’ and gay influencers mocked the policy by revealing how many clergy they had enjoyed sex with.
While people joked about vicars ‘taking their vests off in the pantry and their pants off in the vestry’, others had a more serious take on the issue.
Theologian Andrew Graystone pointed out: ‘The bishops of the Church of England have issued 1,600 words of “pastoral guidance” on marriage and civil partnerships. The word “sex” appears 49 times. The word “love” does not appear once.’
Soon over 3,000 people and 800 clergy, including other bishops, signed a letter denouncing the guidance. They described it as ‘cold, defensive, and uncaring of its impact on the millions of people it affects’.
‘Lives are at risk’
The two very different faces of the church over LGBT+ issues demonstrate deep divisions at all levels, from lay people to senior clergy.
The church initiated the Living in Love and Faith project in 2017 after the Synod rejected a report from bishops which upheld traditional dogma.
Even now, LGBT+ Church of England campaigner Jayne Ozanne warns the church is far from certain to become more liberal.
She said: ‘While it’s good to hear that decisions may finally be afoot in two years’ time, we must act now to safeguard LGBT people in our care.
‘We cannot go on acknowledging and apologising for the harm church teaching is causing without recognising the safeguarding responsibilities we have. Too many lives are at risk.’
By contrast, Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson, the president of the conservative Church of England Evangelical Council, said:
‘To all those in the C of E who are unsettled by suggestions that the church might decide, in the future, to depart from historic orthodoxy … we will uphold what Christians have always believed through history and what the overwhelming majority of Christians globally still believe.’