Saturday, 15 February 2014

Prayers and P45s

 There is already a fair degree of  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the new pastoral guidance issued by the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage in relation to lay and ordained. It is, as one conservative blogger says, a complete dog's breakfast. Lay persons who have entered into a same sex marriage must be welcomed into churches, not subjected to intrusive questioning nor denied the sacrament. The church will allow prayers following a lay same sex marriage as long as nothing called a "blessing" takes place. Clergy on the other hand may enter into a civil partnership but not a same sex marriage, if they do they will not be ordained or if they are ordained then...
And this is where the statement is not entirely clear. Will clergy who enter into same sex marriage or look to convert a civil partnership into marriage be summarily dismissed? It doesn't actually say that but the Church will undoubtedly have to confront the issue as some of its gay partnered clergy surely will enter into marriages and I can imagine the headlines that might follow? Furthermore, although I can see that the Church may accept different standards of conduct for its lay members than it demands from its clergy, I can't be the only one who thinks that there would be something decidedly dysfunctional about an institution that prays (presumably in a warm fuzzy way?) for the newly wed gay parishioners while simultaneously handing a P45 to their newly wed gay clergy. What message do they seriously think that would give to the same sex couple they just "pastorally and sensitively" prayed with anyhow?
The fact that we have been dished a dog's breakfast is not so very surprising. The Church is after all caught between a rock and a hard place in not wanting to seem to lack compassion and be unwelcoming and not wanting to change their doctrine of marriage. Marriage is now largely the preserve of a secular state, but to the Church it remains a holy sacrament and there are very strong feelings on both sides about whether or not it should (and to some people whether it can) be open to same sex couples.
 I personally was neither surprised nor particularly moved by this report.  I made my mind up on these subjects long ago and am not up for debate. I am not a member of any religious institution (I have recently once again politely declined becoming a member of the Quaker group I attend, so this extends to all religious institutions) and the Church really must do as it sees fit and sort the matter out if it can.  What I do feel though is sorrow when I read the distress of ordained LGBT clergy like Rachel Mann. LGBT clergy (and lay persons) within the church have not pondered and debated these issues but rather have lived them.
When I read this piece I ask myself how pastoral the House of Bishops guidance really is.