It is the first measure of the 6-year-long internal debate on LGBTQI issues. The leading Anglican church says it seeks “a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual”.
Ahead of its general synod in February, the Church of England has officially announced it will start bless homosexual partnerships in its churches across the country.
In a statement published on 18 January, the Church announced “historic plans” through which “same-sex couples will be able to come to church to give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership and receive God’s blessing”.
The Bishops led by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will be “issuing an apology later this week to LGBTQI+ people for the ‘rejection, exclusion and hostility’ they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives”.
This announcement come ahead of the General Synod of the Church of England in February, in which the decisions related to the “Living in Love and Faith” process, in which the national Anglican Church has debated their position on marriage, gender identity and sexual orientation over the last 6 years.
Theologically liberal bishops and LGBTQI groups both inside and outside the church hoped to see the Church of England open marriage beyond heterosexual unions.
But the decision as presented in the statement underlines that “the formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorised liturgies – that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life – would not change”.
The fact that the Christian doctrine would be debated has caused a stir in the global Anglican Communion, as seen in the last Lambeth Conference and in previous calls from Bishops in other places of the world for a “structural separation”.
During that discussion, the Archbishop of Canterbury made clear that the majority of the churches in the Anglican Communion continue to affirm traditional teaching on marriage, but that some have already come to a different view on sexuality “after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature” and now bless or celebrate same-sex unions.
But it is expected that this is not the last step of the Church of England in a direction that collides with the traditional Christian teaching. The bishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “This is not the end of that journey but we have reached a milestone and I hope that these prayers of love and faith can provide a way for us all to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships”.
A new group would be set up to produce new pastoral guidance to explain the practical implications of the bishops’ proposals and replace previous guidance and statements.
It is expected that this move will have many reactions from a range of sectors inside the Anglican Church in England, as well as comments in the media.
The announcement of the Church of England was made the same day the government of the UK spoke again about plans to ban so-called conversion therapies.