By Andrew Carey, CEN
When they near retirement bishops are often tempted to go off-message. Bishop James Jones’s call for blessings of civil partnerships should be welcomed however, because it represents an outbreak of honesty in the House of Bishops.
The collegiality of the House often signals a lack of openness and honesty about where the Church of England really is on many of the debates of the day. Bishops who sign up to official statements and then do everything they can in their dioceses to undermine Church teaching are far more damaging than gadflies on the edge of orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, Bishop James Jones is wrong on the blessing of civil partnerships for two main reasons. Firstly, though the bishops may have discussed civil partnerships in closed session on many occasions, there has been no wider theological debate in the Church of England on how these relationships reflect church teaching on marriage. I have always maintained
that civil partnerships were a step to same-sex marriage and like many others I have been proved right.
Just as importantly, most of those in a civil partnership will convert that form of relationship to marriage the moment the Bill is enacted.
Civil Partnerships will continue to be entered into by a minority but activists will now be urging the Church of England to provide blessings for gay marriage. And in fact, unofficial blessings will undoubtedly take place. Furthermore, clergy in civil partnerships will themselves convert their licences to marriage. There will be many more facts on the ground for the Church of England to deal with.
This is where the trajectory of the debate on human sexuality is headed. It will leave us with a much more balkanised Church of England. The emphasis on reconciliation from our new Archbishop will not be enough to contain the dividing lines and the inevitable fragmentation of the Church of England will continue apace.
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