While the Church of England finally recognizes the unjustified rejection and hostility experienced by LGBTQ+ people, it remains divided on marriage equality.
After five years of debate over marriage equality, the Church of England has apologized for the unjustified rejection and hostility experienced by LGBTQ+ people in recent years. But despite these apologies from the highest levels of the Church of England, same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry within the church—a deeply regrettable situation.
“We want to apologize for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people—both those who worship in our churches and those who do not," England bishops said in an open letter. “We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong. We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God. For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful, and for this, we repent.”
Since 2013, same-sex marriage has been legal in England and Wales, but the Church of England’s religious teaching has not been adapted to reflect this change, despite most churches in the UK allowing the celebration of same-sex weddings in their churches. This includes the Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland, both of which have opened their doors to same-sex couples and now celebrate their unions within their churches. So it is only natural to be disappointed by the lack of commitment and recognition given to LGBTQ+ Christians by the Anglican Church.
Nonetheless, and though the Church’s teaching will remain unchanged after these apologies—namely, viewing marriage as a holy union between a man and a woman—the Church is now offering same-sex couples access to certain services such as prayers of consecration, blessings after their civil marriage, or registration of their civil partnership, knowing that clergy members are free to either support or oppose this.
This initial opening up of the Church of England represents a positive shift in recognizing the experience of some LGBTQ+ Christians, even if it’s far from satisfactory.
There are deep divisions among members of the clergy when it comes to same-sex couples. Some have already chosen not to comply with the updated directives.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, for example, has acknowledged that there is indeed division among Church members on the issue of prayers for same-sex couples and that unity on the matter will not be easy to achieve, but he also spoke of his need not to do it in order, he said, to maintain ties between the 85 million parishioners.
In contrast, Oxford Bishop Steven Croft has made a symbolic gesture to show that Christian values can evolve by personally apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community. He also called on those who represent him within the hierarchy of the Church of England to reconsider their opinion on marriage equality.
Though members of the General Synod cannot be compelled to make a change, it is encouraging to see some bishops recognize that their religion must evolve and open itself up to LGBTQ+ believers.
Well-known lesbian activist Jayne Ozanne, who advocates for LGBTQ rights within the Church, has expressed her deep disappointment and anger at the stance taken by the bishops. According to her, God does not discriminate, and any excuse rings hollow if it is followed by abuse. She calls on the Church of England for urgent change.
“We’ve had apology after apology after apology, and this one frankly, sounds hollow and cruel,’’ Ozanne wrote on Twitter. “Because if you apologize and then carry on with the abuse, it is akin to domestic abuse. The fact that the bishops don’t see that is what angers me.”
These apologies sound insufficient, and despite them and the newly released guidelines of the Church of England on LGBTQ+ people, the conflict within the clergy over same-sex marriage remains deep, and divisions persist. Members of the Synod cannot be forced to make a change. However, it is encouraging to see some bishops recognize that their religion needs to open itself up to LGBTQ+ believers. In her disappointment and anger, Jayne Ozanne reveals the depth of unresolved issues regarding unwarranted rejection and hostility towards LGBTQ+ people.