Is same-sex marriage on the horizon for the Church of England?
The list of major denominations that have abandoned the biblical definition of marriage as being between ‘one man and one woman’ is growing.
The United Reformed Church was the first in 2016, but others swiftly followed suit, with the Scottish Episcopal Church and Methodist Church amending their doctrines in 2017 and 2021 respectively. The Church of Wales looks to be not far behind, having endorsed blessings for same-sex marriages last year, with the Church of Scotland set to jump on the bandwagon after its General Assembly voted to redefine marriage in May.
But what of the Church of England, the largest Protestant denomination in the UK?
At the moment there is no legal requirement for CofE churches to perform same-sex weddings, due to the strong protections under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – the so-called quadruple lock.
Furthermore, the Church’s own formal position is that it “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”, a position which it acknowledges is in keeping with “the teaching of Scripture”.
While this should make it a settled matter, the safeguards haven’t stopped LGBT activists from within the denomination demanding change, and sadly, many individual churches and influential figures have adopted the unbiblical position that churches should affirm LGBT practice.
‘Living in Love and Faith’
One man with the inside track on this issue is Revd Canon Giles Goddard, who believes moves towards ‘greater inclusivity’ are not far away.
Canon Goddard, a long-time advocate of same-sex marriage, is a member of the Church’s Co-ordinating Group for ‘Living in Love and Faith’. LLF is a controversial resource which claims to have been designed only to help the denomination consider “questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”, and to encourage the leadership to formulate an appropriate response.
However, given the matter is already settled, many in the Church see it as a Trojan Horse, designed to create upheaval and exert pressure on the General Synod to change doctrine that has been in place for hundreds of years.
According to the LLF roadmap, “the whole Church” is currently meant to be “listening” to what is emerging from “learning together about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.
By General Synod in February next year, LLF will have done all its ‘thinking’, ‘discernment’ and ‘proposing’, it will then be time for the Church and its Bishops to decide upon a way forward.
In an interview with ITV news reporter James Webster, also an LGBT activist, Canon Goddard hinted at some sort of shift toward the acceptance of same-sex marriage within the CofE. His remarks triggered the headline: “Gay marriages could be considered as soon as next year by the Church of England.”
When asked by Webster what he thought the “direction of travel” was within the Church in response to LLF, Canon Goddard replied: “One possible end point is that same-sex marriage is treated exactly equivalent of opposite-sex marriage.
“It’s a situation I’d like us to reach, of course, but in the meantime, it may be that we have some kind of service of thanksgiving or service of blessing or some kind of recognition.”
“I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of recognition through a service at least, in the reasonably near future.”
Canon Goddard conceded that there still existed in the Church people with “a very clear conservative traditional view”, but suggested greater ‘inclusivity’ might herald their departure.
But of course, not all in the Church of England are keen on abandoning Scripture.
Featured in the same ITV report was Revd Dr Ian Paul, a council member of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), who argued clearly that Scripture does not change, and neither should the Church.
we need to be confident in what the church has believed and in what the church believes around the world
In his interview, Revd Paul advocates “retaining the church’s historic understanding of marriage” as a lifelong commitment “between one man and one woman”.
He told Webster: “And the reason for that is because that’s what most Christians around the world believe, that’s what the Church in history has believed” and, he added, “most people recognise that’s the fairly clear teaching of Jesus”.
Revd Paul, the Associate Minister at St Nic’s, Nottingham, added: “For the Church of England we’re very much rooted in what it is the Scriptures say about marriage, and that’s reflected in our formularies and in our canon law and in our liturgy.
“So there’s a strong sense I think amongst many people saying actually we need to be confident in what the church has believed and in what the church believes around the world.”
He was critical of the LLF process for conducting “doctrine by committee” rather than being guided by “what we see God saying in Scripture”. Consequently, Revd Paul warned that the CofE risked detaching itself from “its legacy in Scripture”.
In response to LLF, the CEEC has produced a collection of short videos entitled ‘God’s beautiful story’, the aim of which is to help evangelical churches engage with “any proposals emerging from the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project”.
for evangelicals within the Church, there is no biblical scope and no appetite for ‘pastoral accommodation’ through the introduction of services of blessing for same-sex couples
The third film in the series suggests “differences of conviction about human sexuality” within the CofE are “profound rather than superficial”.
‘Film 4’ makes clear that for evangelicals within the Church, there is no biblical scope and no appetite for ‘pastoral accommodation’ through the introduction of services of blessing for same-sex couples. Notes to accompany the film state that such a proposal “is unable to meet either the aspirations of those who wish for change or of those who wish to hold on to our inherited Anglican doctrine, liturgy and practice”.
There are clearly very strong differences of opinion. But those who remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture on marriage are ready to contend for biblical doctrine against those who seem intent on abandoning the truth and authority of God’s word and kowtow to the dictates of culture.