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Church of England upholds the Bible’s teaching on marriage, then apologises

March 2020

The Church of England issued a pastoral guidance statement which upholds the Bible’s teaching that sex should be reserved for heterosexual married couples.

But following the release of the statement an apology was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the outgoing Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

The pastoral guidance statement was issued by the House of Bishops. It said, ‘For Christians, marriage — that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity.’

The statement also said, ‘Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.’

It was issued in response to new laws allowing heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships. These laws came into force on 31 December 2019.

The release of the statement prompted an angry social media backlash from gay rights activists and other anti-religious groups. Some CofE vicars and bishops also distanced themselves from the statement.

The Bishop of Buckingham and other prominent figures within the CofE called the tone of the document ‘offensive’ and claimed it has ‘damaged’ the mission of the church.

Other clergy who agreed with the statement said they did not agree with the way in which it was released – seemingly out of context, rather than specifically in relation to the new civil partnership laws.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York decided to apologise for any hurt caused, especially to the gay community.

They said, ‘We as archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.’

But Andrea Williams, a lay member of the General Synod and chief executive of Christian Concern, said the apology was ‘astonishing’.

She said, ‘The pastoral statement merely reiterated church teaching on marriage. An apology should only be made when you have done something wrong. This apology does not regret anything that was said in the pastoral statement. It is therefore a non-apology.’

She said just because people disagree with church teaching, as indeed some always have, this was ‘no reason’ for the archbishops to apologise for church teaching.

‘We are left with the appearance the archbishops are sorry for the offence caused by proclaiming the doctrine of marriage,’ she added, calling this a ‘ridiculous’ position.