Second Estates Commissioner to Synod – not the job of Parliament to decide Church of England doctrine

On 8th February 2023 the Church of England General Synod debated a motion on same-sex marriage and the response of the College of Bishops to the Church’s Living in Love and Faith process. The Second Church Estates Commissioner addressed the Synod:

Andrew Selous MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner. Ex-officio 458:

I was called to answer an urgent question on this issue in the House of Commons on 24th January. I was amused to be told the urgent question would not be repeated in the House of Lords because there was apparently no one to speak for the Church of England in the House of Lords !

I pledged to make MPs views known to Synod. Of the twelve who spoke that day, eight expressed a hope that the Synod would change doctrine to enable same-sex couples to be married by the Church. There were deep and heartfelt stories from a number of MPs of the personal sense of hurt they felt at what they considered to be ongoing discrimination against LGBT+ people.

Others have contacted me in private, for fear of retribution, to support traditional doctrine and several said that it is for Synod, not for Parliament, to reach its own prayerful decision on this issue. Copies of the Hansard extract are available at the administration desk.

For nearly fifty years, since Parliament approved the 1974 Worship and Doctrine Measure, it has been settled understanding that the Church, not Parliament, has the decisive say on matters of doctrine. It is not the job of Parliament to decide what the doctrine of the Church of England should be, but I am conscious that Parliament’s patience may not be infinite and indeed there have already been cross-party meetings of MPs to look at a private member’s bill to require the church to go further.

Should Synod decide to change marriage doctrine at a future point, a Measure produced here, going through Parliament, will provide the necessary legal opt-in. There is no need therefore for Parliament to act independently to change the 2013 Marriage Act.

Those here, and in Parliament, who wish to force that, or to remove the rights of conscience from equality law, should be extremely careful what they wish for. It would infringe on settled principles of religious freedom, overturn a century of measured devolution from Parliament to this Synod, and be likely to call into question the rights and protections of conscience for other denominations and faiths as well as the Church of England. The principle of religious freedom, which we champion for our brothers and sisters in other countries, needs to apply equally at home.

I was deeply moved by Archbishop Justin’s passionate plea for unity on Monday, but I’m struggling to see how we achieve that as the present position has managed to upset many on both sides of this debate and a small number of MPs tell me they fear churches will leave the Church of England over this issue.

I hear calls for allowing freedom for both sides in terms of doctrine determined by Synod and I would dearly love us to find a way to achieve that without fracturing the Church of England or obscuring our primary mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and hurting world.

Note: The motion, which was passed by the General Synod in a vote of all three Houses, reads as follows:

That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and  to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:  

  1. lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;  
  2. recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;  
  3. commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;   
  4. welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;  
  5. welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;  
  6. invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time; 
  7. endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.’ 

Further information:

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