Leaders in the Church of England are walking back a statement leaders of the church released a couple weeks ago emphasizing that “sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.” Now, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, are apologizing for the statement they believe “jeopardised trust.”
“We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused,” the archbishops wrote in a statement released on Thursday, January 30, 2020. The statement indicated “the bishops of the Church of England” also agreed an apology was necessary.
However, the apology did not seek to announce a change of mind among COE clergy regarding sexuality. It did not, for instance, say that the statement they made advocating traditional marriage was wrong. Rather, it seemed to be more of an apology for the fact that the statement was publicized.
The original statement coincided with the United Kingdom’s legalizing civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are different from marriage in that they lack the vows a married couple states before witnesses when they wed. The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown of the COE explains this important distinction:
Civil partnership is not the same as marriage, which is founded on the taking of solemn public vows and is recognized in the church’s teaching as the only proper context for sexual relationships. So, as with same-sex civil partnerships, there is no formal service or blessing but clergy will, as always, be encouraged to respond pastorally to couples wishing to formalize their relationship in this way.
“Living in Love and Faith,” the institution’s large-scale study on human sexuality, will be released in early 2020. Speaking to the Telegraph, a spokesperson for the COE explained what this study entailed:
Three years ago, the Church embarked on the Living in Love and Faith project. This involves listening to the lived experiences of a wide range of people in relation to identity, sexuality and marriage, as well as engaging with theologians and other experts to help the Church learn and deliberate together in a more informed and compassionate way about what it means to live well together in love and faith.
As far as where the COE stands on gay marriage, the church’s official position is that marriage is defined as being between a man and woman. However, the church is making its goal of welcoming and affirming those in the LGBTQ community known. In 2017, the governing body of the Church of England passed a measure which “recognis[ed] the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church,” and commissioned the preparation of liturgical materials to “mark a person’s gender transition.”
The COE is attempting to maintain a traditional view of marriage while also welcoming those whose lifestyle cannot be defined as “traditional.” It remains to be seen whether they will hold their view of marriage when the church publishes the “Living in Love and Faith” study that is due out later this year.