By Mark Michael
Disestablishment of the Church of England as the state religion of Great Britain is likely if the Church refuses to change its teaching on same sex marriage, said Ben Bradshaw, a senior Labour MP in an October 4 interview with The Guardian.
The Diocese of Hereford’s refusal to allow the Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, the daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to officiate at her godfather’s funeral, Bradshaw said, showed that the church is “actively pursuing a campaign of discrimination” against gay and lesbian people. Tutu van Furth, an Episcopal priest ordained in Massachusetts who serves in the Netherlands, is in a same-sex marriage.
“I hope that we might see change,” said Bradshaw, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport. “If not, parliament might want to look at this. Patience is being worn very thin, and parliament is in a position to put pressure on the church. Without change, I think we might see growing calls for disestablishment.”
Bradshaw, the son of a former canon of Norwich Cathedral and a partnered gay man, said that he is himself a churchgoer, and a strong supporter of establishment. “I think there’s great value in the servant church that’s there for everybody, on big state occasions and on countless smaller community occasions and events,” he said.
“But the contract with the nation has to be that it is there for everybody. It’s increasingly obvious that the C of E is not there for lesbian and gay people. And not only that, but it is actively homophobic, cruel, hurtful and institutionally hostile.”
“The denial was hurtful because it was so unnecessary,” she told The Church Times. “The funeral was to be an intimate gathering of family and godchildren, celebrated in a tiny parish, in what is almost the middle of nowhere. The C of E could have extended as a courtesy and a kindness the PTO [permission to officiate] to me as a visiting priest from a sister church.” Priests from outside the Church of England must obtain permission from the archbishop of the province (in this case, the Archbishop of Canterbury).
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Hereford said Tutu van Furth had not actually applied for PTO. Because Tutu van Furth was barred from officiating in a Church of England church, the September 29 funeral for her godfather, Martin Kenyon, was moved to a large tent next to St. Michael and All Angels’ Church in Wentnor, a village in rural Shropshire.
The Bishop of Hereford, Richard Jackson, did consult with Lambeth Palace on the decision, and ultimately barred Tutu van Furth from conducting the service on the basis of the Church of England’s 2014 policy, which bars those in same sex marriages from ordination.
In a subsequent email to the clergy of his diocese, Jackson said, “Despite it violating all my pastoral instincts, I didn’t really have any options with the current rules about overseas PTO and the House of Bishops’ teaching document.”
“Going forward, I think all of us recognize the current situation is untenable and that we cannot go on kicking the can down the road. We will need a solution that will allow everyone’s conscience to be respected and acted upon. I do not underestimate the difficulty of that task. The missional costs of not doing so are just too high.”
The Church of England’s General Synod is set to debate proposals for same sex blessings at its February 23 meeting, aiming to “establish a clear direction of travel” on the issue. The February discussion follows more than two years of engagement with Living in Love and Faith, a resource for discernment about “identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage.”
The Guardian noted that when General Synod first considered allowing women to become bishops in 2012, and voted down the measure, the Archbishop of Canterbury and several other senior church officials were summoned by parliament to answer questions about the decision. Two years later, the measure was approved.