Three Oxford University chaplains have signed an open letter in protest against recent guidance from the Church of England that banned all clergy from officiating same sex marriages.
The letter was written by Durham University’s Reverend Dr Hannah Cleugh and signed by 45 other clergymen under the age of 40. It argues that this guidance will widen the disconnect between the Church of England’s official position and the views of its members, and reinforce an image of the Church as a “toxic brand”.
The Pastoral Guidance note, which banned same-sex marriages in the clergy, was published by the House of Bishops, one of the three houses of the General Synod, which is the decision-making body of the Church of England. The note stated, “It would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”
Alongside heated pastoral debate, two Oxford academics have written a letter to The Telegraph, objecting to the premise stated in the note that “There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the… definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England.”
Hannah Cleugh, Chaplain of University College, Durham, told Cherwell, “Obviously, it’s not true that only liberal churches grow – conservative churches and traditional, Catholic churches can be very popular with young people in Oxford. What makes a difference is the teaching and preaching and how welcoming the church community is. The Pastoral Guidance note is clearly a restatement of the Church of England’s existing position. However, following a recent report commissioned by the church, it has committed itself to a process of conversations across the Anglican Communion. The timing of this announcement is therefore unfortunate, and seems to be preempting some of these conversations.”
Andrew Allen, Chaplain at Exeter College, is among the clergy who signed the open letter protesting the new guidance. He pointed out the role of the Church in life at secular institutions like Oxford where chaplains are often students’ first port of call for welfare.
“The Church should remember that secular colleges choose to employ Chaplains and it seems that the Church has lost its lead on issues of morality and ethics,” he stated. “The point of Jesus Christ is that God comes to earth to meet people where they are in their lives; whilst some students may struggle with their own sexuality, many do not see this as an issue that the church should be concerned with.
“At Exeter we have a thriving Chapel community, not all who ‘sign up’, but who value what the gospel has to offer and the Church’s guidance on sexuality seems to run contrary to their experiences of religion and faith. Historically the University has often been at odds with the Church, and it is my hope that we will continue to challenge some of the views of the Church.”
Daniel Inman, Chaplain at Queen’s, said, “Although the Church is still in the early stages of rethinking its approach to gay couples, the new Church guidance was a document that gave us the sort of legalese that Jesus regularly mocked during his ministry at a time when we desperately needed to find ways of communicating that love and commitment are actually rather good things. I hope that changes soon, as the very peculiar limits that are currently set upon who can be blessed in our college chapels will surely become deeply problematic for Christian life here in the long term.
“If we’re willing to bless a Royal Navy battleship, why not a same-sex couple who are promising to cherish each other and be faithful to each other for as long as they both shall live?”
Anna Appleby, a Christian from St. Hilda’s identifies as LGBTQ+ and founded the Oxford students’ group ‘Faith and Diversity’, which focuses on issues such as the relationship between Christianity and sexuality. She said, “I believe God calls diverse people to the priesthood and therefore it is not up to the House of Bishops to assume who God might or might not call, or to deprive the Church community of LGBTQ+ people’s gifts and experience.”
However, one first year historian said, “For me, this is an issue of logical consistency. The Church of England isn’t legally allowed to conduct same-sex marriages. If its clergy can have same-sex marriages but not conduct them, it’s one rule for them and another for the laity.”