Author(s)Lee Gatiss
Date 3 July 2024

In June, the bishops of the Church of England told us what their way "forward" is on the vexed issues of same-sex marriage for clergy and the introduction of blessing services for people already in such relationships. Church Society responded to these proposals.

On 26th June, eleven bishops called on their colleagues to re-think their proposals, to do some actual doctrinal work, and bring back proposals that could be properly considered under the governance of the necessary canons.

That same day, The Alliance (which describes itself as “a broad coalition of leaders of networks across different traditions supported by more than 2,000 clergy within the Church of England”) released a public letter supporting those bishops “in their endeavours to remain faithful to the orthodox teaching of the Church of England.” They made it clear that “What is proposed is clearly indicative of ‘a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in an essential matter,’” and expressed disappointment that the House of Bishops had reneged on their previous decision to follow the correct canonical processes. Further, they said that:

“If the further departure from the Church’s doctrine suggested by the Synod papers does go ahead, we will have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto “parallel Province” within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality…. We are not leaving the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. We wish to stay loyal to the one holy catholic and apostolic Church throughout the world rather than be part of a schismatic move which departs from the teaching received and upheld not only by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion (representing around 75% of the Anglican Communion’s 80 million members), the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches but also the vast majority of other churches around the world.”

“We urge you,” they said, “even at this late stage, to honour your oaths as archbishops and bishops in England and to follow the lawful constitutional path to preserve the unity of the Church throughout the Anglican Communion.” The letter was signed by leaders from the Church Commissioners, General Synod, Archdeacons, New Wine, the HTB Network, the Evangelical Group on General Synod, the CEEC, ReNew, church planting networks, the Orthodox Female Clergy Group, Living Out, and Church Society. See their whole letter.

The Alliance also contains several bishops, and some Anglo-Catholic leaders, who wrote their own statement in support. 


There has been a certain level of pushback to the Alliance letter, not least from the Bishop of Oxford who angrily rejects what they say and calls on everyone to “unite behind our compromise”.  In a rather undignified and aggressive response, he questions whether there really is support from 2000+ clergy for the Alliance stance, asking in a somewhat belittling way for the evidence of this. The Alliance, as many will know, has a website ( and the first thing one is confronted with there is a “Join with us” button. That is where they have been able to gather signatures and church details for such a large group of clergy. I think the bishops who dismissively question the support the Alliance has would be taken aback by the breadth of this and the number of parishioners (including a very sizeable proportion of the under 18s in the entire Church of England) who are represented here. It is not for me to release such figures, but it is also not clear to me why the bishop feels the need to suggest that we are lying about the numbers who have expressed concern and joined with us.

The Bishop also disparagingly questions whether the Anglo-Catholic members of the Alliance (with whom I had good conversations at the last meeting of The Alliance, and with whom I am in regular touch) are really behind it. They themselves have released a statement about this for the avoidance of any doubt there.

The Bishop condescendingly suggests that those concerned about the Bishops’ proposals are really a very small number. That is not so. He says there is “literally no risk whatsoever that churches and ministers who support the Church’s current teaching would have to act against their conscience or depart from that doctrine.” But this is naive at best, or disingenuous, and neglects to tell us how we might obey Scripture’s very clear injunction to avoid those who introduce false teaching into the church. We all know that today’s compromise is tomorrow’s baseline for further changes. The Bishop even tells us what his end goal is: full acceptance of gay marriages in church.

Not a change of doctrine

The Bishop claims that “This is not a watershed moment”, and that introducing blessings for same-sex marriages and allowing clergy to marry their same-sex partners, is not (as the Canons state) a departure from or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter. It takes a huge amount of chutzpah to assert such a thing and expect to be taken seriously. The fact that people in authority are doing so, is one of the main reasons why there is a huge dearth of trust in our church at the moment. Institutional gaslighting is an abuse of power.

The Bishop of Oxford lecturing a group of concerned individuals for meeting in a closed room (it wasn't actually, the door was never locked) is a bit rich given that the House of Bishops (which is a legislative body of the General Synod) routinely votes explicitly to close off all its discussions and doesn't release any of the legal advice on which its revolutionary diktats to the rest of us are supposedly based.

Using power to arbitrarily push novel practices against long-established and repeated laws, is a form of tyranny — that our bishops would no doubt complain about if it were the Government or a foreign president doing it. So what is the long-established and repeated law here? What is our doctrine? Surely if these things are written down in constitutionally valid documents, then no temporary majority of bishops could simply override it in an attempted coup, as part of a bid for control? Surely they don’t think that whatever they want is Anglican doctrine, regardless of what is written down for us all to abide by?

Ten things can be said. Forgive the length and repetition here, but that is actually part of the point:

1. Canon Law says that our doctrine is defined by Scripture, the teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils which are accordance with Scripture, and the 39 Articles, Prayer Book, and Ordinal. There is literally zero support for blessing same-sex marriage or allowing clergy to be in such relationships, in those documents.

Article 20 indeed states that “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” This is what the bishops are literally hell-bent on doing. 

Article 7  says that no Christian is free to disobey the moral commandments of God. Jesus declared all foods clean for us, but he did not declare all sexual practices clean; indeed he stated that sexual immorality (along with other sins) defiles us (Mark 7). Even schoolboys would hoot at the impudence of anyone who tried to claim Jesus meant to exclude same-sex relationships from his definition of sexual immorality. 

2. The Book of Common Prayer depicts marriage as between one man and one woman. It also says: “be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God.”

How it can be asserted now that same-sex marriages are lawful and good according to God’s word, we are not told. Apparently we have to wait until the Faith and Order Commission can do some theology and let us know, or until we’ve had the compromise in place for a 3 year period of “discernment". As we’ve already said, this is a curious thing. It is normally considered more prudent to discern whether something is right or wrong before you do it. When crossing the road it is wise to check there is no traffic before you step out. True, just heading onto the road and being struck by a car would help you discern it was not safe, but would it not be better to have looked for traffic first? Especially when others on the pavement are shouting: “Stop”!

3. Canon B30 says “The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

If the Church of England now also declares that marriage between two people of the same sex is fine, how on earth is that not a change of doctrine? Why does the law of non-contradiction not apply? Is this really what those who passed Canon B30 meant?

4. The motion passed overwhelmingly by General Synod in November 1987 states:

“This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:

1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;

2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;

3. that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;

4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.”

How is LLF not a change of this doctrine? Surely to assert that what the bishops are suggesting is no big deal, requires such casuistry, such mental gymnastics, that it could almost be an Olympic sport.

5. The 1991 House of Bishops report Issues in Human Sexuality argues that what it calls a ‘homophile’ orientation and attraction could not be endorsed by the Church as:

“…a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, Tradition and reasoned reflection on experience, even including the newly sympathetic and perceptive thinking of our own day, make it impossible for the Church to come with integrity to any other conclusion. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.”

How is LLF therefore not a change of doctrine? If it isn’t a change of doctrine, why are activists and bishops furiously trying to get rid of Issues in Human Sexuality?

6. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference (of all bishops in the Anglican Communion) declares that the Conference: “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.” It also declares that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

How can legitimising same sex unions by blessing them and allowing clergy to be in them, not be a change of doctrine at odds with the mind of the worldwide church?

7. The 1999 House of Bishops teaching document Marriage states that: “Marriage is a pattern that God has given in creation, deeply rooted in our social instincts, through which a man and a woman may learn love together over the course of their lives”, and that “Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy belongs within marriage exclusively.”

Surely this is contradicted by what the bishops now propose? 

8. The Preface to the modern Common Worship marriage service marriage tells the congregation that: “Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

If marriage is also for husband and husband, or wife and wife, surely Common Worship is wrong, and that would be a change of doctrine? You can see why intelligent people might be confused.

9. The 2005 House of Bishops Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships states:

“It has always been the position of the Church of England that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.”

“The Church of England’s teaching is classically summarised in The Book of Common Prayer, where the marriage service lists the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ‘for the procreation of children, …for a remedy against sin [and]…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.”

“In the light of this understanding the Church of England teaches that ‘sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively’… Sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.”

This teaching was reiterated (word for word) in the December 2019 Pastoral Statement on same-sex and opposite sex civil partnerships.

What is now being proposed is directly the opposite of that. Who could say it is not a change of doctrine, and keep a straight face?

10. Finally, the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage (2014) stated that the same principles should apply with same-sex marriages as with Civil Partnerships and that in consequence: “Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.” It also stated that “Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England… it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage.” 

How is it a "modest" change, to reverse this completely? How? We must be forgiven for being somewhat bemused. The Bishop of Oxford wants us to believe this is a modest step to bring things in line with what is actually happening. But it is actually a wholesale reversal of everything above. Besides, if it was a modest change as he suggests, and he really did care about preserving unity and avoiding schism, surely the most statesmanlike and pastoral response would be to not go ahead with the proposals causing all the problems. Anyone in ordinary parish ministry would certainly consider such a diplomatic course if they were pushing something so controversial against the established laws and the strong opposition of a sizeable number of their most active members.

In the light of all these doctrinal statements and repeated declarations, the only way that the Church of England could permit with integrity services of blessing for same-sex couples, including same-sex marriages for clergy  — would be to repudiate all the statements just listed above and declare that it now believes something else instead. Only in this way could the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, that the Church of England prays as it believes, be maintained. Only in this way could anybody believe anything the bishops tell us. It would at least be honest.

Trying to openly overturn it all, honestly and clearly, would have some integrity, even if it would be seriously in error. But that’s clearly not what they want to do. They want to pretend that nothing has changed, and that the new proposals simply regularise what’s been happening for years anyway, according to the Bishop of Oxford, and which we have been “content” with, he astonishingly claims. Despite the fact that even a secular employment tribunal has recognised that the Church’s doctrine of marriage is clear and does exclude same-sex marriages for clergy (and therefore upheld the withholding of a license from a clergyman who entered into one). If clergy have been ordained and permitted to live outside the current guidelines listed above, it is the fault of those very bishops who are now trying to get us to accept all this as not a change of doctrine. We should not be coerced into passively accepting their past (and possibly deliberate) failures in disciplinary safeguarding, which is one of their core tasks as bishops. Who knows what other guidelines and doctrines they might fail or be failing to uphold. 

The world

Both GAFCON and The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans have repudiated the bishops’ proposals. Indeed, the GSFA said that it “deeply regrets the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod today, supporting the House of Bishops’ proposals to ‘bless’ Same Sex Unions – which goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.”

To claim as the Bishop of Oxford tries to that many provinces contain a variety of views or that there is no consensus, is tendentious in the extreme, and ignores the blatantly clear consensus of the vast majority of the Anglican world that what our bishops are doing is wrong. And this, the Global South says, “has now triggered a widespread loss of confidence” in the Church of England’s leadership of the Communion. It is very hard to resist a charge of western elitism, when one notes where all the pressure is coming from to liberalise on these matters. The snobbish, Anglo-centric, and dictatorial behaviour that my non-Western friends tell me they observed at recent Lambeth conferences and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council is not reassuring.

Crisis, what crisis?

The Alliance letter is criticised by the Bishop of Oxford for “catasrophising language” because it talks of “incalculable damage to the structure, integrity and mission of the national church”. Only the most blinkered could fail to see that this is exactly what is happening because of LLF. According to the Church of England’s own figures, attendance is down 29% since 2015, ordinand numbers are down 40% since 2019, and most dioceses are now in a structural deficit position. Though obviously there are several factors at play here, the confusion and catastrophic loss of trust caused by LLF is certainly responsible for a great deal of this. One would have to be trapped in a deluded bubble not to see that. Major leaders and networks within the growing and thriving parts of the church have consistently and publicly expressed deep regret and concern at developments. The global Anglican Communion has even rejected the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On what definition is this not a leadership crisis, of the most epic proportions? Surely the bishop needs to get his head out of the sand. It's like the House of Bishops are trying to build a massive extension without planning permission, in the hope that everything will be alright once it's up, fait accompli. But as Captain Tom's family discovered recently, that isn't always what happens.

The early church flourished in a time of confusion and persecution by being clear on the gospel, refuting heresy, and acting to counter it ecclesiologically where necessary, even if that seemed "irregular". That's the way forward here.


The Bishop of Oxford labels The Alliance approach “a deep and disproportionate schism”. Schism is a heavily-loaded term that is too easily thrown about in the current debate. Some theology or history might be of assistance in helping to understand what it actually means. Obviously I would point to Fight Valiantly: Contending for the Faith against False Teaching in the Church if anyone wants to explore this whole area in detail. But there's also Gerald Bray's very useful book, Heresy, Schism, and Apostasy.

The Lutheran Confessions are very helpful on this. They say:

“The impiety and tyranny of bishops cause schism and discord. Therefore, if the bishops are heretics, or will not ordain suitable persons, the churches are in duty bound before God, according to divine law, to ordain for themselves pastors and ministers. Even though this is now called an irregularity or schism, it should be known that the godless doctrine and tyranny of bishops is chargeable with it. Paul commands that bishops who teach and defend a godless doctrine and godless services should be considered accursed (Galatians 1:7-9).”

Further, they add:

“The adversaries also quote Hebrews 13:17, ‘Obey your leaders.’ This passage requires obedience to the Gospel. It does not establish a dominion for the bishops apart from the Gospel. Neither should the bishops enact traditions contrary to the Gospel or interpret their traditions contrary to the Gospel. When they do this, obedience is prohibited, according to Galatians 1:9, ‘If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.’”

In addition, the Augsburg Confession says clearly that when bishops “teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God's command to obey them… The Canonical Laws also command this… And Augustine writes: ‘Neither must we submit to catholic bishops if they chance to err, or hold anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God.’ (Contra Petiliani Epistolam).”

The biblical book of Jude is quite clear where schism originates. “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

So if there is schism, it is caused by those who do not follow the Bible. It is emphatically not caused by those who seek to uphold it and follow it and reject innovations. This must be especially the case where the teaching and practices being proposed are said by the Scriptures to exclude people from the kingdom of God, as is the case here (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7). Surely to redefine the sins mentioned here as things which are actually good and appropriate for Christians, would be the very definition of a salvation issue, one on which our eternal destiny turns? It would be, as Jude puts it, to “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). 

The Bishop uncharitably accuses The Alliance of a lack of perspective and of neglecting “mercy, love and joy and the priority of gospel proclamation.” He and I would not agree on what the gospel is that we are proclaiming, because we preach different versions of Jesus. It is not Anglican to preach just the mercy, love, and joy bits of scripture and ignore these stark warnings. Indeed, the mercy, love, and joy spoken of in the Bible are always in the context of God’s holiness and judgment, and don’t make sense without those. He is merciful to sinners who repent. He loves those who turn back to him from rebellion. He gives joy to those who turn from their disordered desires and embrace him by faith alone. That's the whole reason for "gospel proclamation" in the first place, to save us from our sin. Unless one believes that everybody is saved in the end anyway. Which I suspect many clergy and bishops actually do, quite contrary to what the Bible and the Articles say. That's not an Anglican theology.

Tolerance of disagreement and error here would not be “wisely allowing a diversity of interpretations in a disputed area” as some might say, a sign of Anglicanism’s supposedly secure ability to embrace a diversity of views. It would not be spiritually loving or pastorally accommodating: it would be literally soul-destroying. We should no more tolerate this than we would tolerate a drop or two of poison in our afternoon tea. No-one with compassion for those caught in sin can simply affirm it unquestioningly without showing the better way — peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to “Repent and believe.” With him there is forgiveness, a fresh start, and the power of the Spirit to enable us to live for him.

I have quoted this before, more than once, but it remains relevant: as the theologian John Calvin put it, “How can any one have the effrontery to expect that God will aid him in accomplishing desires at variance with his word? What God with his own lips pronounces cursed, never can be prosecuted with his blessing.” (Institutes 3.7.9).

So, no, bishop; we will not be uniting behind your compromise (even if it was more pleasantly and graciously presented). Instead, we will pray:

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

 * The Church of England’s collect for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C).

Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.