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It would seem odd to me if I were to just sit here silently after people, particularly the noble Baroness, have said what they have. First, I am sure that no one in the House of Bishops would have approached with anything other than irony the fact that the statement was issued on
The next thing to say is that, without any sense of disloyalty to the college to which I belong, there was a variety of opinion on how we approach the problem. It is a problem because we are dealing with a very long tradition, set out in the Book of Common Prayer. For a church that has a tradition that now goes back 450 years in what it has been saying about marriage, to move in a significantly different direction is a significant shift. There will be a variety of opinions, but that is an issue.
The second issue refers to what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was touching on. We are part of a worldwide communion. One very difficult thing for a worldwide communion is somehow to balance being sensitive to different cultural values in different places. By different cultural values, I do not mean repressive measures being passed in Acts by Governments, which none of us would support. That puts us in a particularly difficult position, because all the time we are trying to ensure that we listen to what people here are saying and what people’s consciences here are saying but, at the same time, to stay with the communion.
Back in the 1988 Lambeth conference, when there was a fairly heated debate about polygamy in some African countries, the western provinces in the Anglican communion worked very hard, saying, “We understand that you are in a different place from where we are, and we are not going to take a hard line on this at the moment”. We have not yet got to that position in the communion. For me to stay other than loyal to the House of Bishops’ statement would be more than irresponsible, because I know that one real concern is that it is not just about us and the Church of England, it is also about the Anglican communion. That is a key issue, and may not have been made quite as clear as it might have been when the statement was issued.
As your Lordships will see, I am not speaking from a prepared text. I think that there is universal concern in the Church of England that we move away from any sense of homophobia and do all that we can to affirm people in different sorts of relationships but, at the moment, that is where the house finds itself, because it had to respect the consciences of people bringing very different opinions.
I hope that that makes it clear to the House that that was not being done in an unthinking, hardhearted or insensitive way—it was certainly not intended to be—but your Lordships will be very pleased to hear that every Bishop, as far as I know, who is a Member of the House received an envelope last week with a note reading, “With compliments for your pastoral sensitivity”, and the envelope included a humbug.