The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) welcomes the dissenting statement made by 12 bishops from the House of Bishops this morning. CEEC is grateful for the courage of those who signed it, for the substantive issues raised in the statement and for the time spent getting to this point.
The statement, printed in full below, was signed by around a quarter of those in the House of Bishops and marks a rare moment with bishops officially registering their opposition to the process and decisions made in the House of Bishops. The dissenting statement follows a press release issued by the Church of England on Monday announcing that the House of Bishops had agreed in principle that prayers asking for God’s blessing for same-sex couples – known as Prayers of Love and Faith – should be commended for use.
Revd Canon John Dunnett, National Director, CEEC, said: “I am very grateful to these bishops for critiquing the process by which the House of Bishops is pursuing their agenda for change.
“It is not very often that bishops from the House of Bishops express their dis-ease at something being proposed by the rest of the House. The statement is significant because of what it says.
“First, they name the deep disagreement that exists within the House of Bishops. To publicly acknowledge the depth of disagreement is significant, given the seismic changes the House of Bishops is pursuing.
“Second, they raise a question about the legitimacy of these proposals and the possibility that they are indicative of a departure from Church of England doctrine. A specific point they make is that the legal and theological advice that the House of Bishops has received may not support the employment of these prayers. In other words, they could be indicative of a departure from the doctrine in the Church of England. That’s a massively significant concern.
“Third, they talk about the bishops needing to have ‘due regard to the obligations of good and proper governance’. In other words, this letter is saying that how the House of Bishops makes decisions matters as well as the decisions made. One of the things we’ve been talking about for several years in the Church of England is the need to ‘pay attention to power’. There must be proper and fit use of power, not misuse and abuse of power. I wonder if there’s a hint here that good process in respect of the use of power has not always been at the top of the agenda.
“I share with the signatories the deep desire that we remain true to the gospel as entrusted to us”.
The Right Revd Julian Henderson, President, CEEC, said: “I am personally so grateful and delighted that these members of the House of Bishops have clearly and courageously expressed their opposition to the proposals and direction of travel that the rest of the House seems intent on pursuing. This feels like an historic moment for the Church of England.”
The full statement can be read below.
A statement from 12 bishops in the House of Bishops
On Monday the House of Bishops reached a decisive point in the journey discerning how to proceed in relation to Living in Love and Faith. We have participated in good faith in attempts to find consensus but were unable to support the decisions taken on Monday. There was deep disagreement within the House. Sharing the profound concerns of many in the Church of England and in the wider Communion, with heavy hearts we find it necessary to dissent publicly from the decisions of the House.
We welcome the fact that the House recognised the need for General Synod to exercise its legitimate responsibilities in relation to liturgy and doctrine under Canon B2. However, the decision to commend the suite of prayers for use in public services bypasses those procedures and does not permit the General Synod to consider the full significance of the prayers. Nor can Synod determine whether the bishops have fulfilled their intention (supported in February) that the final form of the prayers should not be “indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”. Indeed, legal and theological advice the House has received suggest clearly to us that the decisions of the House may fall short of this commitment.
We are also firmly of the view that we need to adhere to the commitment made to bring the Prayers of Love and Faith, the pastoral guidance and pastoral reassurance (including whatever formal structural provision is necessary) to Synod as a single package, rather than doing so in a piecemeal fashion. We are therefore unable to support the collective decisions made by the House which we believe fail to safeguard the pastoral stability, mission and unity of the church.
Faced with these sensitive matters over which there remains deep disagreement, we are committed as bishops to continue seeking to discern a way forward in the interests of the whole Church and to providing pastoral care for all. At the same time, we believe that bishops must have due regard to the obligations of good and proper governance. Even at this late stage, we urge our episcopal colleagues and the Archbishops, as joint Presidents of General Synod, to reconsider the course we saw mapped out in our meeting.
We join the prayers of the whole Church as we seek to bear united and faithful witness to the good news of Jesus Christ entrusted to us, in the midst of the challenges we face as the Church and especially for our wider world at this time.
The Bishop of Blackburn, Philip North
The Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Rob Munro
The Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson
The Bishop of Hereford, Richard Jackson
The Bishop of Islington, Ric Thorpe
The Bishop of Lancaster, Jill Duff
The Bishop of Oswestry, Paul Thomas
The Bishop of Rochester, Jonathan Gibbs
The Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox
The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Paul Williams
The Bishop of Beverley, Stephen Race
12 October 2023