In his latest blog, Revd Dr Andrew Goddard explores why the bishops’ attempts to implement the February General Synod motion please absolutely no-one. Not only has the House of Bishops emerged as being deeply divided but both those pushing for change and those holding to traditional teaching are upset and hurt by the proposals. More broadly there are concerns that the bishops are not heeding the Pastoral Principles in the way they are running the process and there is an increasing lack of transparency. He concludes that the bishops have failed in what they set out to achieve and he calls on Synod, rather than supporting a motion to continue with implementation, to instead encourage a fresh approach to working towards a settlement.

Goddard writes, “The majority of the article explores the motion’s last three clauses which focus on the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF). By setting out what was said back in January and February in press releases and by the Archbishop of York it is shown why it’s now ending in tears for those who want change. Multiple key elements of the original proposals are now being withdrawn or looking uncertain and apparent commitments (or widespread expectations) are no longer being delivered. Examples of this are that not all of PLF is to be introduced at the same time in the near future, “standalone” services are not even to be introduced experimentally and are effectively banned, no celebrations of civil marriages, no focus on the couple, no prayers over rings, and no change in the church’s teaching that sex is for marriage between a man and a woman.

“Although none of this is explicitly acknowledged or explained (or apologised for) there has been a clear “rowing back” from what was presented as “the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the Church’s doctrine” combined with a lack of transparency and the appearance of being economical with the truth. These changes, though not how they have been arrived at, can be welcomed by conservatives but they too remain upset. This is in part because of the earlier statements which have not been clearly acknowledged as wrong but primarily because their concern has always been doctrinal and now—after months of denial—the bishops are admitting their proposals are (in violation of the Cornes amendment to the motion and contrary to their stated intention again in July) indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England. The plan is also to proceed, despite past assurances, with the prayers ahead of the full guidance or reassurance being even published let alone agreed.

“The guidance itself (which has still not appeared in relation to what replaces Issues despite it being part of the February motion and even hoped for in July) is also a cause of grief. Across the board there is concern about leaks showing the bishops have made decisions about clergy in same-sex marriages but then failed to be open about this with Synod, giving the impression this remains undecided. Here those wanting change are encouraged (though upset at the lack of transparency) but those committed to the current doctrine further upset and therefore cautious about welcoming the changes in relation to PLF.

“As we mark the 20th anniversary of Gene Robinson’s consecration which the Primates correctly warned would “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level” we also now face the prospect of the bishops’ proposals ending in tears in the Church of England. This is especially likely as their work on pastoral reassurance is far from sufficiently progressed to deal with the impact of proceeding with the prayers and guidance or, perhaps, the reactions of those wanting change if all they are offered is what is now being proposed.”