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Archbishops urged to call 'emergency debate' over C of E's legal advice on civil partnerships

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The following was issued as a press release earlier today and contains the full text of Andrea's speech:

Issued by Mrs Andrea Minichiello Williams

Lay Member of the General Synod of the Church of England

Press Release

For Immediate Release

July 8, 2011


ARCHBISHOPS URGED TO CALL ‘EMERGENCY DEBATE’ OVER CofE’S LEGAL ADVICE ON CIVIL PARTNERSHIPS


ANDREA Minichiello Williams, a Lay Member of the General Synod of the Church of England, which sits in York for four days, starting this afternoon, is to call upon the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to agree to an ‘Emergency debate’ over Legal Advice which was circulated as to whether Gay clergy can become Bishops.

Mrs Williams, a Barrister, will use a speech to claim that the legal advice usurps the right of General Synod.  She will say that Synod alone, and not the legal office of Synod, can decide on matters of Church Doctrine, and that such advice should not have been circulated.

The text of her speech is below, and Mrs Williams is available for interview by calling 0771 259 1164.

ENDS.

 

[Press Note: Check against delivery]

Andrea Minichiello Williams: Lay Member of General Synod – Business Committee Report Debate – July 7,2011, York. General Synod of The Church of England

Synod, this July there is a presenting issue for the Church and State which I submit must, and should have been addressed by this Synod at York. I understand the Business Committee can only consider items submitted to it by appropriate bodies, and not create items, but the Archbishops, as Presidents, can call an Emergency debate and I hope they will on a very grave matter indeed.

On 23RD June William Fittall, Secretary General to the General Synod and Archbishops’ Council responded to the Government Consultation on the extension of Civil Partnerships to Religious Premises. He conceded that since ‘the decision that Parliament has already taken to amend the Civil Partnership Act in the Equality Act, the Church of England’s response would focus on the need to ensure that the forthcoming regulations would continue to provide unfettered freedom for each religious tradition to resolve these matters in accordance with its own convictions and its own internal procedures of governance.’

In my view this response is woeful and a dereliction of our duty as the established Church in our nation. This cedes the public doctrine of marriage to the state. This privatises the Church’s involvement in marriage and is very serious indeed.

I am concerned that the response given to the Government is  illegal, as it is Synod alone which can set the doctrine and policy of the Church of England, and not her lay officers or legal advisers. If we look at the Synodical Government Measure of 1969 and the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974, beginning with the Enabling Act of 1919, General Synod is fully vested with the authority of Acts of Parliament to decide for itself all matters of Christian doctrine, liturgy and assent affecting clergy and members of the Church of England – including its lay officers.

In recent days we have received details of the legal advice, in connection with the related matter of recognising civil partnerships amongst clergy which has been given to the Crown Nominations Commission and to diocesan bishops purportedly concerning the Equality Act and its alleged effect upon the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England.

This has been presented to us as if it is the only law which matters; a secular piece of legislation and in effect, the last word on the controversial issue of the appointment of bishops with civil partners.

The General Synod is fully empowered to determine finally and conclusively, without any involvement of any third party, what is the doctrine of the Church of England and to require its clergy and lay officers to assent to it.

The officers of the General Synod, its Secretary General and its legal advisers must refer to synod on a matter as important as the extension of civil partnerships to religious premises or the acceptance of civil partnerships amongst clergy.

The effect of civil partnership legislation has been effectively to destroy the public doctrine of marriage in Britain for the first time in centuries. This has happened on our watch and the Lord will judge us for it.  Until the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act, the public doctrine of marriage was consistent with the Book of Common Prayer, however this is no longer the case.  The state no longer has a view about marriage that reflects the teachings of Scripture, and this is what permits politicians to say that they believe in marriage between a man and man, or a woman and a woman.

A re-affirmation of marriage as between a man and woman in the public domain is what the church must have on its agenda. And what we must put on this Business Agenda, and should have been this time round.

Marriage is solemn and holy. A country that does not uphold the institution of marriage strikes at its own heart. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a sacrament of permanence and a solemn agreement of commitment solely between one man and one woman.  There is only one thing in the New Testament which is classified as a “sacrament” and that is the institution of marriage.  The Bible teaches us that God made a man and a woman in His own image to be together for a common purpose, namely for the procreation and the nurture of children, and this relationship is a direct reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church – the bridegroom and the bride.

During the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, government officials repeatedly gave re-assurances that the new legislation was a “secular” solution simply designed to redress the social and economic disadvantages faced by those in long term homosexual relationships arising from an absence of a legal recognition of their relationship. There would be no religious element to it. The government re-iterated its opposition to same-sex marriages on numerous occasions and gave undertakings that it would not introduce homosexual marriages in the future.  Thus, Parliament was persuaded to pass the Bill on the understanding that traditional marriage would not be undermined by the new law and would continue to hold its privileged status in society.

Sadly some of our representatives in the House of Lords went along with this:

The former Lord Bishop of Oxford:

“My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the Bill... I believe that this Bill, which makes a place in law for committed partnerships could strengthen rather than undermine the Christian understanding of marriage.”[1]

The former Lord Bishop of Peterborough:

“I too welcome what the Minister has called, the measured response to a recognised need....it offers a secular solution and does not seek to weaken the importance of marriage.

In the different circumstances of our present society, it is clearly right that protection should be extended to those in the range of equally devoted relationships in which each has contributed to the well-being of the other and their dependants.”[2]

The former Lord Bishop of Chelmsford:

My Lords....we are debating is a very interesting piece of legislation. I am delighted to see it... I should like to encourage the Government to "roll on”...”[3].

Well we are living the ‘roll on’

The Archbishop's Council of the Church of England also approved the legislation and gave an appalling response to the Government's consultation document on the Civil Partnership Act, stating that:

“We support the Government's wish to encourage long-term stable relationships as being more in the interests of society as a whole than a culture of transient or promiscuous relationships. Fair treatment for such relationships within a framework of legal rights and safeguards may well help to promote this objective. We also endorse the Government's intention to reinstate the rights of individuals within same-sex relationships in relation to such matters as protection from domestic violence, the registration of a death and inheritance matters, including tenancy succession. The law no longer reflects current social patterns and needs amendment to remedy injustice."[4]

All the Government’s undertakings have been breached, and we find ourselves in this position because the church failed to speak and continues to fail to speak. But the General Synod can now speak in this session.

The General Synod can say that it is not lawful for officers of the Church to state a position in public which has not been approved by Synod which alone is vested with deciding doctrine.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was a direct attack on conventional marriage and the family, and introduced a fundamental change in public policy which should never have been approved.  It undermined marriage significantly, and equated same-sex unions with marriage by providing homosexuals with every material right and responsibility presently conferred on married couples.  In fact, the rights given to homosexual couples mirrored marriage in so many respects that civil partnership legislation was said to create “homosexual marriages” in all but name.

Furthermore, the Church of England In allowing ordained men to enter Civil Partnerships the church has failed to stand up for faithful biblical teaching – and has missed its calling to be a Holy priesthood – set apart from the world to live differently where even the thought of foolishness is sin – Proverbs 24:9.

Where is Christ’s teaching today that to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery in your heart (Matt 5:28)?

What about the teaching that we are to avoid the very appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22) – what will people think when they see two men holding hands in a civil partnership?

What about the teaching that clergy should be beyond reproach (1 Timothy 3:7) – that does not apply just to bishops but to all in authority.

The Bible teaches the unrighteous will not enter the Kingdoms of Heaven – and the list of sins includes all sexual immorality – what has happened to our moral courage.

These proposals are clearly a force for destroying marriage and the family, and will have serious repercussions for both present and future generations. The purpose of marriage is to glorify Christ.

We His Bride do not glorify Him when we do not speak Truth and we damage society in the process.

General Synod, it is time to reassert the public doctrine of marriage at the heart of the debate and to resist anything that weakens this pressingly, in these days, increased recognition of civil partnerships amongst clergy and the extension of civil partnerships to religious premises.

Chair, I hope that the Business Committee will use its good offices to urge the Archbishops to grant an Emergency Debate in what is, to many people, a very sparse agenda.

ENDS.

 


[1] House of Lords debate on Civil Partnership Bill: 22nd April 2004 http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/2004/apr/22/civil-partnership-bill-hl#column_390

[2] House of Lords debate on Civil Partnership Bill: 22nd April 2004 http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/2004/apr/22/civil-partnership-bill-hl#column_390

[3] House of Lords Debate on Civil Partnership Bill, 24th June 2004:

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/2004/jun/24/civil-partnership-bill-hl

[4] Quoted in: House of Lords debate on Civil Partnership Bill: 22nd April 2004 http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/2004/apr/22/civil-partnership-bill-hl#column_390

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