Such an understanding of CPs should determine the Church’s attitude to the blessing of those who enter such partnerships. The Bishops are right, therefore, to say that the Church should not provide an authorised public liturgy for the blessing of CPs and that clergy should not bless such unions. Publicly authorised liturgies are not, however, necessary for clergy to conduct services of blessing. This is being done to a significant extent and the Bishops need to say what action they are going to take in such situations. Widespread practice can become the norm, even if the fundamental documents of an organisation remain unchanged.
When people come for baptism, confirmation or holy communion, my assumption is that they have repented of their sin and intend to lead a life which is consistent with the teaching of Christ and of the Church. I am surprised, however, given the clarity of the Bishops’ understanding of the nature of marriage and of what falls short of God’s purposes (what is, therefore, of the nature of sin), that they instruct the clergy not to ask those who present themselves for reception of the sacraments about the nature of their relationship. Clergy are certainly called to be exemplars to their flock and it is right to ask them about their relationships but they are examples precisely so the people may follow their example. There can be no double standards here; one for clergy and another for lay people. Sensitive pastoring is required for all but the teaching of Christ and of the Church must also regularly be placed before all so they can be comforted and challenged by it and seek to order their lives in accordance with it.
Where the baptism of infants is concerned, the Bishops are correct to point out that, while baptism can be delayed for purposes of instruction and preparation, under the Canons, it cannot be refused. They are right to say that such instruction should include teaching about marriage and family. There should be an expectation, however, that those receiving this teaching will seek to order their lives in accordance with it. The requirement for godparents in the Canons are relevant and, in any case, the covenant community should be committed to those children being baptised into the body so that they are brought up in accordance with Christian faith and values. This will mean, on the part of those bringing them to baptism, that they will commit themselves to making sure the infant is kept in regular contact with the community where the baptism takes place.
The Bishops’ Statement is clear about the Church’s understanding of marriage and the relationship of sexual expression to it. It is less clear about the consequences of such an understanding for clergy and their ordination vows and what should be required of lay people so that they too may order theirs and their families’ lives in ways that are consistent with the teaching of the Bible and of the Church. For the Church’s chief pastors, it is urgent that they guide people to walk in the way of Christ and to help them to grow in holiness and godly love. It is my prayer that the Bishops will go on to provide such clear guidance which cannot be misunderstood in matters having to do with our salvation.