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I can bless toilets but not gay marriages declares Bishop Holtam

I can bless toilets but not gay marriages declares Bishop Holtam
The Bishop of Salisbury seeks the truth in the understanding of marriage

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 31, 2017

A call-in question from a Church of England priest on Saturday's BBC 4's Any Questions? program was: "Fifty years after the partial repeal of laws targeting gay men does the panel (Julia Hartley Brewer, Barry Gardiner, Bishop Nick Holtam and Claire Perry) think the hierarchy of the Church of England has failed in not embracing equal marriage in the way we know the congregations have done?"

"I am puzzled. I'm allowed to bless toilets," Bishop Holtam prefaced. "... and a bishop can bless a nuclear submarine, but I can't bless a couple who love each other who are of the same sex ..."

His comment was met with chortling from a live audience.

"I do think that is bizarre," he continued and was met with applause.

Pressing on through the clapping, he said, "just look at the change that has happened in the last 50 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality."

He explained that the Church of England played a very significant role in making the change in 1967 noting that he was sad that the CofE was not still in the same progressive frame of mind and mood.

The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting males over the age of 21 in both England and Wales. It has since been amended in 1994 (lowering the age of consent to 18); in 2000 (lowering the age of consent to 16); and in 2003 (overhauling the way sexual offences are dealt with by the police and court system).

In 1967, Michael Ramsey was the seated Archbishop of Canterbury when homosexuality was first decriminalized in England and a younger Queen Elizabeth II was the reigning monarch and the Defender of the Faith. In 1994 and 2000, George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury and in 2003, Rowan Williams was ensconced in Lambeth. All the while, a maturing Queen Elizabeth remained on the throne.

However, the Bishop of Salisbury said that there is now a broader discussion running through the church and society on the subject of homosexuality dealing with same-sex attraction, practice and marriage.

"When Jesus said: 'Where two or three are gathered in my Name,' I think I have to listen closely to the other voices around me in order to try to discern where truth lies."

The Bishop of Salisbury's see stretches back to 705 AD and St. Aldhelm, the first Bishop of Sherborne, who was also the saintly Abbot of Malmesbury. In fact, the line of bishops, which stretches for more than 1300 years from St. Aldhelm to Bishop Holtam, is peppered with saints including: St. Heahmund (867-871 AD); Ælfwold II (1045-1058); and Saint Osmund, who was the second Bishop of Salisbury (1078-1099).

There are also three bishops of London: Nicholas Bubwith (1407); Humphrey Henchman (1660-1663); and Thomas Sherlock (1734-1748); three archbishops of York: (John Piers (1577-1589); John Gilbert (1748-1757); and Robert Hay Drummond (1761); and three archbishops of Canterbury: Hubert Walter (1189-1193); Herbert Poore (1194-1217); and Henry Dean (1501) in the See of Salisbury's pedigree.

Then in 2011, comes Nicholas Roderick Holtam, who says he is tasked with discerning "where truth lies ... within a church community that is formed by Tradition, Scripture and Reason."

Bishop Holtam was just becoming a teenager when the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was passed in late July by Parliament. Less than two weeks later, Nick Holtam entered his teen years. He came of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies and the launch of the Gay Rights Movement. This was the culture that socially influenced him during his formative years.

The Salisbury bishop feels that free unfettered love is still a "hot issue" in the Church and that his church, the Church of England, is lagging behind post modern society and current culture in embracing the entirety of the radical gay rights agenda and issues.

"It is really interesting to see where the center of gravity is moving within the church," he said. "I think there is a sense where there is quite a profound change going on and actually it is really important to take the trouble to pray it, talk it, think it and test it before we make that change that society made so easily."

He explains that it is the internal structure of the national churches within Anglicanism, particularly the United Kingdom, which gives rise to the differences in written regulations and living practice that allows for the Church of England's understanding of marriage to differ from the Episcopal Church of Scotland.

As such, a gay British couple can now travel to Scotland for a church wedding and then return to England, where same-sex marriage has been the law of the land since 2014.

In June, the Episcopal Church of Scotland (ECS) changed its canons on marriage, thus allowing for same-sex marriage to be performed within a church setting. The Scottish church follows on the heels of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States, which also redefined its marriage canons at the 2012 General Convention throwing TEC's doors open to same-gender blessings. In 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was to be legal in all 50 states and TEC, meeting in Salt Lake City for General Convention, cheered.

"It's about the structure of the church within the United Kingdom and there being different polities and different ecclesiologies," he explained. "... and therefore the Episcopal Church in Scotland has made a decision which the Church of England is not yet ready to make."

The Church of England bishop said he would have to respect the current differences that compel couples to travel from his diocese to Scotland to be married in the Scottish church, then return to England to live.

"It's not that people are being disrespected," he cautioned. "All people are welcomed, all people are respected."

He said that currently, the overarching question is: "How do people understand marriage in our society?"

"That's what the church is struggling with," he said explaining that he is at "one end of that argument" -- the inclusive, liberal and progressive end.

"But I have to listen closely to the people who disagree with me," he said, "otherwise I'm not being true to myself and to the church and to where I think truth is to be found."

However, the Bishop of Salisbury does openly admit that he doesn't believe himself to be so arrogant as to believe that he is always right.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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