The Church of England should allow same-sex marriage for congregation and clergy, the Bishop of Oxford has said, becoming the most senior figure to weigh in on the subject.
The Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft also acknowledged the “acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church”, and apologised for his own views being “slow to change”.
But he said there must be a discourse into how the church tackles the subject in future. “Any settlement must be founded on love and respect: love and respect for LGBTQ+ people and their families within and beyond the church, love and respect for those who take different views,” he added.
In a 52-page essay, Croft apologised for the church’s stance on gay relationships, specifically their slowness to “reach better decisions and practice on these matters”.
But the bishop also said clergy must be able to refuse to opt in to any new arrangements, saying that it should be recognised that keeping a “traditional view of marriage and human sexuality” is a “legitimate and honourable position”.
Croft’s statement is significant in light of the current laws which prevents ministers of the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages.
In the piece, Croft said: “I need to acknowledge, right at the beginning of this essay, the acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church.
“I am sorry that, corporately, we have been so slow as a church to reach better decisions and practice on these matters. I am sorry that my own views were slow to change and that my actions, and lack of action, have caused genuine hurt, disagreement and pain. I remain on a very steep learning curve.
“Listening to this pain and distress has been key in my own journey and to the changes in my own views.”
The bishop added that he wanted to see the removal of the legal barriers preventing gay marriage within the church and would like public services of blessings to take place regarding gay marriage in churches.
The essay also asserted that clergy should have the freedom of conscience to enter their own same-sex marriages.
Speaking of those he described as holding “more conservative positions”, he said he did not want to see people feeling excluded as a result of any changes.
He wrote: “They are sisters and brothers in Christ. It would be a tragedy if a journey towards inclusion for one group of Christians became an experience of exclusion for another.”
Bishops are considering whether to recommend any changes to teachings on same-sex relationships this week before the General Synod in February – where there could be a vote after decades of divisive talk.
Their proposals are due by the end of the year, with signs of an opt-out conscience clause for orthodox clergy.
Croft is the only serving C of E bishop or archbishop to publicly call for such a change, although Anglican churches in Scotland have begun same-sex services.
In August, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, affirmed the validity of a declaration made in 1998 that gay sex was a sin, but said he would not seek to discipline C of E churches that would conduct or bless same-sex marriages.