“Although there is a continuing debate among Anglicans about human sexuality, the teaching and discipline of the Church of England, like that of the Anglican Communion as a whole, is that it is not right either to bless same-sex sexual relationships or to ordain those who are involved in them,” wrote Church of England bishops Christopher Hill and John Hind in a letter to Swedish Lutheran Archbishop Anders Wejryd on June 26. Hill is chairperson of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity, and Hind is chairperson of its Faith and Order Advisory Group.
The comments from the English bishops follow a letter from Wejryd explaining that the Swedish parliament is in the process of deciding upon a new marriage law that will include hetero- and homo- sexual couples.
“There is a majority among the bishops, in the doctrinal commission and in the central board for expanding the concept of marriage to include same-sex couples,” stated Wejryd. “This probably also goes for the general synod.” A decision is likely to be taken by the church in October.
The Church of Sweden has stated, however, that it believes the term “marriage” should be used only for heterosexual unions.
Bishop Wejryd’s letter was sent in March to churches that belong to the Porvoo Communion, an agreement between British and Irish Anglican churches and Lutheran churches in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The agreement provides for full communion between the churches, including the acceptance of the other’s bishops, priests, and deacons without re-ordination.
The letter was made available to Ecumenical News International during the July 15-21 assembly in Lyon of the Conference of European Churches.
It stated that since 1995, the Swedish church has offered blessings for same-sex unions in registered partnerships and with a liturgical order since 2007. However, the revision of the marriage law means there will no longer be registered partnerships, and that there will be no way for the church to bless same-sex couples, the Swedish archbishop stated.
“The church would then only have a rite for heterosexual couples,” wrote Wejryd. In 2008 the central board of the Swedish church agreed to accept that a new law would cover both heterosexual and homosexual unions. He noted that his church, “has a strict policy not to discriminate against homosexuals and the church has already taken the most important decision, that of accepting and blessing same-sex couples.”
In response to the Swedish letter, the English bishops described as “problematic” the existing practice in the Church of Sweden of blessing same-sex relationships. They also noted that what is now being proposed, “appears to be a fundamental redefinition of the Christian doctrine of marriage and of basic Christian anthropology.”
The Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England, “is acutely conscious of the immediate and negative ecumenical consequences of moves within any of the Porvoo churches to revise traditional Christian teaching and practice in matters of human sexuality”, the bishops stated.
“Changes in the understanding of human sexuality and marriage in one member church of the Porvoo fellowship would lead to an impairment of the relationships between the churches, with particular implications for the limitation of the interchangeability of ordained ministry,” they warned.
Christopher Meakin, chief ecumenical secretary of the Church of Sweden, told ENI in Lyon he understood the letter from the English bishops as being, “part of an ongoing process.” It is so far the only official response to Archbishop Wejryd’s letter, he noted.
Meakin described the letter as a “well thought through and critical response” to developments in Sweden, and said he understood the bishops to be pointing out what they saw as “possible risks” in these developments. Text of their letter: www.cofe.anglican.org/info/ccu/europe/notices/replytoabsweeden.pdf.