There is a legend concerning the American Civil War which says that President Lincoln declared after one battle that the Union General Ambrose Burnside had ‘snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.’ The idea of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory has kept on recurring to me in the past few days as I have looked at the way in which the vote by the General Synod last Thursday on the House of Bishops’ response to the Living in Love and Faith process has been understood.
Viewed objectively, the motion passed by the General Synod was a victory for traditionalist Anglicans in the Church of England. However, the way that the significance of the vote has been understood, or rather misunderstood (including by traditionalist Anglicans), runs the danger of converting this victory into a defeat.
How the Synod vote has been understood
In the immediate aftermath of the Synod vote, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York declared that the vote meant that; ‘For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church’ and in a similar vein the official press release from the Church of England concerning the vote had the headline ‘Prayers for God’s blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate’ and went on to state:
‘The Church of England’s General Synod has welcomed proposals which would enable same-sex couples to come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing. ‘
Subsequent coverage of the Synod vote has followed the view of it presented by the Archbishops and in the Press release, but has simplified it to say that the Church of England has agreed to bless same-sex couples.
Thus, the BBC report states: ‘The Church of England has backed proposals to allow prayers of blessing for same sex couples.’ In a similar vein the Daily Telegraph’s report runs:
‘The Church of England has approved blessings for gay couples for the first time. In a historic vote, the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, voted to officially recognise same-sex couples on Thursday.’ 
Likewise, the Church Times’ report declares that the Synod voted ‘to endorse blessings for same-sex couples.’ 
Traditionalist Anglicans have taken a similar line. For example, the report on the website of the conservative campaign group Christian Concern has the headline ‘Church of England to bless same-sex unions.’
For a second example, the press statement from the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches runs:
‘The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) deeply regrets the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod today supporting the House of Bishops’ proposals to ‘bless’ Same Sex Unions – which goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.’ 
For a third example, the statement from the Archdiocese of Sydney begins: ‘The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, has described the decision of the Church of England General Synod to offer prayers of blessing to couples in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships as a rejection of biblical teaching.’ 
In spite of the verbal differences between them, what we find in all these later comments on the Synod vote is that they all take at face value the interpretation of what Synod decided that was initially put forward by the Archbishops and then by the Church of England’s press office, namely that Synod had endorsed the idea of the Church of England unreservedly welcoming all forms of same-sex unions and offering blessings for them in church
The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it fails to do justice to the motion which Synod passed. When we look at this motion carefully, we find that what Synod actually voted for makes any general liturgical affirmation of same-sex relationships by the Church of England impossible.
The motion passed by the General Synod.
The motion that was passed by General Synod runs as follows:
‘That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:
(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;
(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;
(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;
(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;
(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;
(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;
(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.’
The implications of this motion
If clause (e) of this motion was taken on its own then what Synod voted for could indeed be seen to mean what it has been subsequently understood to mean. This is because the material contained in GS 2289 as it stands would permit the unrestricted use of prayers for the blessing of all forms of same-sex unions (including same-sex marriages) in Church of England churches.
However, clause (e) does not stand on its own. It has to be read in the light of clause (g) which was added as an amendment to the original motion proposed by the House of Bishops. The significance of clause (g) has been duly noted by the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion. They write:
‘We note that the General Synod motion included an amendment, adding paragraph (g): “Endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”. This means that, when the Bishops come to make a formal proposal, the only prayers which they could legally permit would be those which were faithful to the doctrine. If they comply with this stricture, it is hard to see which of the draft prayers would survive, without a clear public statement at any service that they MAY NOT be used to bless sexually active relationships.’ 
The point they are getting at is that clause (g) highlights the commitment made by the bishops to abide by the Canon law of the Church of England (Canons B2.1, B4.2-3, B5.3) that all new forms of service ‘shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England.’
The doctrine of the Church of England with regard to marriage and human sexuality has been summarised by the bishops themselves in the following paragraphs from a pastoral statement issued by them in 2019:
‘It has always been the position of the Church of England that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.
The Church of England’s teaching is classically summarised in The Book of Common Prayer, where the marriage service lists the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ‘for the procreation of children, …for a remedy against sin [and]…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.’
In the light of this understanding the Church of England teaches that “sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively” (Marriage: a teaching document of the House of Bishops, 1999). Sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.’
‘Falling short’ here sounds rather mild, but it needs to be read in the light of Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:24 where to ‘fall short’ and to sin are synonymous. To fall short of God’s purposes means to be in a state of sin, a state which requires confession, repentance and amendment of life from the person or persons concerned.
The forms of prayer proposed by the House of Bishops in GS 2289 currently run contrary to the doctrine summarised in the paragraphs quoted above in two key respects.
First, the bishops propose that it should be lawful to pray for God to bless same-sex civil marriages. The problem with this proposal is that to liturgically mark with prayer in the presence of God a form of life which claims to be marriage but is not marriage as God has ordained it to be, is blatantly ‘contrary to, and indicative of a departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England.’ It would not be legitimate to pray for a polygamous marriage, because marriage as instituted by God is between two people. In the same way it cannot be legitimate to pray for a same-sex marriage because marriage as instituted by God is between two people of the opposite sex.
Secondly, what the bishops propose makes no distinction between sexually abstinent and sexually active same-sex relationships. However, if, as the doctrine of the Church of England maintains, sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, then it cannot be right to pray for God to bless sexually active same-sex relationships since this would mean asking for God to bless sin.
In response to this latter point, it has been argued that the prayers proposed by the bishops pray for relationships and do not explicitly refer to sexual activity.However, you cannot simply detach a relationship from the sexual activity within it. The fact that the Church of England would not permit a liturgy to pray for incestuous or adulterous relationships, or for ones involving sado-masochistic activity, highlights this point. Why wouldn’t it allow you to pray for them? Because the type of sexual activity involved makes them wrong. In the same way the sexual element of a same-sex union makes such a union automatically sinful.
What these two points mean is that in order to conform both to clause (g) and to Canon Law by ensuring that ‘the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England,’ the bishops need to revise their proposed material to make it clear that prayers may only be offered for same-sex relationships that (a) do not claim to be marriages and (b) are (and are publicly known to be) sexual abstinent. In other words they may only be offered for celibate same sex friendships.
Two further points that follow from clause (g) relate to what is said in clauses (a) and (d) of the Synod motion. Implicit in clause (g) is the conviction that the existing doctrine of the Church of England is something that those in the Church of England should continue to accept and uphold (without this conviction clause (g) makes no sense)..
In relation to clause (a) this means that the lamentation and repentance referred to in the clause cannot involve lamentation and repentance for upholding, teaching, and commending the doctrine of the Church of England with regard to marriage and sexual ethics. If the doctrine of the Church of England should be upheld and accepted then this is what those in the Church of England ought to be doing. Of course they ought to be upholding, teaching and commending the Church’s doctrine in an appropriately pastorally sensitive way, but they ought nonetheless to be doing it.
In relation to clause (d) this means that the new pastoral guidance to replace Issues in Human Sexuality will need to conform to the Church’s existing doctrine both in respect of the Church’s teaching with regard to marriage and sexual ethics and in respects of the requirement that the clergy live lives that are in accordance with this teaching. This means that the new guidance will need to continue to maintain the present discipline which says that clergy cannot be in same-sex marriages or in sexually active same-sex relationships.
What traditionalist Anglicans need to do now
For the reasons just given the addition of clause (g) to the Synod motion was a great victory. This is because when taken seriously it will mean that the Church of England continues to maintain an orthodox biblical position. However, in order to avoid ‘snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory’ traditionalist Anglicans need to do three things.
First, they need to realise the extent of the victory that the insertion of clause (g) has given them.
Secondly, they need to be vociferous in pointing out that the motion adopted by Synod did not give the green light to the indiscriminate blessing of same-sex unions, but in fact ruled it out.
Thirdly, they need to be willing to subject the future work of the House of Bishops to detailed scrutiny to make sure it takes clause (g) into proper account and to be willing to challenge its work (legally if necessary) if it fails to do so.
 ‘Prayers for God’s blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate’ at: https://www.churchofengland.org/media-and-news/press-releases/prayers-gods-blessing-same-sex-couples-take-step-forward-after-synod
 ‘Prayers for God’s blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate’
 BBC, ‘Church of England backs plans to bless gay couples’ at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64581421
 The Daily Telegraph, ‘Blessings for gay couples approved by Church of England for first time’ at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/02/09/same-sex-marriage-blessings-approved-church-of-england/
 The Church Times, ‘Synod’s same-sex vote’ first reactions,’ at https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/17-february/news/uk/synod-s-same-sex-vote-first-reactions
 Christian Concern, ‘Church of England to bless same-sex unions ‘ at: https://christianconcern.com/news/synod-round-up-church-of-england-to-bless-same-sex-unions/
 The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, Press Statement, 9 February 2023 at: https://www.thegsfa.org/
 Sydney Anglicans, ‘English Synod decision rejects clear teaching of the Bible’ at: https://sydneyanglicans.net/mediareleases/english-synod-decision-rejects-clear-teaching-of-the-bible
 ‘Prayers for God’s blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate.’
 Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion, ‘Statement on the vote at the Church of England GeneralSynod on 9 February 2023’ at: https://efacglobal.com/statement-on-the-vote-at-the-church-of-england-general-synod-on-9-february-2023/.
The House of Bishops, ‘Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples. A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England:’ at : https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/Civil%20Partnerships%20-%20Pastoral%20Guidance%202019%20%282%29.pdf .
 House of Bishops, ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’ para 27 at: https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-media/news-and-statements/house-bishops-pastoral-guidance-same-sex-marriage
 House of Bishops, Issues in Human Sexuality (London: Church House Publishing, 1991) para 5.17.
It is true that clause (g) highlights the commitment made by the bishops to abide by the Canon law of the Church of England (Canons B2.1, B4.2-3, B5.3) that all new forms of service ‘shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England.’ But according to Canon Law the Bishops would not have been able to put forward prayers which suggest a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England even without this amendment. I therefore fail to see how the amendment makes a substantive difference.
Your optimism assumes that the House of Bishops can be trusted to act with integrity and transparency. I reckon many clergy have lost this trust during the pandemic if not before and the way these prayers were presented to the public and the way queries at General Synod were engaged has done little to restore trust.
I have a paper I would like you to have a look at so please can you let me have your e mail address. Many thanks Martin
I want to believe what you say here. But I agree with Thomas. The canons already stood and they make clear that none of this new liturgy should go against the doctrine of the church… but the proposed prayers did.
I assume they will continue too – particularly in light of the ++s statements.
Perhaps it just gives more evidence for the legal challenge when it comes.
If the addition of clause (g) was such a victory for traditionalists, then why did the bishops allow it, given that they succeeded in voting down every other amendment? (A power of influence objected to in a point of order by Stephen Hofmeyr (sp?))
I regret to have to say that I agree with the suspicions of the comment above, and I am very hesitant in trusting many of the bishops to act with integrity and honesty on this matter. Furthermore, I much regret to say that I wonder if the author is being naive in expecting them to do so. Many bishops have a undoubted agenda of getting fully intimate same-sex relationships affirmed and blessed by the Church. If they are so determined on the ungodliness of blessing sin, then I would hardly expect them to use godly tactics to achieve that.
Thank you for this, Martin.
Regarding the following inference that you have made and several other optimistic inferences, your inference that (in your own words) “the motion adopted by Synod did not give the green light to the indiscriminate blessing of same-sex unions, but in fact ruled it out”, I would adapt the punchline of a teacher’s anecdote from my school days about the measures needed to escape safely from an angry bull discovered in a field into which two lads had strayed.
Upon hearing the first lad’s advice on how to avoid motivating a bull to attack one, the second lad mused, “Hmm.
You know that. I know that. But does the bull?”
Do the bishops, and those whom the bishops have tried to appease who teach LGBT doctrines that contradict C of E doctrines, realise that the happy consequences that you realised (and now I realise, thanks to you) flow logically from clause (g)?
I think clause (g) adds weight to the official C of E’s position on marriage and sexuality in the light of clauses (a), (c), (d) and (e). Probably, without realising its own recognition of previous synod decisions and the stipulations of Canon law, passing this composite motion has tied them in all sorts of illogical knots. As an alternative interpretation of the legal advice given to the House of Bishops states forcefully, it also misinterprets the relationship between civil marriage and marriage according to the rite of the Church of England (Holy Matrimony). This alternative (and complex) legal document can be found on the web-site of Coalition for Marriage. The Synod, especially the House of Bishops, has got itself into an ‘unholy’ (legal) mess.