‘A laughing stock’: Bishops distance themselves from church guidelines that said sex was only for married heterosexuals

Several Church of England bishops have spoken out about controversial guidance issued by the church that said sex was only for married heterosexual couples.

The message, published in the House of Bishops’ statement, said that those in civil partnerships should be celibate.

It said: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

The doctrine, published on Thursday last week, was widely mocked on social media with people saying it showed the Anglican church was outdated and out of touch.

Although it was only a repetition of the church’s long-standing view on sex, the publication of it suggested a renewed emphasis and drew public attention to it.

Now a number of bishops have said they were upset by the publication of the guidance. Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester, who was a central figure in its publication, issued an open letter saying she was “deeply frustrated and saddened”. 

The statement was part of a two-year review into how “marriage and sexuality fit within the bigger picture of what it means to embody a Christian vision” but Ms Treweek said she recognised it has “fanned into flame unnecessary pain and distress”.

She said she “cannot deny” that the statement is factual and that nothing has changed on the doctrinal position of the Church in regards to civil partnerships. “There should have been no surprises for anyone in that,” she said.

But she said that the publication of the guidance without any “pastoral surround” or greater context has been “perplexing and upsetting” and that the message should have been focused on the “generous love of God” instead.

Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, then tweeted saying he had found Ms Treweek’s clarification “very helpful”.

Meanwhile John Inge, bishop of Worcester tweeted saying that he “echoed” all of what had been said by Bishop Treweek.

But Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool went further than his peers and retweeted an open letter written by other church figures calling on the Church to recognise it had been made a “laughing stock” by the statement.

The letter said: “The Church of England has this week become a laughing stock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex.

“More importantly this statement has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve.”

Bayes added: “The recent House of Bishops’ statement may of course receive comment from all who wish to comment. This is entirely a good thing.”​

The open letter, which has signed by more than 3,000 people including 800 clergy members, said: “It [the guidance] is cold, defensive, and uncaring of its impact on the millions of people it affects.

“It seems our trust has been misplaced and we feel badly let down.”

The letter can be signed by anyone who lives in England or is part of diocese in Europe.

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