The Church of England must move swiftly to welcome lesbian and gay people and embrace same-sex marriage or face mounting questions in parliament about its role as the established church of the country, a senior MP has said.
The church was “actively pursuing a campaign of discrimination” against lesbian and gay people that was incompatible with its role as a church for England, said Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter and a former secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
He was prompted to speak out after the C of E barred the late archbishop Desmond Tutu’s daughter, an ordained Anglican priest, from officiating at her godfather’s funeral last month because she is in a same-sex marriage.
Mpho Tutu van Furth was forced to hold the funeral service in a marquee next to St Michael and All Angels church in Wentnor, Shropshire.
“This was a particularly high-profile, egregious example. But cruelty like that is practised on lesbian and gay people in the church all the time, every day – people you never hear about in the headlines, people whose lives are destroyed – and it can’t go on,” said Bradshaw.
The C of E “enjoys extraordinary and unique privileges in its role in the nation’s life”, he said, citing the 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for Anglican bishops. Yet it excluded a significant minority of the population, he said. This was “unsustainable”, especially as Anglican churches in Scotland, Wales, the US, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere conducted or blessed same-sex marriages.
The C of E has been bitterly divided on issues of sexuality for decades. It allows its clergy to be in same-sex relationships as long as they are celibate, but does not allow people of the same sex to be married in church or for clergy to bless civil marriages.
After a process of internal discussion, bishops are meeting this autumn to decide on proposals to put before the C of E’s governing body, the general synod, next year.
“I hope that we might see change,” said Bradshaw. “If not, parliament might want to look at this. Patience is being worn very thin, and parliament is in a position to put pressure on the church. Without change, I think we might see growing calls for disestablishment.”
After the C of E general synod voted against a proposal to allow women to become bishops in 2012, MPs summoned the archbishop of Canterbury and church officials to answer questions. The measure was passed in 2014.
Bradshaw, the church-going son of an Anglican clergyman and a member of parliament’s ecclesiastical committee, said he was a “strong supporter” of the C of E establishment. “The C of E is a fantastic resource in every part of the country. I think there’s great value in the servant church that’s there for everybody, on big state occasions and on countless smaller community occasions and events.
“But the contract with the nation has to be that it is there for everybody. It’s increasingly obvious that the C of E is not there for lesbian and gay people. And not only that, but it is actively homophobic, cruel, hurtful and institutionally hostile.”