The Church of England somehow surprised and angered people with a recent statement of its belief that God only approves of sex between a man and a woman in the context of marriage — a belief that literally dates back to the beginning of Christianity.
Bowing to that social backlash, the church responded by apologizing last week for the statement, even though it did not change its stance on the issue.
"We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologize and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardized trust," a statement by Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu released Thursday read. "We are very sorry and recognize the division and hurt this has caused."
The controversy began with the pastoral statement, "Civil Partnerships — for same sex and opposite sex couples," which is still published on the Church of England's website. It addresses a 2019 change in British law that allows heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships, something already available to same-sex couples.
"With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church's teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged," the statement concludes, after detailing legislative changes and how they impact the church. "For Christians, marriage — that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity. In its approach to civil partnerships the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently."
The statement essentially says that while civil partnerships are not inherently against church teachings, since they can be between a man and a woman in a nonsexual context, the ambiguity of such partnerships prevents the church from outright endorsing them as a concept.
Some prominent bishops, after the release of the statement, sent an open letter to the church criticizing the statement.
"The Church of England has this week become a laughingstock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex," the letter read. "More importantly this statement has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve … it seems our trust has been misplaced and we feel badly let down."