A guest article from Professor Jack McDonald on the Bishops' Statement on same-sex marriage

Since the publication of the House of Bishop's Pastoral Letter and Appendix on same-sex marriage on Saturday 15 February, there have been responses and reactions from across the world. In this scattered diocese conversations among us about matters that touch on the life of the Church are not easily held. Although it is not the main purpose of the Eurobishop Blog, it did occur to me that this is one medium that might permit some exchange and reflection on this issue. So this is a bit of an experiment, really!

The Revd Canon Dr Jack McDonald is one priest and theologian in our diocese who wished to share his reflections on the bishops' statement, so I asked him to write a "guest article" for Eurobishop, which is posted below.

Just for the sake of clarity, the view expressed is that of Dr McDonald, not the official position of Eurobishop or its editor on this matter.

Dr McDonald has studied in Cambridge, London, and Strasbourg. He is the Priest-in-charge of Saints Mary and Martha in Leuven and Canon Theologian in of the Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Brussels.

Guest Article from the Canon Theologian: 
House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage - Three European Points
I am grateful to Bishop David for his kindness, among many kindnesses, in allowing me to use his blog as a forum for a debate within our diocese about the consequences for us of the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage of 15 February 2014 (www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/02/house-of-bishops-pastoral-guidance-on-same-sex-marriage.aspx).
Comment on Pastoral Guidance has so far been mainly invective, but there are some lucid assessments which have the benefit of not having their knickers in a twist: on the liberal side here: http://www.lgbtac.org.uk/statements/SuE0215k-Open%20letter%20re%20pastoral%20guidance%20on%20marriage.pdf and on the conservative side here: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2014/02/18/the-last-six-days-the-story-so-far-and-the-implications/.
In our Continental European context, I make three remarks:
  1. Being strong but not strong enough to win. Sixteenth-century French Catholicism and Protestantism accepted in 1598 that, although they were both strong, neither was strong enough to win. Henry IV's Edict of Nantes granted civil recognition and rights to Calvinists in a Catholic nation, the first example of official religious pluralism in modern Europe. In this diocese, we are small enough to know that no one Anglican party can win the day: we must work together in good disagreement. Pastoral Guidance appears to inhabit a world in which the bishops think that their will can carry the day. But the whole Church of England knows that the bishops are divided on this issue as on many others. Living and spreading the Gospel in and through this division is the way we already know in Europe, and it works for us. The evangelistic work of the Archdeaconry of North West Europe Mission Working Party is a striking example of effective missionary creativity across different Anglican philosophies.
  2. Commonwealth or European Union? The sign for me that an imperial vision for Anglicanism was strong but not strong enough to win was the rejection of, or the failure to adopt, the Anglican Communion Covenant by the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in New Zealand and the Episcopal Church in 2012. In Europe, there are four parallel Anglican jurisdictions which operate together without fuss, and we also live with the fruits of the Bonn, Meissen, Porvoo and Reuilly agreements with Old Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed partners. In our context, deferring to Anglican Primates in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya makes less sense than consulting the leadership of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, the Svenska Kyrkan or the Eglise Protestante Unie de France. In a situation where an imperial model of Anglicanism has not been adopted, we need to do more work on exploring our ties with European Christianity. We now need George Bell more than Rudyard Kipling.
  3. Accuracy. In a document of this importance, factual errors, particularly if they form the basis of the document's argument, are to be deplored. The split between the beliefs and practices of the Church of England on marriage and English legislation on marriage began in 1857 when Parliament legalised divorce, not in 2013 when it legalised same sex marriage. The bishops' panic and clamour needs to be set in a historic context in which the sky has not fallen on our heads since 1857, nor since 2003 when same sex marriage was legalised here in Belgium.
Jack McDonald
Chaplain in Leuven, Canon Theologian, Professor of History at FUTP Bruxelles


  1. I am not certain what is meant by "an imperial vision for Anglicanism," nor why such an "imperial," and presumably Constantinian vision would be desirable. I am concerned that the rejection / nonadoption of the Anglican Covenant by several provinces is here being spun as a rejection of the Anglican Communion and Anglican heritage.

    As one of the founders and leaders of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, I can assure you that our opposition the the Anglican Covenant was rooted in a profound love of and appreciation for both the Anglican Communion and our Anglican heritage. We oppose the Covenant because we believe it constitutes a radical departure from Anglican ecclesiology in the direction of centralized authority and curial governance.

    Others are certainly free to disagree with our assessment, but it is disingenuous to spin our opposition to the Covenant as a rejection of the bonds of affection which hold us together.

    1. Reply to Malcolm+: You have interpreted my words at (2) in a sense opposite to their intention! I too opposed the Covenant as an unAnglican attempt to turn the Anglican Communion into a magisterial empire. But that is irrelevant now: the Covenant can never be the unanimous will of the Anglican Communion because several significant provinces have already rejected it. This underlines my point at (1): neither tendency (call them "TEC" and "Gafcon") is strong enough to win, and this should spur us to developing new ways of being Anglican together. In the context of the Diocese in Europe, these ways should allow the Church of England's historic agreements with Old Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed Churches to deepen and grow, since they are more pressing in our context than the Anglican Communion.
      Jack McDonald

  2. Jack, I can see why you have written on this question from the point of view of the different Anglican presences in Europe. You are already a fruitful sign of cooperation between what might be called different provincial expressions of Anglicanism The Covenant, some of us believe, was an unwise attempt to secure a unified agreement on Anglican polity on matters where cultural division would seem to inhibit a common mind on, for instance, gender and sexuality issues.

    While certain provinces of the Church want to declare others to be 'heretical', there can be no koinonia.based on such accusations. However, if provinces could be persuaded to 'agree to disagree' on such matters - as both you and the ABC have suggested might be possible - then there could still be a viable Anglican Communion, based on the old precept of 'Unity in Diversity'. Perhaps Anglicans in Europe could help us towards this goal.

    1. Reply to Father Ron: Thank you for these kind words. I really hope and pray that you are right. I'm currently lecturing on the abolition of the slave trade, and I note that it took a very long time for all the Christian ducks to line up in a row against slavery - there is exactly one century between the publication of Charles de Montesquieu's "L'esprit des lois" in 1748 (the first systematic critique of slavery and the principal source of British and American Quaker opposition to slavery) and the final abolition of slavery by the 2nd French Republic in 1848. Regarding the gender and sexuality issues you refer to, I suppose we can expect a learning-curve of similar slow pace. Meanwhile, we have to find a way of being and living together as Anglicans, and I believe this lies in accepting that neither liberal nor conservative visions are strong enough to win outright, and that mutually-respectful accommodations must be reached pending a final just and Christian settlement. Thank you for writing.
      Jack McDonald

  3. For a balanced conservative response see


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