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Sensemaker: England at prayer

Sensemaker: England at prayer

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The death toll from the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey passed 21,000.
  • A woman was found guilty in New York of trying to kill a lookalike with poisoned cheesecake. 
  • Amsterdam banned smoking cannabis in its red light district and ordered brothels to close at 3am.

England at prayer

The Church of England will allow blessings of same-sex couples in its churches for the first time in its history. 

So what? The agreement to bless couples doesn’t go nearly far enough for LGBT+ activists but it’s a big step considering the Church

  • still doesn’t recognise or allow gay marriage;
  • is part of a global Anglican communion that would probably break up if it did; and
  • didn’t appoint its first woman bishop until 2015.

It took six years of consultation, eight hours of impassioned debate and a few tears from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to get to this point. He attaches great importance to holding the worldwide church together, and reportedly told MPs he’d rather see it disestablished – stripped of its unique status as England’s official religion – than fall apart.

The fine print. General Synod, the Church’s deliberative and legislative body, voted in favour of a motion proposed by the Bishops allowing same-sex couples to come to a church after a civil marriage or partnership to “dedicate their relationship to God” and “receive God’s blessing”. 

At the same time, synod members approved an amendment tabled by the Church’s traditionalist wing stating that bishops weren’t proposing “any change to the doctrine of marriage”. No priest or parish will be required to offer the blessings.

The fence marked same-sex marriage equality has firmly been sat on by the synod. But even this small concession to the LGBT+ community has significant consequences. 

At home. A decade after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales (with religious exemptions), the issue continues to divide the C of E: 

  • Its conservative Evangelical Council said it was “deeply saddened and profoundly grieved” by the approval of blessings. 
  • Jayne Ozanne, a campaigner for LGBT+ rights in the synod, abstained from voting saying she would “not be forced to eat breadcrumbs, on which I fear so many will choke”. 
  • The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who led the debate, acknowledged the proposals go too far for some and not far enough for others. As another synod member put it: “it’s like punching everyone in the face while saying sorry at the same time.” 

Abroad. The Anglican communion consists of more than 80 million people in 163 countries, many of which recognise no LGBT+ rights at all. 

  • Last week Justin Badi, Primate of South Sudan and Chairman of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, accused Welby and the Bishops of “rewriting God’s law”. 
  • The GSFA, which claims to represent 75 per cent of Anglicans worldwide, said the decision had “triggered a widespread loss of confidence” in the C of E’s leadership.  
  • Folli Olokose, a Nigerian-born vicar, told the synod that approving the blessings was like “putting a nail into the coffin” of the Anglican Communion, then “burying it, burning its ashes and throwing it to the wind”. 

Welby told the synod, close to tears, that the process of reaching a compromise on blessings had been the most painful thing he’d ever known. 

It’s not over. In fact, a proper Church debate on the core question of gay marriage hasn’t even begun. Two amendments proposing such a debate were rejected by narrow margins. It was the first time the synod had voted on whether same-sex marriage should be debated in the future, but neither side will be holding its breath. A two-thirds majority would be needed to change Church doctrine on same-sex marriage. 

The law. Parliament could force the issue. Options being considered by MPs with murmurings of cross-party support include: 

  • repealing the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, which lets the church govern itself;
  • ending its exemption from the Equality and Same Sex Couples Bill;
  • tabling a private members’ bill to allow individual priests to conduct same-sex marriages; and 
  • disestablishing the Church. 

Welby bridles at the idea of being told what to do by politicians but considers himself a champion of reform rather than an obstacle to it. So does the Pope. On his return from Africa last week Francis told reporters: “Being homosexual isn’t a crime”.

The world is changing, slowly. 

Word of the week: skeuomorph – “a functional item redesigned as something decorative” (Collins English Dictionary); on screens, a digital version of an analogue ancestor, like an envelope or shopping trolley. 


Lost in the woods
The good: the UK narrowly avoided a recession last year, according to ONS data. Gross domestic product fell by 0.5 per cent in December as strike action and the cost of living crisis bit into household finances, but stayed flat across the final three months of the year, meaning the country ducked a technical recession of back-to-back quarters of negative growth. The bad: the economy ended last year 0.8 per cent smaller than at the end of 2019, making the UK the only G7 country that hasn’t yet recovered lost output from the pandemic. The ugly: growth this year is expected to stay close to zero. “We are not out of the woods yet,” says Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. The Bank of England doesn’t expect output to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2026. 


An intelligent balloon
A 200 ft-tall Chinese balloon that enjoyed an eight-day jaunt across the United States last week had visible antennas for intelligence gathering and was part of a global surveillance fleet that China has deployed across 40 countries, the State Department said yesterday, rebutting Beijing’s claim that it was a meteorological device that blew off course. The Biden administration is looking at blacklisting Chinese entities linked to the military that supported the balloon’s flight and will continue to brief allies on the scope of the programme. Biden, facing criticism for not shooting down the balloon sooner, said yesterday it did not represent a major security breach. But it’s still far from clear what Beijing hoped to gain. CNN sources said yesterday a “working theory” is that the balloon was dispatched without President Xi Jinping’s knowledge. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Jared O’Mara
A litre bottle of vodka, 60 cigarettes and five grams of cocaine. That was what Jared O’Mara would regularly consume in a single day, Leeds crown court was told during the former Labour MP’s two-week trial for fraud. After representing Sheffield Hallam from 2017 to 2019, O’Mara has now been sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to claim £52,000 of taxpayers’ money. While an MP, O’Mara submitted fake invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for jobs that didn’t exist and work that wasn’t done, in order to fund his “cocaine and alcohol-driven lifestyle”. The court heard that one of the claims O’Mara made to Ipsa was for services provided by Confident About Autism South Yorkshire – a fictitious organisation with a McDonald’s postcode for a business address. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Mothers and Sons
Scientists have previously observed that some fully grown adult male killer whales still rely on their mothers to survive, with females sharing food with their sons. In a study of orcas in the North Pacific published this week in Current Biology, researchers looked at four decades’ worth of census data to work out the cost. They found that mothers with a living son were about half as likely to reproduce each year compared with mothers with a daughter or no offspring. Why invest so much? Because while a female might have five or so calves in her lifetime, a male can father 20 or more, John Ford, a research scientist, told the New York Times. But this strategy only worked when there was more food available than now. Chinook salmon in the North Pacific are getting rarer, and the extended family of orcas in this study is shrinking.


The right trousers
Fashionistas are seeing measurable slippage in denim sales in favour of combat and cargo pants, and attributing the shift at least in part to the Volodymyr Zelensky look. Zelensky wore his trademark green fatigues in London and Paris this week, as he did in Washington in December. On both occasions, Putin’s useful idiots in the news business chose to criticise him for not wearing a suit, but a more frequent response seems to have been: where can I get that? “It’s a real look,” Harper’s Bazaar’s Australian fashion editor told ABC last week. And a real hit to denim: last month two Bank of America analysts downgraded Levi Strauss stock to neutral from buy, and Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO said there was “a lot happening in non-denim bottoms”. As for tops, Zelensky apparently sources his fleeces from M-TAC’s “casual military” line. The Ukrainian trident at the neck is widely available online, albeit mainly on cheap knock-off versions.

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Phoebe Davis

Additional reporting by Jess Winch, Giles Whittell and James Wilson. Graphic by Katie Riley.

Photographs Getty Images

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