Today, the Church of England has released an apology for a statement they made.

In response to people now entering into civil partnerships, rather than traditional marriage, the C of E made a statement suggesting such partnerships should be 'abstinent friendships' or, in other words, platonic relationships. They are now 'back-tracking' on that previous statement.

My question is not about that issue, itself.

My question is about whether the Church of England regards itself as a regulatory authority over the entire populace.

Or are its directions only made to persons within the Body of Christ, that is to say, those who show repentance and faith and who are followers of Jesus Christ in doctrine and in conduct ?

  • This might also depend on the subject.
    – kutschkem
    Jan 31, 2020 at 10:51
  • @kutschkem I am not specifying a particular subject. The retraction of a previous statement has brought into focus the overall question of whether or not the C of E regards itself as having jurisdiction over the general populace in England.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 31, 2020 at 11:20

2 Answers 2


The Church of England cannot and does not of itself regulate the behaviour of the general British population. Church laws apply only to clergy and to members of the church, and sanctions against ordinary church members are limited to church matters. In other words an ordinary member can be punished only by things like expulsion from the church. Even then such sanctions are used extremely rarely.

The Church of England has some small contributory part to play in British government, in that twenty-six of its bishops have the right to sit in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of the British parliament). It is very rare that their influence is decisive. There are other minor ways in which it plays a part - for example some schools are administered by the Church of England on behalf of local education authorities.

Along with most other Christian groups, the Church considers that there are moral standards that apply to all people, and it is the church's duty to uphold those moral standards both by example and teaching.

  • So, the problem comes if the populace reject the 'teaching'. Then the body retracts the teaching. And it becomes advice, not teaching. [This comment is not aimed at your answer - which I up-voted. I am just 'thinking out loud' based on what you wrote.]
    – Nigel J
    Jan 31, 2020 at 15:10
  • 1
    The specific situation you are talking about is much more complicated than that, and explaining it far beyond what is possible in comments. Jan 31, 2020 at 15:11
  • I am deliberately staying away from the specific. I am only interested in what it reveals of the underlying principle of Church and State. But your point taken.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 31, 2020 at 15:14
  • If by Church laws you refer to canon law of the Church of England, only clergy are bound by it, not the laity. I am almost certain that nobody can be expelled from the Church. Can you corroborate that claim? (unless you mean an office holder removed from office)
    – davidlol
    Jan 31, 2020 at 17:51
  • I'll be honest, I've never heard of a lay member being excluded from the CoE. It may well be that it can't be done. I meant to imply that was the most that could be done to a lay member. Jan 31, 2020 at 17:54

I am sure we shall all rest easier in our beds tonight knowing that the Church of England regards itself as responsible only for the behaviour of their clergy. The statement they issued (for which they are now apologising) was not directed at every person in Britain.

ITV News, 31 January 2020: Church Apology after Guidance Declares Sex Only for Married Couples: “The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have apologised after the Church of England said that only heterosexual married couples should have sex... The pastoral guidance was issued to clergy after a recent change in U.K. law allowed straight couples to tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of a traditional marriage following a lengthy legal battle” (sic).

I don’t know which I find more offensive – the misrepresentation of the facts and the sensationalism or the inability to write a properly constructed sentence. Does this journal not employ an editor? Are couples only allowed to enter into a civil partnership after a lengthy legal battle?

A different news source (The Daily Telegraph) presented the facts without sensationalism or inaccuracy. After a recent landmark legal battle resulted in the recent introduction of mixed sex civil partnerships, the Church of England concluded that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage. Clergy who are in either gay or straight civil partnerships should remain sexually abstinent. Sex outside of marriage “falls short of God’s purposes for human beings” and marriage is only to be between a man and a woman.

The statement was aimed at Church of England clergy who have now been told that same sex couples who are in a civil partnership must be celibate if they want to be ordained in the church. Clergy can be in same-sex civil partnerships providing they are celibate.

It’s about the new English law that says heterosexual couples can now opt for a civil partnership instead of a traditional marriage. That, by the way, is what the lengthy legal battle was all about. The Church has to tread extremely carefully with regard to the legal implications arising from this new law in order to avoid offending anybody.

Original Daily Telegraph article-Bishops have now issued pastoral guidance to clergy on how to deal with the issue: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/23/civil-partnerships-should-no-sexually-abstinent-friendships/

Edit: Please note that the statement issued by the Church of England was aimed at their clergy, specifically those who are in either gay or straight civil partnerships. The advice was that they should remain sexually abstinent. The Church of England is responsible for the behaviour of their clergy and for any disciplinary action that might be needed should their clergy flaunt their rules.

The statement issued by the Church of England said the pastoral guidance was issued to clergy. That does not mean to say the pastoral guidance should not apply to Church of England members, only that the Church of England was not suggesting that they are responsible for the behaviour of the general populace, which is what was being asked.

  • I actually see no indication that it is limited to clergy. To quote your own answer, "Sex outside of marriage 'falls short of God’s purposes for human beings' and marriage is only to be between a man and a woman." This is not limited to clergy, and neither do any of the articles I have read indicate that it is. Of course the CoE expects their clergy to conform to the ideal that they believe applies to all human beings, but they don't think that a moral truth about marriage applies only to clergy. Additionally, you should provide links for your sources.
    – zippy2006
    Jan 31, 2020 at 17:38
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    @zippy2006 'Pastoral guidance issued to clergy' is ambiguous. Is it guidance to clergy only, which guidance is of a pastoral nature (from hierarchy to clergy)? Or is it guidance to everybody from the hierarchy issued via pastoral clergy ?
    – Nigel J
    Jan 31, 2020 at 17:51
  • I'd say the Telegraph article--along with the other articles I've read--gives every indication to interpret it in the latter sense. Indeed, in their original statement only numbers 22-28 are directed to the civil unions of clergy.
    – zippy2006
    Jan 31, 2020 at 21:11
  • @zippy2006 Appreciate the link to the original statement. In the conclusion it says "the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. 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." Clergy are bound by the rules of the C of E and must comply. Lay persons are not. The document sets out the views of the Bishops and gives advice on how clergy should respond to the new legislation. This does not make the C of E responsible for the behaviour of lay persons who are members.
    – Lesley
    Feb 1, 2020 at 11:20
  • If you think churchs' teaching applies to clergy and not to laypeople I'm not sure what to tell you. Terms like "human beings," and "men and women" are not limited to clergy. There are in fact human men and women who are not clergy. This answer is demonstrably incorrect.
    – zippy2006
    Feb 1, 2020 at 23:09

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