CofE Bishop’s latest report on human sexuality

The Bishops of the Church of England, after two years and four meetings, came out with a new document of human sexuality that, while seeking a less punitive tone, basically reiterates what they have said before: that traditional heterosexual marriage is the only relationships that the CofE will bless, but that they should be as welcoming as possible to others.

Gay and lesbian clergy and laity do not see this as a marked improvement on the pastoral stance of their Church.

The Guardian:

The church should not “adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time”, said Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, at a press conference to present the report.

However, church law and guidance should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without a change of doctrine – meaning clergy will have some leeway in individual cases – the report said. “Maximum freedom has no definition but it’s part of this exploration we’re engaged in,” said James.

While calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays, the report offered no concrete change.

Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure” that could herald an increase in clerical disobedience over issues around sexuality.

ACNS:

“Our vocation to be the spiritual home for all the people of England has, historically, enabled us to work together despite the distinctives of catholic, evangelical, and liberal traditions,” Bishop Graham said. “We recognise that for many holding a conservative view of scripture the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises ‘first order’ questions in relation to the heart of the gospel. For others, the imperative to read scripture differently stems from a parallel conviction.

“It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God that forces us to try to hear the scriptural, theological and missiological arguments of those with whom we disagree profoundly. We believe that, in some way perhaps hidden from us, they still have something to teach us about the Kingdom of God – already here and still to come.

“It is the responsibility of the bishops to help the Church to identify the next steps – not necessarily toward a ‘solution’ but towards greater clarity about what is at stake and how the good news of God in Jesus Christ can be shared more effectively. We are called to live the gospel and share it with those whose lives we find attractive and those whom we find hard to love; with those who hear willingly and those who reject us – because God alone understands the impact the gospel will have. It is in this calling to everyone that all agree that today we fall short as part of the Body of Christ and that we must do better.”

The Board of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement issued an Open Letter in response. Thinking Anglicans:

You have done nothing to acknowledge the goodness or sanctity of the relationships of LGBTI+ people, lay and clerical. Anglican LGBTI+ people are still labouring under the Higton motion and Issues in Human Sexuality as the last word on this matter. You could have made clear that issues of sexuality are not first order theological issues and that same-sex relationships, which the Archbishop described as sometimes being of “stunning quality”, could be a means of grace to those in them. You have done nothing. There is a failure of leadership and theological insight in the Church of England.

This outcome is an almost complete betrayal of the trust that has been placed in you by faithful disciples of Christ. There is no space for good disagreement. The old lines of dishonesty remain intact. Not an inch has been given to support LGBTI+ inclusion.

We have to tell you that this is completely unacceptable. Echoing the words of the late Una Kroll, “We asked for bread, and you gave us a stone”. You make much of starting processes to write more documents, but our observation is that anything written is unlikely to move the situation forwards….

Your actions and inactions will not commend your church to ordinary people. We will work to make the Church of England a body of which all Christians can be proud again. We are glad that your proposal for a new report to replace Issues will engage and include LGBTI+ Anglicans in the writing of it, and we remain ready to participate in that. In other initiatives where you allow us we will work with you, but our clear focus is on the changes that need to come.

The Rt. Rev. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich,  said that this will make the Church’s witness complicated but that they have no choice but to continue their previous stance. ACNS:

“Our vocation to be the spiritual home for all the people of England has, historically, enabled us to work together despite the distinctives of catholic, evangelical, and liberal traditions,” Bishop Graham said. “We recognise that for many holding a conservative view of scripture the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises ‘first order’ questions in relation to the heart of the gospel. For others, the imperative to read scripture differently stems from a parallel conviction.

“It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God that forces us to try to hear the scriptural, theological and missiological arguments of those with whom we disagree profoundly. We believe that, in some way perhaps hidden from us, they still have something to teach us about the Kingdom of God – already here and still to come.

“It is the responsibility of the bishops to help the Church to identify the next steps – not necessarily toward a ‘solution’ but towards greater clarity about what is at stake and how the good news of God in Jesus Christ can be shared more effectively.

The Rev. Rachel Mann, a priest in the Church of England, wrote this in response:

I don’t think any of us expected any proposals regarding ‘gay’ marriage. But there was some hope that broad pastoral accommodations might be made to celebrate LGBT people’s relationships in church.

Reading it was an emotional experience. Not because the language was fabulous prose. No, because for people like me this isn’t a doctrinal or ideological matter. It affects huge swathes of my friends and colleagues. When I read the tense prose of a document like this, I see friends, family and colleagues hungry for affirmation and not receiving it.

I think of LGBT friends – often at the edge of faith and church – who’ve approached me to marry them or bless them.

I think of the many civil partnerships etc I’ve attended and thought, ‘This is marvellous and yet…I want people to know that God rejoices with them…’

I think of the people in the congregation I serve who ask for bread and receive not so much stones as dust that clogs their mouths.

And, yes, I think of myself.

Please forgive my self-indulgence in the next and final point:

It is a great privilege to serve as a priest. And becoming a Christian was the most extraordinary moment in my life. I am not ashamed to say I love God. And – I don’t want anyone to doubt this – I’ve been prepared for sacrifice in ministry. It hasn’t – to quote my old training incumbent – been all beer and skittles.

But what I’m starting to wrestle with is another love, an even more embarrassing love (in our current culture) than saying I love God.

I love the Church of England. There I’ve say it. I love its bewildered, often clumsy way of figuring out what it believes about stuff and how to cherish people.

I love its awkward, often patrician style. I love its combination of the brilliant, the pompous, the grand and the ordinary.

I know no other church. When I came back to faith I headed for the only church I could ever be part of: the C of E.

And now…

Well, today, I feel damaged. Not by the latest cack-handed attempts of the bishops to keep everyone together and speak with an authority the C of E last had in…well…you fill in the dots…

Posted by

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted. We also ask that you limit your comments to no more than four comments per story per day.

2 Comments
  1. Philip B. Spivey

    When will CofE cease privileging patriarchal proscriptions and accept Jesus’ universal prescriptions?

    When Hell freezes over, I guess.

    • Cynthia Katsarelis

      Yes. And in the context of global warming, that’s a long way off.

      Losers. Worst bishops ever. Build that wall between CoE and TEC, God and gays, white straight people and LGBTQI and POC… Walls, walls, more walls. The Christian way.

Comments are closed.