General Synod votes to not “take notice” of controversial bishops’ report

At today’s meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, debate was held on the bishop’s report on the place of LGBT+ persons in the life of the church.  The report reflected the deep divisions within the CoE saying that there was consensus on two points; that “there was little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage,” and that “there was a strong sense that existing resources, guidance and tone needed to be revisited.”

Despite calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people,” there seems no room for acknowledging in church the lifelong committed relationships of same sex couples and it is this that led many (see here, for example) to urge Synod to reject the report as a basis for moving forward.

Overall, the majority of Synod members voted to affirm (242 to 184), but as the vote was taken in orders, the motion failed because it did not gain a majority in the House of Clergy.

The full results were:

for against abstentions
bishops 43 1 0
clergy 93 100 2
laity 106 83 4

 

Showing that this issue is not reserved to only one part of the CoE, but is operative and debated throughout, a “Letter to Evangelicals” was also released in the run-up to General Synod, from Evangelicals,  seriously questioning the “line-in-the-sand” approach of many traditionalists.  Five “open evangelical” members of EGGS (the Evangelical Group on General Synod) wrote to the whole EGGS membership, urging them to reflect and repent on three core issues relating to the “sexuality debate”.

1.     What is God’s “Good News” for LGBT people?

If the gospel is good news for all people, how is the gospel good news for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?  How do we convince them that Christ came to bring them life and life abundant, when their experience of Christian teaching and pastoral practice all too often suggests exactly the opposite?  Can evangelicals give an account of why their teaching on gay and lesbian relationships is actually good for gay and lesbian people?

2.    How do we respond to the mounting scientific evidence that sexuality is neither chosen nor changeable, and that gender is non-binary?

Evangelical attitudes have for too long encouraged the belief that sexual orientation is something that people either choose or have some control over.  This damaging and erroneous thinking must be challenged.  Even if there is still much that is unknown about the nature and origins of different sexual orientations and gender, the existence of those who are intersex should at least cause us to reconsider our traditional binary approach to gender and gender norms.

3.     How do we deal with the reality of an increasing number of LGBT married couples with children who wish to worship in our churches?

Whatever our views on this issue, we cannot avoid the reality that there is an increasing number in society who fall within the categories we most disagree about.  They too need to be ministered to, and their children welcomed, baptised and affirmed in our communities.

Where exactly this leaves the Church’s debate and conversation on these issues remains unclear.  Certainly some element of the report will inform decision making going forward but which elements and to what degree? In the official response from Synod, the bishops seem to grappling with how to move forward.

“With the take note motion now rejected, the Bishops of the Church of England will reflect on the views expressed at the General Synod.  The diversity of opinion and strong views expressed, will need to be taken account by the Bishops in their consideration of the discussion going forward.

Responding to the vote, the Rt. Revd. Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich said:

“I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”

 

If a poll released today of British attitudes is any bellwether though, than at some point the Church is likely to expand its understanding of marriage to include same sex couples as well as the majority of its members already have.

 Table: Attitudes to same sex relationships by religion, 2015Same sex rels by religion 15 (1)

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7 Comments
  1. Philip B. Spivey

    Gratified to see unanimity among the bishops; true spiritual leaders. But their flock is in disarray and some believe that there is only one ‘brand’ of love.

    Thank you, EGGS, for these crucial questions. It’s easy to vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’; it’s more difficult to articulate a theology of bigotry.

    Some of us may not live to witness it, but the day will come when this kerfuffle will be VERY old news. History will shine, yet another, light on a dark side of Christianity. Mea culpa!

    • John CHILTON

      Despite the one vote “no” in the bishops order, Philip is correct the vote was essentially a unanimous yes in that order. One bishop mistakenly voted no.

  2. John CHILTON

    Is it routine for reports to be presented with a take note motion? Why could it not have simply been presented without any motion? When the take note motion failed, why didn’t that open report up for debate? What makes the failure of the motion significant, as it seems to be given the reaction by the ABC and others?

    • John, this constitutes rejecting the report, under the peculiar rules of order that govern General Synod. Hence +Welby’s “back to the drawing board” comments.

  3. GLTBQ folks are sick and tired of being excluded from the conversation. The church talks about us as “them”. Not as us, yet we are your priests, your pastors, your organists and choir masters, and in some cases even your bishops. Enough with this hypocrisy. Then you lament the fact that the church pews are empty. Radical New Inclusion? I don’t think so….

    • Michele

      Thanks for commenting; we ask that you please use your first and last names in any future comments – thanks, editor

      Well stated with my blessed agreement. Only my God will ever judge me and you. Thus, I carry on loving without judgement.
      I shall remain and love the faith of the Episcopal Church in lieu of ever returning to the Roman Church. We are blessed, even in this time of discouragement. We/They/I = ONE!

  4. Anne Bay

    The “letter to evangelicals” was good. As an Episcopalian I was brought up to be open to new ideas and new discoveries, whether it be in the field of social science, psychology, science, anatomy, etc. It seems ridiculous to me to ignore current and continuing scientific research into how and why we are like we are with regard to living beings, including humans. I have to assume that 2000 years ago what we know now in these fields was not known then. Can’t live in the past. Can’t live ignoring new information-whatever subject it is. Education is key. Luckily is have the privilege of having an extremely bright child and as a result I have learned and studied things in ways I never would have otherwise. I would encourage everyone to go and take courses in whatever subjects would help them understand what new findings we know now as a result of research in all these fields. Excluding millions of people from being included in the church for whatever reason is wrong and whatever message the church claims to have becomes null and void.

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