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.”
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:
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, 2015