Support the Café

Search our Site

Suppressed “Osborne Report” released

Suppressed “Osborne Report” released

Ever since 1991, the document Issues in Human Sexuality has been the framework for moral teaching about human sexuality in the Church of England. The background work that led to this “discussion” document has never been released until now.

Thinking Anglicans has posted links to a 1989 report to the Church of England called the Osborne Report on homosexuality which written but not published in 1989.The report has now been published by The Church Times.

The Very Revd Dr Jane Shaw, who chaired the groups that drafted the report, explains the background and talks about why it was suppressed.

The increasing acceptance of gay men and lesbians in the wider society in the 1970s and ’80s meant that the Church of England had to address the subject. In 1979, a church report, Homosexual Relationships: A con­tribu­tion to discussion, was published, but was considered too liberal by many in the Church.

So, in 1986, a standing committee of the House of Bishops asked the Board for Social Responsibility to set up a working party to advise the bishops. This resulted in the Osborne report of 1989 (chaired by the Revd June Osborne, a member of the Board), which drew on the direct testimony of gay and lesbian Chris­tians.

The group set itself the task of listening to homosexual people, and gave the results of that listening in its report: “first by a series of personal stories which are rooted in actual life histories”; and, second, by showing “the range of options with which Christian homosexual people are struggling as they seek to make some sense of their lives as Christians”.

The Osborne group was making no judgements, but rather attempting to set out “the experiential facts — the realities which responsible Chris­tian moral reasoning is dealing with”. The group wanted the Church’s discussion to face up to “what actually happens”, and to be based in the reality that “Homosexuality is about homosexual people. We should never lose sight of the painful and stressful journey many homosexual people have to make in the Church and in society — with little under­standing from either.”

The Osborne report was an advisory document for bishops, and it reminded them that they had an important part to play both in affirming “the catholicity and in­clusiveness of the Church”, and “in helping the Church live with un­resolved issues”.

The Osborne report called for inclusion: “The Bishops, as the chief pastors of the Church, have a particular responsibility to set a tone of welcome and acceptance in these matters.”

Indeed, the 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality was supposed to be a discussion document but instead became the law of the land.

By the late 1980s, the Church was not ready to face up to the “facts” presented by the Osborne report. The report was leaked in February 1990, and sparked pressure for an official statement on this in­creasingly controversial topic. The House of Bishops tried again, this time producing a short booklet, Issues in Human Sexuality, in 1991. This called for further dialogue and education. In the preface, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Carey, wrote: “We do not pretend [this] to be the last word on the subject.”

Issues in Human Sexuality was intended only as a discussion document, but it came to be seen as the Church of England’s definitive statement on homosexuality. Its distinction between laity and clergy was considered of particular sig­nificance.

Shaw concludes:

Issues has therefore been treated as a discussion document by some; as the “mind of the Church at this time” by others; and as the “rule” of the Church by yet others.

This has led to a situation where the Church has called for dialogue and exchange on the one hand, but has punished those who have engaged in it (from the liberal side) on the other. At worst, Issues has been used as a litmus test for the soundness of candidates for senior appointments. The true listening process, called for by the Osborne report, has yet to happen.

The full Osborne Report may be found here.


Café Comments?

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 be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Pirrung-Mikolajczyk

Mr Russell,

I have to ask: what do you hope to accomplish with namecalling and antagonism? Calling those of us who morally and theologically disagree with homosexual behavior such names as “homo misanthrobes” serves no productive purpose. I can disagree with someone’s sin without hatred. Unless you suggest that we all have vehement hate thieves and murderers. Keep in mind that conservatives that actually do hate use exactly the same caliber of antagonism toward gays and liberals as you do toward those you disagree with. Spite has never served God’s purposes no matter who said it.

For some of us “homophobes”, homosexual behavior is a matter of life and death, not personal or social preference. To us, it’s not a question or up to debate; what God has to say is absolute.


James Pirrung-Mikolajczyk


Indeed, the 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality was supposed to be a discussion document but instead became the law of the land.

Thirteen years later: Windsor Report, anyone? Its (supposed) moratoria? Sheesh, those who will not learn from history…

JC Fisher


I noted this comment: “Issues has therefore been treated as a discussion document by some; as the “mind of the Church at this time” by others; and as the “rule” of the Church by yet others.”

Sounds remarkably like reception of the Windsor Report. I don’t think that in itself says anything good or bad about the Osborn Report (or, for that matter, the Windsor Report). Rather, I think it highlights human nature as expressed by individuals and institutions: that these documents are tools, and they become tools used to individual ends, whether or not those were the ends proposed when the report was commissioned.

Marshall Scott

Michael Russell

And to think that a mere 9 years later Lord Carey led the way to the 1998 Lambeth resolution I:10. People who have “suppressed” reports have little to say to TEC whose proceedings in this realm have been open, transparent and loaded with discourse.

But the C of E chose to waste twenty years pandering to homo misanthropes and then get all high and mighty with the “Anglican Covenant”. The shame of Lord Carey now lays with ++Rowan.


The phrase, “too clever by half” comes to mind. When will the church learn that when it gets into shenanigans like this, it just ticks everyone off and wastes a bunch of time and money?

Eric Bonetti

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café