Friday, 6 December 2013
Church Times: Pilling disappoints
Today’s Church Times has a leader about the Pilling report: Pilling disappoints.
THE Pilling report, The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, adds a shade more civility to the gay debate. It talks of repentance for homophobia, and begins its findings and recommendations with a statement of welcome and affirmation of the “presence and ministry” of gay people in the Church of England. And at various points in the report we can feel the group’s members, or rather most of them, yearning towards a greater liberalism. Its concession, however, that same-sex partnerships might be “marked” in church has been construed as the very least that the group could have recommended. The C of E, if it has the stomach for it, now faces the prospect of two years of facilitated conversations, “conducted without undue haste but with a sense of urgency”, about a move that will be moribund unless it encompasses same-sex marriage, and will do little to convince the gay community, and society at large, that the Church really knows the meaning of the words “welcome” and “affirmation”.
The report was always likely to be disappointing. When it was set up in 2011, the Pilling group’s task was to reflect on the post-Lambeth ‘98 “listening process” and merely “advise the House [of Bishops] on what proposals to offer on how the continuing discussion about these matters might best be shaped”. In other words, it was not being asked about policy, only about process. Even this modest goal of directing how future talks might be modelled proved too difficult, damaged by the fact that one of its number, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, queried even the continuation of the listening process on the grounds that no further discernment is necessary. His dissenting statement, which, with his appendix, takes up more space than the group’s reflections, is a key factor in the report’s ambivalence. If evidence were needed on the brokenness of the Church on this matter, here it is.
A narrow brief and internal disagreement have made for a tame report, one that is hardly likely to enliven further consultation. Bishop Sinclair does his best to portray it as dangerously radical, but his description of it as undermining the Church’s teaching about homosexuality is inaccurate. The undermining has already happened: the report’s most radical act is to reveal in an official document what is already widely known: that a significant proportion of churchpeople regard that teaching as flawed.
Faced with this gulf between conservatives such as Bishop Sinclair and, say, almost everybody under the age of 30, it is easy to see why the majority in the working group latched on to the concept of “pastoral accommodation” with such enthusiasm. But this merely takes the Church’s ambivalence into a pastoral situation, saying to a couple, in effect: “We agree with what you’re doing, but are too weak to prevail against those who disapprove of you.” This is hardly a convincing response to the missiological challenge that the Pilling report identifies.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
brood of vipers -- serpentine knots
Margaret is a committed and faithful ‘8 o’clocker’, and despite her free church leanings usually manages to cope with my Anglo-Catholic excesses. She is also one of the driving forces behind the church-led Barton Food Bank and is regularly appalled at the deprivation and suffering endured by those who seek its help. Great, then, was her embarrassment when at the 8.00 mass a few weeks ago she found herself reading out the words of the Epistle, ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’.
We Christians are all sophisticated enough these days to recognise our moral superiority over the rest of unenlightened humanity. The Jubilee movement, Fair Trade, even (for Neanderthals like me) ‘Faith in the City’ are constant reassurances that ethically we are on the side of the angels. We believe.
Uncomfortable though it is to recall the widespread Christian support for slavery, John Wesley’s enthusiastic endorsement of capital punishment and the solid Church backing given to many an unpleasant regime and policy, we who know God to be a Guardian reader who sources the ingredients for the Messianic Banquet ethically, stand above that misguided history.
The problem is, of course, what is our security for that belief? The philosophical debate on whether there can be a morality independent of a deity rages on, but wherever we stand in that discussion, the easy equating of ‘Faithful’ with ‘Moral’ often passes unexamined. Our ancestors in the faith did not believe that they were in any sense unjust, and yet we are astonished or repelled by their lack of vision, their obvious feet of clay.
We all enjoy the ‘brood of vipers’ reference in the Advent 2 Gospel reading, as the venomously powerful get a verbal flogging. We may even identify other bits of the Church with that description: on a good day even accept that there’s a poison within ourselves. However, when I consider that image, I see also a knotted herpetological tangle, snakes coiled and curled around one another, impenetrable, self-sufficient, self-absorbed, self-embracing.
The mathematician Kurt Gödel established his ‘incompleteness theorem’, whose insights have been taken into other disciplines. Simply put, it is impossible for a line of reasoning properly to critique itself because any flaws in the system are invisible from within it. It can be an admirable line of defence for theists against arid rationalism, but we are not immune: what if even our Christian thirst for justice is a selective reading and favouring of our own prejudices and proof texts, be they Bible or Blog? It’s said that the verdict of history is often, ‘How could they not see that?’ where ‘that’ is an issue so vast that no-one at the time recognised it was there.
There is no simple resolution of this, and certainly one is not to be found in surrendering our own insights in favour of another unverifiable world-view. But a tradition running from John to Pope Francis reminds us that the word of the Lord may sometimes come from outside our own tightly-bound communities of the like-minded. There is a world beyond our serpentine knot which we forget at our peril.
David Barker is vicar of Barton-on-Humber in the diocese of Lincoln.
Pilling Report - more comment
Updated Thursday afternoon
David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK has published a most helpful summary, putting the report in context: The Pilling Report, the CofE and human sexuality.
Andrew Goddard has written for The Living Church that Divisions Deepen in Pilling.
Anglican Mainstream have published these Pilling report – Dissenting Statement FAQs from the EGGS (Evangelical Group of the General Synod) Committee.
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Pilling Report - Fulcrum responds
Fulcrum has published its Response to the Pilling Report. Fulcrum welcomes much, but not all of the main report. But it also welcomes elements of the Bishop of Birkenhead’s Dissenting Statement, starting with a welcome to
The clear and irenic statement of the church’s teaching that “the proper context for sexual expression is the union of a man and a woman in marriage”. We also welcome the biblical case set out for this vision by the Bishop of Birkenhead in Appendix 3 and would further have liked to see this biblical engagement throughout the whole report.
But do read it all.
Monday, 2 December 2013
More women bishops
The Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada elected the Reverend Canon Melissa Skelton to be its ninth bishop on Saturday.
Press reports include:
Huffington Post Canada Rev. Melissa Skelton Elected Bishop Of New Westminster
Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese
Paul Sullivan Matro [Canada] Anglican bishop brings branding skills
By coincidence the election took place on the same day as the Consecration Of The Revd Pat Storey As Bishop Of Meath & Kildare. Patrick Comerford, a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, where the service took place, describes the occasion in detail: A Memorable Afternoon at the Consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church was there, as was the Archbishop of Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury was represented by Archdeacon Sheila Watson.
Claire Duffin Telegraph First female Anglican bishop consecrated
BBC Irish Anglicans install Rev Pat Storey as bishop
Belfast Newsletter First woman bishop installed by Anglican Church
Sarah Stack of the Press Association in the Irish Independent Tributes paid to first woman bishop at Christ Church Cathedral
The Irish news CoI consecrates first female bishop
The Irish Times Irish woman becomes first female bishop in UK and Ireland
Ciarán Hanna Inside Ireland Tributes to first woman bishop on these islands consecrated by the Church of Ireland at a service in Dublin
Savitri Hensman writes for Ekklesia about Ireland’s first - or perhaps second - woman bishop
Pilling Report - more opinion
Updated Monday evening and Tuesday morning
Ekklesia have published several articles
C of E should be more welcoming, sexuality report urges
Think-tank proposes different approach to church sexuality row
Bishops back think-tank call for reconciliation in sexuality debate
and a related paper: Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground by Savitri Hensman.
Andrew Symes writes for Anglican Mainstream about The Pilling Report: what it says, what it means, what we should do.
John Martin writes in The Living Church about A Cautious Step Leftward.
David Gillett blogs My reflections on the Pilling report.
Ian Paul blogs The Pilling Report: divisive and damaging?
The Sybils have issued a press release,available online here Sybils Christian transgender group respond to Pilling Report, and as a pdf here.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
Grappling with Injustice
I live just outside Glasgow, but I worship and work there. The first I knew of it was hearing a doctor friend had been called into her hospital, and things, quite unspecified things, looked bad. Then, overnight, the picture began to build.
The news reporters have said it all. The courage of the helpers, the calm of the survivors, the willing aid of the medical staff.
And because we are human, the search for meaning starts. We want it all to mean something, if it can. Jesus, we are told, got waylaid by the same questioning. Those people killed by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, were they wicked? Or was it a flawed Eurocopter which fell on them?
No, it was just a tower, it just fell. Something went wrong, and people just died. Foundations were not right, or metal was fatigued, and people just died.
It is a hard thing for faith to grapple with — this injustice. This lack of reason.
In this case we have as yet no idea what caused the tragedy. The overwhelming probability is that some small flaw somewhere caused this disproportionate effect. The natural impulse is to demand why God does not set the world up to be just. Why he cannot step in each time to sort things out so that the innocent never suffer and the guilty only suffer proportionately.
If we could solve this, we would have unravelled one of the major stumbling blocks to faith, and I suspect our churches would be much more full.
Sometimes, it is true, we can catch echoes of a kind of reason, if not a justice. Global warming increases weather disasters. Any one typhoon may not be down to global warming, but the fact is, we know that western greed and selfishness will create weather events that kill the disadvantaged elsewhere. It is not justice but it is a consequence. If there were no consequence, if each time God stepped in and stopped the suffering, it seems to me that people would be trapped in endless childhood. If no person could kill with evil intent, we might as well all give rein to our anger to the full, for who is hurt? If no negligence could ever derail a train, who would, in the end, put in a full day’s work or pay a wage which offered motivation? Not me, that is for sure.
But for all that, we start Advent, and we start our meditations on justice, with a glaring example of how unfair the world is. Any Glaswegian could have been unwinding on Friday night, listening to the music. Any pub could have the one on which the helicopter fell. It could have been anybody.
The pious lesson is that we can keep such terrible harm to a minimum by each doing what we can, just as the medical staff of Glasgow all answered their various bleeps on Friday night. Just as we have worked over the ages to understand the foundations of towers, and the breaking points of metal, and the stalling of engines. The little we do builds to a greater whole. Also, we can attend to the great matters of justice, so that the poor can eat and typhoons be stilled.
But still, for each of us, as we face the inevitable random tragedies of our lives, the large and the small, there will always be a struggle to make the best sense we can of things, and a need to say firmly that after all, there is no sense to be made of some things. No sense, but if we believe in our creative faith, even out of the horrors of no sense, and of heartbreak, we can still spin beauty, and seek comfort in the faces of the rescue workers, the medical staff, the ordinary public, who let a little light into a dark place.
Rosemary Hannah is the author of The Grand Designer.
Saturday, 30 November 2013
Changing Attitude responds to the Pilling Report
Changing Attitude England’s initial reaction to the Pilling Report was published this morning.
Some brief extracts
This report does not herald radical change and does not therefore fulfil the expectations of Changing Attitude. There are no practical proposals which will begin to dismantle the present culture of secrecy, denial of reality, suppression of identity and the maintenance of unhealthy attitudes. The group has met people and listened and the unhealthy attitudes remain unchanged as the report demonstrates…
Changing Attitude is disappointed that the Report deals so superficially with transgender (198) and intersex people (197) despite having received a submission from the Sibyls…
The most serious failings of the report are to be found here…
The report doesn’t understand that so-called orthodox, traditional teaching, which is literalist and fundamentalist, using the seven texts as proof texts of God’s judgement against homosexuality, underpin and are the source of prejudice against LGB&T people and personal and systemic homophobia in the Church…
Our Christian conviction is clear – homosexuality is not harmful. Christian homophobia and prejudice is deeply harmful and results in anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide, violence and murder, the result of social prejudice based on false Christian teaching.
The Director of Changing Attitude England has separately published Colin’s reaction to the Pilling Report. [This is an extended version of the text originally linked here.]
The Archbishop of Canterbury preached in Truro Cathedral earlier this month: ‘Everything changes’: a sermon on the cross.
Church Times Leader A hope of flourishing.
Adrian Alker writes in the Church Times Tell it with meaning.
Justin Welby and Peter Price write in the Church Times about Modern slavery: now you know.
Hilary Cotton, the newly elected chair of WATCH, writes about WATCH’s priorities for the next three years.
Methodists hold consultation on same sex marriage and civil partnership
The Methodist Church in Britain has announced this consultation: Methodist same sex marriage and civil partnership working party - consultation:
Legislation is now in place which will allow people of the same sex to marry each other in England and Wales (and similar legislation is likely in Scotland). The Government has promised that the first same sex marriages will take place before summer 2014.
This is at odds with the Methodist Church’s belief (found in Standing Order 011A, and its marriage services): “The Methodist Church believes that marriage is a gift of God, and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.”
There have also been other significant changes in society concerning sex and relationships. Divorced people marry in Methodist Churches as do many who have been co-habiting. The Methodist Conference has established a working party to consult Methodists as to whether the Church’s understanding of marriage should be looked at again.
This consultation is not a poll on the views of homosexuality amongst Methodists, nor is it asking Methodists to decide whether same sex marriages should take place in Methodist churches.
Instead it seeks views about the implications of the new legislation for our church, and whether, as a consequence, we need to revise our understanding of marriage…
See also the Frequently Asked Questions which explains exactly where Methodists currently are on this issue. Question 18 reads as follows:
What is the Methodist Church doing about this now?
The Methodist Conference in July 2013 set up a working group
“to consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in light
of changes in society, undertaking this consideration with reference to scripture,
tradition, reason and experience. The terms of reference would be:
a. To consider the implications for the Methodist Church of a change in legislation
covering same-sex marriage;
b. To consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in
the light of changes in society;
c. To undertake the work directed by the reply to Memorial 29(2012) [a Memorial
from the Birmingham Synod seeking for a review of the Conference’s ruling that
blessing of civil partnerships should not take place on Methodist premises]
d. To make recommendations for any changes in practice or polity.”
The working party is mindful of what was said to the Conference about the relatively
limited ambit of the working group’s remit at this stage: “to consider whether the
Methodist Church’s position needed reviewing in light of changes in society rather than
to make substantive proposal for change. If a revision is thought potentially necessary, it
is expected that a further working party would be appointed to examine the substantive
The working group has therefore identified a range of possible areas for consideration,
and intends to test out by wide consultation whether these are indeed the issues about
which it should make recommendations to the 2014 Conference that they be explored
more fully. Before going out to full consultation however, there will be a short pilot
exercise with a small number of selected groups during the next few weeks, designed to
clarify how to frame the consultation questions.
Friday, 29 November 2013
Pilling Report - opinion
Janet Henderson blogs Pilling - Initial Reactions.
Simon Reader writes for the Westminster Faith Debates: A Blessing in Disguise?
Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon, blogs Welcoming Pilling.
Rachel Mann blogs on The Pilling Report and Trans People.
Bishop Alan Wilson offers these Resources for your very own Pilling Report Party.
Dave Young blogs Let’s talk about love not sex: Thoughts on the Pilling Report.
Worcestershire tribunal case is remitted for fresh hearing
This week, the Employment Appeal Tribunal finally issued its judgment in the appeal of this case.
In brief, the EAT made no decision on the substantive issues, but remitted the case to a fresh hearing before the ET in accordance with various legal principles set out in the judgment, some of which depend on other recent cases involving ministers of religion, including in particular this one.
The trade union UNITE issued this press release: Unite calls for clergy employment talks after landmark decision.
Birmingham Mail Vicar wins appeal in battle to sue church
Frank Cranmer has published this analysis: Clergy employment: Church of England rector wins appeal on jurisdictional issue
New statement on Civil Partnerships from the Scottish College of Bishops
Kelvin Holdsworth draws our attention to this statement from the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which was sent to clergy today as part of a regular electronic clergy mailing.
Blessing of Civil Partnerships
The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2012 agreed not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. Since then, and within our own context, the College of Bishops has, on a number of occasions, considered how our church should best engage with those underlying questions of human sexuality which had given rise to the original idea of a Covenant. The College looks forward to the Church undertaking discussion of such matters as part of the process currently being designed by a group set up for that purpose by the provincial Mission and Ministry Board. The College in no way intends to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions. At the same time it recognises that the entering into of civil partnerships is a regular occurrence in Scottish society today.
In a previous statement the College indicated that it was the practice of the individual Bishops at that time neither to give official sanction to blessings of civil partnerships, nor to attend them personally. The Church does not give official sanction to informal blessings but each Bishop would nevertheless expect to be consulted by clergy prior to the carrying out of any informal blessing of a civil partnership in his diocese. The College is of the view that a decision as to whether or not to attend such an informal blessing should be a personal decision of the individual Bishop in question.
College of Bishops
Kelvin comments on its significance here, and contrasts it with what the Pilling report has to say to the Church of England.
Synod Voting on women bishops
The electronic voting results from last weeks meeting of General Synod are now available. They include the vote to proceed with the current proposals to allow women to be bishops (item 11) which was passed by 378 votes to 8 with 25 recorded abstentions.
I have further analysed the votes by house, and added those who were absent and the vacant places on Synod. For this purpose I have used the list of members that was given to members of the press last week.
Within the category “Absent” it is impossible from the available data to distinguish those who were genuinely absent from Synod at the time of the vote from those who were present but failed to vote or record an abstention.
My raw data is available as a spreadsheet. For each house it lists all members (grouped by diocese etc) and shows how each one voted.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Pilling report - statements from campaign groups
Updated again Saturday evening
Pilling recognises Evangelical diversity
Lee Gatiss responds to the Pilling Report on sexuality
Statement from Anglican Mainstream on the release of the Pilling Report
Church of England Evangelical Council
Statement of the Executive Committee of the Church of England Evangelical Council
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
A Small Step Forward
Changing Attitude England’s initial reaction to the Pilling Report