THINKING ANGLICANS

General Synod: Questions on Pilling Report

The Bishop of Sheffield replied to three questions taken together.

Mr Clive Scowen (London) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q12 With regard to the College of Bishops‟ request to the Archbishops to commission the design of (i) a process for facilitated conversations on the subject of sexuality, involving profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture, and (ii) additional materials to support and enable them, will the Chair of the House of Bishops give assurances that the design will ensure that:
• the process will not be a “one way street” intended at the outset to lead to a change in the church‟s teaching or pastoral practice concerning sexuality or marriage;
• the primary purpose of the conversations will be to enable participants‟ views to be clearly articulated, heard and understood, rather than to change participants‟ views;
• the conversations will be professionally facilitated in a way which does not steer them to any particular conclusion;
• the conversations will not be premised on the proposition that scripture is not clear about these matters; and
• participants who believe that scripture clearly teaches that having sexual relationships, otherwise than within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, is not consistent with Christian discipleship will be free fully to articulate and explain that view?

Mrs Andrea Minichiello Williams (Chichester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q13 Why, in light of the Statement on the Pilling Report by the College of Bishops (issued 27 January 2014) which emphasises upholding the Church of England‟s commitment to biblical orthodoxy on God‟s purpose for sexual expression (within marriage between one man and one woman), is a two-year process of facilitated conversation taking place, if such a process is not intended to change the orthodoxy?

The Revd John Cook (Oxford) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q14 Given the College of Bishops‟ request to the Archbishops to commission the design of a process for facilitated conversation on sexuality, can the Chair of the House of Bishops give an assurance that the process and additional materials will focus first on scripture and its perspicuity, so that experience and culture are responded to in the light of a clear understanding of Scripture?

The Bishop of Sheffield replied:

The Church Times’ headline – ‘Pilling report-Bishops accept recommendations’ – would have been less inaccurate if it had said ‘accept recommendation [singular] for facilitated conversations.’

There is no predetermined outcome to these conversations nor is there any intention on the part of bishops collectively to steer them to a particular conclusion. In our statement of 27 January the one aspiration we articulated was for ‘good disagreement that testifies to our love for one another across the church in obedience to Christ’.

The statement made clear that the Church of England’s ‘pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged during this process of facilitated conversation’ and that ‘no change to the Church of England’s teaching on marriage is proposed or envisaged’. It also stresses that our task, in taking counsel together, is ‘to read and reflect upon the Scriptures and to continue to discern together the mind of Christ.’

What is the point of all this reflection and conversation, some ask, if Scripture is clear and the truth unchanging and unchangeable? The answer is that the substantial shift in attitudes in society to same sex relationships inevitably raises significant questions for the Church of England. In every generation the Church is called to proclaim the faith afresh, not refashioning it but nevertheless wrestling with the interpretation and application of Scripture as the Spirit who inspired it continues to lead us into all truth.

Mr Scowen asked a supplementary question:
May I take it therefore that the answer to each of the five points of my question is Yes?

Answer: i think I would refer Mr Scowen to the answer I have already given, if I may. I think it is fair to say that there was some wrestling in the College of Bishops meeting about whether we should use the term ‘facilitated conversations” for the process which we had in mind, and which we agreed to take forward. Partly because it was pointed out within the conversation, that the only experience we have had corporately of facilitated conversation, is of a process which is designed to lead to a particular outcome, and set of conclusions. A counterargument was that the term is one used by the Pilling process and the Pilling report, it’s not… and we couldn’t easily think of a better substitute for it. But we did want to find a way to communicate clearly that no two sets of facilitated conversations are exactly the same, and that this set is not designed to reach a premeditated, already determined conclusion.

There was a further supplementary question (or was it two?) asked by Professor Richard Burridge about the involvement of Scripture scholars in the process.

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Anne2Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain)James ByronFather Ron SmithJCF Recent comment authors
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Simon Dawson
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Simon Dawson

As a Civil Partnered Christian who places myself on the liberal edge of the Church I regard these questions by Clive Scowen and Andrea Minichiello Williams to be hugely encouraging. Thinking back to the debates and arguments about homosexuality in Parliament and the Armed Forces over the past twenty years, you could observe that as traditionalists slowly lost the majority and the argument, their voices, language and demeanour became more and more anxious and strident. The same sort of language seen in these two questions. The level of anxiety raised in traditionalist Christian circles by the Pilling report suggest to… Read more »

Geoff
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Those who make the far-fetched claim that heterosexual couples joining together for “mutual help, society, and comfort” and to raise their children (if so blessed) “in the fear and nurture of the Lord” are following an “honorable estate” while same-gender couples who do precisely the same are somehow committing some mortal sin, have always been “free fully to articulate and explain that view.” They simply have not been able to do so because it is inarticulate, inexplicable, unintelligible, and indefensible. How much more of this pandering?

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

If no change to the Church of England’s teaching is proposed or envisaged then the whole process is a sham. How can there be no change when Pilling also proposes services of prayer and blessing. Why should any lgbt person settle for a second best, an inferior status to the blessed heterosexuals who can have all the benefits of marriage and none of the stigma which the Church still wishes to impose on those it continues to regard as second class citizens. For there to be ‘good disagreement’ something is going to have to change and I see no signs… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

When the obituary of the CofE is written, it will highlight dismal exchanges like these. Ghastly.

Father Ron Smith
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I agree with Richard Ashby that, if there is to be ‘no change’ to the current Church of England teaching – on marriage and sexual relationships between two people of the same gender – than the whole process of ‘facilitated conversations’ might just be aborted before they begin. Any change in attitude that would allow two people of the same gender to commit themselves to a loving faithful monogamous sexual relationship with the Blessing of the Church, would still be impossible – without a change in teaching! This does sound a bit like the recent refusal of the R.C. bishops… Read more »

Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain)
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Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain)

Sounds like they want ‘directive counselling’ does it not ?

James Byron
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James Byron

“In every generation the Church is called to proclaim the faith afresh, not refashioning it …” Oh, so ordaining women and marrying divorcees (in direct contradiction of 2,000 years of tradition, not to mention the Bible and the best-attested saying of Jesus of Nazareth) is “not refashioning” the faith? Of course it is. This absurd lip-service to dogmatism hampers everything. It’d be much better if we stopped dancing around the underlying issues (especially using the lives of gay people as a battlefield in a proxy war) and confronted them head-on. *Why* can’t “the faith” change? *Why* do we give the… Read more »

Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain)
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Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain)

If you think ‘non-directive counselling’ approach of these discussions a sham, the bishops letter which they are calling ‘pastoral’ will knock you out.

Anne2
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Anne2

“• the conversations will not be premised on the proposition that scripture is not clear about these matters; and
• participants who believe that scripture clearly teaches that having sexual relationships, otherwise than within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman, is not consistent with Christian discipleship will be free fully to articulate and explain that view?”

I’d love to know how they square that with the widespread (and never condemned) polygamy in the Bible.