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.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 6 December 2013 at 3:27pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England


Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 6 December 2013 at 4:10pm GMT

"[S]say, almost everybody under the age of 30."

How about everyone under the age of 50?

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 6 December 2013 at 6:00pm GMT

Good Critique. What I find extraordinary is the suggestion that we have another two years of discussion = as though the past 15 years of post Lambeth 1.10 listenings have never happened. Sadly, fond as I am of ++Rowan, I do feel he let us down at Lambeth 2008 by not encouraging further discussion of 1.10 etc then - especially as, because several Bishops stayed away in protest of the Consecration of +Gene Robinson, there was already "an elephant in the room". I accept that Pilling seems to want to move things forward, without being brave enough to bite the necessary bullet but, honestly, how is this ever going to end unless there is a real crisis. I sense that the patience of many LGBT Christians is being sorely tried and the Church seems largely oblivious (or couldn't care less) that in matters gay/lesbian it is so out of touch with the workings of God in Society. And what of equality? As a priest married (under Danish Law) to my partner=husband, the church might be prepared to "mark" our relationship with a little service? Thanks.. But I must give assurance that I will not have sex with him, though he can have sex with me since he is a lay person. Come on CofE. Time to grow up and get real and stop this nonsense.

Posted by: Stephen on Friday, 6 December 2013 at 8:08pm GMT

The last paragraph of this editorial comment on the Pilling report really says it all.

It exposes the ambivalence of the Commission; in suggesting that same-sex relationships should be approached pastorally, while yet questioning the need for a positive liturgical approach towards offering the Church's Blessing to those in the Church who feel their need of it.

It's almost the equivalent of "We accept you, but please stay in your closet, you embarrass us"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 6 December 2013 at 11:10pm GMT

The Episcopal Church in the United States has been following this path for the past 30 years. This dialogue did nothing to satisfy the fundamentalst-religio/political conservatives despite ++Rowans attempts at whatever it was he was attempting. That is reality not a criticism.

The train left the station a long time ago. You can stand on the platform for the next two years discussing the matter but you'll stand there alone and for what purpose? It must be awkward to be the Established Church of a nation whose governments pay it no heed

Posted by: Fr. Bill Albinger on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 12:17am GMT

Very good editorial, good summary of the deep moral ambivalence of the Pilling report.

They want two years of facilitated conversations in which a discriminated group has to somehow plead its case while at the same time enduring further discriminatory speech and exclusion and also at a time where gay bishops and other senior persons (not to mention parish priests) are excluded from speaking (honestly at any rate). The facilitated conversations are a sham. Unless they are genuine I think that we should not take part as they are merely window dressing for further discrimination.

Instead we should draw the listening process started by Lambeth to a close and summarise its results, meagre as they are. Then we can decide whether priests can 'mark' relationships (provided the priest is happy to do so and has the permission of the PCC).

Is that the sound of a glacier slipping by a millimetre?

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 7:33am GMT

*They want two years of facilitated conversations in which a discriminated group has to somehow plead its case*

The Pilling Report wants gay people to beg.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 8:09am GMT

Interested Observer: Blunt, and, I fear, accurate.

Fr. Bill Albinger: Yes, and many never will be satisfied until they get their own way. (See the "conservative resurgence" -- takeover -- in the Southern Baptist Convention, amongst many, many examples.)

Facilitated conversation might shift some moderates and open evangelicals to an affirming position, or at least, to a place where they're willing to tolerate an affirming position. It'll do nothing to placate or persuade the hardliners. I suppose it might help get a majority for the unavoidable Synod vote, but right now, I'm doubtful in the extreme.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 10:59am GMT

There is here an opportunity for the Church of England finally to redeem not only itself, but also Christianity writ large, in the eyes of the wider society.

Alas it looks as though the C of E will let this opportunity go by.

This is the way to give Christianity a bad name.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 5:49pm GMT

*I suppose it might help get a majority for the unavoidable Synod vote, but right now, I'm doubtful in the extreme.*

Cameron made it quite clear that if the CofE didn't sort out women bishops, then the consequences for its place in the national polity would be severe. That frightened it into some semblance of sanity last month. In a few years, the CofE will get the same wakeup over homosexuality: that it can, if it wishes, continue to be officially bigoted, but decent people won't talk to it. And "decent people" will include almost everyone who matters.

The CofE should have learnt a profound lesson from the same-sex marriage debate in parliament. No one supported them. The only people who voted with the CofE were the odd Catholic MP, a few absurd ruddy-faced Tory backwoodsmen and the occasional cross-bencher. For practical purposes, they were entirely isolated. That isn't going to get more favourable for them, is it?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 7:22pm GMT

"almost everybody under the age of 30"

Some of us over 70 find it pretty weird too.

Daniel Lamont

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 9:21pm GMT

"almost everybody under thirty"

Quite right, Daniel Lamont.

Flora Alexander (also over 70).

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 10:54pm GMT

Jeremy says: 'This is the way to give Christianity a bad name.'

I think with most people under 50 its reputation is fairly much on the floor. The attitude of most decent people to the C of E's management of gender and sexuality is " Get back to us when you have sorted out your attitude to women and gays". No change will only get us nearer to the moment when nothing we say or do will impress the nation that we have any good news to share at all.

Pilling tells us that no one should be accused of being homophobic for just restating the traditional position. The trouble with this is that it is precisely this traditional position that results in anti-gay actions and attitudes across the church. You can't convincingly call for changed attitudes and a welcome when you subscribe to teaching that portrays LGBT people in the most negative light, and gives no grounds at all for even regarding them as equal human beings who deserve respect. The Church faces a crisis of institutional homophobia - regardless of what Pilling says.

What makes it worse is that it seems keen to deny this is the case. But then that was what the Met did after Stephen Lawrence: first they denied the presence of institutional racism in the Met, until, eventually, they were forced to acknowledge it and deal with it. The C of E is still in denial. And having legal protection that allows us to discriminate will only delay the day when it stops and we take a good long look at ourselves in the mirror and recognise how sexism and homophobia have permeated the organisation for far too long.

Society has no interest in taking moral guidance from, or following the moral lead of an institutionally homophobic (and incidentally an institutionally sexist) organisation. Jeremy, we are way beyond a bit of "reputational risk", and into the territory of potentially terminal rejection here.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 11:14pm GMT

"Pilling tells us that no one should be accused of being homophobic for just restating the traditional position. The trouble with this is that it is precisely this traditional position that results in anti-gay actions and attitudes across the church."

The tradition is discriminatory. No avoiding that.

I think "potentially terminal rejection" may be a bit strong. But as Interested Observer says, the politics are bad for the discriminatory tradition, and getting ever worse. So too the demographics.

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 8 December 2013 at 2:55am GMT

The real disappointment for me in the report is that it fails to give a lead in developing a theology of relationship which shows the basis for accepting, acknowledging and celebrating equal marriage. Our society has, rightly in my view, accepted that same sex marriage is an important step forward in creating a society that is truly equal. I am convinced that a fresh look at the bible and the church's tradition in the light of what we clearly know of faithful committed gay relationships enables us to have a theology that supports a robust pastoral response to the needs of our society. We need a much bolder and more radical approach which offers to GLBT people the full acceptance and celebration for which they have been waiting for so long. To 'mark' and to have further discussion for two years falls far too short of what is needed - a robust theology, relevant pastoral practice, celebration of the relationships of so many clergy and laity within and outside the church which at the moment have to be half hidden, and the appropriate missional offer of God's love to our society which has largely forgotten that it is good news we are about!

Posted by: Rt Revd David Gillett on Sunday, 8 December 2013 at 8:41pm GMT

I've written before - but what I wanted to add is this. I am totally in favour of Women consecrated as Bishops (and without let out clauses for those who don't like it) but for the church to pass this legislation means ignoring various scriptural texts. It seems this can be done if necessary. Why are the "anti gay" texts any less ignorable???

Posted by: Stephen Peters on Sunday, 8 December 2013 at 8:43pm GMT

David Gillett: Couldn't agree more.

The problem is that theology and church realpolitik are at cross-purposes. Pilling is a political document through-and-through, as shown by the phony "balance" it frames, which reaches its nadir in equating the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Core Issues Trust.

I don't even have a problem with a document that wants to take a realpolitik approach, so long as it drops the pretense, and gives it to us straight.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 9 December 2013 at 5:41am GMT

Pilling is painfully inadequate in giving one paragraph each to intersex and transgender people, and being unwilling to consider the impact these facts have on the notion that our sexual behaviours should be based on a simple male/female division. If we don't take literally the idea that the world was created in six days, I don't see any reason to take literally what Genesis says about being created male and female. And what I see in the Gospels was that Jesus thought faithfulness was important.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Monday, 9 December 2013 at 9:25am GMT

James Byron and others who have made his point are spot on. The most disreputable part of Pilling is its evidential equation of the Royal College of Psychiatrists with the Core Issues Trust and similar bodies. Whether in general gay people can be turned straight is a matter of fact, not opinion. The facts are known - they cannot. The facts have survived scrutiny in academia and the law.

The findings of fact by US District Judge Vaughn Walker in the California gay marriage case should be better known in the UK, see e.g.,

Unless and until the Core Issues Trust and similar bodies can disprove these facts, there is no point in giving them a hearing.

Posted by: iain mclean on Monday, 9 December 2013 at 10:19am GMT

"Unless and until the Core Issues Trust and similar bodies can disprove these facts, there is no point in giving them a hearing."

Posted by: iain mclean

Too late, Iain. They've already been heard - to the detriment of any modern understanding of LGBTs.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 at 12:12am GMT
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