Friday, 24 January 2014

Pilling: another roundup of opinions

Updated again Sunday evening

Ekklesia has published a major commentary on the Pilling report by Savi Hensman available here: Edging towards accepting diversity: the Pilling Report on sexuality. Here is the Abstract:

A Church of England working party on sexuality, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, has called for a more welcoming approach to lesbian and gay people, though not full inclusion. It recognises the current lack of consensus on the theology of sexuality, including what the Bible has to say, and recommends that clergy be free to hold services, though not weddings, for same-sex couples.

The report is a small step forward, though it is over-cautious and its handling of historical and scientific evidence is weak, this detailed analysis from Ekklesia suggests. It is also unbalanced, giving too much space to one dissenting member of the working party, firmly opposing any shift by the church towards a more pluralistic stance on same-sex partnerships. Yet it acknowledges diversity, encourages openness to listening and growth, and may lead to further progress in enabling the church to value its lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) members and credibly witness in today’s world to God’s love for all.

John Watson at Fulcrum has written A response to David Runcorn’s appendix to the Pilling Report.

The Spectator has published a rather curious leader article:The Church of England’s endless gay panic.


Christina Beardsley has also published a detailed analysis of the Pilling report at Changing Attitude over the past couple of weeks. This is now more conveniently available as a single article here.

This lengthy article is now also available as a PDF from here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 10:30pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Not sure why you think the Spectator leader 'curious'. It makes some useful observations...

Posted by: Ian Paul on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 10:51pm GMT

Which particular observations do you find 'useful', Ian Paul? It looks to me like a concatenation of cliches randomly strung together by someone whose greatest insight into the spiritual life of the Church of England derives from old episodes of The Vicar of Dibley.

Posted by: rjb on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 2:31am GMT

"A Church of England working party on sexuality ... has called for a more welcoming approach to lesbian and gay people, though not full inclusion."

I'm reminded that, say 11 years ago, it was easy for this (U.S.) American Episcopalian to imagine that Mother Church was *ahead* of where we Yanks were. And maybe y'all (in the CofE) WERE. What happened? :-/

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 5:29am GMT

I'm not quite clear why you think the Spectator piece is curious? It seems to hit the nail on the head in my humble judgement. As I have said repeatedly before there will be no real movement until we start to break ranks....which some of us are already doing.

Posted by: Robert Ellis on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 9:51am GMT

"The obligations of belonging to the Anglican Communion:-

Having been encouraged, in the previous section, to listen to one another, and to engage in a facilitated conversation about human sexuality, this section implies that the outcomes of that process are likely to be constrained by the role of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury within the Anglican Communion."

- Christina Beardsley -

This understanding of the practical outcome of the Pilling Group findings, by Christina Beardsley, pretty clearly points to the fact that the report from the Pilling Group - though only applicable to the polity of the Church of England - is heavily weighted by the C.of E.'s understanding of its role within the Anglican Communion.

This marks us out not as a group of auto-cephalous Churches, but a single Church ruled by the Church of England - similar to the Roman Catholic Church that owes obedience to the Roman Pontiff.

Maybe, if the C. of E. did not have to placate the conservatism of the GAFCON Provinces on the Church, it could decide on its own local polity - in ther very same way as the rest of us in other Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 10:34am GMT

Why does no one ever mention the Osborne Report ?
I know it was supressed and never published - but why do progressive anglicans also have to banish it from our discourse ?

It was well ahead of its time I now see, and it really should be published or circulated. Perhaps on-line ?

LGCM did circulate roneoed copies at the time.

June Osborne then Dean of Salisbury did well.

For me, the massive dishonesty and hypocrisy of the CofE on this matter, renders everything else it says and does a waste of time. As I say, for me as a gay person.

There needs to be ranks-breaking on a massive scale to do much lasting good.

The taking of refuge in the Bible, without real interest and reading-study, is very disheartening. Come originally from a Brethren background I was appalled at the lack of engagement with the Bible by anglicans -- even Evangelicals.

Proof-texting will no longer do.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 6:00pm GMT

The Osborne Report was republished in 2012, see here

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 7:04pm GMT

Savi Hensman's review of the recent history of this debate is very interesting and correctly provides more perspective than we usually have.

But Christina Beardsley's piece is absolutely outstanding. The Pilling Report should be honoured that it has received from her such a thorough, patient, intelligent, well informed and thoughtful response.

I wish that every bishop about to debate the Pilling Report could take the time to read Christina Beardsley's piece. By filling in the many gaps in Pilling, and engaging with its weaknesses, it valuably supplements Pilling and makes it a more useful document for everyone. It redresses the imbalance caused by the Bishop of Birkenhead's dominating voice and provides an alternative to the mere dismissal of the Pilling Report.

I do think we are terribly lucky that people like this continue to engage, when we have been so cruel in our own engagement with them.

Posted by: badman on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 7:14pm GMT

Both Christina Beardsley and I do mention the Osborne Report, Laurie.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 7:59pm GMT

The Spectator piece has the distinct feel of it starting out as two separate pieces somehow meshed together resulting in a somewhat disconcerting experience.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 8:27pm GMT

I think the Spectator was nearer the mark when it published this article by Theo Hobson five years ago:

Two things have happened to cheer us up since then. First, the Anglican Covenant was rejected by the Church of England - proving Hobson's point that the Church of England the Anglican Communion are not aligned. Second, Justin Welby has a real interest in mission, and he wants to turn his back on culture wars which are killing the mission of the Church of England.

I hope that recognition of the third rate quality of "Men and Women in Marriage"; the Church's shock at losing the argument against gay marriage so heavily; new levels of internationally condemned ant-gay extremism in Africa and in the African Anglican churches; and the debacle of the split Pilling-Sinclair report, will persuade the College of Bishops that Pilling is too little, too late. I am hoping that this will lead to something more radical and more credible - something which shows more confidence in the gospel.

Posted by: badman on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 1:32pm GMT

badman, I think you're right in seeing grounds for optimism. As you suggest, keeping it together with GAFCON provinces will become a less attractive motivation as their leaders support such extreme laws. There was also a distinct - if only partial - change in tone from the bishops' bench after the Dearing amendment fell.

The other factor, I suspect, will be retirement. Opinions on this subject correlate closely to age - it was pointed out in the Lords debate that men over 60 constitute the only major demographic group to oppose gay marriage. As men - and, praise the Lord!, women - from later generations succeed to the purple, I suspect we're likely to see the pace of change increase.

Posted by: Stuart, Devon on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 4:21pm GMT

ah thank you Simon and Savi, that is very good to know.

It was a real missed opportunity when it came out years ago; and Carey I think it was, suppressed it.

It is still (from memory) ahead of Pilling.

Sincerity makes all the difference. Lack of sincerity is also unmistakable and very disconcerting for people seeking truth and honour.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 8:07pm GMT


Changing Attitude based our submission to the House of Bishops Review Group on the unpublished Osborne Report. Our submission can be found here:

We said in our submission:

Although the Osborne Report was written 24 years ago and there are areas of the report that have been overtaken by events and parts that need updating, there is much in the report that is as valid now as then. Osborne’s working party included 5 men and 2 women, one bishop and at least one gay man. The recently announced working party of 5 includes no women, 4 bishops, and no known LGB&T people. The BSR appointed a far more representative group in 1986.

We have based the remainder of our submission on the Osborne report for a number of reasons:
• It is a more insightful analysis and reflection of the Church of England’s attitudes towards and experience of human sexuality than Issues in Human Sexuality
• It addresses a range of topics which we believe are still relevant and need to be incorporated in your current work.
• It arrives at conclusions which would have been of immense value to the Church and her LGB&T people were it to have been published twenty four years ago.
• Failure to produce a report which is as radical as the Osborne report and moves beyond it in responding to the dramatic changes in society and the experience of LGB&T Christians would be a disaster for us and for society’s perception of the Church of England.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 8:42am GMT

Thank you, Colin. That's good to know.

Very encouraging, somehow.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 3:23pm GMT

A question for Colin Coward: is trying to persuade the episcopacy a viable strategy?

In my view, it's thinking in the wrong terms. This isn't about conscience. Whatever their personal views, bishops have chosen to operate on the grounds of might, not right. In realpolitik terms, it currently benefits them to back homophobic positions. Until the cost is too high for *them*, nothing changes.

Persuasion is, ultimately, the recourse of the powerless. Instead of attempting to persuade men of power, why not build your own power-base, by getting pro-gay candidates elected to the houses of Laity and Clergy, and using that caucus to put pressure on the unelected bishops?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 12:21am GMT

'June Osborne then Dean of Salisbury did well'

Not so! June certainly did well, but she certainly was not Dean of Salisbury in those days, but a Team Vicar and one of the younger members of General Synod. Our bishops are in a difficult place, if they find holding together the unity of the church is a priority over speaking the truth about human sexuality. Setting up Pilling with a retired Civil Servant and a handful of bishops was never likely to be as progressive as a report chaired by someone in her 30s, as June then was. My own daughter was 30 this year (I am not offering her services!) but her generation would not even understand the question they were being asked to consider.

Posted by: Nigel LLoyd on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 7:24am GMT

I was grateful for Christina Beardsley's major piece of work.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 9:52pm GMT

My memory has failed me in various ways I see - thanks for pointing it out. Does anyone think that being on the receipt of decades of homophobia can affect one adversely, eventually ?

Still, one can always depend on the kindness of Anglicans, - especially thinking Anglicans.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 12:56am GMT
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