Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Reform withdraws from sexuality conversations

Updated Friday morning

Reform, the organisation of Conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England, has issued a press release, available here, and copied in full below the fold. It begins like this (emphasis added by TA in italics)

Reform calls for ‘decisive intervention’ to save shared conversations on sexuality from collapse
Posted on 8 October 2014

At it’s [sic] most recent meeting on Wednesday, 1st October 2014, the Reform Council expressed its dismay that the objectives of the ‘shared conversations’ on Scripture, Sexuality and Mission had been changed and that as a result orthodox Anglicans had been in effect excluded. It called on its members not to participate in the conversations under these conditions.

Speaking after the Council meeting, the chairman, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said ‘It is difficult to see how the process of shared conversations can command credibility if those who are most committed to the Church of England’s official teaching are in effect excluded. If this project is not to collapse, then decisive intervention from the House of Bishops is needed now. The shared conversations must acknowledge that Scripture remains authoritative for the Church of England and that the outcome of the conversations is genuinely open-ended. Unless that is clarified and the recently announced new objective is withdrawn, we cannot see a way forward.’

Andrew Brown discusses this announcement in this article: Church of England’s gay marriage split is as entrenched as ever

Hopes that the Church of England might be able to discuss its deep differences over gay people looked sillier yesterday after the conservative evangelical group Reform pulled out of conversations. It was upset over the failure to “admonish” a prominent liberal, while gay protestors led by Peter Tatchell heckled the archbishop of York over his backing for sanctions against a gay priest who has married his partner.

Reform’s press release dropped in first. The group is upset by three things. The headline is that it wants the bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, to stop calling conservative evangelicals (that would be Reform) “homophobic”, and to renounce his public support for gay marriage. Then it wants a crackdown on those priests who have married their partners. This is extremely difficult legally, as Wilson points out in public and the house of bishops has been told in private…

… But the real sticking point for Reform was the hope expressed by the bishops at their most recent meeting, “for the Church of England to live together as a family who disagree with one another.” They are Calvinists. They don’t want to live together with people who disagree with them – to be “yoked with unbelievers”, as St Paul put it. You can laugh at their demand not to be called “homophobic”, although it would be a small thing to grant them.

You can laugh, too, at the gloriously unrealistic demand that the church spend millions in legal battles with the equality law.

What is non-negotiable, though, is the group’s demand that the church deal with disagreement on this matter by expelling its opponents. It’s certainly a popular demand – on both sides. But it is the one thing against which the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has set his face. What he wants is “good disagreement”. For Reform – and, to be fair, for its opponents – what’s good about disagreement is the moment when the enemy crumbles…

Update The Church of England issued this media statement yesterday:

Statement on Shared Conversations on Scripture, Sexuality and Mission
09 October 2014
In a media statement dated October 6 2014 the council of Reform “expressed its dismay that the objectives of the ‘shared conversations’ on Scripture, Sexuality and Mission had been changed” at the recent meeting of the College of Bishops. In support of this claim the Council referred to the media statement released after the meeting claiming that the media report introduced a “new objective”.

The objectives of the Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission were set out in June 2014 by the Bishop of Sheffield in GS Misc 1083. These objectives remain unchanged. No new objective has been added.

The media statement did not report on the contents of the discussions held at the meeting of the College as those conversations were confidential to the groups. It was no more than a general report of the proceedings and should not be over-interpreted.

The media statement issued after the College of Bishops meeting was accompanied by a podcast which also explored the shared conversations. Neither the podcast nor the statement was intended to nor should be taken to replace, add to, subtract from, substitute or alter the process as set out in the Bishop of Sheffield’s paper. That document (GS Misc 1083) remains the authoritative statement of the objectives as set by the House of Bishops.

The above points have been communicated to Reform.

Media Statement Oct 6, 2014: Reform calls for ‘decisive intervention’ to save shared conversations on sexuality from collapse
Posted on 8 October 2014

REFORM CALLS FOR ‘DECISIVE INTERVENTION’ TO SAVE SHARED CONVERSATIONS ON SEXUALITY FROM COLLAPSE

At it’s most recent meeting on Wednesday, 1st October 2014, the Reform Council expressed its dismay that the objectives of the ‘shared conversations’ on Scripture, Sexuality and Mission had been changed and that as a result orthodox Anglicans had been in effect excluded. It called on its members not to participate in the conversations under these conditions.

Speaking after the Council meeting, the chairman, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said ‘It is difficult to see how the process of shared conversations can command credibility if those who are most committed to the Church of England’s official teaching are in effect excluded. If this project is not to collapse, then decisive intervention from the House of Bishops is needed now. The shared conversations must acknowledge that Scripture remains authoritative for the Church of England and that the outcome of the conversations is genuinely open-ended. Unless that is clarified and the recently announced new objective is withdrawn, we cannot see a way forward.’

The Council’s assessment was made after members heard that the original objectives of the conversations, as reported last July to the General Synod, had been severely narrowed. This emerged after the meeting of the College of Bishops in mid September, which described the second objective as creating ‘space and an environment for the Church of England to live together as a family who disagree with one another…[to] ensure that those with differing views on sexuality continue to share together a place of common baptism and faith”.

This new objective requires participants:

To reject the current Church of England understanding that all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage “should be met with a call for repentance and the exercise of compassion”
To accept the premise of the Pilling Report that the Bible isn’t clear on matters of sexuality - when, as the Bishop of Birkenhead’s Dissenting Statement argued, there is no sound reason for thinking it is unclear
To accept an outcome in which the Church moves from its present, biblical, understanding of marriage to one where we accommodate two separate beliefs, with one part of the Church calling for repentance over sexual sin and another declaring God’s blessing. This is tantamount to asking us to accept a redefinition of what will and will not lead to salvation - as though there could be two gospels, equally valid.
In advising its members not to get drawn into what was now a ‘deeply flawed’ process, The Council also warned about the steady erosion of the Church’s commitment to biblical authority - particularly in the field of sexuality. It noted:

The lack of a consistent and clear response to those clergy who have entered into same-sex marriages, thereby pre-empting the results of the shared conversations as pressure grows to accommodate ‘facts on the ground’;
The continued failure to admonish the Bishop of Buckingham, despite his refusal to uphold the teaching of the church and guidance of the House on matters of sexuality, whilst also allowing him, without criticism, repeatedly to describe Conservative Evangelicals as homophobic, including those who themselves experience same-sex attraction but seek to live celibate, God-honouring lives.
Ends

Note to editors:

Reform is a network of individuals and churches promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ by reforming the Church of England - www.reform.org.uk. It is one of the three bodies that sponsor ReNew.

College of Bishops Statement can be found here:

https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/09/college-of-bishops-meeting.aspx

For further information please contact the Director, Susie Leafe on 07753690120 or by email director@reform.org.uk

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 5:22pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

Odd response by Reform. The objectives of the conversations were spelt out in a Synod paper. The allegation that the College of Bishops had changed the objectives is based on a reading of a press release which is a commentary on the objectives, not a change in the objectives themselves. I guess it enables them to express a hermeneutical suspicion about the process and the direction of travel as they see it. But it's a pity that they don't want to participate.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 6:24pm BST

Presumably Reform's chosen strategy is a last-ditch, last bullet, last man assault on same-sex marriage in which the church spends vast amounts of money and loses almost all its public credibility over a battle, indeed war, that it cannot possibly win.]

It's essentially the Christian Concern strategy -- deliberately picking losing battles so as to make it look martyred, and to increase the pleasurable sense of victimhood --- on a giant scale. And it does appear that John Sentamu has similar tendencies.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 10:22pm BST

"Reform calls for ‘decisive intervention’ to save shared conversations on sexuality from collapse"

Oh brother. Reform recalls the spin of the U.S. Army in Vietnam: "it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it". O_o

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 9 October 2014 at 1:28am BST

'I'm not going to play unless I can change the rules of the game to ensure that I win'.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 9 October 2014 at 10:56am BST

The C of E's stance on same-sex marriage already resembled a barn door shot through with holes: ' facile' conversations about something that is not only not being discussed by the rest of society, but is enshrined in the law of the land; seeking to deprive lawfully married priests of their livelihood; threatening LGBTI people who might be thinking of training for ministry, etc, etc. And now one of the chief players in this farce has stopped talking almost as soon as the 'conversations' have begun? I think that was the sound of one of the hinges falling off.

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Thursday, 9 October 2014 at 12:18pm BST

"Reform calls for ‘decisive intervention’ to save shared conversations on sexuality from collapse"

Whatever they want at this point, methinks that demands such as this are not the way to go about getting it.

And of course the split is really hermeneutical and interpretive.

This is what you get when you try to prevent an issue from being discussed for 20 years.

Looks as though the CofE might face attempts at schism earlier than one might have expected.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 9 October 2014 at 12:19pm BST

Reform was bound to end up like this. There is a methodological impasse. If you believe church teachings develop, so that we can discover things we didn't know before, there has to be a process of debate and discernment. That means different points of view must be allowed, respected and examined. This is how the search for truth works in every field except hardline religious dogma. On the other hand, if you believe church teachings are complete already, so that there is nothing new to learn and the loyal Christian just reads off the answers from inherited revelation, then there is no point in discussion or discernment. Just look up the answer and accept it. This is the fault line that has always run through Protestantism. So Welby cannot do what he wants. Like his predecessor he seems to have a blind spot about this. If one side is willing to enter into dialogue and seek a meeting of minds and the other isn't, the only way you can get agreement is by capitulating to the hardliners.

Posted by: Jonathan Clatworthy on Thursday, 9 October 2014 at 5:37pm BST

Jonathan,
there is a third possibility, though. Even if one side is not willing to enter into dialogue with a view to changing its mind, it can still enter into dialogue with a view to negotiating a side by side in tolerance.

This can be formal, as with women priests, or informal as with most other theological differences that are accepted in the CoE.

Painting yourself into a rigid corner is not necessary.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 9:04am BST

Surely they could be challenged on their division as to what Scripture means about marriage and divorce. Or their acceptance of contraception.

O how they designed their Covenant to wall paper over this divergence.

Posted by: robert Ian Williams on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 1:01pm BST

My guess, Erika, is that the motivations are different.

There are very, very few people in the Anglican community who are so hardline on women priests that not only do they demand that their parish (and its reporting line upwards through bishops) not be "tainted", but that no other parish be likewise tainted, nor any other denomination, nor, while we're at it, that women not be allowed to be MPs or head teachers.

Even if there are "headship" campaigners who think that society as a whole should exclude women from positions of authority over men, they are invisible. And even if they exist they wouldn't, I suspect, hold out any serious expectation of getting their way.

The point about the anti-SSM campaigners is that "OK, you don't have to hold same-sex marriages in your parish" isn't remotely enough for them. They want all the CofE (certainly), all protestantism (probably) and all civil society (in many cases) to agree with them, and, worse, they think this is an achievable aim.

So far as the anti-SSM campaigners are concerned, the legislation is still up for grabs; they don't see the issue as being about accommodations around settled law, but a major battle which will result in the removal of the right of same-sex couples to marry, even in non-church settings.

They are, of course, mad. Same sex marriage will not be abolished. Some Christian churches have already agreed to performing same-sex marriages (Quakers, for example) and others are bound to follow over the next ten to twenty years. The best they are going to get is what they already have: individual priests being able to opt out, either on their own initiative or under the influence of their congregation. The rest of it is like Japanese soldiers unaware that the war is over, hoarding ancient ammunition to continue the battle.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 2:22pm BST

One wonders if Reform's tactic might not simply be to bore the rest of us to death?

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 7:09pm BST

Please bear in mind that it is not, in fact, 'same sex marriage 'in the new British legislation (Wales & England; and Scotland, but actually marriage.

M a r r i a g e


This is the real point. The reason it cannot be abolished by REFORM - or whoever.

Because it 'marriage' REFORM cannot abide it -- and yet Must.

No 2nd rate compromise this- just marriage.

Yes, this is marriage equality -- and not something cobbled together for queers (like me).

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 9:45pm BST

Is this news from Malta an encouraging hint of ways forward that are human and christian ?

http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/synod-malta-bishops-talk-was-influenced-by-listening-to-parents-of-lgbt-people/?utm_content=buffer20c2d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Friday, 10 October 2014 at 9:57pm BST

If REFORM could meet this old couple...

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/at_long_last

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Saturday, 11 October 2014 at 6:51am BST

@ Interested Observer: As a New Yorker, I'm taken with your observations about the desires of the "headship" campaigners - particularly as regards the practice of civil society. I'm brought back to when I worked in the office of the bishop of my diocese (Maryland) in the 1970s. One person who worked in our building - a light-skinned mixed-race lady - was married to a dark-skinned Black man. Another of our co-workers would opine privately on the depravity of this situation, commenting that "no self-respecting white woman would ever marry a Black man."

Every day when I pass the playground in my neighborhood park, I can't help but mark with pleasure the beauty of the colors of the children and their parents. I doubt if 1 in 20 of the children are the products of same-ethnicity parents. And yet only a generation ago one could still voice one's ugly racial bigotry in the bishop's office without fear of being challenged.

In the United States, it isn't just the Quakers who have agreed to perform SSM's. On this side of the pond, clergy of nearly every recognizable Christian stripe are currently solemnizing marriages between two men or two women. For the most part, the rumblings in protest come from individuals and groups who have staked out territory on the fringe of the fringe. Meanwhile, congregations, neighborhoods, communities, schools, workplaces and government offices make ready welcome and accommodation for such couples and for their children. Though some continue to feed on its carcass, that dinosaur seems to have been slain at least in this part of the world - though I recognize that, to some religionists, the US is the anteroom to the pit of sulphur. Somehow, though, that isn't the vibe I'm getting from these changes.

The world is going to belong to the children in that playground almost before we realize that they've become adults and decision-makers. And those children aren't being taught to hate their gay friends or their friends' gay parents. My only regret is that I shall be dead by the time they come of age.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Saturday, 11 October 2014 at 12:27pm BST

A bishop in Nigeria speaks up :


https://www.facebook.com/laurence.roberts.50/posts/882493938456796?comment_id=882701931769330&offset=0&total_comments=1¬if_t=share_comment

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Saturday, 11 October 2014 at 8:32pm BST

More from Nigeria.

http://www.glaad.org/blog/nigerian-archbishop-may-have-change-heart-about-lgbt-people

Cause of hope.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Friday, 17 October 2014 at 9:26pm BST

Further report of Nigerian RC bishop's listening process response.


http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/oscarlopez/nigerian_archbishop_pro_gay

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Saturday, 18 October 2014 at 9:25pm BST

What concerns me about this is picked up in the interesting rebuttal issued by the CofE.

The Reform council seem to have got this completely wrong.
The press release issued in their name is exposed as spin and disinformation. At least as far as I can see, there has been no further clarification issued to justify their initial claims that seem patently false.

So, why publish such inaccurate information? Surely these people are interested in truth, above all things, and this exchange portrays them as hysterical liars willing to whip up a storm and make unsubstantiated claims. That's an appalling situation.

This makes them look like unscrupulous spin merchants who cannot be believed. It seems a simple telephone call would have sorted this out, rather they have chosen to rush to print.

That has nothing to do with the faith I practice!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 19 October 2014 at 11:29pm BST

It's as I described it at the top of the thread - they seem to have deliberately misunderstood the process. The rebuttal was put out, after consultation, because they weren't listening to what was being told them about the GS Misc paper. I recognise that there will be little sympathy for them on Thinking Anglicans, but it does indicate that there is a level of discomfort with the conversations at both ends of the spectrum.

It may mean that there is little chance that the conversations will be an exercise in genuine communication. Or it may mean that if we can get people in the same room that there will be a helpful first meeting between LGBTI folk and Reform people (I suspect that many of the latter have never had a genuine and witting conversation with the former). If that can be brought about, it will be worth it.

Personally, I want people to encounter and understand each other, even if they can't agree.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Monday, 20 October 2014 at 5:34pm BST
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