Friday, 16 September 2016

Bishops' Reflection Group on Sexuality

The following press release has been issued:

Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality

Following the statement from the College of Bishops issued on 15 September 2016, the Church of England has published the terms of reference of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality and the membership of the group.

Terms of Reference

To assist the Bishops of the Church of England in their reflection on issues relating to human sexuality, in the light of theological, biblical, ecumenical, Anglican Communion, pastoral, missiological, historical and societal considerations bearing on these issues, and following experiences of the shared conversations held around the Church between 2014 and 2016.

To assist the House of Bishops in identifying questions in relation to human sexuality, with particular reference to same sex relationships. It will also develop possible answers to those questions for the House to consider, as a contribution to the leadership which the House provides to the Church on such issues.

To provide material to assist the House of Bishops in its reflections in November 2016, and subsequently as requested, and to assist the House in its development of any statements on these matters which it may provide to the wider Church.

To consider any matter which the Archbishops request that the group should have on its agenda.

Membership of Group:

Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich (Chair)
Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden (Vice-Chair)
Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford
Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
Rt Revd Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn
Rt Revd Libby Lane, Bishop of Stockport
Rt Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton
Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich
Rt Revd Rod Thomas, Bishop of Maidstone
Rt Revd Jo Bailey Wells, Bishop of Dorking

Staff support:

Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director Mission & Public Affairs Division
Jonathan Neil-Smith, Central Secretariat (Secretary)
William Nye LVO, Secretary General
Canon David Porter, Chief of Staff and Strategy to the Archbishop of Canterbury
Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen, Theological Secretary and Secretary to the Council for Christian Unity

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 16 September 2016 at 5:21pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

So the reference to episcopal discernment in the press release is simply PR spin which attempts to dress up a political / managerial process as something spiritual, which this is not.

The term of reference talk of the House of Bishops offering leadership to the church. God has asked, Susannah, Cynthia, Jeremy, me and many others who post on TA and elsewhere to think deeply about how our sexual orientation interacts with our faith. Not a single member of the working group has admitted to being called by God to such deep and personal reflection. Who are best placed to offer leadership - those the Lord has called to his service on this issue through personal experience - or those appointed by the archbishops despite admitting no personal experience? Even the Bishop of Grantham has been excluded.

In a secular organisation, particularly a political political one, a working party comprising middle managers might be a sensible way forwards. But on this the Lord has indicated who He thinks should be involved and ignoring Him is a terrible start. And, as the Bishop of Grantham has shown, nor would building the working party from LGBTI people prejudge the issue.

This is sheer hubris by the bishops.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 16 September 2016 at 6:40pm BST

Doubtless the bishops will recommend further discussion! If they ever decide to change anything, will anyone still be interested?

Posted by: sjh on Friday, 16 September 2016 at 7:36pm BST

Question: In a group of 10 people called to reflect on human (=homo) sexuality, how many should be in a heterosexual marriage?

House of Bishops answer: 10.

Posted by: Fr. Andrew on Friday, 16 September 2016 at 7:50pm BST

Personally, I think there should be a consultation mechanism for members of the Church of England to submit views and proposals for consideration, between now and the end of October.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 16 September 2016 at 8:03pm BST

@ Fr. Andrew, "In a group of 10 people called to reflect on human (=homo) sexuality, how many should be in a heterosexual marriage?
House of Bishops answer: 10."


I think it's called catch-22

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 3:10am BST

Might it not have been a good idea to have invited the Bishop of Grantham to join the Bishops' Reflection Group on Sexuality? He interviewed extremely well on the SUNDAY programme the other week and his own personal experience would surely add valuable insights to the ongoing discussion.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 6:54am BST

The Church of England is not the only religious body wrapped in "Considerations." Here's an excerpt from the church bulletin of my local URC.

"The next Church Meeting will be on Sunday 18th September after morning worship. It will include a discussion on the church’s response to the General Assembly of the URC’s decision to permit local churches to host same sex marriages. We need to decide whether to make a decision on this issue."

To be fair, knowing this group as I do, they will either vote in favour of SSM in in their church, or they'll be evenly split. If the latter, the matter will be recommended for serious prayer and will come up again in a couple of months to discover whether views have altered.

Posted by: Sister Mary on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 7:57am BST

@Rod: should that not be "a reading from the book of Catches, chapter 22, beginning at the first verse"?

Posted by: Jo on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 10:53am BST

Father David, forgive me if I sound rather cynical but I think that the reason that the Bishop of Grantham hasn't been included in the group is precisely because he might add valuable insights to the discussion.

Looking at the membership of the group, it seems to me to be so "balanced" that it is destined to disagree on just about everything.

Posted by: RPNewark on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 12:22pm BST

The bishops are welcome to all the conversations they feel compelled to have.

Meanwhile, the ministry of reconciliation - the church's primary vocation - continues with or without the active participation of any one or group of us--including those in Holy Orders.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 5:02pm BST

Yes, too heterosexual and too fundamentalist by half.

Harder and harder to take C of E bishops too seriously.

Note to self :- increase 'salt pinch' to salt pack.

Health warning : excess salt hurts your heart.

Does that make you think / remind you of anything ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 5:48pm BST

All groupings that do not include homosexual persons should be boycotted forthwith.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 8:23pm BST

The group's task is clearly stated in the terms of reference: to set down the questions the House of Bishops should be asking and to offer some answers. It is not rocket science. They may agree more easily on the questions than the answers, but they are not invited to second guess the House of Bishops. If they cannot agree on the answers then they can offer some options. Our prayer must be that they just get on with it, because if they do not the General Synod will be hit with a confetti of private member's motions and the entire debate will unravel before our eyes.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 10:33pm BST

It's easy to see that there is no such thing as 'proportional representation' in the Church of Englands's 'think-tanks' - at least, not as far as the furthering of conversations about the inclusion of LGBTI people goes. Interestingly, while there were women clergy co-opted into meetings of the House of Bishops prior to the recent Women Bishops legislation, there has been no such inclusion of gay bishops into this group appointed to sort out the 'problem' of Gays in the Church.

Despite the much-trumpeted 'Conversation on Human Sexuality' - which included voices from the actual minority of Church people involved as the subject of discussion on the grounds of whether, or not, they are welcome in the Church - the expected follow-up conversation in the House of Bishops will be hindered by the fact that the number(10) of bishops who have been chosen by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to form an advisory group to the H.o.B. does not include (at least knowingly) one single Gay Bishop.

Surely, as the Archbishops already are aware of one Out-Gay Bishop (+ Bishop Nicholas of Grantham, whose sexual orientation and live-in partnership was actually known to them before his recent episcopal ordination), it would have afforded more of a balance to the further 'conversation' to at least have included this one bishop within its circle?

However, it would seem that outward appearance (like that of exclusive heterosexuality of serving clergy in the Church) is more important than the reality of the fact that there are serving gay clergy and bishops in the Church of England who, for employment reasons alone, are loth to make public their sexual orientation. If only the archbishops - having already announced that it is not wrong to be intrinsically gay - there might be more clergy and even bishops who would 'come out of the closet' and help resolve the current dilemma.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 12:37am BST

"All groupings that do not include homosexual persons should be boycotted forthwith."

Does that include---as far as we know---the Roman Curia RIW? >;-/ [But I do agree w you]

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 6:39am BST

People - don't waste time on fake unity.
Haven't you wasted enough time already????

Posted by: S Cooper on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 3:46pm BST

"Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...' "

Then he will say also to those on the left hand....break up into small groups!

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 4:39pm BST

@ Jo, Verily

Posted by: Rod gillis on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 4:40pm BST

I admit I'm taking a fiendish delight thinking about what's going through the heads of the Ugandan and Nigerian bishops as they read about Toronto's new male suffragan bishop.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Sunday, 18 September 2016 at 10:30pm BST

Dear JCF. You are right to ask this counter-question of RIW. Because is that were to happen -according to Robert's demand here; the Roman Church would probably collapse - very few left to survive.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 2:59am BST

I suspect there are plenty of people in the Church of Rome with same sex attraction, but the C of E is open to debate...and if that is genuine should hear all sides.But it looks like a stage managed affair to an outsider..would you have a commission on women with no women?

Posted by: robert ian williams on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 6:50am BST

Contrary to some views expressed here there does seem to be some balance. Of the four diocesans there seems to be a range of viewpoints present, and the same is true of the four suffragan bishops. The two bishops from catering to specific theological audiences will obviously have their own viewpoints.
Beyond that the bench of bishops has an inbuilt bias - and it is possible that the Bishop of Grantham was telling the truth a couple of weeks ago and his sexuality is just a part of who he is and he would rather spend his time serving his diocese than making an issue of his sexuality.

Posted by: NJW on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 8:16am BST

Could you clarify this statement:

"I admit I'm taking a fiendish delight thinking about what's going through the heads of the Ugandan and Nigerian bishops as they read about Toronto's new male suffragan bishop."

As I see it, what this does is widen the entire GS bloc to extend well beyond the two provinces you mention. Whatever divisions there may be within the GS as a whole, they are not divided on marriage.

Is your point that this is a good outcome, indeed a fiendishly delightful one?

I ask because as I read it, the progressives take different tacks on things. Some want a communion which holds different--even mutually corrosive--positions.

Others want a break. If that is your fiendishly delightful hope, you are right this will likely move the matter down that road more rapidly.

I live part of the year in Toronto so will be curious to hear from those on the ground. But after last summer, +Toronto had already said they would move forward regardless of the vote.


As with the nature of biblical teaching, there appear to be two camps. The Bible is clear and it is wrong. The Bible can be read in such a way that traditional teaching is viewed as out of touch.

So too, there appear to be two positions when it comes to co-existence. The vast majority of the GS will not be divided in seeing this as a step that breaks things up. Maybe that is a good thing so far as you are concerned. Fiendishly good!

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 12:55pm BST

"All groupings that do not include homosexual persons should be boycotted forthwith."

Do you mean that, or do you mean all groupings which do not include OUT homosexual persons? At a very practical level, there are huge problems with your suggestion. The Bishops Reflection Group is different for two reasons:


1. The one bishop known to be gay was passed over
2. It has been suggested that all of the bishops chosen are in heterosexual marriages

I think the BRG should equally be criticised for its lack of racial diversity. If you have done much LGBTI equality work you will know that there are big cultural differences in attitudes and that often BMW homosexual people are far less well represented proportionally than white homosexual people.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 5:40pm BST

"All groupings that do not include homosexual persons should be boycotted forthwith."


By whom and how do they do this?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 5:56pm BST

"The group's task is clearly stated in the terms of reference: to set down the questions the House of Bishops should be asking and to offer some answers. It is not rocket science. They may agree more easily on the questions than the answers, but they are not invited to second guess the House of Bishops."

So do you believe that a group of married bishops will ask questions like:

1. Should the call for celibacy be extended from gay bishops to all bishops?

2. Is it OK for Christians to use birth control?

3. Why is it OK for heterosexual couples to enjoy oral and manual sex if it would not be acceptable for homosexual couples?

4. If sex should be procreative, what are the implications for heterosexual couples if one of the partners is infertile? Is any sexual congress which is not intended to create a baby acceptable or not eg sex at 'safe' times of the month?

5. What about intersex people and those who have changed sex and/or legal gender?

And what about

6. Is any church body or group legitimate if all flavours of LGBTI people are not represented in its diversity?

7. Should there be measures to ensure LGBTI bishops in the House of Lords as have been adopted for women?


The truth Anthony is that the group is biased very strongly towards the status quo and this will almost certainly be reflected in the questions themselves being biased. And if you don't want a confetti of private members motions at Synod then the archbishops need to fix this group now because there is no way the group, as composed, is going to have any legitimacy.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 6:04pm BST

Result: gracious restraint requested with the understanding that being dishonest is preferred to being open. Bad for everyone. Why can't we just have a split and move on? Honest. Clear. Possible.

It doesn't matter if the Church of England splits; but it does matter if it induces or forces dishonest behaviour in clergy.

Posted by: S Cooper on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 6:19pm BST

re Daniel Berry's post:

So everyone knows what he's making reference to, on 17 September the Diocese of Toronto elected three new suffragans -- two women and a partnered gay man with two children. It's not clear whether he's civilly married, though I would assume that, given the legal situation in Canada. And there's no requirement to abstain from sexual relationships in a marriage for clergy or laity in the ACC.

I'm a good person, sometimes, so I won't say: Take that, Justin Welby et al.

Posted by: john holding on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 7:27pm BST

Last weekend I was an acolyte for a wedding where the guys had been together for decades. Joy and Spirit were very present, our cup runneth over.

So far, the couples that I know who are getting married in the church are people of extraordinary faith and spiritual gifts.

It seems like a terrible lack of faith to set up a "reflection" that so actively avoids having an inclusive conversation. There is an incredible need for the Good News in the world today. Exclusion is not the Good News, and all the time and energy going into exclusion could better be used pursuing peace, love, and justice ("justice is the public expression of love," Cornell West).

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 19 September 2016 at 8:47pm BST

Further proof of a split.

This is CofE and has nothing to do with TEC, which has moved on with the Holy Spirit's business.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 at 5:42am BST

"As with the nature of biblical teaching, there appear to be two camps. The Bible is clear and it is wrong. The Bible can be read in such a way that traditional teaching is viewed as out of touch."

There's a third camp, Christopher. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls for loving all our neighbors, including God's LGBTQI children. It is a position held by many.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 7:17am BST

Cynthia, the loving our neighbours only gets us so far. The impression in the NT is very much of marriage as an indulgence for those who couldn't live a single life. The loving our neighbours suggests that LGBTI people should not be separated from the comfort of that indulgence. I don't see how though that argument extends to allowing gay clergy to marry for instance - their dedication to the Lord should be such that they don't need the comfort of the indulgence. The indulgence (from loving neighbours) argument also doesn't make same sex right.

The loving our neighbours argument is certainly part of the picture but for me, on its own, it's only an incomplete justification. To get us all the way there requires a deeper approach I think.

Where I think you are right is that the neighbour-loving indulgence argument side steps all issues about sin and is hard to refute. Denying same sex marriage is, to me, manifestly un-Biblical. The steps beyond that might be more open to debate.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 9:06am BST

Good questions, Kate. If they're discussing 'sexuality', I'd also like the bishops to consider (and/or answer) whether it is the official teaching of the Church of England that men and women's sexuality is somehow 'complementary' - this was suggested in many of the discussions and documents around same-sex marriage (i.e. same-sex marriage is wrong because men and women each bring something 'distinctive' to a marriage and a marriage requires both those distinctive elements).

If that is the church's teaching, could they please specify what they think is distinctive about men and women, respectively, and how that can be ascertained (beyond obvious biological differences).

Posted by: SMB on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 10:41am BST

cseitz says: "I ask because as I read it, the progressives take different tacks on things. Some want a communion which holds different--even mutually corrosive--positions.

Others want a break. If that is your fiendishly delightful hope, you are right this will likely move the matter down that road more rapidly."

Christopher: members of the Global South and their acolytes have been threatening a 'break' with others in the Anglican Communion for well over a decade. They/you keep saying it gets closer more rapidly but increasingly it feels like noise and static. Do you know the story about the boy who cried wolf?

I am at least pleased to see that you understand their posturing might be 'corrosive'.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 12:21pm BST

"Member of the GS" yes. Gafcon.

But the vast majority of the GS? That is what we will now likely see.

And, I was speaking about those who wanted to AC to be diverse but together, even if this meant corrosive positions.

Maybe a good reading course?

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 3:48pm BST

"But the vast majority of the GS? That is what we will now likely see."

Something we have been hearing for many years. I won't hold my breath Christopher.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 5:14pm BST

"Cynthia, the loving our neighbours only gets us so far."

Kate, it's hard on a blog to flesh out all of the implications of one important commandment by Jesus. The example of Jesus is inclusion. His harsh words were for the Pharisees for misusing the Law to heap indignities upon people, typically people of lower status, outcasts. What He doesn't say speaks volumes as well. He never addresses SSM (that divorce passage does not "define" marriage for all people for all time). What he addresses is compassion, justice, love, nurturing of body and soul.

One can also look to Jesus and reflect on the fruits of belief and policies. Exclusion is abusive, and results in suicide, depression, etc. Inclusion results in explosions of joy, as I've Witnessed in my marriage and that of others, here in TEC.

God is love and we are all made in our Creator's loving image, in Celtic spirituality we are also made "of God." We are made by love, to love, for love. The implications for inclusion and social justice are huge, indeed, completion of love brings us to the Promised Land.

Following Christ is costly, best done in community. Where TEC and other provinces struggle out loud, hearing many voices to discern the movement of the Spirit, CoE sequesters its leadership. It isn't a likely scenario for the Wisdom of God, but who knows?

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 at 8:11pm BST
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