Saturday, 11 February 2017
Retired bishops voice concern over same sex relationships report
This is the text of the letter that has been published tonight. There is an accompanying press release which is copied below the fold.
OPEN LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
February 11th 2017
Dear Fellow Bishop
The Bishops’ Report to Synod on Sexuality
Most retired bishops would be prepared to admit that participation in the synodical processes of the church are not what they most miss about their role as diocesan or suffragan bishops. They also feel some reticence about entering into the current debates occupying their successors on the basis of information that is partial and becomes more and more dated with the passing of the years. There is a dilemma, though: you don’t work for years as a bishop and then easily and suddenly lose the bond you feel for the bishops, your successors and former colleagues. Nor do you lose your concern that the church of which you continue to be a bishop should be faithful in its commendation of the Gospel to the society at large.
So when a report emerges that is the subject of major controversy within the church and society some retired bishops will wish to do what the signatories of this letter are seeking to do, namely to reflect from their particular perspective on what our successors are seeking to say and do about an issue that has been a longstanding source of concern and contention.
Your statement is the product of enormous time and effort, our memories of such situation suggesting perhaps too much time and too much effort. The ‘too much’ comes from the enormous sense of responsibility your document shows to manage a conflict that you and we know causes huge amounts of grief and argument. The result, dare we say, is that whereas it used to be said that bishops often sounded as though they spoke with a pipe in their mouths, now that pipes are rare they sound more as though they see their task as managing – rather than perhaps enabling or leading – the conflicts that are bound to occur. And we remember how exhausting that is, and how it seems to blunt the edge of bishops’ own passionate convictions, which might divide them but also invigorate the conversation.
You write after the Shared Conversations. We well remember having had lots of those, even if they did not have capital letters. But their integrity rested on the assurance that in reporting them the voices of those who participated would not be drowned out by the ‘majority view’ or ‘established position’. Our perception is that while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice. Our experience would lead us to doubt whether there was an expectation around that canons and doctrinal statements would be changed within any reasonable timescale, and that focus seems to have taken far more time than it would have done if the authentic voices of lesbian and gay people had been allowed to express the major focus of their hopes. Going down the road of seeking a change in the law or doctrinal formulation would indeed not have been realistic – but you might not have had to spend as much time explaining why if those other voices had been allowed to come through more clearly.
The result of that focus on the issue of a change in the law is that your call for change of tone and culture, while absolutely right, does not carry conviction. Indeed, from the perhaps luxurious perspective of retirement the tone and culture of your document are incredibly familiar – we’ve been there and talked in that tone of voice, and it prevents calls for a change of culture, of course offered in complete sincerity by you, from ringing true.
We’ll avoid making too many detailed points just now; but hard as you have tried you have really not allowed the theological voice of some of us to be heard properly. In para 8 you draw a contrast between ‘the many who [hold] a conservative view of scripture [for whom] the underlying issue at stake is faithfulness to God’s word’ and others for whom ‘the imperative to read scripture differently stems from a parallel conviction’. If the second group are to recognise their voice in theological conversations their ‘parallel conviction’ needs to be expressed and not just alluded to.
May we end by assuring you that we continue to sympathise with the challenging nature of the task you have in this and other matters. You will receive much negative comment about your report, and we hope that these brief remarks may illuminate the reason for that: it is not that the Shared Conversations were thought to herald changes of law or doctrine; rather there will be deep disappointment that those who are not officially part of your meetings, who experience at first hand the struggles you only allude to, have once again been spoken about by their bishops instead of being enabled to speak in their own voice about their future and the future of the church they belong to and care about.
Yours sincerely in Christ
The Rt Revd Dr David Atkinson, formerly Bishop of Thetford
The Rt Revd Michael Doe, formerly Bishop of Swindon
The Rt Revd Dr Timothy Ellis, formerly Bishop of Grantham
The Rt Revd David Gillett, formerly Bishop of Bolton
The Rt Revd John Gladwin, formerly Bishop of Guildford and of Chelmsford
The Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green, formerly Bishop of Bradwell
The Rt Revd the Lord Harries of Pentregarth DD, formerly Bishop of Oxford
The Rt Revd Stephen Lowe, formerly Bishop of Hulme
The Rt Revd Dr Stephen Platten, formerly Bishop of Wakefield
The Rt Revd John Pritchard, formerly Bishop of Oxford
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby, formerly Bishop of Worcester
The Rt Revd Tim Stevens, formerly Bishop of Leicester
The Rt Revd Roy Williamson, formerly Bishop of Bradford and of Southwark
The Rt Revd Martin Wharton CBE, formerly Bishop of Newcastle
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RETIRED BISHOPS VOICE CONCERN OVER SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS REPORT
Fourteen retired bishops have taken the unprecedented step of intervening in the Church of England’s controversial debate over Same Sex Marriage, warning that the bishops appear to be “managing rather than enabling and leading” the debate.
The group, led by the former Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Revd Peter Selby, has broken with convention to write an open letter to all bishops in the Church of England criticising their recent report on Same Sex Marriage ahead of a debate in General Synod on Wednesday 15th February.
Whilst as retired bishops they “feel some reticence” about entering into the debate, they explain they have done so because of their concern that a report that does not allow the authentic voice of LGBT people to be heard or the real theological argument to be advanced will not enable the church to engage credibly with wider society.
They suggest that the report has taken the shape it has because bishops today have a tendency to “see their task as managing – rather than perhaps enabling or leading” the debate. They admit this task can be “exhausting” and can “blunt the edge of bishops’ own passionate convictions”.
Reflecting on the Shared Conversations, they believe that the report would only have integrity if it honoured “the assurance that the voices of those who participated would not be drowned out by the ‘majority view’ or ‘established position’”. On the contrary, they assert that “our perception is that while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice.”
The authors are concerned that their colleagues decided to focus too much on why it was not possible to change church law regarding same sex marriage, so much so that “that focus seems to have taken far more time than it would have done if the authentic voices of lesbian and gay people had been allowed to express the major focus of their hopes.” As such, they believe that the bishops’ “call for change of tone and culture, while absolutely right, does not carry conviction.”
The most stinging criticism is left till last, where the authors believe that the bishops “have really not allowed the theological voice of some of us to be heard properly.” Quoting from the report which briefly recognises that there are those who hold a different interpretation of scripture to the traditional interpretation, they argue that “this “parallel conviction” …needs to be expressed and not just alluded to”, a view shared by many other vocal critics of the report.
The letter ends by acknowledging that “there will be deep disappointment that those who are not officially part of your meetings, who experience at first hand the struggles you only allude to, have once again been spoken about by their bishops instead of being enabled to speak in their own voice about their future and the future of the church they belong to and care about.”
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Saturday, 11 February 2017 at 10:16pm GMT
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Church of England
| General Synod
| equality legislation
This is a highly significant intervention and one that the House of Bishops in particular and the General Synod and wider Church in general should reflect on carefully.
The retired bishops really get it. The voice of the LGBTQI people was not heard or reflected in any way, regardless of the "shared conversations." And the current bishops refuse to respect that there are alternate ways to interpret Scripture and they only seem to uphold one very loud minority view, though it is the status quo. The retired bishops also get the pain to LGBTQI people. I, for one, am deeply grateful to finally hear voices of compassion from CoE leadership, even if they are retired.
The letter flags up the glaring partisan and one-sidedness of the Bishops' discussions and report. Not a single LGBT+ bishop was invited to join the working group, and in the final report the bishops do not even mention the possibility of accepting diverse views - or the 'Unity in Diversity' approach - instead opting to placate conservatives in other Provinces, and encouraging an imposed uniformity of doctrine. It is the Anglican Covenant re-booted.
After all the vulnerable sharing, and all the conversations, LGBT people are talked "about" by the Bishops. They are offered scraps like a better 'tone' but in substance their lives and precious relationships remain marginalised and still categorised as "sin". As others have pointed out on this site, there is a huge hypocrisy in singling out gay sex as "out of wedlock" and therefore impermissible, while blocking the one pathway which would render it permissible, and at the same time not imposing equivalent strictures on the sex that most heterosexual couples have before marriage. Lesbian and gay people end up being patronised with 'toleration' (provided they remain celibate), and the niceties of 'tone', but where - as these elders of the Church ask - are their voices? Why is it not acknowledged that half the Church of England hold divergent views?
"The Church of England believes..." what? a uniformity? no, it believes a diversity of things, in good conscience and sincerity of faith. THAT is the position we are in.
Imposed uniformity... the Anglican Covenant by the back door... just will not do.
One question, though. If 14 retired bishops can see through the weakness of the bishops' report, are we really to believe there are zero current bishops who do so? The 'collegiality' is craven. In the end, if half the Church is ignored indefinitely, then there is an inevitability about resistance and defiance.
This is a conscience issue. The bishops do not own other people's consciences. If enough people just say 'Enough' then de facto the Church of England will move on. Episcopal authority is seeping away. Where are the real leaders?
Impressive critique by the ex bishop of Worcester. When I wrote to the Bishop of Blackburn asking if he would be interested in hearing the views of a married gay Anglican, he said he would be in touch, "if the moment comes when it would be good to hear your views, in addition to those I have already heard". He has not been in touch!
I find it interesting that several of these bishops would have been seen as representing the evangelical wing of the church during - and certainly prior to - their episcopate.
I entirely agree with Anthony Archer. This unprecedented intervention coming on top of the widespread criticism of the Bishops' report should make the House of Bishops pause for thought. It would be statesmanlike if the Bishops were to listen to the discussions at Synod and elsewhere and, instead of asking Synod to take note, announce that they will review the report in the light of what they have heard and issue a revised document. However, I don't think that they have either the courage or the nous to do this. It is clear that, before we start, the report in its current form is discredited. If the Bishop of Birkenhead was allowed to add a lengthy dissenting statement to Pilling, why couldn't there be a dissenting report here? I don't think that the Bishops quite realise just how badly their authority was dented already and that it's seriously fractured now. The determination to give priority to placating parts of the Anglican Communion over meeting the needs of the CofE will ultimately destroy the latter. I shudder to think what a Teaching Document will look like coming from an HoB with such limited theological sophistication.
What is disappointing about the Bishops' report is how weak it is as a statement of Anglican moral theology. Look back at the 1958 Lambeth statement on the family in contemporary society and you find a far better expression. Anglican moral theology is not just of interest for retired academics like myself. It should come through the statements of the Bishops. Sadly this one falls far short. It is not about being liberal or conservative but how one reasons. This report falls back on the legal position to stop argument. That is very sad.
There's a difference between "welcome" and "accept." In this matter Welcome is PC, Accept is Gospel.
Every reformer is charged with flouting tradition. But Tradition is the still-living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Which did Jesus opt for? What did Paul espouse?
Ask the 14 retired bishops.
What an important intervention. Brave Bishops!
I hope the result is the same as the Anglican Covenant and for the same reasons.
High international church politics comes after and not before pastoral work with the flock on our own hillside. The great commandment is to love the neighbour and the Good Samaritan looks after the man actually in front of him in the road.
Let's hope the vote is against the Report as it was against the Anglican Covenant.
A very salutary, and apposite statement from retired Bishops who have in their ministry faced these issues, listen to their flock, and were the force which lead to these Conversations. The present College of Bishops lack theology, history in their thought pattern. Like the ABC they are cold hearted, headed managers, and very lacking in spiritual leadership, and pastoral love.
The synod must listen to the voice of our retired Bishops, and act positively. The College of Bishops would do well to go back to their report, rewrite their work again, after listening to the actual LGBTI bishops, clergy and laity directly. How ever difficult they find this exercise, as some of them moan it is. True listening in love will have positive consequences for the church we all love, and the Lord we seek to serve.
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female...
= the heterosexual creation ordinance - valid & non-negotiable - from creation to judgment day.
I belong to no interest group other than being an occasional church attendee. I am naïve to Anglican politics. It seems to me that how this issue is being dealt with is consonant with a general wider drift towards managerialism from the top, both in settling conflict and choosing appointees in the Anglican Church. If supporting the Dubs Amendment is the best that can be done in providing leadership within the Church at a time of unprecedented spiritual challenge - it disappoints.
Heard bishops Cottrell and Selby in different slots on Radio 4 at 7 AM this morning (en route to some parishes in Berkshire and Gloucestershire): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08dmjzj. The bishop of Chelmsford was asked about the letter sent by the retirees, and was pretty defensive about it. Essentially he felt it problematic that some of the signatories were only very recently retired, and they could quite easily have had the courage of their convictions whilst they were in office. Dr Selby said in a later interview that he retired some time ago (2007), so could not speak for others. However, the bishop of Chelmsford's jibe has some traction: there were obviously some signatories who could have stuck their heads above the parapet but chose not to until they were [comfortably] retired. The essence of their moral problem is that they chose to sacrifice the pastoral needs of the LGBT community for the principle of collegiality whilst in office. This tends to compromise the credibility of their otherwise useful and pointed letter.
What was interesting about the defensive nature of bishop Cottrell's response was that it seems to imply that some bishops currently in office feel much the same way as the retirees, but lack the 'luxury' of breaking what seems to be a three-line whip.
He mentioned that Shared Conversations was primarily about changing the language used by church communities. I found this especially lame: it suggests that form mitigates substance. Yet surely, as with architecture, form follows function? It would be exceedingly difficult for a new form of language to be adopted if the essence of what it is attempting to describe remains the same.
The point is that the status of LGBT people in the Church (and same sex marriage) is not about the sort of tepid equivocations or half-hearted accommodations in which the authorities customarily indulge themselves, but a binary issue: the Church is either for LGBT rights or it is not. If not, then the Christian LGBT community will either have to learn to love Big Brother or leave. The choice made by the bishops is, essentially (as I see it) a financial question: is the Church to lose the well-organised conservative evangelicals or is it to lose the relatively diffuse LGBT community and their 'straight' allies? I think we know who has the numbers and, therefore, the finance.
The retired bishops are indeed to be commended for this intervention.
Without in any way wanting to weaken that commendation, I note that some of them, e.g. Bishops Gladwin, Pritchard and Platten have retired quite recently, within the last couple of years. it is a pity that they did not speak out in this way while they were still in office. Presumably they felt constrained by the same considerations that seem to silence those currently serving bishops who may share their views.
"The determination to give priority to placating parts of the Anglican Communion over meeting the needs of the CofE will ultimately destroy the latter."
Well said, Daniel Lamont. For that is indeed the risk.
I found Stephen Cotterell's response to this intervention on Radio 4's Sunday programme highly unsatisfactory. To respond to this with a 'wry smile' and then accuse the retired bishops of bequeathing the current shambles to the current House of Bishops is highly irresponsible. He, along with others (e.g. Manchester, Truro, Salisbury, Worcester, Lichfield, Exeter, Ely, Southwark, to name just a few) have either been content to collude with this Putinesque attempt to silence dissent; or lack the intellectual and moral rigour to argue against the majority. I don't imagine for one moment that they are keeping quiet because the See of London has fallen vacant, do you?
Like Daniel Lamont, I am not hopeful about a 'new teaching document' - not least because I have no confidence that the House of Bishops is capable of producing a theologically coherent statement. Are we going to be told, as we were with the Reform & Renewal proposals for ministry training, that 'theologians' like Tim Thornton and James Langstaff were in the room, along with Julian Henderson, Tim Dakin and Donald Alistair?
"I note that some of them, e.g. Bishops Gladwin, Pritchard and Platten have retired quite recently, within the last couple of years"
Bp John Gladwin retired in 2009. Certainly when Bishop of Chelmsford he was active, vocal and open in his support for LBGT rights in the church and among his clergy. Same Bishop Green.
Peter Sedgwick is correct. This report contains no Anglican Moral Theology. It can't because a highly manufactured version of supposed unity was the 'virtue,' that had to be arrived at at all other costs.
I agree totally with Michael Mulhern.
I was rather shocked. The 'wry smile' constituted too much information, as it was neither appropriate nor in the least pastoral.
I am not expecting anything helpful from the leaders of the C of E in my lefetime. I have given up on it, but I should have liked to see something positive and truly ethical from the bishops / General Synod for the sake of younger people, and the English parishioners (i.e. public).
I no longer feel able to worship in the C of E - I could nt 'stomach it'. But other wish to I appreciate, or need to.
The RSoF is a body which has been unfailingly welcoming to my husband and I.
To say the least.
At time of writing (Monday 17:50) 5 more former bishops have added their names to the letter, and one serving bishop - the Bishop of Buckingham - as well as 500 other people so far.
If you wish, you can add your name as a supporter here:
"Bp John Gladwin retired in 2009" Thank you, Fr Andrew, for your correction. I was depending solely on my memory, and should have taken the trouble to look these things up. Do remove Bp Gladwin from my generalisation.
There are of course two interpretations we can take from newly retired bishops becoming bold with their statements. The first is the suggestion that currently serving bishops are constrained by various factors from voicing their convictions honestly. The second is that retirement leads very quickly to a new freedom and ability to see things more clearly. Maybe we need to pray for an increased number of episcopal retirements.
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female...= the heterosexual creation ordinance - valid & non-negotiable - from creation to judgment day.
Sure, Steven Thomas, from the emergence of single cell organisms to the consumption of all things, 'where none marry nor are given in marriage.' I read no such heterosexual ordinance creation ordinance.
Dear Lorenzo - the heterosexual creation ordinance, reiterated by Jesus, defining God's parameter for marriage - between a man and his female wife:
Matthew 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Stephen Cottrell makes a compelling point about bishops speaking up only in retirement, instead of having the courage of their convictions while in office. Unfortunately for him, yet another so-called liberal who refuses to go to bat for LGBT people, it's self-defeating in the extreme.
I hope, when this sordid mess is finally put to rest, and equality achieved, the CoE takes a long, hard look at how it appoints its bishops, recognizes the low-caliber bench it has at present as the fruit of a structural problem, and initiates wholesale democratic reform.
It points to a disturbing undercurrent. Why, out of all provinces, doesn't England feel the need to elect her bishops? It's hard to escape the conclusion that it's tied to the nation's ancient class system, a patrician elite who believe they're born to rule, and even more worryingly, a society prepared to let them. England deserves better, and so too does the rest of the Communion.
I can read, Steven, and thank you for the reference, I suspect most of us here had never come across it before. Jesus had a different understanding of creation than we do now. It is demonstrably untrue that 'in the beginning G-d created us male and female.' He did not. Furthermore, our Lord was trying to give a scriptural justification for his jettisoning of the right for husbands to give their wives an act of repudiation (a geet in Hebrew) by (binyan av min shnei ketuvim) combining two apparently unrelated passages of the Torah to ground a ruling on a third which apparently lacks any direct institution. Jesus was answering the question at verse 'Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of repudiation and send her away?”
So there, I too can be patronising.
"heterosexual creation ordinance," @ Steve Thomas
Strange, but your Matthew proof text looks like Jesus' answer to a question about divorce to me.
I wonder, if it's so central, so important, so first order, why Jesus waited till someone asked him a question about something else till he proclaimed heterosexuality for all?
I'm not sure you can take a statement aimed at supporting a teaching about divorce and apply it to something not even alluded to, never mind mentioned, in the passage.
Lauri, so glad you both have found your spiritual welcoming home. My husband and myself find we are truly welcome at our cathedral in the Episcopal church in Scotland.
Curiosity Lauri what is RSof F. Forgive my ignorance
Religious Society of Friends? - that would be my guess.
'The choice made by the bishops is, essentially (as I see it) a financial question: is the Church to lose the well-organised conservative evangelicals or is it to lose the relatively diffuse LGBT community and their 'straight' allies? I think we know who has the numbers and, therefore, the finance.' (Froghole)
Why doesn't somebody call their bluff over this? I live in one of the most 'evangelical' dioceses of the C of E, and I don't know of any parish that [a] has sufficient numbers and financial power, and [b] a conservative consensus. Undoubtedly there are a few such places up and down the country, but since we are told over and over again that these churches are where the bright young people go, and the vast majority of that demographic are supportive of LGBTI issues, I suspect that they flock to these churches, not to rally round an anti-gay banner, but because they are attracted to the theology and ethos for other reasons.
Thank you Mary Clara, makes good sense.
@David Emmott: Many thanks for your comment. I have travelled around c. 30+ dioceses (though not, alas, yours – as I am not within range). Numbers are devastatingly bad almost everywhere. Practically the only successful churches I have encountered are in the evangelical bracket, which I appreciate covers a range of opinion. Most of these are, I suspect, theologically conservative to some degree. However, I would attribute about 20% of their success to their doctrinal ‘robustness’ and much of the rest to their being in demographically favourable (i.e., white British, middle class and suburban) locations and because they are much more successful as social gatherings. This suggests to me that the premium placed on ritual and order by many clergy is misplaced, and that what people value more is a sense of collaboration and fellowship within a ‘vibrant’ yet informal situation. The leaven of young people is critical in that regard. Whether these churches would be quite so successful if they were more liberal is moot, but I suspect that in some instances they would be. However, I generally dislike these churches: whilst I am happy to attend for the sake of worship it is not so much the narrowness of their outlook (and the Bibliocentrism of their theological formation) which is the issue, but the feeling that I have intruded upon a private club. I do get that feeling at other churches, of course (especially certain ‘posh’ country estate churches), but I have to recognise that the success of many 'Boden' churches is in many ways predicated upon their being clubs, and that people are accepted as members in proportion to the extent of their involvement – which makes many attendees that much more willing to get involved.
Yet I have noted that even some of these ostensibly successful churches are suffering from over-reach, declining attendance and financial issues (hence their chipper attitude about underwriting ‘failing’ churches via the parish share). However, these issues are often as naught compared with the distress of many rural or inner city parishes with minute congregations.
So their bluff might be called but many bishops might consider it a high risk strategy, and pensions/stipends/housing costs still need to be paid.
Fr.John thanks so much, and it's great you both have a welcome and settled there. It always sounds like a good place to me.
RSoF is the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers.
Yes - Jesus is talking about marriage - defining it as male-female. The main point being to repudiate divorce of such that God joins together - and in so doing, reiterated the God-ordained parameters from creation. There is no getting away from it. (and why ever would anyone want to?) Peace to all - nothing patronising intended.
"This suggests to me that the premium placed on ritual and order by many clergy is misplaced, and that what people value more is a sense of collaboration and fellowship within a ‘vibrant’ yet informal situation." Thank you, Froghole, exactly what I've been saying for a good while now! In sticking to traditional worship, liberal churches are stylistically inaccessible to the majority of people.
Whatever the reasons liberal churches have for cleaving to rigid liturgy and historical music -- whether as compensation for radical theology, or mere stylistic preference -- it's killing a rich theological tradition. There's a place for tradition, often in cathedrals with the setting and skills to do it well, but services in a modern style are much easier to export to regular congregations, and far more accessible.
A liberal take on contemporary worship could be the best of all worlds, retaining the relaxed, accessible style, but ditching the stifling demands of evangelical theology that so many charismatic churches work to mask, and also the off-putting clubhouse vibe that you mention.
If England were carpeted in successful liberal churches, confident in their beliefs and right to belong, and determined to push for change, equality would arrive in no time. If liberalism carries on as it is, the CoE will morph into HTB writ large. Change, or die.