Friday, 17 February 2017

Archbishops' letter - responses and press reports

OneBodyOneFaith Archbishops’ bold proposal for radical inclusion

OneBodyOneFaith welcomes the Church of England Archbishops’ bold proposal for a new and inclusive process following defeat of GS2055

In response to the joint letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York released today, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith said, “The joint letter from both Archbishops to Church of England synod members is a bold and welcome response to address the disjunction between the House of Bishops and Houses of Clergy and Laity in their understanding of and response to human sexuality. We applaud the tone set by Archbishop Justin as he seeks ‘a radical new Christian inclusion’ and his affirmation that, ‘no person is a problem or an issue [because] people are made in the image of God.’ In this we find echoed our own vision, longing for Christ’s body to be one, finding unity in a diversity which includes all whom Christ has called, that they might participate in God’s mission, leading to transformation for our world.”

“For Bishops to consult with local synod representatives in how to establish a way forward on human sexuality that is ‘about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity’ will indeed be a significant change. We note with satisfaction the intention that the Pastoral Oversight group and the group that work on the large scale teaching document that will provide for ‘good, healthy flourishing relationships’ reflecting a ‘21st Century understanding of being human and being sexual’ will be ‘fully inclusive’. We take ‘fully inclusive’ in this context to mean that in both groups will be represented those who would affirm OneBodyOneFaith’s statement of conviction:

‘that human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity in all their richness are gifts of God gladly to be accepted, enjoyed and honoured as a way of both expressing and growing in love, in accordance with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.’

And that:

‘it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship; We believe that expressing our gender and sexuality with integrity is important as a way to grow in love and discipleship.’

”The Archbishops have set an ambitious task for members of the Church of England; they are right to recognise its urgency. A process involving lay, presbyteral and episcopal members of synod will be far more representative. OneBodyOneFaith reminds the Archbishops that the homophobia long present in the Church of England has skewed its population and that this needs to be taken into account in Diocesan consultations, in the development of pastoral practices, and in formulating the wide ranging and inclusive new teaching document on human sexuality.

Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of OneBodyOneFaith explained, “Care needs to be taken that a process which focusses on synod members will represent and reflect the interests of the whole of the Church of England and is mindful of the needs of the nation. To that end, this process needs to involve Anglicans who are not part of synod. The process needs to allow each participant to speak without fear for their own safety or fear of recrimination. OneBodyOneFaith stands ready to resource the Church of England as it embarks on this process of embodying more deeply the radical and transforming love shown by God in Christ which is for all.”

Press reports

Harriet Sherwood The Guardian Church of England bishops seek to repair divisions over same-sex relationships

Yorkshire Post Archbishop of York calls for ‘radical’ steps by Church

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 17 February 2017 at 11:10am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

Just wondering whether this is an opportunity for the bishops also to hear from those in their dioceses who took part in the diocesan Shared Conversations - as not all GS reps did this, and the model was significantly different from the GS version of the SCs?

Posted by: Helen King on Friday, 17 February 2017 at 12:44pm GMT

Bold words from the Archbishops, but they have their work cut out. The BBC news yesterday, referring to the Bishop of Coventry's grovel abut pressing the wrong button at the vote in Synod, said "Dr Cocksworth added that the report was a 'valuable road map' and he was 'disappointed' by the vote's outcome", so there's at least one of their episcopal colleagues who is STILL incapable of understanding what has happened and why. How many others are there?

Posted by: Barry on Friday, 17 February 2017 at 5:02pm GMT

I have been in touch with several bishops - one of the bishops of a more evangelical slant said he did not see the unity in diversity model as practical because this was not the same 'order of issue' as the issue of female priests and bishops. At the same time, I am sure there is a range of opinion among the bishops, just as there is among the clergy and laity.

I think the problem is the problem: that the Church itself is divided down the middle, and at either extreme will not accept any solution that gives ground to the opposing conscience and viewpoint.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 18 February 2017 at 6:33am GMT

So far as the bishops are concerned, the failure to take note was the perfect outcome. Now they produce the same teaching document but do not have to worry about the bothersome business of offering 'maximum flexibility'. Meanwhile, the bishops canvas Synod reps to count votes.

The one thing which will change is the tone and language.

A total own goal by liberals and so many cannot see it.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 18 February 2017 at 9:48am GMT

Kate - the 'own goal' would have been to accept the 'neutral' nature of a vote to 'take note' and hand ++Justin Welby the opportunity of saying that the HoB's basic premise was ratified and accepted by Synod. As you'll read elsewhere on this site, he was already presenting this report as authoritative even before it was presented to Synod. If and when the new teaching document appears, Gereral Synod members need to ask (or demand) that it comes before Synod for debate and discussion, since it was part of the HoB's plan for a way 'forward'.

Posted by: Commentator on Saturday, 18 February 2017 at 6:11pm GMT

The trouble with attempts to improve the language of any HoB document on marriage etc, and the feelings experienced by lesbian and gay people, is that it isn't really that language or the "feel" of the document that is hurtful - it is the doctrine.

Or can anyone more intelligent than me think of an acceptable way of saying that: "...according to our Lord’s teaching, marriage is in its nature a union, permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do us part, of one man with one woman... "?.

Posted by: RevDave on Saturday, 18 February 2017 at 10:28pm GMT

Kate is right ....

Posted by: S Cooper on Saturday, 18 February 2017 at 11:32pm GMT

Kate, this wasn't spearheaded by liberals: Jayne Ozanne, who took a lead on it, is an affirming evangelical. As I said a while back, change is most likely to come to England when that camp takes the lead, since politics and organization are areas evangelicals of any stripe excel in.

Regardless of technicalities, political reality's that, if English diocesans try and use this to do an end-run around LGBT people, they'll not only get another defeat in General Synod, there'll be serious questions asked about their positions.

"Maximum flexibility" isn't near ambitious enough. We're long past the point where toleration's acceptable. Full equality, by all lawful means, and that won't be achieved by asking for crumbs from the bishops' high table.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 11:39am GMT


As I understand it the bishops don't need to pass a teaching document via Synod.

The Archbishop of Canterbury already showed his feelings for Synodical authority by announcing the report as authority in his letter to Anglican Primates. That is unlikely to change: he will just now say the bishops voted unanimously for the report and that doctrine and teaching are the preserve of the episcopate.

Remember, liberals need a change in doctrine and canon: the bishops are content with the status quo, especially since they can interpret the status quo. Delay works for the bishops.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 12:27pm GMT

I take a different view to Kate.
The apparently innocuous 'Take Note' motion was intended by the HOB to be a formality, which it normally is. However what happened very quickly was that it morphed into what was tantamount to a confidence motion, with so much opposition and criticism of both the report and the HOB itself, from which the ABC himself was not exempted. That was why Church House campaigned so vigorously for the apparently neutral angle of taking note. However, even this backfired, because the ABC had form in interpreting a neutral take note motion at the ACC as expressing active support. (Sorry for all these acronyms!)
It was for this reason that there was such an impact from the voting when the take note motion was rejected. Look at the numbers. Church House spin draws attention to the absolute majority for the Take Note. However, discount the HOB because they were never going to do anything other than support their report. Those voting in the clergy and laity amounted to only 51% for, against 47%. Even in the laity it was only 55% for and 43% against (clergy 48% for, 51% against). Quite apart from the technicality of the vote being lost by houses, the HOB and the archbishops in particular could not withstand a situation where the majority of their clergy and a substantial section of the laity had in effect voted against their recommendation to trust them on this issue. A watershed or tipping point had been reached and could no longer be ignored.
The challenge now of course is to maintain that pressure, given the track record of a closed HOB, to ensure all voices continue to be heard.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 1:08pm GMT

I realise that the HoB takes note of itself as holding the teaching office. That too can be challenged because whatever teaching document they produce can, if members of GS get their act together, come to the Synod to be discussed. GS has to take hold of the power and authority that it may and can possess. Ordinary members need to hold to account those on procedural committees and challenge their decisions. It is time to MAKE the HoB hear what God is saying to, in, and through his People and his world.

Posted by: Commentator on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 4:22pm GMT


I very much agree that the impact as a no confidence motion is substantial. Kelvin Holdsworth's writing on the topic is linked on a different thread and I think Kelvin is spot on: the lack of confidence expressed is more general than the particular issue. It is why the selection of bishops is an issue now being raised rather more openly.

However the impact of that is likely to be that the House of Bishops will now be reluctant to put anything before Synod on the subject of same sex marriage for fear of another bloody nose. Against that backdrop, it is hard to see how progress can be made.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 4:35pm GMT

Reality is that conservatives voted against too... that's why the result is what it is ... bishops unencumbered

Posted by: S Cooper on Sunday, 19 February 2017 at 5:09pm GMT

Kate: progress can be made by building a consensus in the houses of Clergy and Laity, and (I think it all hinges on this) reassuring the bishops that change won't lead to a mass-exodus of evangelicals bankrupting the English church.

Progress can also be helped along by a healthy dose of pressure, as equal consecration was. If the bishops dig in their heels, they'll be confronted with a choice between giving way, and being pushed aside. Behind the cracked mask of faux-unanimity and bluster are a lot of weak people without the courage of their convictions. People like that fold.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 11:33am GMT

I suppose it's too much to expect there to be a theologian or two in the room when this so-called Teaching Document is being drawn up? Or are the bishops still persisting with the fantasy that they are all theologians? If so, we're back to square one. And the point of the C of E Doctrine Commission is what?

My starter for ten would be to have Sarah Coakley, Simon Oliver, Sam Wells and Nigel Biggar in there to cut through the pap and get these boys and girls thinking outside their institutional survival box.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 4:56pm GMT

"Or can anyone more intelligent than me think of an acceptable way of saying that: "...according to our Lord’s teaching, marriage is in its nature a union, permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do us part, of one man with one woman... "?."

Here's a crack at it:
According to our Lord's teaching, we are called to love God with all our hearts and minds, which means loving God's Creation, including God's gay creation. We are called to love all of our neighbors as ourselves, without exception. The Incarnation came to bring the Good News to all people everywhere. This same Incarnation commands us not to judge others. Thus, since some LGBTQI sisters and brothers are called to the sacrament of marriage, err on the side of love and generosity and leave the rest to God.

Somehow that statement seems more intelligent than setting oneself up to be a gatekeeper for God.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 4:58pm GMT

"Or are the bishops still persisting with the fantasy that they are all theologians?" Says it all, Michael.

Given that English bishops tend to be ex-public schoolboys, arrogance and entitlement's been drummed into them since birth. Some transcend it, many don't. Deep down, by virtue of their class, diocesans know that they're experts at anything they turn their hand to. Born to rule, effortlessly.

That Flashman, play up! play up! and play the game! ethos actively despises learning for its own sake: if only subconciously, bet plenty diocesans get a kick from having the power to over-rule those jumped-up theologians. Teaches 'em to know their place, and defer to their betters.

Play up! play up! and play the game!

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 7:06pm GMT

"and (I think it all hinges on this) reassuring the bishops that change won't lead to a mass-exodus of evangelicals bankrupting the English church."

Any change which involves blessing or allowing same sex marriage will prompt an exodus of traditionalists. The bishops know that. So they won't - can't - offer any change which is meaningful to LGBT+ people. It is deadlock unless liberals offer a third way.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 7:57pm GMT

It is also desirable that when the Teaching Document is drawn up, the bishops should have the benefit of advice from people with expertise in biology and psychology, who could explain to them that operating with the simple categories 'male' and 'female' will not do.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Monday, 20 February 2017 at 11:10pm GMT

"It is also desirable that when the Teaching Document is drawn up, the bishops should have the benefit of advice from people with expertise in biology and psychology, who could explain to them that operating with the simple categories 'male' and 'female' will not do."

So true. Certainly the teaching document can have no credibility unless it can define "man" and "woman" in terms which are biologically accurate and in terms which are also consistent with Canon Law. Personally I think that is impossible to do.

And if a teaching document is to rely on parts of the Scripture but not others there needs to be a robust and convincing theological justification.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 at 8:46am GMT

I think that one of the problems with the Church of England is still the fact that its Bishops are considered to be academic theologians. This would seem to be no longer the principal requirement of a bishop - where management capability looks to take over as the primary function of the episcopate. Management can never sort of problems of innate injustice in the Church. We need theologians for that task. Where are they?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 22 February 2017 at 8:13am GMT
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