Monday, 19 June 2017

What should the CofE teaching document on sexuality encompass?


The LGBTI Mission has published a document, which makes suggestions for what the proposed Church of England teaching document on sexuality should cover.

The document itself can be found here, and the accompanying press release is copied below the fold.


A selection of the questions in this paper is contained in a comment article in the Church TImes for 23 June, which is titled Issues that must be addressed.

Press release

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced in February that the Church of England needed a teaching document about sexuality to lead the church towards a radical new inclusion of LGBTI+ people in the church. This will replace Issues in Human Sexuality and associated documents which are a generation old. The archbishops wrote:

To deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.

We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.

The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.

Leading academic theologians, scientists and other experts have written a paper identifying questions and themes which they believe the Church of England group that will write that new teaching document will need to address. Their work has been co-ordinated by Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, sponsored by the LGBTI Mission and supported by the Human Sexuality Group of General Synod, OneBodyOneFaith and Inclusive Church.

The paper which can be found here is titled A Teaching Document on Sexuality and Marriage from the Bishops of the Church of England: Some Initial Suggestions as to Questions and Themes.

LGBTI Mission Chair, Simon Sarmiento said, “We are not telling the group what to write. But we are saying that if the Teaching Document is to serve the Archbishops’ purpose and have credibility in the Church of England and beyond, then it must address the questions and themes these scholars have identified”.

The Chair of the Human Sexuality Group of General Synod, Canon Giles Goddard, added, “The Teaching Document is a significant part of the Archbishops’ plan for the way forward for our church. It is vital that the Document covers the breadth and depth of the questions raised in this preparatory paper if it is to command the support of General Synod”.

Tracey Byrne, the CEO of OneBodyOneFaith, commented, “People in the Church of England, both LGBTI+ people and their friends, families and allies, are looking to our bishops and General Synod for a better way forward than the paper rejected by General Synod in February. We know this Teaching Document is coming, and we are grateful to the academics who have done this work on identifying the important and pressing matters that must be considered by those writing it.”

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This is a really challenging set of questions and I applaud the level of academic scholarship that has gone into it.

It will be interesting to see who the Bishops see as the primary audience for this new teaching document. Will they be aiming it to the worldwide Anglican Communion, as GS2055 seemed to be, or will they aim it for parish clergy to guide them in the pastoral situations they face?

The status of the new teaching document will be important. Will it be a disciplinary document, in the same way that candidates for ordination currently must be willing to live within the discipline of Issues in Human Sexuality?

Posted by: Ann Reddecliffe on Monday, 19 June 2017 at 6:22pm BST

Excellent document.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 4:59am BST

Agreed. This is the most rigorous document I have seen for some time. In a sense, this document has done the Archbishops' work for them. They will have less room for ducking and diving in the document they produce.

Call me cynical, but I cannot see the official document from the H of Bs coming anywhere near the questions being posed here. There's too much at stake - in terms of money, ecclesiology and Anglican Communion concerns. Or they will produce a good report and not publish it (Osborne all over again). It will be interesting to see who are the 'theologians' the Archbishops will bring on board.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 6:56am BST

This is excellent. I have been rather blunt with my bishop in saying that unless as a minimum the so-called Teaching Document, an unfortunately authoritarian label, makes clear that there are different interpretations of Scripture that may be legitimately held, and that the Church must repent of its manifest homophobia, then the document will go the way of GS 2055.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 10:31am BST

I hesitate to criticise when the august voices above are so positive, but the document is hardly lacking in problems. Consider, for example, "What, for instance, does the Church of England wish to teach about sex education in schools, consent, sexual violence, marital rape, pornography, masturbation, or limits to sexual practices (not least among married heterosexual couples)? If pronouncing on matters such as sexual practices among married heterosexual couples is deemed unacceptably intrusive, how far should that also go for other couples?"

Is the position, seriously, that masturbation is a problem akin to rape and sexual violence, which needs to be addressed and solved? Seriously? What was that about the church making itself look silly with pseudo-science?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 11:55am BST

Interested Observer, I take that list to be an indication that any document purporting to be about human sexuality needs to engage with far more than 'the gays'. And amen to that.

Posted by: Helen King on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 1:31pm BST

Interested Observer: I took it to be code for "Well we've changed our mind/stood away from the biblical position/no longer subscribe to the RC position on this one, haven't we?"

Posted by: american piskie on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 3:19pm BST

So many good points above. Interested Observer spot-on again. What I am expecting from the bishops is (1) a list of anatomical structures which may be stimulated without incurring episcopal displeasure; (2) the frequency with which such stimulation may occur (how many times a minute -- that sort of thing), and with what; (3) which orifices are out of bounds lest entry to spirits be facilitated, as Bishop Graham Dow, then of Carlisle, opined over a decade ago. I think I said something like this before, but if more rigorous standards are to be expected of clergy, then we’ll need CCTV cameras in clergy homes connected to a monitoring station, and the appointment of pleasure police to monitor them. I hope there will be some recognition of the fact that many religious experiences are sexual in nature and vice versa. As for masturbation and the points raised by Interested Observer, I’ve never regarded it as a problem. Rather the opposite actually.

The question of who the document is for is pertinent. I can see ‘my’ parishioners reading it avidly, and adjusting lifetstyles accordingly. It may lead a resurgence of interest as they realise what they missed out on when they were (I was) younger.

Really, this is quite the silliest notion of the C of E bishops. Still, it gives them something to do as their flocks shrink. I would no more listen to a bishop about this than about how I should clean my teeth. But I suppose, after the last archiepiscpal letter, such instructions might be in the pipeline. What a terrific hoot.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse (Fr William) on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 4:00pm BST

In the real world, the idea of the present House of Bishops of the C of E having anything valuable to say on the subject of human sexuality (given their recent record,) let alone issue 'a teaching document,' is both laughable and patronising. Who is going to listen? When have they ever listened to anyone else?

Posted by: steve morgan on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 4:49pm BST

All the comments on this thread, both the laudatory ones higher up, and the more critical/cynical ones more recently, shine light on a real problem that the Bishops have created for themselves. They are in a no-win situation. They seem to have realised that events of the past couple of decades have rather passed them by, and in particular that previous "teaching documents" such as Issues in Sexuality (if I have the title right) have been shown to be woefully inadequate.
So in an effort to restore some sort of initiative, and with quite valid attention to their traditional teaching role, they have committed themselves to work on a new document. The LGBTI Mission have responded by offering a very appropriate challenge: "If your proposed document is going to be worthy of anyone's respect, it needs to address at least the following questions..."
I agree, it's an excellent list,including its observation that the very length of the list, and the controversial nature of many of its questions, have implications for the length of the final document, and for the length of time that will be required to produce it. Events cannot, and will not stand still while the bishops work on this.

The problem remains. After all the work involved, and given the size of the document, will anyone pay any attention? Putting that another way, and with reference to the issue raised by Interested and Fr William above, who gives a toss anyway?

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 9:25pm BST

Perhaps they should start with a document teaching themselves a few things. Tolerance, charity, integrity, honesty, for instance.

Posted by: Bernard Silverman on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 at 11:30pm BST

I think that this is an excellent document which raises key questions thoughtfully. I wholeheartedly agree with Edward Prebble's comments but I do think that we need a new teaching document, if only to form part of the education of the clergy. I am not optimistic, given their past record, that the Bishops will produce an appropriate document and, given their lack of credibility, that anyone would pay attention if they did. I attended the debate on the marriage canon at the recent synod of the SEC. The contributions of both the Primus and also the Bishop of Edinburgh were far superior to anything I have heard from the current bench of CofE Bishops.

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 at 10:31am BST

I would also suggest the Bishops take a good look at the syllabus for GCSE Biology. They will discover that our young people are taught how genetic variation happens spontaneously during cell replication, a possible for homosexuality, that and God may have once created man and woman, but doesn't always do that now and so on and so forth. Most of the teaching on Human Sexuality has had its wheels fall off with advances in scientific understanding, which is now taught in schools. And then they wonder why Christianity is avoided by the younger generation.
We do in my school discuss what various religious groups might say, but remind students that if they want to disagree with current scientific fact it's up to them to study hard and disprove it.

Posted by: Lavinia Nelder on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 at 2:51pm BST

"I take that list to be an indication that any document purporting to be about human sexuality needs to engage with far more than 'the gays'."

What's the need to engage with masturbation? People do it. No-one is harmed. The end. How difficult was that?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 at 4:03pm BST

Interested Observer: you are the voice of reason, but influential parts of the C of E are nowhere near your starting point. Did you not ask yourself earlier this year just what all these young men were being flogged for in the evangelical boot camps?

Posted by: american piskie on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 at 6:30pm BST

""I take that list to be an indication that any document purporting to be about human sexuality needs to engage with far more than 'the gays'."

Yes! During Pride weekend, I saw a vehicle that had it's windows painted "Support the gays, love is love." There are some contexts where that would not be OK, the CoE bishops "teaching document," for example. However, this was on a dusty old, beat up pick up truck, that screams the thought "red neck" and I believe the occupants were handsome, manly man authentic cowboys (Colorado). Yup, that's a step forward.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 22 June 2017 at 2:01am BST

Interested Observer, people do a lot of things, nobody is harmed, but the C of E still gets its collective knickers in a twist. As I'm sure you know, over the history of Christendom masturbation has been seen as a sin and this has been supported from the Bible (Onan, etc). But most of us got over it. At some points in time, it was regarded as a mental illness or as a cause of mental illness. But most of us got over it. So perhaps some reflection on this history and on the theology behind it would be instructive in a teaching document.

Posted by: Helen King on Thursday, 22 June 2017 at 8:13am BST

Churches are beyond embarrassing when they start detailing sex acts. Take this gem from Lambeth I.10 (and this is from the unedited, so-called liberal first draft):-

"Clearly some expressions of sexuality are inherently contrary to the Christian way and are sinful. Such unacceptable expression of sexuality include promiscuity, prostitution, incest, pornography, paedophilia, predatory sexual behaviour, and sadomasochism (all of which may be heterosexual and homosexual), adultery, violence against wives, and female circumcision. From a Christian perspective these forms of sexual expression remain sinful in any context. We are particularly concerned about the pressures on young people to engage in sexual activity at an early age, and we urge our Churches to teach the virtue of abstinence."

Without a shred of justification, this word-salad equates gross abuses with harmless kink: then ends with pearl-clutching over abstinence. And that's the church trying to be inclusive.

Any serious grappling with sexuality would emphasize the primacy of consent and mutual respect, then (if it was feeling brave) get onto the heavy stuff about love. It would under no circumstances run up lists of sexual acts, then assert "yay" and "nay" based solely on the prejudices of the author.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 22 June 2017 at 6:16pm BST

Although I welcome the LBGTI coalition's excellent document the prospect of the Bishops issuing another 'teaching document' fills me with dread.

'Teaching documents' get elevated into doctrine; look at what happened with 'Issues', and look at the way Lambeth 98 has achieved an authority it never had. Both are used as a stick with which to beat anyone who happens to disagree. Moreover they fossilise development (perhaps they are designed to do so), the inhibit discussion a, they are given a spurious authority they cannot bear but are used as such and they stop change.

'Teaching documents' by their very nature presume that the Bishops have the authority to pontificate and they enhance the culture of deference to the Bishops which is dangerous (cf the remarks in the recent report on Peter Ball - An Abuse of Faith).

The idea of a 'Teaching Document' comes from the failure of the Bishops to push through the deeply flawed Bishops' report on sexuality, of which Synod rightly failed to 'Take Note' in February. No one asked the Bishops to take this on themselves, presumably they though that they must be seen to be doing 'something'. Actually they would be far better off considering how they might respond positively to the increasing pressure of many in the church (including our nearest neighbours in these Islands) and the outside world generally for recognition and provision for the pastoral and liturgical needs of lbgti people. That's the issue of the moment.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 22 June 2017 at 7:15pm BST

"Did you not ask yourself earlier this year just what all these young men were being flogged for in the evangelical boot camps?"

Or in the anglo-catholic 'spirituality' camps of +Peter Ball, complete with nude showers, special anointings, and bloody backsides.

Posted by: crs on Friday, 23 June 2017 at 12:43pm BST

The great problem is the desire to teach what they do not know.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 23 June 2017 at 2:22pm BST

My favorite question is:
"To whom, and for whom, are the bishops of the Church of England most fundamentally responsible?"

Along with the follow-up:
"If there are competing claims between concerns for wider unity and concerns for local mission, how should they be judged or settled?"

This is my point about bishops' pastoral and fiduciary duties.

These are bishops of the Church of England--a church founded on the principle that foreign prelates have no jurisdiction in England.

So the answer is obvious: Bishops should prefer mission in England over wider "unity." Anything else would be historically unAnglican.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 23 June 2017 at 8:34pm BST

Along with Richard, I dread any "teaching document" from CoE bishops about many topics, but particularly LGBTQI inclusion/existence.

There's no settled theology in that group about what it means to be a Christian. Does following Jesus mean ticking off the right piety boxes to achieve salvation? A very individual approach. Or does it mean working towards a just society - justice being the public expression of love (Cornell West) and we being commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves? I'm sure there are people who embrace both.

The individual box ticking group probably aren't going to remove their boxes of "Gay/Not Gay," or "Includes gays/excludes gays," etc. Not if that is truly their road map to salvation. Those folks have nothing to teach. All one can hope for is that they can live in love with people who tick the "wrong" boxes or don't give a fig for the boxes in the first place.

Perhaps it's the bishops who need to be taught. They need to figure out how this theological salad can live together in love. Hint: Exclusion is not love, so folks will have to figure out how to live with inclusion. The paradox is that there needs to be a place for the excluders without excluding the excluders. Essentially, the elements of power, love, and justice have to be worked out. The case of +North shows that an excluder diocesan bishop is highly problematic. Some creative thinking can work this out, some way of sharing power.

N.B. Since it came up, for me "folks" is not dismissive or a diminutive, it's simply a regionalism.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 12:49am BST

Isn't part of the problem - as seen in the repudiation of the Bishops' Report in Synod - that it's the bishops who need to be taught.

Sure, that extends to all of us, but specifically the bishops 'aren't quite there yet' as reflected in their repudiation.

So really, prior to 'teaching' what is needed is 'learning'.

Hopefully the LGBTI Mission document may assist them. A primary shortfall has been a failure to adequately listen to and be taught by LGBTI people themselves and their lives and experience.

This document is therefore all the more significant. The idea of any top-down hierarchical teaching document is sort of claiming authority from 'outside' the actual lives of the people seeking to reconcile church, faith, and the full humanity of their tender, faithful relationships.

Who should be doing the teaching?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 9:05am BST
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