Friday, 31 October 2014

Progress in Jeremy Pemberton's tribunal case

This action was first reported here.

The following announcement was issued today:

“Following a preliminary hearing held on 30th October 2014, the Employment Tribunal case between the Revd Canon Jeremy Pemberton (Claimant), the Right Revd Richard Inwood, the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham (1st Respondent) and the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (2nd Respondent) will be proceeding to a full hearing and has been listed for June 2015. Neither Jeremy Pemberton nor his husband, Laurence Cunnington, will be making any comments on the case at this stage.”

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Seal of the Confessional

David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK wrote this last month: CofE to axe seal of confessional? Today he published this update: Seal of confessional: its future in the CofE. Together these clearly describe the current position.

Do read both articles, but I draw attention to part of what the Archbishop of York said in his statement on the Waddington Enquiry:

… one of those who reported abuse to the Inquiry has since asked me specifically to raise the question of The Confessional. His view is that disclosures made in the context of a formal Confession which give rise to safeguarding concerns should not enjoy absolute confidentiality.

I have every sympathy with this view, and therefore welcome the fact that the Archbishops’ Council has decided to commission theological and legal work with a view to exploring whether the current position in relation to admissions of abuse in the context of a formal Confession should be changed. That work and any recommendations arising from it will need to be discussed with the House of Bishops before any proposals for change are brought before the General Synod.

This matter will undoubtedly be raised during a take-note debate on draft revised Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy (GS 1970) at General Synod next month. There is an accompanying paper specifically on the ministry of absolution (GS Misc 1085) which confirms the Archbishop’s statement that the Archbishops’ Council is to commission a review of the seal of the confessional.

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 at 11:53am GMT | Comments (39) | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

Archbishop's lobby speech

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave this speech at the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch in the House of Commons yesterday. He also answered questions. Amongst other topics he spoke about child abuse within the Church of England.

Michael White and Rajeev Syal The Guardian Church of England to examine 1950s records in child abuse investigation

Georgia Graham and John Bingham The Telegraph Justin Welby: I broke down in tears at horror of Church child abuse

He also spoke about immigration.

John Bingham and Georgia Graham The Telegraph Archbishop of Canterbury condemns politicians who view immigration as a ‘deep menace’

Nigel Morris The Independent Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby: There is no immigrant ‘menace’

BBC Immigration needed in UK, Archbishop of Canterbury says

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 at 11:06am GMT | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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Saturday, 25 October 2014

opinion

Ian Paul How to save a diocese
Gillan Scott How to prevent the extinction of the Church of England
Jonathan Clatworthy Does the Church still need parishes?

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Women in the Episcopate Bill gains Royal Assent

Sarah and Lindsey blogs at A Queer Calling When the Church’s “Welcome” to LGBT People Hurts

Neil Hodgson of the Liverpool Echo has been talking to Andrew Ware of church suppliers Hayes & Finch.

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Online General Synod papers

The papers for next month’s meeting of General Synod on 17 and 18 November are now all online here in agenda order. Here is a list in numerical order, with a note of the day scheduled for their consideration.

GS 1919B - Draft Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure [Monday]
GS 1919Z - Report of the Steering Committee

GS 1921B - Draft Ecclesiastical Property Measure [Monday]
GS 1921Z - Report of the Steering Committee

GS 1926D - Amending Canon No.33 [Monday]

GS 1935A - Draft Naming of Dioceses Measure [Monday]
GS 1935Y - Report of the Revision Committee

GS 1964A - Draft Amending Canon No.35 [Monday]
[see notice paper 2]

GS 1965A and GS 1965B - Diocesan Synod Motion on spare room subsidy [Tuesday]

GS 1966 - Agenda

GS 1967 - Report by the Business Committee [Monday]

GS 1968 - Draft Scheme amending the Diocese in Europe Constitution 1995 [Monday]
GS 1968x - Explanatory Memorandum

GS 1969 - Draft Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure [Monday]
GS 1969x - Explanatory Memorandum

GS 1970 - Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy (draft edition) [Monday]

GS 1971 - The Anglican-Methodist Covenant: Report from the Council for Christian Unity [Tuesday]

GS 1972A and GS 1972B - Private Member’s Motion on Canon B 38 [contingency business]

Other Papers

GS Misc 1085 - Guidelines for the professional conduct of the clergy (The Ministry of Absolution)

GS Misc 1086 - A background note on Violence against Religious Minorities in Iraq and Syria [Tuesday]

GS Misc 1088 - Representative of Pentecostal Churches of the General Synod

GS Misc 1089 - The Porvoo Declaration - New signatories

GS Misc 1090 - Women in the Episcopate - appointment of Independent Reviewer

GS Misc 1091 - Report on the Archbishops’ Council’s activities

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General Synod agenda published

The final agenda and the papers for next month’s meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England are published today, along with this press release summarising the agenda.

Final agenda for General Synod published
24 October 2014

The General Synod of the Church of England meets in London in November for a two day meeting from 13.45 on Monday 17 November until 17.00 on Tuesday 18 November.

The Agenda for the meeting is published today. After the usual introductory material, including the debate on the report by the Business Committee the Synod will be invited to enact Amending Canon No. 33 to allow women to be bishops. This will be followed by a Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Various items of legislative business will follow. Some of these will run into the following day, when a further slot for legislative business has been allocated at 12 noon. The Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure and the Church of England (Ecclesiastical Property) Measure will both return to the Synod for their Final Drafting and Final Approval Stages. . Amending Canon No. 35 (relating to Canon B 12) and the Naming of Dioceses Measure will both undergo their Revision Stages. A new draft Measure allowing diocesan stipends funds to invest on a ‘total return’ basis will be introduced for First Consideration. Finally, the Synod will be asked to approve a Scheme amending the Diocese in Europe’s Constitution.

Following the legislative business, there will be a Take Note debate on the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy. This is a draft document prepared by the Convocations of York and Canterbury which updates the existing Guidelines dating from 2003 to take account of new developments in secular and Church legislation and pastoral practice, as well as liturgical developments. Following comment by General Synod, the draft Guidelines will return to the Convocations for further consideration. After a short period of worship, the day will conclude with Synod Questions.

Tuesday 18th November will start with Holy Communion which will lead into a presentation by a panel of speakers moderated by the Bishop of Coventry on Violence against Religious Minorities in Iraq and Syria. The panel will include the Rt. Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Great Britain, who is one of our regular Ecumenical representatives on Synod and who is in close touch with churches in Iraq and Syria, Dr.Fuad Nahdi Executive Director of the Radical Middle Way and Founding Editor of the pioneering Q-News and the Revd Dr Rachel Carnegie, the Co-Director of the Anglican Alliance. There will be opportunities for Synod members to pose questions to the panel.

Any remaining legislative business will be taken at 12 noon. After lunch on Tuesday 18th November there will be a presentation followed by a debate on the Anglican Methodist Covenant. The Synod will be invited to endorse the recommendations in the Final Report of the Joint Implementation Commission which calls for both churches to take forward further work on the possibility of reconciling their ministries with a view to interchangeability.

There will be a debate on a Diocesan Synod Motion from the former Diocese of Bradford (now part of the Diocese of Leeds) regarding the Spare Room Subsidy. The motion reflects concern from the Diocese at the impact of the Spare Room Subsidy, also known as the “Bedroom Tax”.

Contingency business takes the form of a Private Member’s Motion by the Revd Canon Dr Michael Parsons (Gloucester) on Canon B38 (‘Of the burial of the dead’). The motion calls for the introduction of legislation so that the law would no longer make any distinction in the form of funeral service to be used when someone has taken their own life.

Notes:

Synod papers, including the full agenda, can be found here.

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Royal Assent for Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure 2014

From today’s Hansard:

House of Commons

Royal assent
Mr Speaker:

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Measure:

Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure 2014.

House of Lords

Royal Assent
11.18 am

The following Measure was given Royal Assent:

Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure.

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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Waddington Inquiry

Updated Wednesday evening, Thursday morning

The report of the Independent Inquiry, commissioned by the Archbishop of York and chaired by Judge Sally Cahill, into the Church of England’s handling of reports of alleged sexual abuse by the late Robert Waddington, formerly Dean of Manchester, was published today.

Press Association report in The Guardian Archbishop of York ‘deeply ashamed’ by church’s handling of abuse allegations

Ruth Gledhill Christian Today Abusive priest ‘avoided prosecution because of failure to act on allegations’

Caroline Wyatt BBC Archbishop of York ‘wholehearted’ apology to abuse victims

Statement from the Archbishop of York

Statement from the Bishop of Manchester

Statement from Lord Hope of Thornes

At the request of some of those interviewed by the inquiry the report will not be made available in an electronic format but in hard copy only. Copies are available from Church House Bookshop.

Updates

Caroline Davies The Guardian Archbishop of York ashamed over Church of England’s abuse case failures

Madeleine Davies Church Times York Inquiry finds ‘systematic failure’ over abuse

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Monday, 20 October 2014

Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure

Updated Monday morning and afternoon
Updated Thursday

The Measure completed is progress through Parliament today when the House of Commons agreed that it should be sent for Royal Assent.

The Hansard report of the debate is here.

David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK has this summary of the debate, Commons debate women in the episcopate, which also includes “Next Steps”. [There is a correction to this, published on Thursday.]

General Synod members were this morning sent this note from the Secretary General.

I am pleased to report that the House of Commons approved the Measure to enable women to become bishops yesterday evening. Following the successful outcome in the House of Lords last Tuesday the way is now clear for Royal Assent, which is expected this Thursday.

The royal licence for the canon will be needed before the canon can be enacted by the Synod on 17 November. But there is every reason to believe that that will be forthcoming and we shall be therefore be putting the papers for the November Synod in the post this Thursday. They will be on-line at 2pm on Friday when the usual pre-Synod press conference is held at Church House. The way is now clear for members to proceed with train and hotel bookings for November.

William Fittall

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Conversion of Civil Partnerships to Marriages

The government has issued this press release:

Conversion of civil partnerships into marriage
From:Government Equalities Office and Nick Boles MP First published:15 October 2014

Revised regulations set out the process for the conversion of civil partnerships into marriages, giving couples more choice.

Couples in a civil partnership will have the option to convert it into a marriage before Christmas once regulations laid before Parliament today (15 October 2014) are approved.

This landmark change means couples in existing civil partnerships will be able to convert them into a marriage from 10 December this year.

Campaigners have called for a simple conversion into a marriage in a local register office, or couples can have a conversion into a marriage with a ceremony at an approved venue of their choice, including religious premises registered for marriages of same-sex couples.

Couples will be issued with a marriage certificate, which will show the marriage should be treated as existing from the date of the original civil partnership.

Minister for Skills and Equalities Nick Boles said:
“I know how important it is for couples to have the option of marriage available to them. This is the final stage in ensuring every couple has the option to be married.”

“This puts couples in control. They have the choice of whether they would like a simple conversion or would prefer to celebrate the occasion with a ceremony.”

In July the government laid draft regulations before Parliament based on responses to a public consultation which called for a simple process for conversion. The regulations have now been revised, taking into account views expressed over the summer.

The revised regulations - once approved by Parliament - give couples greater choice and still provide the religious protections, for any ceremony following a conversion into marriage, which are enshrined in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

For the first year, all couples who formed their civil partnership before 29 March 2014 (when marriage was extended to same sex couples) will be able to receive a £45 fee reduction. This means there would be no cost for the 1-stage option.

Further information

Couples will have the choice of:

  • a simple process at a register office, which was outlined in the original regulations and now also includes a wider range of local authority offices where registrars have access to the necessary systems
  • the new option of a 2-stage process where a superintendent registrar or their deputy can complete the conversion at another venue - this will allow the couple’s family and friends to attend and a ceremony can follow immediately after

The conversion can take place at a wide range of approved premises such as hotels, stately homes and religious premises which have been registered for the marriage of same-sex couples.

For the first year, all couples who formed their civil partnership before 29 March 2014 (when marriage was extended to same sex couples) will be able to receive a £45 fee reduction. This means the 1-stage process will be free. The cost of providing the 2-stage process is higher as the procedure will take longer and the superintendent registrar will have to travel to the venue. People choosing the 2-stage process will have the same sum (£45) deducted from the total price.

The text of the draft regulations can be found here, and there is a PDF version here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 20 October 2014 at 3:30pm BST | Comments (19) | TrackBack
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Saturday, 18 October 2014

Opinion

Ian Paul wrote Free healthcare cannot continue.

David Keen wrote The parish system: game over?

The Bishop of Durham Paul Butler has been writing about the Synod of Bishops in Rome, in a series of reflections which begin
here and continue
here
here
here and
here.

Update And part 6 is here.

Justin Welby has written in Prospect magazine Archbishop of Canterbury on dealing with ISIS and jihadism.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 18 October 2014 at 12:00pm BST | Comments (12) | TrackBack
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure

Updated Wednesday

The House of Lords today passed the motion to approve the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure.

John Bingham The Telegraph Women bishops approved by House of Lords

BBC Women bishops change approved in the House of Lords

Women bishops: Archbishop’s speech in House of Lords debate

As John Bingham also notes:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, also disclosed during the debate that all the main Westminster political parties had signalled their support for a plan to fast-track the first women bishops into the Lords.

The debate in the House of Commons has now been scheduled for Monday of next week. Subject to a favourable vote in the Commons (which everybody expects) the measure will then only require the formality of the Royal Assent to come into effect.

Update
The verbatim Hansard report of the Lords’ debate is now available here.
David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK has written this summary of the debate.

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 at 9:32pm BST | Comments (19) | TrackBack
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Bishop of Gloucester

The investigation into allegations against the Rt Revd Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, has been dropped.

BBC News reports that The Bishop of Gloucester is to face no further action by police over two allegations of indecent assault.

The Gloucestershire Citizen also carries the story here with slightly more detail:

A statement from Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, Lead Bishop on Safeguarding for the Church of England said: “We can confirm that we have been notified by the Metropolitan Police that following enquiries they are to take no further action regarding the allegations made against the Rt Revd Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester.

“We would ask for continuing prayers for all of those affected by these events and those involved in ongoing processes.“

Bishop Michael said: “It was right that the allegations should be fully investigated and I am gratified that the police have completed the investigation and concluded that there are no grounds for further action to be taken

“My family and I are profoundly grateful for all the support and affirmation we have received through this very difficult time.”

Bishop Michael will not yet return to his post until due church processes have been concluded.

However he hopes the process will conclude in time for him to return to his post before he is due to retire as planned in November.

We earlier reported the news that Bishop Michael was ‘stepping back’ from his role in the diocese of Gloucester, pending his retirement in November.

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Parishes: What Future for the Parochial System?

The first of the Oxford Faith Debates took place last week.

Audio recordings of the whole proceedings are now available from this page.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 at 5:20pm BST | Comments (2) | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | Conferences

"To Have and To Hold": conference papers

Updated Thursday

Many of the papers delivered at the To Have and To Hold conference are now available from the LGBTI Anglican Coalition website.

Follow links from here.

Update
Copies of these papers are now also available on the Inclusive Church website, at this page where they may be slightly easier to access.

Among them, the Digest of Methuen and Thatcher talks may be particularly useful for promoting local discussion groups on this topic.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 at 5:17pm BST | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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Saturday, 11 October 2014

opinion

Jon Riding writes for Fulcrum about Bible in the Raw.

The Guardian has published a selection of readers’ pictures of Empty places of worship.

Giles Fraser writes in The Guardian that Jesus wasn’t much taken with biological kith and kin – he said we’re all family.
On the same topic Andrew Lightbown has written An open letter to Nigel Farage.

The Church Times has now published its complete list of the 100 best Christian books.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 11 October 2014 at 11:00am BST | Comments (15) | TrackBack
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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ecclesiastical Committee Report on Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure

The Ecclesiastical Committee’s report on the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure is now available online.

The Measure has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it can receive the Royal Assent and come into effect. The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a House of Lords debate to approve the measure next Tuesday (14 October). The debate in the House of Commons has not yet been scheduled.

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 5:51pm BST | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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Archbishop of York challenged at Southwell Minster

The BBC reports: Jeremy Pemberton gay marriage case: Archbishop of York challenged

The Archbishop of York has been challenged over “discrimination” against a gay clergyman who married his same-sex partner.

Jeremy Pemberton can no longer work as a priest in Nottinghamshire and has been blocked from taking a job as a hospital chaplain in the county.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell challenged the archbishop over the case as he arrived at Southwell Minster.

However, Dr John Sentamu said he could not comment due to legal reasons.

Local newspapers carried the story too:

The Peter Tatchell Foundation reported it this way: Archbishop of York beset by gay protesters.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 5:50pm BST | Comments (16) | TrackBack
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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

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More Perfect Union: other reviews and book launch

Two reviews that have now appeared of the book More Perfect Union:

Andrew Goddard on Fulcrum Review of “More Perfect Union?: Understanding Same-Sex Marriage” by Bishop Alan Wilson

As the Church of England begins two years of Shared Conversations focussed on sexuality, probably the most vocal episcopal critic of current teaching and practice, Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, has set out his case for change in More Perfect Union?: Understanding Same-Sex Marriage (DLT). For those still unclear about the substance and tone of Anglican arguments for same-sex marriage this is a short, readable guide. Although helpful in giving a sense of much revisionist rhetoric and argument it suffers the fatal flaw he levels against his opponents (40) – preaching to the choir and cutting almost no ice with anyone else…

Ian Paul on Psephizo More Perfect Union?

I’ve had quite a few interactions with Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, mostly on line and (once) in person. On some occasions he has been reasonable, thoughtful and well-informed; on others, belligerent and polemical. So when I received this book for review, I was intrigued to know which way it would go. Unfortunately, it is the latter.

Reading the first couple of chapters was a very odd experience, and I could not work out why—until I realised I had entered a parallel universe—Wilson’s World, if you will. In this World, all sorts of odd things happen…

Update book launch event cancelled
Those who want to read the book for themselves may be interested in this event at Church House Bookshop: Book Launch: More Perfect Union?

And Alan Wilson wrote this piece for Comment is free earlier in the week: Any ‘biblical’ objection to gay marriage is nonsense. The C of E must admit this.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 8 October 2014 at 4:40pm BST | Comments (13)
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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Book Review: More Perfect Union

The Revd Dr Charlotte Methuen has written a review of Bishop Alan Wilson’s book More Perfect Union. Dr Methuen is Senior Lecturer in Church History and Head of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow.

Alan Wilson, More Perfect Union (London: DLT 2014). Pp. xx + 172. £9.99 (paperback).

In this short book, Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, presents the case for extending marriage to include same-sex couples. Written in the heat of the debate about the Church of England’s response to the legal introduction of marriage for same-sex couples in England in 2014, Wilson’s book brings together a host of arguments and data which should prove thought-provoking even to those who disagree with his conclusions.

Wilson opens with an autobiographical note: selected to be Bishop of Buckingham in 2003, his consecration service was originally to be shared with Jeffrey John, who had been appointed Bishop of Reading. Wilson recounts his sense of bemusement as John, a gay man living in a celibate partnership, was pressured to withdraw from the appointment. Over the years that followed, Wilson became more uncomfortable with the inconsistent position being taken by the Church of England. He began to recognise that what God wants for gay people “is no more than he wanted for all people – flourishing faith, hope and love, lived out individually and in community” (p. xvi). For Wilson “allowing gay people to marry became … an issue of justice and equality.” Consequently, he affirms, “rejoicing with gay people who marry … no longer seemed to me a concession to secular modernity, but sharing the good news of the kingdom” (p. xvii). That around 80% of the messages he received as he began to explore these issues were supportive, suggests, Wilson remarks that, “the vast majority of people seemed to be travelling along a road like mine, including a sizeable number of Evangelical Christians” (p. xvii). This book is in many ways the account of that journey.

In Chapter 1, “Gay and straight in Church and State”, Wilson traces the legal status of gay people in the last 50 years, and the way that the Church of England has and (mostly) has not responded to the increasingly widespread recognition of same-sex relationships. These developments have taken place in wider context of rapid changes to patterns of relationships: in the early twenty-first century, people are marrying later than was the custom in previous generations, and they do so “to seal and not to form permanent relationships” (p. 15). That is (although Wilson does not make this point explicitly), the vast majority of couples who marry are already living together, and many have children. Marriage has come to be seen as the affirmation of a relationship, rather than marking a beginning.

Wilson next turns to the question “Unnatural?” Considering the accusation that same-sex relationships are unnatural, Wilson observes that concepts of the natural have changed radically over the centuries. Paul, for instance, “disapproved of ‘unnatural’ practices like men growing their hair, or women cutting it (1 Corinthians 11:14–15)”; in the twentieth century, women were long prevented from running the marathon on the grounds that “their bodies were not made for such exertions” (pp. 20-21). Moreover, modern biology has revealed unexpected complexities in the definition of gender and sexual difference; the definition of sexual orientation is even more complicated. For Wilson, the important recognition is that all people have (as the 1928 wedding liturgy puts it), “natural instincts and affections implanted by God [which] need to be hallowed and directed aright.” Relationships, he suggests, “are judged better by their fruit than by their configuration” (p. 34).

“Equality or bust,” chapter 3, considers the question of the definition of marriage. Is it really the case that extending marriage to include same-sex couples would represent a profound – and indeed impossible – redefinition of the fundamental meaning of marriage? Wilson argues that in reality, marriage “has been radically and continuously redefined down the ages by the lived experience of married people” (p. 40). Moreover, this category, he suggests, has in the past included same-sex couples. Consequently, “portentous assertions that monogamy between a man and a woman has been the anthropological gold standard from the dawn of time are simply false” (p. 40). Wilson argues also that equality of treatment is fundamental to the biblical message: “St Paul tells the Romans… that ‘God shows no partiality’” (p. 51).

Wilson turns next to the biblical witness. In “Scripture 101” he considers how to read the biblical text, pointing out that the Bible was long used to defend practices which are now seen as wrong, such as slavery or the use of corporal punishment for children. Addressing “Things gays are liable to read in the Bible,” he considers the six biblical passages which might be held to speak to homosexuality (these, as he remarks, comprise 0.002% of the verses of the Bible, compared to around 10% of Bible verses which refer to matters of economic justice – p. 62). These verses, Wilson concludes, do not address homosexuality in the modern understanding of the word, but are concerned with men who take on the role of women in that they allow themselves to be penetrated during a sexual encounter. The single text which may refer to same-sex relations between women, Romans 1:26-27, could (although Wilson does not say so) equally be interpreted to imply that women were sleeping with men in ways deemed unnatural. Wilson does remark on the “complete absence in the New Testament of any of the extensive standard assortment of Greek words that would have been used naturally to describe the enormous amount of same-sex activity that went on in ancient cities” (p. 80). He concludes: “The discipline that enable Christians to hear the word of God according to the love of God is .. obedience to the New Testament injunction to discern the spirits and make love our aim” (p. 81).

Considering “Biblical marriage”, Wilson points out that the Hebrew Scriptures contain “at least seven different definitions of marriage” (p. 84), most of which see marriage as a property transaction between two men, with a woman as the property. In the New Testament, “Jesus teaches that marriage is a provisional institution with roots in creation. … It is a way of arranging other matters of this age, like property, inheritance and dynastic legitimacy, all of them less important than the kingdom” (p. 89). It is emphatically not for all, and celibacy is clearly a favoured option. In the Pauline epistles, subordination of the wife is accepted as the norm, although men are urged to love their wives, and Paul certainly sees marriage as a mutual relationship. Marriage in the New Testament comes also to function as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the church, just as in the Old Testament the relationship between God and Israel had been described in terms either of marriage or of harlotry. Here, none of the realities often cited as fundamental to marriage – gender difference, the ability to conceive children, or a particular understanding of sexual intercourse – can be held to apply.

In chapter 7, Wilson addresses “The irresistible rise of Christian marriage”, which he sees as involving four phases: marriage as a “pre-endtime encumbrance” (33-100 CE), as a “secular institution” (100-1200), as an “indissoluble sacrament” (since 1300 and still an ideal, although now “largely an empty shell”), and as a “partnership of equals” (since 1650 and increasingly seen as the ideal). Chapter 8, “Geopolitics and mission”, counters the argument that the persecution of Christians elsewhere should mitigate against arguments for equality in the North and West: “We know … that the Nigerian terrorist movement Boko Haram disapproves intensely of young women being educated… Would closing down [educational opportunities for women in the West] really moderate Boko Haram’s behaviour?” (p. 133). Wilson here also considers the meaning of unity for the Church, concluding that “Honest disagreement that takes everyone as seriously as everyone else can transcend any particular culture and offer hope to a world in sore and increasing need of reconciliation and healing” (p. 146).

In a final chapter, “The law of the land, and that’s great”, Wilson discusses possible ways forward for the Church of England in the face of the introduction of same sex marriage. Wilson sees this move as an opportunity for the Church: “Marriages that are good news reflect equality in diversity and a genuine reciprocity, their own personal and distinctive complementarity, that is bigger than the imposition of crude gender stereotypes, Such marriages offer a special opportunity for those within them to reflect the vales of the kingdom of God in which all are equal” (pp. 163-4).

This is an important book. Wilson admits from the outset that it “is not, in any sense, an academic tome” (p. xvi). There is a wealth of evidence here, some of which would have benefitted from brief references or indication of further reading. Wilson is keen to emphasise the shifting meaning of words, but takes 1 Tim 5’s “widows” in a modern sense, as women whose husbands have died, neglecting the meaning of women who choose to live without men; this flattens the meaning of that text and in my view warps his interpretation. I would have like more reflection on developments between the Pauline letters and the (almost certainly pseudepigraphical) Pastoral epistles, which seem to represent a rather different understanding of the role of women than that offered by Paul. The style suggests that this is a book written in haste, and it certainly speaks to the moment. But that is necessary, and right: and it is much to be applauded that a bishop of the Church of England has chosen to speak out on the question of equal marriage.

Charlotte Methuen

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

opinion

Richard Beck blogs at Experimental Theology about Faith as Quantum Superposition.

David Salisbury of Vanderbilt University asks Are the world’s religions ready for E.T.?

The Archbishop of Canterbury talks to the editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette, Canon Ian Ellis.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 4 October 2014 at 11:00am BST | Comments (4) | TrackBack
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