Comments: Pilling Report - more opinion

Despite its thoughtfulness, and meaning well, Savitri Hensman's piece illustrates everything that's wrong with the "moderate" approach.

She frames a continuum with unrestrained hedonism at one end and hatemongers at the other. Equal marriage and "hate the sin, love the sinner" are cast as options in the middle of this line. (If ever there was an example of the golden mean fallacy!) Freedom for congregations to follow one of these "middle" courses is advocated, until the Spirit makes everything clear.

Hensman's assertion that this framing doesn't make all views equal ignores the fact that it (unintentionally) legitimizes homophobia. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" (or as Hensman puts it, antiseptically, "recognizing that sexually intimate lesbian and gay partnerships can be exemplary in many ways, regard[ing] lifelong celibacy as more in keeping with biblical teaching and church tradition") is pernicious, perhaps worse in its way than out-and-proud homophobia. The "moderate" stance is just prejudice with PR. At least you know where you stand with an honest bigot.

The article exemplifies a refusal to face prejudice and deal with the conflict that results. In refusing to accept the intransigence and irrationality of bigotry with a smiling face, it's living in denial.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 2 December 2013 at 9:13pm GMT

I find David Gillett's comments some of the most beautiful, clear, generous and grounded comments I have read in years. With a generous biblical theology, warm practical experience and a bold fusion of what it means to be in relationship with another person, I am heartened beyond measure.
Yes, the report doesn't go as far as many would like, but its a start, and it is part of the way we seem to do things in the Church of England at present. We will get there, I feel sure with approaches like this, which shame the closed approach of Andrew Symes.
The Spirit seems to be blowing a fragrance of generosity, and growing inclusivity. From being within a fraction of giving up on the church which I love, I am finding fresh hope.

Posted by Tim S at Monday, 2 December 2013 at 11:29pm GMT

The Pilling Report, though admittedly bringing the question of homosexuality out in the open, does not address the fact of homophobia being allowed to live in the Church - side by side with those of us who believe it to be a sin, and a blot on the escutcheon of the Church of England.

The fact that no acknowledged 'Gay' advocate was given a place on the membership of the Commission, cannot but affect its cautious outcome. The LGBT community in the Church has, of course, been heard by the Commission. However, its advocacy has had to share equivalent space with those who deny the legitimacy of homosexuality as a naturally occurring phenomenon in human biology.

Furthermore, this opposing view continues the out-dated philosophy that homosexuality can be 'cured' - a theory discounted by reputable psychological and psycho-therapeutic evidence.

The cry goes up: "How Long" - will it take for the Church of England to accept the etiology of sexual difference, and learn to live with it?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 2 December 2013 at 11:55pm GMT

"Any bishop who argues in favour of accepting same-sex relationships is likely to be suspected of being gay," Jonathan Clatworthy's commentary.

My opinion is that the complete opposite is the case. I would be extremely surprised if the Bishop of Buckingham (known for his outspoken support of marriage equality and of LGBT people generally) were gay. It's the Bishops that doth protest too much where my gaydar springs into action.

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Tuesday, 3 December 2013 at 9:54am GMT

Jonathan Clatworthy says that the Pilling report gives too much say to the Bishop of Birkenhead, Keith Sinclair, who was one of the full members of Pilling's Working Group.

"In effect he gets three bites of the cherry. Firstly he took part in the discussions about the content of the Report itself. Secondly he contributed one of the two statements about the biblical texts. Thirdly, his refusal to sign the Report is accompanied by a substantial account of his reasons."

Although this is not mentioned in the Pilling Report, the Bishop of Birkenhead is on the Council of the True Freedom Trust.

Posted by badman at Tuesday, 3 December 2013 at 10:09am GMT

The whole thing reads like a conversation between evangelicals of various convictions, no one seems to even envisage the possibility that Christian morality may not necessarily be a matter of complying with scriptural norms. It has intriguingly little to offer to catholics.

Posted by Lorenzo at Tuesday, 3 December 2013 at 3:27pm GMT

Symes: "It is ironic that the report was released the day after the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Bulls' bed and breakfast case"

It is also ironic that a 5 minute Youtube video which was posted three days after the CofE's 200+ pages will have considerably greater influence on the Zeitgeist we inhabit.

Compare and contrast if you will ...

Posted by Andy at Tuesday, 3 December 2013 at 6:44pm GMT

Lorenzo: I thought the same. It's because, since Anglo-Catholics split over female ordination in the early Nineties, evangelicals now dominate the church, particularly the "open" HTB variety. A framework of biblical primacy is now assumed. The last chance for the old-school Church of England to decide this was 1991's 'Issues,' and they blew it.

As soon as open evangelicals decide that homophobia costs *them* too much, they'll switch sides, and this'll be resolved very quickly indeed. The affirming appendix to Pilling did read like the first steps in a softening-up exercise. If that wasn't intentional, it's a happy coincidence.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 3 December 2013 at 10:46pm GMT

My personal thanks to Jonathan Clatworthy. His stuff is as helpful and excellent as always. I rather fear that on this gay issue the world (God's world) has left the Church of England behind and there is a lot of fast catching up to do.....and a lot of humble pie to eat.

Posted by Robert Ellis at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 6:48am GMT

James: I wholeheartedly agree. My heart sank when I read it, but Scriptural precedence over reason and Tradition is quite simply and mindlessly assumed to be the 'Anglican way' of envisaging moral reasoning. R. Hooker would turn in his grave. Even liberals don't seem to mind, and worse: when it comes to the ordination of women (which I wholeheartedly support), they buy into cheap forms of complementarianism to justify it, talking as they of 'women's gifts' and the things only women can bring to ministry to make it whole.

Posted by Lorenzo at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 8:25am GMT

James Byron has hit the nail on the head.

Posted by AndrewT at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 9:34am GMT

^^ for TA readers on the other side of the pond, I'm referring to this:

Posted by Andy at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 10:40am GMT

Re: Hooker in his grave. Look, it is one argument to say that modern same-sex relating is a genuine novum, and that our forebears would not know about it. But to make Hooker a proponent of same-sex relating is eccentric at best. This is the Anglican who declared obedience to scripture of first importance, and whatever was unclear would be handed over to an evaluation via reason and tradition. It is uncontroversial to state that scripture's word on human sexuality, marriage, etc was nowhere unclear for this Anglican and his contemporaries. So those who wish to proceed apace on the argument that we are enlightened about something truly new, as time marches on, ought to leave appeal to people like Hooker in the rear view mirror of our modern smart-car travel.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 2:04pm GMT

On looking up the credentials of the 'True Freedom Trust', of which the Bishop of Birkenhead is a member, I find the following disturbing news:

"True Freedom Trust (TFT) is a religious organization encouraging celibacy among gays and lesbians, based in Wirral, UK. As a purported form of Christian ministry to the LGBT community, it promotes the view that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself but only when acted upon."

One wonders whether the good bishop would say the same of heterosexuality, which is also a natural gift of God - but to many more people?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 10:17pm GMT

cseitz - "nowhere unclear" might best be rendered "nowhere explicitly unclear". I think historical studies show that there has been what might be called 'dissident behaviour' throughout the relevant period - this might have been under-theorised/ theologised, but it existed, and the hypothesis of tacit acceptance needs more rebuttal than you have given if the rebuttal is to stick.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 11:15pm GMT

Lorenzo: Excellent point about the "women's gifts" line, and soft-soaping "complementarity" to get women's ordination through ("patriarchy" being *so* last millennium).

Fulcrum have released a statement that ignores David Runcorn's affirming evangelical appendix, I suspect because they know how dangerous it is to the homophobic position. If they're afraid of even acknowledging it, it suggests that it might work, but how sad that discussion is now conducted on these authoritarian terms.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 12:42am GMT

Good grief, Andrew Symes's piece is depressing. Apparently one can only be godly if you agree with him.

Posted by AndrewT at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 8:42am GMT

How am I making Richard Hooker a proponent of same-sex relating? I merely said he'd turn in his grave to see evangelicals simply assume the priority of Scripture in such indiscriminate fashion in terms of moral reasoning.

Posted by Lorenzo at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 9:14am GMT

So Hooker gave room for 'dissident behaviour' via the logic of his theology, viz., this 'dissident behaviour' was not clearly covered by the prominence he gave to scripture, so he appealed to reason and tradition positively to evaluate it.

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 1:20pm GMT

"But to make Hooker a proponent of same-sex relating is eccentric at best" (cseitz)

Where do you get that from Lorenzo's comment? What he decries is the use of Scripture in isolation from, or at the expense of, Tradition and Reason. However one conceptualizes the relationship between the three (and the arguments about just what Hooker thought can begin to sound as convoluted as the Trinity: does Reason proceed from Scripture through the Tradition?) he certainly was not a Sola Scriptura puritan.

Posted by Geoff at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 3:59pm GMT

Hooker did a lot of writing and preaching. Only once in all of that production does he refer to what has now become some sort of alleged axiom (invented in the 20th century).

Not a stool at all.

A series of graded authorities.

There is plain deliverance, via scripture. After that, for things not clear, reason and the voice of the church. For Hooker, teaching on marriage was not unclear, so no appeal to reason or tradition would be relevant, much less warranting.

What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason over-rule all other inferior judgments whatsoever (Laws, Book V, 8:2; Folger Edition 2:39,8-14).

My only point is that I doubt if Hooker said "same-sex conduct is sinful and against the law of God" it would really matter in today's debate. So just leave him out altogether. Just say he was out of touch with our new modern understanding.

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 6:23pm GMT

"For Hooker, teaching on marriage was not unclear, so no appeal to reason or tradition would be relevant, much less warranting"

Only if we take them as three discrete strands which can be separated apart, to be be "appealed" to one at a time - the crudest form of the "stool" conceptualization which, as you point out, is only glancingly related to what Hooker actually wrote. Reason and the Tradition inform our every reading of Scripture; they aren't separate arenas of "appeal."

Posted by Geoff at Friday, 6 December 2013 at 4:01am GMT

You are caricaturing Hooker's thought. In order to figure out 'what Scripture doth plainly deliver' you must use reason, similarly the Church in order to 'think and define what is true and good' makes use of reason. Conversely, reason is informed by tradition and Scripture, but reason is our human way of participating in God's eternal law, not the Bible or Tradition.

Posted by Lorenzo at Friday, 6 December 2013 at 8:36am GMT

"Reason" in the 17th century is far closer to Thomas than Kant. It isn't poll taking, or studying the zeitgeist in the affluent West.

"reason is our human way of participating in God's eternal law, not the Bible or Tradition" would have made no sense to Hooker.

That's fine. I'd suggest you let him go. His is a very different frame of reference.

Posted by cseitz at Friday, 6 December 2013 at 2:14pm GMT

re the comments of cseitz; I notice his ACI colleague, Dr. Ephraim Radner seems to have modified his own stance on the matter of human sexuality. He has recently advocated the need for conservatives in this area to be ready to 'sacrifice their own consciences' in the interests of maintaining unity in the Church.

Without putting words into his mouth, is it not possible that this was the modus operandi of the previous ABC, Dr.Rowan Williams, in his desire to hold together the Anglican Communion Churches - despite his own (published) understanding of the need to live with the reality of homosexuality as a viable human condition?

Of course, that would be a 'sacrifice of the conscience' of a person who affirms LGBT people. Are those in the opposite camp willing to do as Dr. Radner suggests? If so, then the Church would be a much more welcoming place for Gays.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 6 December 2013 at 11:46pm GMT

No one said that our rational participation in God's eternal law (which, by the way, is a quote from Aquinas) has anything to do with poll taking or joining in the zeitgeist's expensive fun. You're setting up straw men everywhere.

Posted by Lorenzo at Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 7:55am GMT

"a quote from Aquinas" except that it isn't, when it concludes "God's eternal law, not the Bible or Tradition" -- that would make made as much sense to Aquinas as to Hooker. None.

Posted by cseitz at Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 1:54pm GMT
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