Comments: General Synod: Pilling Report

A very heartening and sensitive recorded session of the G.S. on Wednesday afternoon!

Sir Joseph Pilling was appropriately apologetic about his own apparent lack of expertise on the question of the dynamics involved, but was to be congratulated for having chaired a significant series of Commission meetings that, with its recommendation for facilitated conversation, both nationally and in the dioceses, will undoubtedly enhance the prospect of a more caring attitude in the C. of E. towards LGBT people.

The Bishop OF Sheffield and Sir Joseph answered questions quite skilfully, with assurances that LGBT couples in monogamous relationships will be invited to take part in ongoing discussions.

The request for input by acknowledged Biblical scholars (made by a Kings College Professor) was responded to with the assurance that this will be facilitated as, and where, possible.

It was refreshing to hear one questioner admit to the fact that he was a gay priest, not committed to celibacy, asking whether he would be able to be heard in facilitated conversations without fear of being ostracised for being open. He was applauded by the Synod! The response by the Bishop of Sheffield was one of gratitude that the question was able to be raised, and the bishop's hope was that there would be no intimidation of those clergy who were willing to be open about their own situation.

This is an immense leap forward from the climate of enforced hypocrisy that had been evident in earlier attempts to identify clergy responses to the issue of homosexuality as it has been dealt with in the Church.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 5:34am GMT

The Bishop of Sheffield is a thoroughly good egg and the best preacher I have ever heard. He isn't liberal but he is kind and good - and that often makes for better theology than anything else. He certainly has no personal difficulties with gay people, as he constantly showed when he was a member of our church in Durham.

Posted by John at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 9:08am GMT


We all know conservative people who have "no personal difficulties with gay people". That isn't the problem, and referencing it is no get out, either. The problem is official church teaching and policy - which discriminates against LGBT people, lay and clergy, their lives and loves, and, by the way it structures the debate, maintains a church that operates a kind of apartheid that, in the views it propounds, does active harm to LGBT people.

Good egg bishops are the ones who recognise this and are working to change it. They are rare as hen's teeth.

More common are bishops who want to have their cake and eat it - to be thought of as personally liberal but who don't want to challenge the status quo too much in case it "frightens the horses". They don't understand the pernicious impact of "traditional Christian teaching" on this matter because they have mostly never experienced a moment's discrimination in their lives. I am sure they would mostly like the whole difficult business to go away, and for LBGT people to stop making demands for real change. Don't ask, Don't tell has suited them fine.

Then there are the conservative bishops who really do believe that LGBT people are sinful and perverse, who think (some of them) that they could be changed into straighter people if only they would try harder, and who are comfortable telling people who don't have a gift of celibacy that if they happen to find themselves to be homosexual that celibacy is compulsory for that category of people. They are digging in for the long haul against, as they see it, the forces of revisionism and apostasy.

Bishops who are in the second (by far the largest) category are not, in my book, good eggs. They may be nice people in other respects - but until what (pace Pilling) I see as the structural and institutional homophobia of the Ch of E is addressed - not just a commitment to notice it in others and tell them off more, as Pilling tells us we should - then they remain disappointing collaborators in oppression.

My best hope for these facilitated conversations is that some of the large second group will start to understand what homophobia really is. The place to start is to ask the oppressed what their oppression is like and where it comes from. It is not the business of straight bishops and civil servants in a church commission to tell us what homophobia is and is not. They could do worse than start here:

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 9:57am GMT

'He certainly has no personal difficulties with gay people'

How jolly decent of him!

Posted by Stephen Morgan at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 10:10am GMT

It was a good debate; respectful and constructive.

Three points stood out for me.

First, the bishop saying they "...acknowledge the need for repentance for homophobic attitudes we have sometimes failed to rebuke. The College recognises that the concept of homophobia is contested and the Pilling Report was right to say that no-one should be accused of it simply for articulating traditional Christian teaching. But as a church we do ourselves and others no good if we are heard as being homophobic and, as the College of Bishops' statement said, we do need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found."

To which he might have added: "...except when it is our own teaching that is said to be homophobic, in which case we will ourselves decide it isn’t, and simply refuse to engage with the question of why it might be."

Second, Professor Burridge, Dean of King's College, saying: "...I am hoping in the process going forward we will listen to a group that were not listened to in the Report, namely, biblical scholars. There is no biblical scholar listed in Appendix 2, and those who were invited to make submissions were leading theologians and ethicists, and it was written by theologians and ethicists who I admire enormously. But the failure to grapple with any biblical scholarship has meant this Report is mixed, and, therefore, the coverage in the main Report is, at best, mixed. And while I am grateful to the Bishop of Birkenhead for apologising and withdrawing his comments about my work in Appendix 3, there are still lots of factual inaccuracies through that, and the final Appendix 4 was written by somebody who is nothing to do with the group, who would be the first person to say he is not a biblical scholar, although it's the best bit in it."

And finally, Sir Joseph Pilling, at the end, really proving the point of Penny Allen's question by responding that, although there is no reference in the Report to “sensuality”, it does mention “desire”.

Apparently, he thinks sensuality is the same as desire, which, surely, it isn’t.

Posted by badman at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 10:30am GMT

Jeremy Pemberton is right when he suggests that, without the determination to alter the teaching of the Church on the subject of homosexuality, should there be sufficient evidence of the need for change during the course of the proposed 'facilitated discussions'; there may be no point in any further discussion.

To pre-empt any possibility of changing the extant homophobic culture of Church dogma will render any further discussion to be utterly useless, and discouraging of any further attempt by the Church to appear relevant to the LGBT community it seeks to minister to in the future.

The time has come for the Church to be honest about the presence within its congregations and ordained ministry of people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Trans-gender or otherwise sexually 'different'. The question is, how would Jesus be dealing with this situation in today's world?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 14 February 2014 at 11:17pm GMT

Very well said, Jeremy Pemberton, I agree with every word.

In my book, the "cautious moderates" are the worst of the lot, because, unlike the conservatives, they know better.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 15 February 2014 at 12:04am GMT

I put a post on another thread, before this audio recording was available, to which so far only Fr Ron has responded. I thought I may have misheard Dr Giddings during the live broadcast on Weds, but I have just confirmed in this recording that he did say exactly what I thought, so I am tempted to try again.
During the questions after the presentation of the Pilling report, Philip Giddings asked if the facilitated conversations would include 'those who had experienced same-sex attraction but had later felt themselves to have been liberated from it'. His use of the word 'liberated' suggests that he thinks that those who experience same-sex attraction are in some way imprisoned, and this seems to me to be a clearly homophobic remark. I waited hopefully for someone (Chair, Sir Joseph or +Sheffield) to rebuke Dr Giddings and invite him to repent, but I waited in vain.
It won't do for the Chair of the HoL to be making such remarks, and it calls into question his suitability to be in that position when the facilitated conversations are being conducted.

Posted by Malcolm Dixon at Sunday, 16 February 2014 at 8:40pm GMT
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