Comments: Retired bishops voice concern over same sex relationships report

This is a highly significant intervention and one that the House of Bishops in particular and the General Synod and wider Church in general should reflect on carefully.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Saturday, 11 February 2017 at 10:43pm GMT

The retired bishops really get it. The voice of the LGBTQI people was not heard or reflected in any way, regardless of the "shared conversations." And the current bishops refuse to respect that there are alternate ways to interpret Scripture and they only seem to uphold one very loud minority view, though it is the status quo. The retired bishops also get the pain to LGBTQI people. I, for one, am deeply grateful to finally hear voices of compassion from CoE leadership, even if they are retired.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 11 February 2017 at 11:51pm GMT

The letter flags up the glaring partisan and one-sidedness of the Bishops' discussions and report. Not a single LGBT+ bishop was invited to join the working group, and in the final report the bishops do not even mention the possibility of accepting diverse views - or the 'Unity in Diversity' approach - instead opting to placate conservatives in other Provinces, and encouraging an imposed uniformity of doctrine. It is the Anglican Covenant re-booted.

After all the vulnerable sharing, and all the conversations, LGBT people are talked "about" by the Bishops. They are offered scraps like a better 'tone' but in substance their lives and precious relationships remain marginalised and still categorised as "sin". As others have pointed out on this site, there is a huge hypocrisy in singling out gay sex as "out of wedlock" and therefore impermissible, while blocking the one pathway which would render it permissible, and at the same time not imposing equivalent strictures on the sex that most heterosexual couples have before marriage. Lesbian and gay people end up being patronised with 'toleration' (provided they remain celibate), and the niceties of 'tone', but where - as these elders of the Church ask - are their voices? Why is it not acknowledged that half the Church of England hold divergent views?

"The Church of England believes..." what? a uniformity? no, it believes a diversity of things, in good conscience and sincerity of faith. THAT is the position we are in.

Imposed uniformity... the Anglican Covenant by the back door... just will not do.

One question, though. If 14 retired bishops can see through the weakness of the bishops' report, are we really to believe there are zero current bishops who do so? The 'collegiality' is craven. In the end, if half the Church is ignored indefinitely, then there is an inevitability about resistance and defiance.

This is a conscience issue. The bishops do not own other people's consciences. If enough people just say 'Enough' then de facto the Church of England will move on. Episcopal authority is seeping away. Where are the real leaders?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 12:03am GMT

Impressive critique by the ex bishop of Worcester‬. When I wrote to the Bishop of Blackburn asking if he would be interested in hearing the views of a married gay Anglican, he said he would be in touch, "if the moment comes when it would be good to hear your views, in addition to those I have already heard". He has not been in touch!

Posted by Michael Ardern Mason at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 12:35am GMT

I find it interesting that several of these bishops would have been seen as representing the evangelical wing of the church during - and certainly prior to - their episcopate.

Posted by Marian at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 7:40am GMT

I entirely agree with Anthony Archer. This unprecedented intervention coming on top of the widespread criticism of the Bishops' report should make the House of Bishops pause for thought. It would be statesmanlike if the Bishops were to listen to the discussions at Synod and elsewhere and, instead of asking Synod to take note, announce that they will review the report in the light of what they have heard and issue a revised document. However, I don't think that they have either the courage or the nous to do this. It is clear that, before we start, the report in its current form is discredited. If the Bishop of Birkenhead was allowed to add a lengthy dissenting statement to Pilling, why couldn't there be a dissenting report here? I don't think that the Bishops quite realise just how badly their authority was dented already and that it's seriously fractured now. The determination to give priority to placating parts of the Anglican Communion over meeting the needs of the CofE will ultimately destroy the latter. I shudder to think what a Teaching Document will look like coming from an HoB with such limited theological sophistication.

Daniel Lamont

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 7:59am GMT

What is disappointing about the Bishops' report is how weak it is as a statement of Anglican moral theology. Look back at the 1958 Lambeth statement on the family in contemporary society and you find a far better expression. Anglican moral theology is not just of interest for retired academics like myself. It should come through the statements of the Bishops. Sadly this one falls far short. It is not about being liberal or conservative but how one reasons. This report falls back on the legal position to stop argument. That is very sad.

Posted by Peter Seddgwick at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 8:30am GMT

There's a difference between "welcome" and "accept." In this matter Welcome is PC, Accept is Gospel.

Every reformer is charged with flouting tradition. But Tradition is the still-living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Which did Jesus opt for? What did Paul espouse?

Ask the 14 retired bishops.

Posted by Sister Mary at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 8:50am GMT

What an important intervention. Brave Bishops!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 9:50am GMT

I hope the result is the same as the Anglican Covenant and for the same reasons.

High international church politics comes after and not before pastoral work with the flock on our own hillside. The great commandment is to love the neighbour and the Good Samaritan looks after the man actually in front of him in the road.

Let's hope the vote is against the Report as it was against the Anglican Covenant.

Posted by badman at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 12:32pm GMT

A very salutary, and apposite statement from retired Bishops who have in their ministry faced these issues, listen to their flock, and were the force which lead to these Conversations. The present College of Bishops lack theology, history in their thought pattern. Like the ABC they are cold hearted, headed managers, and very lacking in spiritual leadership, and pastoral love.

The synod must listen to the voice of our retired Bishops, and act positively. The College of Bishops would do well to go back to their report, rewrite their work again, after listening to the actual LGBTI bishops, clergy and laity directly. How ever difficult they find this exercise, as some of them moan it is. True listening in love will have positive consequences for the church we all love, and the Lord we seek to serve.

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 4:13pm GMT

Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female...

= the heterosexual creation ordinance - valid & non-negotiable - from creation to judgment day.

Posted by Steve Thomas at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 4:17pm GMT

I belong to no interest group other than being an occasional church attendee. I am naïve to Anglican politics. It seems to me that how this issue is being dealt with is consonant with a general wider drift towards managerialism from the top, both in settling conflict and choosing appointees in the Anglican Church. If supporting the Dubs Amendment is the best that can be done in providing leadership within the Church at a time of unprecedented spiritual challenge - it disappoints.

Posted by R L Dibblee at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 6:07pm GMT

Heard bishops Cottrell and Selby in different slots on Radio 4 at 7 AM this morning (en route to some parishes in Berkshire and Gloucestershire): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08dmjzj. The bishop of Chelmsford was asked about the letter sent by the retirees, and was pretty defensive about it. Essentially he felt it problematic that some of the signatories were only very recently retired, and they could quite easily have had the courage of their convictions whilst they were in office. Dr Selby said in a later interview that he retired some time ago (2007), so could not speak for others. However, the bishop of Chelmsford's jibe has some traction: there were obviously some signatories who could have stuck their heads above the parapet but chose not to until they were [comfortably] retired. The essence of their moral problem is that they chose to sacrifice the pastoral needs of the LGBT community for the principle of collegiality whilst in office. This tends to compromise the credibility of their otherwise useful and pointed letter.

What was interesting about the defensive nature of bishop Cottrell's response was that it seems to imply that some bishops currently in office feel much the same way as the retirees, but lack the 'luxury' of breaking what seems to be a three-line whip.

He mentioned that Shared Conversations was primarily about changing the language used by church communities. I found this especially lame: it suggests that form mitigates substance. Yet surely, as with architecture, form follows function? It would be exceedingly difficult for a new form of language to be adopted if the essence of what it is attempting to describe remains the same.

The point is that the status of LGBT people in the Church (and same sex marriage) is not about the sort of tepid equivocations or half-hearted accommodations in which the authorities customarily indulge themselves, but a binary issue: the Church is either for LGBT rights or it is not. If not, then the Christian LGBT community will either have to learn to love Big Brother or leave. The choice made by the bishops is, essentially (as I see it) a financial question: is the Church to lose the well-organised conservative evangelicals or is it to lose the relatively diffuse LGBT community and their 'straight' allies? I think we know who has the numbers and, therefore, the finance.

Posted by Froghole at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 10:26pm GMT

The retired bishops are indeed to be commended for this intervention.
Without in any way wanting to weaken that commendation, I note that some of them, e.g. Bishops Gladwin, Pritchard and Platten have retired quite recently, within the last couple of years. it is a pity that they did not speak out in this way while they were still in office. Presumably they felt constrained by the same considerations that seem to silence those currently serving bishops who may share their views.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 10:48pm GMT

"The determination to give priority to placating parts of the Anglican Communion over meeting the needs of the CofE will ultimately destroy the latter."

Well said, Daniel Lamont. For that is indeed the risk.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 12 February 2017 at 11:14pm GMT

I found Stephen Cotterell's response to this intervention on Radio 4's Sunday programme highly unsatisfactory. To respond to this with a 'wry smile' and then accuse the retired bishops of bequeathing the current shambles to the current House of Bishops is highly irresponsible. He, along with others (e.g. Manchester, Truro, Salisbury, Worcester, Lichfield, Exeter, Ely, Southwark, to name just a few) have either been content to collude with this Putinesque attempt to silence dissent; or lack the intellectual and moral rigour to argue against the majority. I don't imagine for one moment that they are keeping quiet because the See of London has fallen vacant, do you?

Like Daniel Lamont, I am not hopeful about a 'new teaching document' - not least because I have no confidence that the House of Bishops is capable of producing a theologically coherent statement. Are we going to be told, as we were with the Reform & Renewal proposals for ministry training, that 'theologians' like Tim Thornton and James Langstaff were in the room, along with Julian Henderson, Tim Dakin and Donald Alistair?

Posted by Michael Mulhern at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 7:42am GMT

"I note that some of them, e.g. Bishops Gladwin, Pritchard and Platten have retired quite recently, within the last couple of years"

Bp John Gladwin retired in 2009. Certainly when Bishop of Chelmsford he was active, vocal and open in his support for LBGT rights in the church and among his clergy. Same Bishop Green.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 12:18pm GMT

Peter Sedgwick is correct. This report contains no Anglican Moral Theology. It can't because a highly manufactured version of supposed unity was the 'virtue,' that had to be arrived at at all other costs.

Posted by Andrew Lightbown at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 12:56pm GMT

I agree totally with Michael Mulhern.

I was rather shocked. The 'wry smile' constituted too much information, as it was neither appropriate nor in the least pastoral.

I am not expecting anything helpful from the leaders of the C of E in my lefetime. I have given up on it, but I should have liked to see something positive and truly ethical from the bishops / General Synod for the sake of younger people, and the English parishioners (i.e. public).

I no longer feel able to worship in the C of E - I could nt 'stomach it'. But other wish to I appreciate, or need to.

The RSoF is a body which has been unfailingly welcoming to my husband and I.


To say the least.

Posted by Lauri Roberts at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 3:54pm GMT

At time of writing (Monday 17:50) 5 more former bishops have added their names to the letter, and one serving bishop - the Bishop of Buckingham - as well as 500 other people so far.

If you wish, you can add your name as a supporter here:

https://retiredbishopsletter.com/sign-support

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 5:52pm GMT

"Bp John Gladwin retired in 2009" Thank you, Fr Andrew, for your correction. I was depending solely on my memory, and should have taken the trouble to look these things up. Do remove Bp Gladwin from my generalisation.
There are of course two interpretations we can take from newly retired bishops becoming bold with their statements. The first is the suggestion that currently serving bishops are constrained by various factors from voicing their convictions honestly. The second is that retirement leads very quickly to a new freedom and ability to see things more clearly. Maybe we need to pray for an increased number of episcopal retirements.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 6:26pm GMT

Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female...= the heterosexual creation ordinance - valid & non-negotiable - from creation to judgment day.

Sure, Steven Thomas, from the emergence of single cell organisms to the consumption of all things, 'where none marry nor are given in marriage.' I read no such heterosexual ordinance creation ordinance.

Posted by Lorenzo at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 10:16pm GMT

'If you wish, you can add your name as a supporter here:'

https://retiredbishopsletter.com/sign-support

Thanks Suzannah for this.

Unfortunately, it won't take signatures at the moment.

Posted by Lauri Roberts at Monday, 13 February 2017 at 10:53pm GMT

Dear Lorenzo - the heterosexual creation ordinance, reiterated by Jesus, defining God's parameter for marriage - between a man and his female wife:

Matthew 19:4  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 
5  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 
6  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 

Posted by Steve Thomas at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 12:27am GMT

Stephen Cottrell makes a compelling point about bishops speaking up only in retirement, instead of having the courage of their convictions while in office. Unfortunately for him, yet another so-called liberal who refuses to go to bat for LGBT people, it's self-defeating in the extreme.

I hope, when this sordid mess is finally put to rest, and equality achieved, the CoE takes a long, hard look at how it appoints its bishops, recognizes the low-caliber bench it has at present as the fruit of a structural problem, and initiates wholesale democratic reform.

It points to a disturbing undercurrent. Why, out of all provinces, doesn't England feel the need to elect her bishops? It's hard to escape the conclusion that it's tied to the nation's ancient class system, a patrician elite who believe they're born to rule, and even more worryingly, a society prepared to let them. England deserves better, and so too does the rest of the Communion.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 5:53am GMT

I can read, Steven, and thank you for the reference, I suspect most of us here had never come across it before. Jesus had a different understanding of creation than we do now. It is demonstrably untrue that 'in the beginning G-d created us male and female.' He did not. Furthermore, our Lord was trying to give a scriptural justification for his jettisoning of the right for husbands to give their wives an act of repudiation (a geet in Hebrew) by (binyan av min shnei ketuvim) combining two apparently unrelated passages of the Torah to ground a ruling on a third which apparently lacks any direct institution. Jesus was answering the question at verse 'Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of repudiation and send her away?”

So there, I too can be patronising.

Posted by Lorenzo at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 7:43am GMT

"heterosexual creation ordinance," @ Steve Thomas

Strange, but your Matthew proof text looks like Jesus' answer to a question about divorce to me.

I wonder, if it's so central, so important, so first order, why Jesus waited till someone asked him a question about something else till he proclaimed heterosexuality for all?

Posted by Fr Andrew at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 7:58am GMT

I'm not sure you can take a statement aimed at supporting a teaching about divorce and apply it to something not even alluded to, never mind mentioned, in the passage.

Posted by Jo at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 8:07am GMT

Lauri, so glad you both have found your spiritual welcoming home. My husband and myself find we are truly welcome at our cathedral in the Episcopal church in Scotland.

Curiosity Lauri what is RSof F. Forgive my ignorance

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 8:27am GMT

Religious Society of Friends? - that would be my guess.

Posted by Mary Clara at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 2:25pm GMT

'The choice made by the bishops is, essentially (as I see it) a financial question: is the Church to lose the well-organised conservative evangelicals or is it to lose the relatively diffuse LGBT community and their 'straight' allies? I think we know who has the numbers and, therefore, the finance.' (Froghole)

Why doesn't somebody call their bluff over this? I live in one of the most 'evangelical' dioceses of the C of E, and I don't know of any parish that [a] has sufficient numbers and financial power, and [b] a conservative consensus. Undoubtedly there are a few such places up and down the country, but since we are told over and over again that these churches are where the bright young people go, and the vast majority of that demographic are supportive of LGBTI issues, I suspect that they flock to these churches, not to rally round an anti-gay banner, but because they are attracted to the theology and ethos for other reasons.

Posted by David Emmott at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 3:53pm GMT

Thank you Mary Clara, makes good sense.

Posted by Fr John E HARRIS-WHITE at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 5:15pm GMT

@David Emmott: Many thanks for your comment. I have travelled around c. 30+ dioceses (though not, alas, yours – as I am not within range). Numbers are devastatingly bad almost everywhere. Practically the only successful churches I have encountered are in the evangelical bracket, which I appreciate covers a range of opinion. Most of these are, I suspect, theologically conservative to some degree. However, I would attribute about 20% of their success to their doctrinal ‘robustness’ and much of the rest to their being in demographically favourable (i.e., white British, middle class and suburban) locations and because they are much more successful as social gatherings. This suggests to me that the premium placed on ritual and order by many clergy is misplaced, and that what people value more is a sense of collaboration and fellowship within a ‘vibrant’ yet informal situation. The leaven of young people is critical in that regard. Whether these churches would be quite so successful if they were more liberal is moot, but I suspect that in some instances they would be. However, I generally dislike these churches: whilst I am happy to attend for the sake of worship it is not so much the narrowness of their outlook (and the Bibliocentrism of their theological formation) which is the issue, but the feeling that I have intruded upon a private club. I do get that feeling at other churches, of course (especially certain ‘posh’ country estate churches), but I have to recognise that the success of many 'Boden' churches is in many ways predicated upon their being clubs, and that people are accepted as members in proportion to the extent of their involvement – which makes many attendees that much more willing to get involved.

Yet I have noted that even some of these ostensibly successful churches are suffering from over-reach, declining attendance and financial issues (hence their chipper attitude about underwriting ‘failing’ churches via the parish share). However, these issues are often as naught compared with the distress of many rural or inner city parishes with minute congregations.

So their bluff might be called but many bishops might consider it a high risk strategy, and pensions/stipends/housing costs still need to be paid.

Posted by Froghole at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 6:39pm GMT

Fr.John thanks so much, and it's great you both have a welcome and settled there. It always sounds like a good place to me.

RSoF is the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers.

Posted by Laurie Roberts at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 8:04pm GMT

Yes - Jesus is talking about marriage - defining it as male-female. The main point being to repudiate divorce of such that God joins together - and in so doing, reiterated the God-ordained parameters from creation. There is no getting away from it. (and why ever would anyone want to?) Peace to all - nothing patronising intended.

Posted by Steve Thomas at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 10:15pm GMT

"This suggests to me that the premium placed on ritual and order by many clergy is misplaced, and that what people value more is a sense of collaboration and fellowship within a ‘vibrant’ yet informal situation." Thank you, Froghole, exactly what I've been saying for a good while now! In sticking to traditional worship, liberal churches are stylistically inaccessible to the majority of people.

Whatever the reasons liberal churches have for cleaving to rigid liturgy and historical music -- whether as compensation for radical theology, or mere stylistic preference -- it's killing a rich theological tradition. There's a place for tradition, often in cathedrals with the setting and skills to do it well, but services in a modern style are much easier to export to regular congregations, and far more accessible.

A liberal take on contemporary worship could be the best of all worlds, retaining the relaxed, accessible style, but ditching the stifling demands of evangelical theology that so many charismatic churches work to mask, and also the off-putting clubhouse vibe that you mention.

If England were carpeted in successful liberal churches, confident in their beliefs and right to belong, and determined to push for change, equality would arrive in no time. If liberalism carries on as it is, the CoE will morph into HTB writ large. Change, or die.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 14 February 2017 at 10:35pm GMT
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