Comments: Opinion - 2 September 2017

An excellent analysis from Colin Coward of the differences between the (suppressed) 1967 report, and the 2017 proposed 'Teaching Document' on human sexuality.

Just to underscore some of his observations:

The episcopal domination of this new committee is staggering and unprecedented. Colin contrasts it with the working party which produced the 1967 report, which included only one bishop. But it also contrasts with virtually every other official report produced in the Church of England over the last fifty years: Faith in the City (for example) produced by a committee of eighteen, including only two bishops (and neither as chair); and Mission-Shaped Church, produced in 2004 by a committee of eleven, with only one bishop.

The lack of lay people is also striking and without precedent. One of the great strengths of the Church of England is the involvement of knowledgeable lay professionals and specialists to help inform our ethical thinking, not simply as advisors, but as full members of working parties responsible for writing the final report. To give another couple of examples, chosen more or less at random from my bookshelf: the 2001 Board for Social Responsibility report Development Matters produced for General Synod which includes contributions from numerous lay people with very substantial professional experience and specialist knowledge on international development issues. Or a 2000 report on euthanasia, for example, produced by working party which included doctors, lawyers, and specialists in medical ethics.

But on this new committee, which seeks to produce a report on human sexuality, there is not a single gender theorist, sociologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, politician, campaigner, voluntary sector worker, or any other lay person bringing relevant specialist knowledge or expertise whatsoever. This absence is astonishing. No doubt the committee will 'consult' lay experts and listen to lay voices, but it is clear that they don't trust them enough to help write the report.

This is a process controlled by bishops (who are a majority on the committee), and will result in a report shaped largely by bishops: the same bishops (just to spell it out) who were in favour of the report that was rightly rejected by Synod in February this year.

All of which is entirely predictable in the current deliberate engineering of the Church of England toward centralization and episcopal control, in ignorance of Anglican history and theology.

But it doesn’t stop me being angry

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Sunday, 3 September 2017 at 10:35pm BST

Further to my previous post, one might also draw attention to the (I think ?) unprecedented inclusion of of an 'Anglican Communion' representative on the new coordinating committee.

The Church of England quite regularly produces reports, position papers, or makes official comments on any number of issues of international significance (refugees, asylum seekers, international debt, the environment, terrorism), but it's worth spelling out that it typically does so without seeing the need for consultation with the wider Anglican communion, even where these issues are clearly global in scope.

This is true also on substantial matters of church order, such as the ordination of women. The working party which produced the 2004 report on women bishops, for example, included official ecumenical representatives from the Methodist church and the Roman Catholic church but not from the Anglican Communion.

By contrast, on this new committee dealing with sexuality, there is no official representation from Methodist church, for example, despite the existence in England of the Anglican-Methodist covenant; whilst there IS representation from the Anglican Communion, despite the rejection of the Anglican Covenant.

Strange how the views of the Anglican Communion (which in any case contains multiple different viewpoints) are relevant in the Church of England only on the issue of homosexuality and on nothing else.

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Sunday, 3 September 2017 at 10:53pm BST

This last paragraph of Fr. Colin's report on the latest findings of the 'new Coordinating Group' describes how weak and pitiful is their response to the needs of a significant minority in the Church:

"I wonder how many members of the new Co-ordinating Group genuinely believe that a lesbian or gay relationship can be as fully human and as satisfactory for a human being as a heterosexual relationship. If the Teaching Document can’t articulate a belief in the absolute equality of all permanent, faithful, stable, loving, marital relationships, then the Group will have wasted three more years and fifty years on from the non-publication of the first report, we will not have achieved the goal to which Changing Attitude campaigned for twenty-two years." - Colin Coward

What a great disappointment this is for those of us in the worldwide Anglican Communion who were looking towards the 'Mother Church' for some clear directions on a 'Way Forward' - towards a more generous and loving approach to Same-Sex Relationships that are committed and faithful!

Considering the 50 years that have passed since the Church of England addressed this matter, not much ground seems to have been covered by this commission. No wonder LGBTI people are losing faith in the Church as a paradigm for God's love for all creation. Let's hope that other parts of the Anglican Communion can do better - as TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have already done.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 1:33am BST

It is instructive to be reminded of the differences between the 1967 report and the present exercise in producing a teaching document. Yet the two things are very different. There is a tradition in Anglicanism of wrestling with issues in order that truth might emerge. Significant reports are produced which aid the discussion and the process of coming to a common mind. What is new here is that the bishops are going to produce a 'Teaching Document', whose purpose will be to tell us what we can believe. It is an exercise in dampening debate, not in enabling it. It seeks to exercise control over a situation, at least beyond the lifetime of the present General Synod and the next Lambeth Conference. The last thing that the bishops want is any gender theorist, sociologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, politician, campaigner, voluntary sector worker, or any other lay person bringing relevant specialist knowledge or expertise. The process buys time, but it creates an inevitable car crash for 2020. The recent conversion therapy and transgender motions in General Synod do not represent a sudden change of mind within the Church of England, but merely demonstrate what inevitably happens when people are allowed to openly debate such issues, rather than be reined in to support an what is an unsustainable and deeply unbiblical position.

Posted by Nigel Lloyd at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 8:00am BST

Nigel Lloyd, I think you are right that the very concept of a ‘teaching document’ is problematic here.

The Church of England has not understand itself historically to possess a teaching magisterium. Unlike Rome, where it is clear that the Vatican 2, papal encyclicals, and other documents like the Catechism can be understood as the official teaching of the church, with varying (albeit disputed) degrees of authority, including infallibility. But the concept of a teaching magisterium in this sense is alien to the Church of England, and inconsistent with its character.

It is therefore usually a mistake (typically made by journalists unfamiliar with the Church of England) to declare on any given moral or social issue: ‘The Church of England teaches…” There is no Church of England “teaching document” on the economy, Brexit, nuclear weapons, international development, Israel/Palestine, terrorism, global warming, or any number of other (arguably more important?) issues. There are of course numerous reports from various Anglican bodies, Bishops, theologians, and lay people which as you say help to inform debate and opinion. But this does not mean that there is an ‘official’ Church of England view on these issues, and I’m not sure I want one on sexuality and gender either.

And whilst it is true that the vocation of bishops in the Church of England has been understood to involve teaching the faith, it does not mean they have an exclusive role in defining it. This teaching role of bishops is, in any case, increasingly being ignored in (for example) the Green Report, where there is a greater emphasis on management (doing a mini-MBA rather than a higher degree in theology is now the preferred qualification for a bishop), so that theologically well-qualified clergy who hold university positions or chairs (such as Martyn Percy) who might in previous generations have been appointed as bishops are no longer considered. The result is a House of Bishops singularly lacking in theological depth (not even a Stephen Sykes or a Tom Wright, let alone a Rowan Williams, Richard Harries, David Jenkins, Ian Ramsey, Michael Ramsey, William Temple, etc.).

So, a lack of trust by the bishops in lay people, secular expertise, and theological knowledge, and an overconfidence in their own wisdom. Not promising.

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 10:21am BST

My problem with the coordinating committee is that there is a well established way of producing reports on social and ethical issues in the Church of England, which looks like it’s being set aside.

Suppose you want a church report on immigration, for example. So you form a committee or working party of about a dozen or so members, and add some administrative support and a couple of consultants. On your committee you of course put a bishop and archdeacon or two, as well a couple of clergy, preferably with particular experience of issues relating to immigration, or at least some background in social responsibility. But you would then expect to add a number of Christian lay people with relevant knowledge or expertise, such as (for argument’s sake) the director of a Catholic agency that helps resettle immigrants in the UK, a university academic who lectures in migration studies, an advisor from a migration thinktank, someone from Christian Aid, a theologian with a particular interest in social or political ethics, etc. This committee then solicit further submissions or reports from other relevant bodies, or make site visits as appropriate.

The final report, which arises out of the conversation in which lay people, bishops and clergy alike are involved, is (if it’s done well) a knowledgeable and thoughtful report which can be commended to the church for wider study, used to inform discussions at a local level, and shape interventions and responses made by bishops and other church authorities at a national level. But (crucially) the report is NOT a definitive statement of ‘Church of England teaching’, is NOT understood to be binding of the consciences of clergy or lay people (or indeed bishops), NOR a document to which ordinands are required to sign up as condition of being accepted for training or ordination.

This is how the Church of England has consistently thought through complex social and ethical issues over the last fifty years, even ones as serious as war, nuclear weapons, or climate change. And yet, when it comes to the issue of who is having sex with whom, or who is allowed to wear a dress, this all changes.

Why? Answer: institutionalised homophobia.

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 1:19pm BST

I appreciate the comments made in response to my blog by Charles Clapham, Ron Smith and Nigel Lloyd, each raising points about the House of Bishops proposed Teaching Document on human sexuality. They important points of which I was unaware; Charles on the dominance of bishops and clergy on the Co-ordinating group and the absence of any lay people with substantial professional experience; Fr Ron on the impact (or lack of impact for LGBTI people, families and friends) on the “Mother Church’s” failure to propose a generous and loving approach; Nigel on the process proposed, which will dampen and control, telling those of us most affected what we can believe (and almost certainly how we can and can’t behave.

For those of us who have been waiting fifty years or more for the church to acknowledge the injustice of attitudes, teaching and practice to LGBTI people the process is grossly inadequate and inappropriate. Is it too late for the House of Bishops and the Archbishops to have second thoughts? It is intolerable that the Co-ordinating Group doesn’t have representatives from the full spectrum of those of us affected – affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

On previous occasions when a blog of mine about LGBTI has been listed and comments attracted, some have criticised the attention given to issues of sexuality and gender when other matters of global concern have received less comment. On other occasions, I have been surprised when topics I have considered of less importance – clerical dress and episcopal head gear, for example – have attracted what I considered to be undue attention – but I can live with that!

Few have commented on my recent blog, and yet it is about a subject that is affecting every Province of the Anglican Communion, with intense hostility in some quarters to any softening of the deeply homophobic, prejudiced teaching, which results in daily reports of the abuse and murder of LGBTI people. The English archbishops and bishops wish to preserve unity at all cost – and the cost for people like me in Africa and parts of the Far East is high.

I searched the Church of England web site for information about the first meeting of the Co-ordinating group and for news of any further appointments to the group. There is no mention of the group, let alone the process, on the House of Bishops’ page.

Posted by Colin Coward at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 2:11pm BST

The Church of England has synodical government, whether Welby likes it or not. This teaching document is simply a way to close down the debate by the people of the church of England.
Welby has seen that the members of the synod have a much more generous and caring attitude to the ordinary person by their voting at the synod on transgender, and conversion therapy.
Any agreement on sexuality is for the synod of the church of England, not the Anglican Communion . Each province makes its own decisions. As has the American Episcopal Church, Canada and the Episcopal Church in Scotland. After proper genuine debate by the synods.
Once again Welby is attempting to kick the debate into the long grass, and kill all genuine dialogue.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by Fr John E Harris-White at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 2:13pm BST

"Strange how the views of the Anglican Communion (which in any case contains multiple different viewpoints) are relevant in the Church of England only on the issue of homosexuality and on nothing else."

Why are you surprised? Welby and his friends have two objectives: continuing to oppress LGBTQ people, whom they openly despise, and maintaining close links with African bishops who are in a better position to oppress LGBTQ people as they have governments to help. By excluding liberal elements of Britain from his tame committee of yes-men, but loading in a few extra bigots from his favoured churches, they ensure that the answer will be the one they want: no marriage, priests in same-sex civil marriages, no acceptance of non-celebate same-sex relationsips (no sex outside marriage, no marriage, so no sex); in short, no change. As I say, why are you surprised? You don't expect a open homophobe to change his spots, do you?

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 4 September 2017 at 4:30pm BST

Charles, thanks for your description of how the Church of England has a well established way of producing reports on social and ethical issues, usually under the aegis of the Board of Social Responsibility. The norm has been set aside by the Archbishops and House of Bishops in taking the unusual and almost unprecedented step by the bishops to issue teaching document (I’m told it has happened just once before).

So yes indeed, the very concept of a teaching document is problematic if the concept of a teaching magisterium is alien to the Church of England and inconsistent with its character.

If the teaching document fails to respond to the expectations of the majority of LGBTI members of the Church of England, our families, friends and congregations, and the perception of LGBTI dignity and equality held by the majority of English citizens, the teaching of the bishops will be ignored by those most affected and the bishops will lose even more of their increasingly fragile authority. Where possible, people will celebrate relationships, bless marriages in church, and the wider population (and the Government) will wonder why marriage equality is not possible in church.
Conservatives will thank the bishops for maintaining traditional teaching (from their perspective) and ‘revisionists’ (evolutionists?) like will be disappointed, frustrated, angry, despairing (according to their level of attachment or detachment from the institution.

I can see now that it isn’t simply that an unhelpful document will be the outcome. The responsibility will lie solely with the bishops and a further loss of authority and respect for their commitment to unconditional love, wisdom, truth and goodness and the teaching of Jesus will be the outcome. Most of us can do nothing about this but wait for three years until we get to read the document itself. Meanwhile Synod members may well take matters into their own hands and table further radical motions for debate. The Business Committee will delay placing such motions on the agenda to protect the bishops from further humiliation.

Posted by Colin Coward at Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at 9:21am BST

"The recent conversion therapy and transgender motions in General Synod do not represent a sudden change of mind within the Church of England, but merely demonstrate what inevitably happens when people are allowed to openly debate such issues, rather than be reined in to support an what is an unsustainable and deeply unbiblical position."

I appreciate, Nigel (Lloyd) what you are trying to convey here - in terms of the public image of the C. of E. as homophobic. However, I don't think it is the Church of England, in toto, that embraces this deadly prejudice.

The very fact that the General Synod was able and willing to pass the motions it did (about the dangers of 'conversion therapy, and the need to embrace the transgender community) is proof positive that the majority of the General Synod of the C. of E. - across the Clerical, Episcopal and Laity landscape - accepts the new paradigm of acceptance of LGBTI people in and by the Church.

This means that the top leadership, assisted by like-minded people on the Commission, are still reluctant to take on board the fact that the majority of Anglicans are no longer homophobes.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at 10:45am BST

Thanks for the comments, Colin. I take your point also regarding the lack of direct representation of the full spectrum LGBTQI voices on the committee (“nothing about us without us”) - understanding of course how difficult it may be for some to participate.

It would be helpful to hear a group of lay and ordained Anglicans who identify as LGBTI, spell out in detail what changes are needed in the Church of England: in terms of canon law, liturgy, good practice guides, ordination selection criteria, theological training, etc. (That is, to produce a kind of ‘ideal’ version of the bishops’ proposed teaching document.)

To take just one example, presumably (?) we need to change the law so that equal marriages, for example, can be conducted legally in the Church of England - but I don’t fully understand the specific changes (in English law, church canons, liturgy, etc.) that would needed to make this possible.

Are there people who can do this, or existing position papers that we can draw together??

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at 12:25pm BST

Interested Observer, I see no evidence that Welby "openly despise[s]" gay people, and he certainly doesn't openly despise transgender people (who the church has undertaken to welcome). He uses more PC language than I do, has empathized with what LGBT people go through, and appears torn between his belief in biblical authority, and his personal desire to include all regardless of sexuality.

Before you think I've gone soft, none of that excuses his realpolitik, nor makes this "teaching document" anything but a forgone conclusion. It'd take a miracle for it not to say that all sexual relations outside marriage are sinful 'cause the Bible tells us so.

That being so, instead of waiting around until 2020 and, at best, getting England's Synod to refuse to take note of it, how can those in the affirming camp force through change? If we wait for the bishops to change, we'll be waiting 'til the crack of doom.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at 5:40pm BST

"If the teaching document fails to respond to the expectations of the majority of LGBTI members of the Church of England, our families, friends and congregations... the teaching of the bishops will be ignored by those most affected and the bishops will lose even more of their increasingly fragile authority."

Absolutely, as of course already happens in the Roman Catholic church, where 'official teaching' on contraception (for example) is not merely ignored, but not even regarded as worthy of consideration or debate by the vast majority of practicing Catholics, let alone those outside the church - all of which undermines the moral authority of the Catholic church when it tries to comment on other (more important) issues.

In practice, a bad teaching document fails to convince anyone, and functions largely as a device for disciplining clergy and other church workers (or preventing their ordination or appointment to office in the first place).

It also results in a gap opening up between the views of bishops on the one hand (to the extent they misguidedly feel obliged to uphold the 'official' line), and lay people and clergy on the other hand. The rejection by the Synod of the last bishops' document shows that gap already exists in the Church of England, and without movement from the bishops, it will only get bigger.

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at 6:04pm BST

"No talk about us without us."

This co-ordinating group is a sham.

Great point about Anglican Communion presence even though the Anglican Covenant was rejected. The disrespect CoE leadership shows the members and processes of CoE is shameful. And arrogant.

Posted by Cynthia at Wednesday, 6 September 2017 at 5:41am BST

James Byron, thanks for your comment. I agree with you – neither do I see evidence that Justin Welby openly despises gay or transgender people of LGBTI people in general. I think he may be torn between a compassionate desire to welcome all, a genuine appreciation of the identities and gifts of LGBTI people, and conflicted feelings arising from his HTB evangelical background and his version of biblical authority (I don’t what the Archbishop’s particular version is) and the final, potent ingredient, the strongly homophobic views held by abusive, aggressive elements in the Anglican Communion. I’ve no doubt they exert pressure on Archbishop Justin as much as they did on Archbishop Rowan.
I also agree strongly that waiting around until 2020, when the Teaching Document will be published, or 2022 when the whole process might be completed, is acceptable or tolerable. One way the affirming camp can achieve change (force through is a bit too aggressive, even for me!) is in proactively taking further action in Synod, tabling motions to change current policy and practice on equal marriage in church, blessings in church, and equal treatment in selection, training and appointments, and equality in ministry generally, lay and ordained, for LGBTI people. Some success has already been achieved at the February and July Synods.

The other key element in this is how the affirming camp might work more effectively and dynamically together. How might OneBodyOneFaith, the LGBTI Mission and the General Synod Human Sexuality Group coordinate and integrate their separate activities, adding a renewed dose of Changing Attitude’s energy for developing strategy and initiating activities, in order to proactively bring our agenda and expectations to an anxiety-ridden and much less competent House of Bishops. I’m not prepared to hang around leaving everything to the bishops – oh no!

Posted by Colin Coward at Wednesday, 6 September 2017 at 11:01am BST

I wonder whether somebody on General Synod would care to table a question to the bishops, asking whether they genuinely believe that the Church's continuing discrimination against same-sex relationships contributes nothing at all to the frightening rise in gay-hate crimes which has been reported in the media in the past couple of days?

Posted by Barry at Thursday, 7 September 2017 at 6:44pm BST

I appreciate the way James Byron and Colin Coward hold back from demonising groups and individuals with whom they disagree.

In my opinion, facts are more powerful than polemics.

Fact - Justin Welby refuses to say that gay sex is alright for a Christian. He simply hasn't said that - either for political reasons or because he personally thinks gay sex is sin.

Polemics - Justin despises gay people. I just don't believe that. That dehumanises him. I think he's more than that.

Same with evangelical Christians - many of them believe gay sex is wrong (even though they wish they could just accept it) because they hold a legitimate interpretation of the bible, and think the bible is inerrant - not because all of them are viscerally homophobic.

At the same time, the facts need to be critiqued pretty hard: if Justin refuses to openly says what he thinks of gay sex... if he insists on being deliberately opaque about it... then that suggests he is 'playing politics', and yet we should surely walk in the light and be plain and truthful. It invites conclusions that he is playing for time to somehow get a Lambeth Conference done; or that he is stalling on change, because he doesn't want change anyway. Or that he is putting 'the Communion' before the lives of LGBT+ people in his own Province (and these minorities become 'collateral damage' of wider church politics. It makes Justin seem scheming, manipulative (remember the spinning of the word 'receive' at ACC13), managerial and boss-like, political. His opaqueness on the subject germinates mistrust from all sides.

And while it's a fact that many evangelical Christians believe gay sex is wrong in good faith, because of the bible's elevated status and authority, not because they are individually homophobic... yet the collective effect of this doctrinal rigidity amounts to a Church status quo that is institutionally homophobic in its outcomes and effects on LGBT+ people's lives and marginalisation.

Facts are more powerful and convincing when hyperbole is avoided. Give me the reasoning and argument that is (as Yeats put it in another context) "as cold and passionate as the dawn".

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 9:51pm BST

I see no evidence that Welby "openly despise[s]" gay people, ...

James, you might want to ask Jeremy Pemberton about that, as well as numerous others who've suffered discrimination at the hands of the church, led by Welby. Or ask random TEC LGBTQI people. It's possible to spite people in action but not in word. And to me, that sums up Welby.

Posted by Cynthia at Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 9:01pm BST

Suzanne 'evangelical Christians hold a legitimate interpretation of the bible, and think the bible is inerrant.'
Actually not all hold to 'inerrancy' - and the word tends to come with assumptions of a particularly inflexible conservatism that misrepresents the wider evangelical approach to scripture. I think it is more helpful to focus on the challenge of interpretation at this point.

Posted by David Runcorn at Friday, 15 September 2017 at 9:13am BST
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