Comments: Update on Episcopal Teaching Document and Pastoral Advisory Group

Some of the comments on the piece by the Archbishop of Canterbury make me very sad. Children. Children. Oh the children. I don't care what people believe, our primary concern is that children are not bullied.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 15 November 2017 at 6:37pm GMT

Surely the description of Tom Wright as "The Rev'd Professor ...." is inaccurate. (I appreciate that it is copied from the CoE website). He may not be exercising any episcopal functions but he remains a bishop in the church and should surely be described as "The Rt Rev'd Professor".

Posted by RPNewark at Wednesday, 15 November 2017 at 8:16pm GMT

All of which serves as a reminder to issue my usual public service announcement about this:

Dear progressive friends in the Church of England

Remember above all things that this has been designed so you can't have what you believe to be God's will.

Do not play this game if you want to achieve anything. It has been designed to prevent change.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Wednesday, 15 November 2017 at 8:20pm GMT

I have previously been critical of the 'teaching document' for (amongst other things) being dominated by bishops (in comments made on this website, and posted in a longer form on Colin Coward's blogsite In a response to my concerns (letters, Church Times, 22nd September), Malcolm Brown suggested I had misunderstood, and that the coordinating group did not in fact have a majority of bishops. But I can't help noticing that the names released today still indicate that the final report will be 'coordinated' by seven bishops, four clergy, and one lay person. Am I missing something?

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Wednesday, 15 November 2017 at 10:41pm GMT

What a lot of people talking about us.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 7:27am GMT

Thank God there are a few intellectual heavyweights on this who I hope may encourage some to wake up and smell the coffee on this subject. My fear is that Kelvin is going to be right and the drawn out process of producing all the words will end up as merely a delaying tactic. I sincerely hope I'm wrong on that, but it's hard fighting back the cynicism.

Posted by Shamus at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 9:09am GMT

I am really worried about this report and the makeup of the group involved in its composition. Yes, it has experts but it is also clearly partisan in nature. I fear Kevin Holdsworth is correct. I wish that the whole project could be dropped and a straightforward acceptance of different integrties accepted. The document will, I think, end up at the bottom of desk drawers gathering dust, with nothing really having changed.

Posted by Andrew Lightbown at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 9:13am GMT

What a lot of people talking about us, says Fr Andrew. Yes indeed, fifty four in total. Of the 54, I identify 7 as LGBTI and 2 as ex-gay.

The membership of each group has been selected to reflect the spectrum of opinion about LGBTI people within the Church of England. It has not been selected to produce a report focused on our experience and expectations. As Kelvin notes in his public service announcement, this has been designed to prevent change and to ensure that what I and many others (probably the majority of Church of England members) believe to be God's will will be thwarted.

I've believed myself to have been created with my particular sexual identity since 1956. Everything that has happened since then, both in church and state, has reinforced my conviction. Engaged now mostly from the sidelines, I'm indifferent to the outcome of this huge investment in talking about me once again as if I am an object that can be turned over and inspected and dissected and put back in a closet to await a more propitious moment when a change in attitude towards me might be considered. Living with indifference to what the bishops are doing is a far more healthy state spiritually.

Posted by Colin Coward at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 9:34am GMT

Yes, Fr. Andrew. And why are there so few people owning an identity as LGBTQI in this group. Is there no-one willing to wo/man the barricades?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 9:52am GMT

"What a lot of people talking about us."

It's more than that. God has given certain people more knowledge of LGBT issues than the general population, by gifting us direct, personal experience. The church - which claims to listen to the voice of God - somehow believes it knows better than God and ignores His gift. Why? And why is the church never challenged for setting itself above God?

If the church wishes to discern the will of God on an issue, surely the starting point is, "Has God granted anyone particular knowledge of this question?" Yes, some on the list might have studied the issue, but aren't the efforts of man always less than the work of God Himself? Or doesn't the church trust God on LGBT issues, the ordination of women, disability, poverty...

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 11:01am GMT

I wonder why Elaine Graham and Jayne Ozanne aren't on it? Maybe they had too many other commitments? They would both have a lot to contribute.

Are there any accepting evangelicals on the group? There need to be voices who can argue from the scriptures for inclusion and equal treatment of gay people. And finally, is there anyone there who is openly gay? I hope so, and not just a token one or two.

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 11:39am GMT

A lot of people talking to each other with no one else listening.

Posted by FrDavidH at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 2:25pm GMT

An awful lot of people talking about us, Andrew.

Seems a bit like overkill to me--- what are they afraid of / up to ?

I, too, doubt the sincerity and integrity of this process.

Posted by Laurie Roberts at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 4:14pm GMT

"...talking about us."

I would also note that Nathan MacDonald and Judy Lieu are non-anglicans; rather, Baptist and Methodist respectively.

Posted by CRS at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 4:52pm GMT

The anti-progressives certainly know how to tie up an awesome array of theological, biblical, ecclesiological and other talent for a further period of at least three years, on a task that has already made no progress for the last 26, when IIHS was published in 1991. Come 2020, there will need to be another group to consider the wider Anglican Communion issues, also ecumenical, because we can’t ignore our traditionalist friends in certain important provinces can we? What are we expected to learn from this Teaching Document? It could be writtten in three months. And being a Teaching Document, what likelihood of it making any forward looking proposals? Why not dust down Pilling and get on with the task of building a Church of radical inclusion?

Posted by Anthony Archer at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 5:57pm GMT

I'm entirely with the sceptics on this one. Selection for membership of these groups is entirely based in managing ecclesiastical politics, and not at all about pursuing truth and justice. The interesting question might be: at what point do those supporting one side or the other drop out and refuse to endorse the final report when they realise it's not going their way?

Posted by Charles Clapham at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 7:15pm GMT

No talking about us without us. 7 out of 54 really isn't OK.

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 8:50pm GMT

My immediate reaction to seeing this was to recall the definition of a camel as a horse designed by a committee, and to ask myself what happens if four committees try to design a horse...

But, more seriously, however well intentioned is this exercise, I do not see it as having much likelihood of success, if by success you mean sweetness and light all round, for all the reasons set out by others above. Incidentally, in any other setting, it would surely be inconceivable not to include people such as Andrew Foreshew-Cain or Jeremy Pemberton who have followed their consciences within the law of the land, and paid considerable personal prices for doing so. The personal arrangements of the people actually nominated to the committees are of no concern to me, but there needs to be the visible presence of people who have contracted same-sex marriages. Otherwise what credibility does any of this have?

I think, also, there needs to be a clear statement of how much this is costing, including the share of the stipends and accommodation and support costs of all the clergy and bishops involved.

Posted by Bernard at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 9:53pm GMT

Janet Fife. I am a bit puzzled by this statement.

"Are there any accepting evangelicals on the group? There need to be voices who can argue from the scriptures for inclusion and equal treatment of gay people."

I have many books on my bookshelves by non-evangelical Christians which argue for inclusion and equal treatment of gay people. These book contain, as is normal, extensive analysis and reflection on scriptural texts. Surely these many scholars are able to "argue from the scriptures".

You seem to be implying that arguing from the scriptures is a charism open only to evangelicals, and I am not sure that is what you meant, or did you?

Posted by Simon Dawson at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 10:07pm GMT

"You seem to be implying that arguing from the scriptures is a charism open only to evangelicals, and I am not sure that is what you meant, or did you?" - Posted by: Simon Dawson on Thursday.

With all due respect, Simon. I did not read Janet's comment in the same way as you. Janet seems to me to be reflecting the FACT that there actually are people in the Evangelical wing of the Church accepting of LGBTQI people - who, also, ought to be represented on this panel.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 16 November 2017 at 10:42pm GMT

Perhaps someone should write a history of reports in the C of E from the 1964 Paul Report onwards with a view to seeing if they have made much difference to anything.

Posted by Perry Butler at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 8:33am GMT

I agree with Anthony Archer wholeheartedly - dust down Pilling and just get on with it. It really should be that simple.

Posted by Andrew Lightbown at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 9:01am GMT

"I wish that the whole project could be dropped and a straightforward acceptance of different integrities accepted."

I agree with Andrew Lightbown.

The REAL question is not "What does the Church of England believe about human sexuality and gender identity?" We already know that for decades it has believed wide, differing, and conflicting things. People are entrenched in their conscientious beliefs. There is no 'one way' of believing about human sexuality. That way only leads to domination of one conscience over another conscience.

The REAL question is "Are we willing to find the grace and love to live together, in our different consciences, and how shall we do that?"

And if one group is not prepared to do that - to simply be adult enough to recognise that different people have sincere, conscientious different views - then that group very very sadly needs to ship out.

It should be fundamental and incontestable that there is no 'fascism of dominating consciences of others'. And that applies to those who affirm gay sexuality, and those who don't.

As Andrew says, we need "a straightforward acceptance of different integrities accepted", which is to say, seeking the grace to live with unity in diversity.

The Scottish Episcopal Church have chosen that path. Why not the English then?

Otherwise, we waste another three years (I am *still* waiting to marry my fiancée in church) and who knows how many more years after that?

There are other options in the end (but where is the end?)... 1. Appeal to Parliament. 2. Creating a network of affirming Church of England communities willing to do UDI on blessing or celebrating LGBT lives and relationships in church from a given deadline date. 3. Pushing change via Synods, but on the moral high ground of the Scottish model and protection of differing consciences.

The tricky bit, the risk, is the 'who jumps ship first' thing. What must not happen is for progressive Anglicans to jump ship and lose control of the fabric, the churches, the national church. Our nation deserves better than that. If the most conservative Anglicans (as recently) can't accept diverse views, then let them be the ones to (sadly) leave.

Most conservative Anglicans in the Church of England don't want to leave the Church anyway. It is the more fanatically dogmatic who loudly insist that they will leave if everyone doesn't obey their conservative views.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 10:12am GMT

I agree with Anthony Archer too: this vast array of Rt. Revs, Profs & Doctors have been put together for one purpose only: three years more delay. Then, no doubt Abp Welby will decree that the findings will need to be shared among the wider Anglican Communion, for say, another three years, and then, taking into account the howls of protest from that quarter, another extended period of theological reflection. That should take us up to about 2030! I entirely sympathise with Colin Coward's image of an object to be extensively examined, scrutinised and dissected. It reminds me of a movie sci-fi franchise: we've had SHARED CONVERSATIONS, now we're onto TEACHING DOCUMENT, then it will be SHARED CONVERSATIONS 2, then TEACHING DOCUMENT: THE COVENANT. And I'm not being flippant - members of the LGBTI community must feel as though they're being treated like aliens!

Posted by stephen morgan at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 11:32am GMT

Fr. Ron Smith is right, I did mean that evangelicals who accept gay relationships as valid should be represented on the panel. Not because they have any special charism, but because the panel should represent that point of view. It's common enough.

Posted by Janet Fife at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 12:02pm GMT

Perhaps the one thing everyone on here can now accept is that the Church of England has no authority - on absolutely anything!

Traditionalists look beyond Anglicanism for their moral theology and progressives just carry on doing their own thing. What on earth is the point of this committee? What will it achieve?

The best that any of us can hope for is that the Church of England will simply remain silent.

Posted by William at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 1:10pm GMT

Once again, I am reminded of the absurdity that the Church of England already allows same sex marriages so long as the couple are opposite gendered.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 1:46pm GMT

The Social and Biological Sciences group clearly has some very clever people appointed to it but - according to their available CVs - none, it would appear, has any relevant biological or scientific qualifications in the areas of sexuality, intersex, or transgender issues. It would have been nice to have people who knew something about the subject to be talking about us. And, based on her qualifications and experience, quite why Jessica Martin was chosen is a *complete* mystery! I am happy to be corrected if I have omitted anything of relevance.

Here's a summary:

The Bishop of Crediton, The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally

Area of scientific expertise : midwifery


The Revd Professor Christopher Cook, University of Durham

Alcohol addiction and auditory hallucination

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge

Exobiology and astrobiology

The Revd Duncan Dormor, Dean, St John’s College, University of Cambridge

Human Sciences and Medical Demography

The Revd Canon Dr Jessica Martin, Ely Cathedral

No relevant qualifications (according to her CV). English Literature and Music.

Professor Roger Trigg, Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford and Prof. Emeritus at University of Warwick

Philosophical relativism

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 2:59pm GMT

Simon Dawson,
inclusion from a non-evangelical point of view is quite standard theology these days. Evangelicals often have a different approach to hermeneutics to other theologians and are more likely to dismiss a theology that is not based on the same principles.

There are members of conservative evangelical organisations on the panel. And to redress the balance, it would be extremely helpful if there were members of Accepting Evangelicals too - who can present the other side of the evangelical coin.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 4:17pm GMT

Fr. Ron Smith is right, I simply meant that accepting evangelicals ought to be represented. There are plenty of them. They have no special charism, but why give the impression that only conservative evangelicals are worth listening to? Or that all evangelicals believe gay sex is wrong?

Posted by Janet Fife at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 4:39pm GMT

Janet, Erika and Father Ron,

Thanks for your replies. I agree with you that Evangelical Christians with a pro gay perspective should be within the discussion, and I am aware that many pro-gay evangelical Christians making their voices heard. My puzzlement was simply to do with the phrase "argue from the scriptures".

It is a common tactic of certain conservative evangelical groups to claim that their own anti-gay position is based on the scriptures, and that those who follow a pro-gay line must have abandoned scripture and capitulated to the modern secular world view. To counter this I think it is important to repeatedly emphasise that pro gay Christians also base their beliefs on scriptural analysis.

So to me, Janet's posting saying "Are there any accepting evangelicals on the group? There need to be voices who can argue from the scriptures for inclusion and equal treatment of gay people" seemed to imply that evangelicals are needed, in order to argue from scripture (because - implicitly - non evangelicals cannot).

A posting saying "Are there any accepting evangelicals on the group? There need to be voices who can argue from AN EVANGELICAL PERSPECTIVE for inclusion and equal treatment of gay people" would be better.

It's only a minor point about use of words, but words are important. And behind the use of words I fully support the intentions of Janet's statement.

With best wishes.

Posted by Simon Dawson at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 6:23pm GMT

But how does "arguing from scripture" resolve anything? People have been arguing their conscientious positions from scripture for decades. The horse has been flogged to death. There are simply very different views about the acceptability of gay sex.

If this venture is aimed at one side's position being scripturally proved, it can only fail. If it's about "arguing from scripture", that's what you'll get: arguing.

What's needed is not a theological 'winner' but the opening of human hearts to grace and love... the grace and love to hold different views, yet still love, still deeply want one another's flourishing in all the diversity that is the Church.

And that doesn't a committee, or three years of theological arm-wrestling. It takes quiet spirit and prayer, and opening to the flood of God's love, and the grace to... love one another.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 8:32pm GMT

As to the usefulness of Jessica Martin to the Social and Biological Sciences Group, although she is not a scientist, she wrote a Prologue to the 2013 Report of the Bishops' Working Party on Human Sexuality, with the title 'Holiness and Desire'. And she works with Sarah Coakley, who has valuable things to say.
I have no recollection now of what she said in 'Holiness and Desire'. But one could always look it up.

Posted by Flora Alexander at Friday, 17 November 2017 at 9:19pm GMT

But Susannah, you have already admitted that there is going a side that leaves-- that "Do whatever is right in your own eyes" is not going to be an acceptable theology for some any more than "sex is only for marriage" is acceptable for others. And is "You do whatever you want and I'll do whatever I want-- while praying for the others to come to our sensibilities" really where the church should go? Is that really all the church has to offer? Because the local Humanism Club has that theme, minus the prayer part.

Posted by Chris H at Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 3:27am GMT

I agree with both Susannah and Erika. 'Arguing from Scripture' is a horse that has been flogged to death, partly because some / most of those deeply opposed are entirely invested in a different and specific hermeneutic of the gospel, which they are not going to relinquish. I find this whole project so utterly depressing. As Anthony Archer correctly suggests: dust down Pilling and get on with the job of building a radical new inclusivity. It really isn't very complicated, but we, the Church of England, are making it so.

Posted by Andrew Lightbown at Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 7:14am GMT

Simon, you are right. I should have said, 'argue from an evangelical perspective'.

Andrew Lightbown, I still argue from Scripture, especially on sites like Christian Post, because there are people who genuinely care what the Bible says, but have only heard one view and a narrow selection of passages. Not to argue from the scriptures is to file them the field, and let a whole new generation (or two) think all people who treasure the Bible think in one way. That probably won't apply on TA though.

Posted by Janet Fife at Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 9:10am GMT

A small point, but I think it is significant. I see Tom Wright has been wheeled-out to be part of this from his current post in St Andrew's (but, interestingly, not David Brown who is also Anglican and holds a chair in systematic and historical theology at the same University). Tom Wright (unlike David Brown) does not hold a Licence from the Bishop of St Andrew's and is not actively involved in the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Does this not beg questions as to whether he is ecclesially qualified to contribute to this process?

Posted by Will Richards at Monday, 20 November 2017 at 4:19pm GMT
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