Updated Thursday evening
The Council of Bishops of the Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda have issued this statement:
The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (the Pilling Report) is an important piece of work which deserves careful consideration. We encourage our clergy and people to read it and reflect upon it prayerfully.
We note that the Report proposes no change in the doctrine of the Church of England and that its practical recommendations remain, at this stage, recommendations to the House of Bishops.
Those of us who are members of the Church of England’s College of Bishops will be discussing it with other members of the College in January, and we shall also be discussing it at our own meeting in February. We plan to comment more fully after those discussions.
On behalf of the Council
+ TONY PONTEFRACT
The Rt Revd Tony Robinson Chairman
Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream published The Pilling Report: quick Q and A. The full text is copied below the fold.
The Global South of the Anglican Communion has issued this quite long Statement in response to the Pilling Report.
We are writing to express our serious concerns in regard to the Pilling Report. We know that the House of Bishops of the Church of England will be discussing this and we would like to assure them of our prayers so that the Holy Spirit would guide them to the right decisions.
First, we would like to say that we believe that the church of Christ should not in any way be homophobic or have any kind of phobia. We should follow in the steps of Jesus Christ who embraced all the marginalized of his society; having said that, we must say that we did not read of any homophobic statement from any bishop or clergy in the Church of England. It is sad that anyone who does not support the ministry of gay and lesbians, as well as same-sex marriages, is considered homophobic. Obviously there is a big difference between those who refuse to recognize the presence of homosexuals in the church, i.e. homophobic, and those who do support Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 and do not support the ministry and ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbians, as well as same-sex marriages.
The Pilling Report raises an important question which requires an answer: will the Church of England conform to its context, i.e. will the Church of England allow the society to shape its faith and practice in such a way in order to be acceptable by the society, or will the Church of England recognize that its distinctive mission is to transform the society? …
Anglican Mainstream The Pilling Report: quick Q and A
What is the main conclusion of the Pilling Report?
The legalization of gay marriage has brought an urgency to the question of pastoral care for same sex couples. The church has to be seen to be providing unconditional welcome and affirmation for LGBT people, without officially changing its doctrine. So the Report recommends an informal approach, not reflected in new liturgy, whereby a “pastoral accommodation” allows clergy to pray informally with a couple, asking for God’s blessing. This may be an “act of worship to mark the formation of a same sex relationship” (paragraph 399). The decision to do this should be left to individual clergy in consultation with their PCC.
How will this be viewed in the Church as a whole?
Many Anglicans cannot understand what all the fuss is about, and that of course there should be blessings for gay couples – in fact why not gay marriage as well? But a considerable number of committed faithful Christians in the C of E and in other denominations will be bewildered by the headlines about the report’s conclusions and not understand how fellow believers could warmly welcome and bless something which the Bible says is sin and which the church has never approved of.
How did Pilling come to this conclusion?
Firstly, the report accepts a liberal view of Scripture. All members of the Commission agreed that Scriptural texts about homosexual practice are uniformly negative. The disagreements came over how to interpret this. Standard liberal positions are articulated in the report: either that we’ve interpreted the Bible wrong, or that it is not authoritative, but an optional resource in our ethical decision making. The traditional understanding of how Scripture views sex is given space, but the report insists that this is only one understanding out of many which are equally valid in the Anglican tradition.
Secondly, the report confuses the Gospel imperative to offer hospitality to people and include all in the invitation to come to Christ, with the offering of God’s blessing to ideas and actions which are contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible. The experience and demands of individuals in a particular social context has trumped eternal principles of theology and ethics. This is justified by the liberal argument that all our ideas are provisional and ethereal, but people are real. To paraphrase the famous song: “Don’t know much philosophy, but I do know that I love you…”.
How will the change be brought into effect?
As there is so much controversy and disagreement about homosexuality, the report says we can only move forward with mutual respect by a listening process. This is specifically not a series of debates, but relationship building through “facilitated conversation”, with no predetermined outcome. There is an assumption that this process will be entirely fair, where those who want the church to bless same sex couples and those who feel Scripture and church tradition cannot allow this, can meet and listen to each other in an unthreatening environment. The report does not seem to recognize that the playing field is not level in this process. While the conversation is going on, facts will be created on the ground as same sex relationships are openly “blessed” by clergy according to the report’s own recommendations. Society’s strongly libertarian majority view is heavily endorsing one side of the “conversation”. The choice of facilitators will be determined centrally and are unlikely to be neutral on the issue. Because of this bias and potential for manipulation of the discussion process, it is likely that many orthodox confessing Anglicans will simply refuse to take part.
Why is the church so keen to change its core teachings in this area?
The report believes that by cautiously advocating blessing of faithful permanent same sex relationships, the church can avoid accusations of “homophobia”, and present itself as in touch with the majority view, especially of young people. By asking people with different views in the church to spend time thinking and discussing seriously about sex and the best boundaries to set for it, this might be a form of witness to a culture which wants to rush headlong into an unrestrained “anything goes” sexual ethic.
However commission member Bishop Keith Sinclair’s dissenting statement points out that the church permitting same gender sexual relationships would be an example of “cultural captivity” – trying to appease society, and especially the “politically correct”, powerful secular humanist view of sex and relationships. The report draws a boundary that gay relationships should be “permanent, faithful, stable” but since it has reached a conclusion that Scripture cannot be trusted, there is no explanation of why this boundary should be in place, and why further ground will not be conceded in a short space of time.
The way forward
If the Bishops adopt the report, with its incoherent thinking as outlined above, it will confirm the image of the church to outsiders not as relevant and compassionate, but as wishy washy, unable to proclaim its message to the nation with courage, conviction and clarity. Within the church there will be only increased division and the serious threat of schism. Much better to quietly shelve the report, reaffirm past resolutions on heterosexual marriage as the proper place for sexual relationships, and confidently share the Gospel vision for human flourishing. We will soon hear what has been decided.