The House of Bishops of the Church of England has issued a report for the General Synod of the CofE on same sex relationships. This follows three years of facilitated conversations among selected groups of people from the dioceses. The aim of these conversations was to assist careful listening among people with profoundly different views to inform the church’s ongoing discussion. The purpose of the report is to distil where we are now, not to be the final word on the matter. It recognises that there are profound differences of opinion, not least among the bishops, so it begins from a realistic place.
The report begins with a clear and unequivocal statement that “all human beings are made in the image of God”. This sets the tone and throughout the report there is an underlying valuing of the inherent dignity of all people, whatever their difference. Full Stop. That means there is no place for homophobia. It is the tone that I find the most encouraging aspect of the report. There is a solidity to this, which holds the turbulent disagreement moving around it. Whoever drafted this (it is issued under the name of the Bishop of Norwich) is secure in their confidence and faith in God’s hold on both Creation and the Church. That’s how it came over to me.
It recognises that how we talk about one another affects how we are heard. This alone has the potential to be a prophetic witness to the world.
“We are called to live the gospel and share it with those whose lives we find attractive and those whom we find it hard to love; with those we hear willingly and those who reject us… That witness will be immeasurably damaged by allowing our differences to break us into fragments.”
We stick together, or “walk together” as it is put, because that is who we are and how we are to be.
The report sets out where it believes the Church to be:
There is no consensus for a change to the existing law or doctrine governing how marriage is seen by the Church of England. It is between one man and one woman.
There is a desire to allow some bounded freedom to be more consistently welcoming and affirming – ‘bounded’ meaning that the definition of marriage is as it is and clergy are required to minister in a manner consistent with that.
A fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for LGBTI people is needed.
There is a need for the teaching document Issues in Human Sexuality, published in 1991, to be revised substantially. The House of Bishops proposes to do this.
New guidance will be issued for clergy about what they can do and what they can’t in their ministry and the services they can provide to celebrate relationships.
What is interesting in the report is that it has a provisionality about its language: “current doctrine”, “current situation”, the acknowledged divergent views. The conversation continues.
There is an appendix of legal advice on what is currently allowed and what would need to change if so desired, with some options depending on what is wanted.
Unlike some others who were much quicker off the mark to comment on this I found it much more positive. The tone is different and there is a solidity, stability, sensitivity and reality about where we are which is welcome.