‘Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission’

Background

The current debate within the Church of England on human sexuality commenced with the House of Bishops announcement on 1 July 2011 that it intended to “draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality. It also committed itself to offering proposals on how the continuing discussions within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process”. Two new pieces of work were commissioned:

  • a review of the HoB’s Pastoral Statement on civil partnerships “in the light of subsequent developments”: this was to include examination of whether priests in civil partnerships should be eligible for appointment as bishops, an issue on which this 2005 statement was silent.  The review was to be completed in 2012, and the group undertaking this work was chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Rev Robert Paterson.  Its membership was announced on 1 December 2011 and the report Men and Women in Marriage published on 10 April 2013.
  • a wider look at the Church of England’s approach to same-sex relationships in the light of the listening process launched by the Lambeth Conference in 1998, with a view to producing a consultation document in 2013. This group, whose membership was announced on 5 January 2012, was chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling and published its findings, the Pilling Report in November 2013.

Recent Developments

Following a meeting of the College of Bishops on 27 January 2014, the Church issued a statement which accepted the recommendations of the Pilling Report and requested the Archbishops to commission a small group to design a process for “facilitated conversations, ecumenically, across the Anglican Communion and at national and diocesan level”, supplemented by additional material.

The outlines of the process were agreed by the House of Bishops in May, when it was decided that for consistency and clarity in reporting the process should be managed centrally, a decision endorsed by its Standing Committee on 18 June.  On 26 June, these plans were published in Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission, GS Misc 1083, which outlines the next steps in its process for shared conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission.  The document has been sent to members of the Church’s General Synod for consideration at its meeting in York, 11 -15 July.

‘Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission’

The two objectives of this short paper by the Rt Rev Steven Croft,  Bishop of Sheffield, both focus on the church’s mission:

  • to reflect, in the light of scripture, on the implications of the immense cultural change that has been taking place, and clarifying how the Church can most effectively be a missionary church within this changing culture around sexuality;
  • to clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with what the Archbishop of Canterbury has called “good disagreement” on these issues.

The process across the Church of England will be supervised by Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, and a team of ~20 trained facilitators who will “bring the skills necessary to ensure that the process provides a safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed and to keep the conversations to the objective of seeking understanding rather than having any predetermined trajectory”. Milestones within the timeline include:

  • September, 2014: Two-day meeting of the College of Bishops, working in small groups with facilitators. This will mean that the bishops are exposed to the process first, helping them to offer leadership and reassurance in their dioceses, and also enable the process and resource materials to be refined in the light of experience. Additional resources will include “substantial theological material commissioned from scholars with differing viewpoints”, and once these have been “road-tested” by the College of Bishops, they will be published for use by the other conversation groups.
  • Extension of process across the dioceses, which will work in clusters “to enable 12 regional conversations, each involving around 60 participants, to experience the process”. Participants will be chosen by diocesan bishops, subject to certain criteria.  Apart from the bishops there will be:
    • equal numbers of clergy and laity; equal numbers of women and men; twenty five per cent under 40 years old;
    • representatives of LGBTI views should comprise more than one person in each diocesan group;
    • the range and balance of views in the group should, as far as possible, reflect the range and balance within the diocese itself;
    • participation from within the Anglican Communion will be achieved through diocesan companion links.
  • July 2016: envisaged conclusion. The General Synod, recently elected for 2016 to 2021 to spend two days in shared conversations. Reports from all conversations will be drawn together so that the direction and impact of the whole process can be evaluated.

Comment

Neither of the objectives within this latest document alludes to any change in the basic teaching of the Church on marriage.  This is emphasized in paragraph 4 which states:

“[t]here is no expectation of achieving any consensus – in either direction – in the foreseeable future. But there is a task to be done of encouraging those within the church who are at odds on this issue to express their concerns in a safe environment, listen carefully to those with whom they disagree profoundly, find something of Christ in each other and consider together what the practical consequence of disagreement might be.”

Nevertheless, it is possible that these considerations may result in changes in the approach of the Church to some of the associated issues: the blessing of same-sex couples; its tolerance to clergy in same-sex marriages; or even the celebration of same-sex marriages.  However, any such changes are unlikely to be implemented until late 2016, and this leads to the question of how the Church will then address the decisions it took in the intervening period, such as the removal of Permission to Officiate.

With regard to the participants chosen for the “regional conversations”, diocesan bishops must inevitably adopt a pragmatic approach to some of the more prescriptive criteria, which if applied strictly would lead to the “over-representation” of some groups would not necessarily “reflect the range and balance within the diocese”[1].  Further representational issues arise in relation to ethnicity, and to “LGBTI” views.  With regard to the criterion that “representatives of LGBTI views should comprise more than one person in each diocesan group”, spokespersons will need to be chosen who can represent the views of all those with this group.

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[1] See: Statistics for Mission 2012: Ministry.

10 thoughts on “‘Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission’

  1. Marriage is defined by Christ in matt 19. There needs to be a consummation as one flesh between the two created humans male and female and new life is possible. Same sex couples meet no criteria of Christian marriage. Same sex marriage is a political construct for a decadent western world as the finalising of the details of same sex marriage act show – same sex couples do not consummate but are married – heterosexuals who do no consummate are not married (it is void). We should not fall into the trap of acquiescing with the world.

    • Repudiation is opposed by Christ in Matt 19, he says absolutely nothing about consummation (that’s not what one flesh means, and how would you check the validity of marriages, by displaying blood-stained sheets once more?) and sterility is no ground for annulment in Jewish law. We should not fall into the trap of trusting flimsy evangelical scholarship blindly.

    • Heterosexual marriages that are not consummated are not void: they’re voidable – which is not quite the same thing in law.

      A void marriage was never legally valid in the first place, eg because one of the parties was under 16 or already married or in a civil partnership. A voidable marriage, eg if the woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage, is legally valid until annulled. But if neither party seeks an annulment the marriage subsists. For example, it is not unknown for a husband to help bring up a child fathered by someone else.

      • The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between consummated and non-consummated marriage. Canon 1061 §1 states

        “A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh”.

        and Canon 1141

        “A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death”.

  2. If indeed the LGBT inclusion process is unfolding in our current generation in the same way that the Gentile inclusion process unfolded in the first two centuries AD, then this next step is further evidence of the Holy Spirit speaking into history. The fine details of the ‘shared conversations’ will not delay or derail the ultimate conclusions.
    Same-sex marriage will take our churches where our churches need to be – according the same respect to all married couples whether opposite sex or same-sex. This is the most Christian response.
    We should not fall into the trap of dragging our heels and keeping God waiting for full inclusion of LGBT people in the church and according them full spiritual equality.

  3. You are right. SSM can never be what it claims for itself. It is being used to establish respectability and increase the political power of the homosexualist lobby. That power will then be used to influence children by teaching them in school that SSM is simply another form of marriage, perfectly normal and harmless. SSM kills the ideal of natural marriage as the union of one man and woman for life. It is anti-Christian and anti-natural family.

    • Gay people are not anti-Christian, Mr Williams, many are Christians. They just want to get married; no sinister ulterior motive there, not to influence future generations of kids, not to strengthen any lobby or what have you and their marriages ‘kill’ nothing. Your rhetoric drips hatred.

  4. I wrote that SSM is anti-Christian not homosexuals. The statement that ‘gay’ Christians, ‘just’ want to get ‘married’ assumes so many contentious premises that this is not the best place to deal with them. Accusing me of ‘hatred’ for daring to disagree with SSM is using the standard ‘jamming’ technique used by homosexual ‘rights’ activists to silence challengers. This method of trying to silence objection is totalitarian in origin and purpose. Same sex ‘marriage’ is a legal fiction which renders the term as traditionally understood, virtually meaningless. The homosexual ‘rights’ campaign undermines democratic freedoms especially those to do with freedom of speech and religious belief by accusing challengers of ‘hatred’ and ‘bigotry.’ It is using the ad hominem attack to discredit the objector while deflecting attention from the actual objection.

  5. ‘Same sex marriage can never be what it claims’ ‘it is used to increase the political power of the homosexualist (whatever that means) lobby’ ‘this power will be used to influence children’ ‘it kills the ideal of natural marriage’… I’m no using any technique to silence you, by all means, carry on jabbering, but your rhetoric is not worthy of a Christian and, to me, it drips hatred. And yes, the above is an ad hominem attack.

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