General Synod debate on Report from the House of Bishops
On 27 January, the Church of England published Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops, GS 2055 as a precursor to the “take note” debate at General Synod on the afternoon of Wednesday 15 February. The paper was not well-received in many quarters of the Church, and prior to its consideration in small group work, the Church issued a Press Release on the presentations from the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden, the full texts of which are here and here. [The group work took place from 1:30pm; the “Take Note” debate began at 4:45pm and was scheduled to conclude at 7:30pm]
In addition to these presentations, the CofE Daily Media Digest Wednesday of 15 February included the blogged comments on the Report of the Bishops of: Chelmsford, Worcester, Crediton, Leicester and Chichester. This states: “Bishops Stephen, John, Sarah, Bishop Martyn and Bishop Martin each reflect on how the report has been received and how Synod might approach the debate”.
Anglican Mainstream provided a valuable, updated summary of other pre-debate contributions, conveniently listed as: media reports; responses which were broadly positive; responses from “revisionists” (which TA identifies as those critical of the report, who want change to the Church’s teaching); responses from “conservatives” (those “thankful for the Report’s headlines, but critical of its underlying theology and concerned about the trajectory of the C of E”).
Church’s response to the vote
Following the vote against the “take note” motion, the Church of England has issued a Press Release and the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a Statement, copies of which are reproduced here and here.
15 February 2017
The General Synod of the Church of England has voted “not to take note” of a Report by the House of Bishops following a debate on the report earlier today on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships.
A take note debate is a neutral motion which allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in a report without committing the Synod to the formal acceptance of any matter.
The vote required simple majorities in each of the three Synodical Houses. A total of 242 people voted in favour of the report 184 against and 6 abstentions – with a majority of Synod members voting to “take note” of the report. However the report failed to obtain a simple majority in the House of Clergy.
The House of Bishops voted 43 in favour and 1 against.
The House of Clergy voted 93 in favour and 100 against with 2 abstentions.
The House of Laity voted 106 in favour and 83 against with 4 abstentions.
With the take note motion now rejected, the Bishops of the Church of England will reflect on the views expressed at the General Synod. The diversity of opinion and strong views expressed will need to be taken account by the Bishops in their consideration of the discussion going forward.
Responding to the vote, the Rt. Revd. Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich said:
“I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.
“When reports come to the General Synod they often come at the end of a process and contain recommendations. This wasn’t that sort of report. The Bishops came to this debate committed to listen. Our report did not bring proposals, it brought a framework and a request for Synod to tell us what they thought. We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of Synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”
Introducing the debate on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Norwich said that the report did not make formal proposals but was rather suggesting frameworks where areas needed attention: “The point of a take note debate is that it enables other voices to be heard, including those who believe the framework for further consideration is mistaken or wrongly constructed and needs modification. It is not a vote for approval but an invitation to comment and engage, and the House is listening.”
Setting out the difficulties facing both the House of Bishops and the wider Church in considering the report the Bishop of Norwich said: “There is no simple and easy answer to this issue beyond committing ourselves to engagement with each other when the views on what we should do are profoundly contested.”
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent said:
“As I said at the launch of the Report such a debate is on a neutral motion. It allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in the report. The Synod has declined to take note and so the report in its present form cannot come back to Synod for discussion, though we will still have to find a way forward for the wider discussion.
“We will find this debate a continuing source of disagreement because we haven’t coalesced around an end point. When we legislated for women to be bishops, even those opposed came to the view that the Church of England had to make it possible for women to be bishops in the Church of God according to our canons and formularies. In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce. The Bishops’ Report acknowledges a place of starting. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to Synod.”
Wednesday 15th February 2017
Statement from Archbishop Justin Welby following the General Synod’s vote “not to take note” of a Report by the House of Bishops on the report earlier today on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships.
“No person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people.
How we deal with the real and profound disagreement – put so passionately and so clearly by many at the Church of England’s General Synod debate on marriage and same-sex relationships today – is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.
To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.
The vote today is not the end of the story, nor was it intended to be. As bishops we will think again and go on thinking, and we will seek to do better. We could hardly fail to do so in the light of what was said this afternoon.
The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”