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Report on sexuality: “Hold Church-wide facilitated conversations”

Posted on: November 28, 2013 11:50 AM
Related Categories: England, sexuality

By ACNS staff

A report by the Church of England’s Working Group on Human Sexuality has recommended two-years of facilitated conversations, but no new liturgy. 

All but one of the group, led by Chairman Sir Joseph Pilling, were agreed on the content of the final report and its recommendations. The Bishop of Birkenhead Keith Sinclair however wrote a ‘dissenting report’ laying out his own thoughts about the main report and the issues discussed.

What the whole group did agree, however on, however was a need for greater conversation and listening.

The main report recommends: “The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level. This should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation of scripture.” 

It added that consultation should be conducted “without undue haste, but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two years.” 

The report acknowledges that how the Church of England discusses the issue of same sex relationships affects Christians in other countries. Therefore it also recommends that England enter into close dialogue with the wider Anglican Communion and other churches. 

The total report is not a policy document, rather it has been written to “offer proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might be best shaped in the light of the listening process.” 

The report considers the rapidly changing context within which the group undertook its work. It examines the available data about the views of the public in our country over time. The report considers homophobia, evidence from science, from scripture and from theologians. During their work, members of the group not only gathered evidence from many experts, groups and individuals but also met a number of gay and lesbian people, often in their homes, to listen to their experiences and insights.

The main report offers 18 recommendations. A statement from the Church of England said today, “The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct.

“They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.”

The majority of the group—the bishops of Gloucester, Fulham and Warwick* and three advisers Professor Robert Song, The Ven. Rachel Treweek and the Revd Dr Jessica Martin—agreed that “the nub of the disagreement” turns on “the church’s ongoing disagreement on questions of sexuality, on the meaning and authority of scripture.”

“The problem, we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.”

The Church of England’s House of Bishops will discuss the report for the first time in December 2013, and it will be further debated by the College of Bishops in January 2014.