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Letter to the College of Bishops

37bda666a20d958073d1fd37aa2af213I am publishing here, with permission, a letter that has been sent to all members of the College of Bishops prior to their next meeting to decide what proposals to bring to General Synod in February. I am not offering here a full exposition of the text, but there are a few things worth noting about it.

First, this is not a PR exercise. Although the sending of the letter has been reported in Christian Today, it has not been circulated to media outlets, unlike some other previous letters. It is intended to be an honest communication to the bishops of the concerns of the signatories and others like them.

Secondly, it attempts to give a clear outline of the major theological reasons why this is felt to me such an important issue. I think it is a shame that Anthony Archer (in Christian Today) offers such a superficial response (that comes over as rather sneering) rather than engaging with these substantive issues. Reaching for the idea that change is inevitable, or that certain ‘trains have left the station’ doesn’t do anything to engage with the well-thought-through concerns raised here.

Thirdly, it is striking that the signatories come from the whole range of the evangelical constituency, including ‘open’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘conservative’ evangelicals. These are people involved in key initiatives in the Church at the moment, and although they do not claim to represent the groups they work for, there will be many others who share these concerns.

There are many exciting things happening in the Church of England at the moment. There is a renewed commitment to evangelism and mission, a seriousness in confronting the causes of decline, a commitment to prayer, a confidence in the possibility of church planting, a willingness to tackle financial issues, a rising vision for the ministry of the whole of the people of God. Many of the people and groups represented here are key to these initiatives. If there is a change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality which leads to division, then the impact will be felt in all these other areas.


The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation. The presenting issue is that of human sexuality, in particular whether or not the Church is able to affirm sexual relationships beyond opposite sex marriage. But the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st Century.

As culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities. These include the rise in cohabitation and the wide scale acceptance of divorce with its negative impact on children, the explosion of diverse types of family relationships, the emergence of gender fluidity and bisexuality, and the recognition of same-sex unions. These far-reaching social changes raise questions and – in some quarters – undermine confidence in our inherited teaching.

The Church has not always navigated these social realities well. We recognise the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognise acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.

At the same time, we remain convinced of the essential goodness of the Christian moral vision. The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.

Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice – such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.

There are substantive issues at stake here about the Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We do not believe that God has left us alone in the confusion and uncertainty of constructing our own identity. The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature, and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.

We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of ‘secondary importance’. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.

At this crucial juncture, as our bishops pray and discern together regarding how the Church of England should walk forward at this time, we urge them not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.

Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion, but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries. It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.

We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision– in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care – for the common good.


Those signing below do so in a purely personal capacity. They are evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches and organisations and indicative of the breadth and depth of support for this letter. Some could be labelled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the church.


Revd Canon Dr Peter Ackroyd, Vicar, St Marys Wootton, Chair St Albans Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Sam Allberry, Trustee and co-founder of Living Out, apologist for the Zacharias Trust, editor for The Gospel Coalition.
Revd Steve Allen, Chair of CPAS Patronage Trustees.
Mrs Lorna Ashworth, member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, Wycliffe Hall and General Synod.
Revd Simon Austen, Rector, St. Leonard’s Exeter.
Revd David Banting, Vicar, St Peter’s Harold Wood, Trustee of Reform, and General Synod.
Revd Mark Burkill, Chair of Reform and Chair Latimer Trust.
Revd Nathan Buttery, Associate Vicar, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge.
Revd Tim Chapman, Minister, Christ Church South Cambs, Sawston.
Revd Charlie Cleverly, Rector, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd John Coles, Missional Community Leader, London.
Canon Andrew Cornes, Sussex Gospel Partnership and General Synod.
Revd Alyson Davie, Chair of the House of Clergy for Rochester Diocese.
Revd C J Davis, Rector, St Nicholas, Tooting.
Revd Joe Dent, Rector, Minster Church of St Andrew, Plymouth.
Revd Dr Sean Doherty, St Mellitus College, member of the Living Out team and General Synod.
Revd Will Donaldson, Director of Pastoral Care at St Aldates, Oxford and Area Dean of Oxford.
Revd James Dudley-Smith, Rector and Rural Dean of Yeovil, Member of General Synod.
Revd John Dunnett, Chair of Evangelical Group General Synod (EGGS).
Revd Jonny Elvin, Vicar, Trinity Church, Exeter and Chair of Exeter Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Anthony Everett Chair of Canterbury Diocese Evangelical Network, Vicar, Christ Church and St Andrew’s Herne Bay.
Revd Lee Gatiss, Director, Church Society.
Dr Philip Giddings, former Chair, General Synod House of Laity and member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, Fulcrum leadership team.
Revd Lis Goddard, Vicar St James the Less, Pimlico and Chair of Awesome.
Revd Chris Green, Vicar, St James, Muswell Hill.
Revd Tim Grew, Acting Lead Pastor, Trinity Cheltenham.
Revd Paul Harcourt, Vicar, All Saints Woodford Wells.
Prof Glynn Harrison, formerly General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Canon Clive Hawkins, Rector, St Mary’s Basingstoke, formerly General Synod.
Revd Dr David Hilborn, Principal, St John’s School of Mission, Nottingham
Mr Stephen Hofmeyr, QC, Secretary Church England Evangelical Council.
Revd David Holloway, Vicar, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, Chair of Anglican International Development.
Mr Carl Hughes, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Dr Emma Ineson, Trinity College, Bristol and General Synod
Revd Steve James, Rector, Holy Trinity, Platt, Manchester.
Revd Henry Kendal, Vicar, St Barnabas, Woodside Park.
Revd Paul Langham, Vicar, Christ Church Clifton, Bristol and General Synod.
Mrs Susie Leafe, Director, Reform.
Mr James Lee, House of Laity, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Canon Andy Lines, Mission Director of Crosslinks, General Secretary of AMiE, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force.
Revd Chris Lowe, Mission Initiative Leader, St John’s Orchard Park, Cambridge.
Revd Angus MacLeay, Rector, St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Reform Trustee, General Synod.
Revd Preb Charles Marnham, Vicar, St Michael’s, Chester Square, London.
Revd Rachel Marszalek, General Secretary of Fulcrum.
Revd John McGinley, Vicar, Holy Trinity, Leicester.
Revd Jane Morris, Vicar St Gabriel’s, Cricklewood.
Revd Barry Morrison, Chair of Peterborough DEF.
Revd Justin Mote, Chair of AMiE exec, and Chair of North West Gospel Partnership.
Revd Rob Munro, Chair Fellowship of Word and Spirit, Chair of House of Clergy for Chester Diocese.
Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal, Oak Hill College, London
Revd James Paice, Vicar, St Luke’s Wimbledon Park and Trustee of GAFCON and Trustee of Southwark Good Stewards Trust.
Revd Alasdair Paine, Vicar, St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge.
Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector All Souls Langham Place, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council.
Revd Canon Ian Parkinson, Leadership Specialist, CPAS.
Miss Jane Patterson, General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Dr Ian Paul, member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar, St Mark’s Battersea Rise.
Revd Canon Andrew Perry, Vicar, St Mary’s Longfleet, Poole.
Revd David Phillips, Vicar, St James, Chorley, Chair of Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd Matthew Porter, Vicar, St Michael le Belfrey, York.
Revd Frank Price, Vicar, St Matthew’s Cambridge and Chair of Ely Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Esther Prior, Chair, Guildford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jonathan Pryke, Jesmond Parish Church.
Revd Martin Reakes-Williams, Leipzig English Church.
Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford.
Revd David Rowe, Priest in Charge, Christ Church, Winchester.
Revd Canon Roger Salisbury, Secretary of the Peache Trustees.
Revd John Samways, Trustee Church Patronage Trust.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon, Vicar, St. Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Ed Shaw, Trustee of Living Out, Pastor, Emmanuel City Centre, Bristol & General Synod.
Revd Charlie Skrine, Associate Rector, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London and EGGS Committee.
Revd Tim Stilwell, Vicar, St Dionis, Parsons Green, London.
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Convenor Anglican Mainstream, and former member General Synod.
Revd Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream.
Revd Canon Martyn Taylor, Rector, Rector, St George’s, Stamford and General Synod.
Revd William Taylor, Rector, St Helens, Bishopsgate and Chairman of ReNew.
Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, FBA, former member of Crown Nominations Commission and Doctrine Commission.
Revd Rico Tice, All Souls Church & Christianity Explored Ministries.
Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar, St John, Newland, Hull.
Revd Andrew Towner, Vicar Houghton & Kingmoor, Carlisle and Trustee, Diocesan Board of Finance.
Revd Gary Tubbs, Chair of Carlisle Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jon Tuckwell, Associate Minister, Christ Church, Cambridge.
The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, Vice Principal Wycliffe Hall & Director of the School of Preaching.
Mr Jacob Vince, General Synod
Revd Robin Weekes, Vicar, Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.
Revd Paul Williams, Vicar, Christ Church Fullwood and honorary Canon Sheffield Cathedral.


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124 Responses to Letter to the College of Bishops

  1. Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    Some comments:

    “The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality.”

    No it’s not clear, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much disagreement about it. The interpretation of the signatories is clear; others interpret the Bible differently. Everything else in the letter depends on this prior (false) assumption.

    “Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice – such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine.”

    Given that the Church hasn’t considered this issue before (even the concept of homosexuality was only given a name in the nineteenth century) whatever we decide won’t be a departure from the apostolic inheritance. The authority of the Bible is not in question – its interpretation is.

    “The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature, and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.”

    This looks like sneaking in complementarianism, and implying that it mirrors the Trinity (I know that Ian doesn’t think it mirrors the Trinity). Perhaps I am being bit too suspicious here, but given the express position of many of the signatories, it at least looks like it has been framed to allow that interpretation. Ironically, those concerned with the apostolic inheritance are in danger of sneaking in Trinitarian heresy.

    “Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity.”

    We here this about every single current debate the church considers. It was said over women bishops; it was said over women priests (many of the signatories were involved in similar battles over those issues). I have no doubt it was also said over contraception. Don’t change – people won’t like it.

    “We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel”

    That’s going to get harder and harder if society just thinks of the church as ‘the group who still hate gays’.

    • Peter den Haan October 13, 2016 at 11:49 am #

      “No it’s not clear, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much disagreement about it.”

      Yes, it is clear and consistent on the matter. The fact that you can create doubt by using special pleading at each critical juncture, does not take away from the Bible’s clarity. It’s a bit like climate change denial: if you really want to, you can explain all the evidence away. You can maintain that it really was about cultic idolatry, that the present gender experience is historically unique, and all that. Perhaps we even caught God unawares, that he didn’t address it in his Word.

      You may not believe me, but I’m actually speaking as someone who would love to be convinced by you. But I am with (say) Diarmaid MacCulloch on this; I cannot go there. Not with intellectual and theological integrity.

      • Christopher Shell October 13, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

        No. People ‘disagree’ because they prefer different conclusions and positions, whether or not there’s any evidence for them.

        This can be proved by the fact that people state their conclusions and positions in advance of having researched topics, or even knowing what the main studies are.

        • Martin Reynolds October 13, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

          True!
          Lol!,

          • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 7:39 am #

            Martin, can you explain your ‘lol’? What is its tone?

            I have been engaging with people in favour of LGB quasi-sex for a decade. It is incredibly rare to find people who can name studies at all, let alone have a broad grasp of the available studies.

        • Penelope Cowell Doe October 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

          And those who are part of the 98% (or whatever it is) have, of course, no axe to grind and are, unlike Dale Martin, completely objective and dispassionate

      • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

        I always get a bit frustrated with the ‘pleading at critical juncture’ criticism. First I get told that I don’t care what the Bible says. Then when I give my interpretation, I get given the ‘critical junctures’ as evidence that I’m wrong. Then when I deal with the critical junctures, I get told it’s just creating doubt. You say that you cannot be convinced with intellectual and theological integrity. Well, I cannot pretend the Bible is clearly in favour of the ‘traditional’ position with any intellectual and theological integrity.

      • David Beadle October 14, 2016 at 2:53 am #

        In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries one finds attestations of the argument that the Bible’s clear that slavery’s part of the divine order, let’s not talk about it any more. Repeating the argument that the Bible’s clear about something, and attributing bad faith to those who disagree with you just closes off the possibility of any constructive or sensible dialogue.

    • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      Yes, I too am puzzled by the ‘it isn’t clear’ argument. There are several strands to this.

      1. is it ‘clear’ that the cross of Christ is central to the NT and that it is understood as effecting something fundamental in the relationship between God and humanity? Before answering ‘yes’, we can note that the significant weight of liberal protestantism has answered ‘no’ to this. When is a position ‘unclear’? The answer cannot be ‘When no-one, anywhere, questions it.’

      2. I am curious as to what sets you apart, Jonathan, from Diarmaid MacCulloch, Walter Winker, Bernadette van Brooten, William Loader and Luke Timothy Johnson on this issue. Is it really the case that you have found a persuasive case that all these people have simply missed? Really?

      3. Whatever the details of the individual texts, it seems prima facie odd that there is simply no hint of any approval of any kind of same-sex sexual relations, despite those experiencing same-sex attraction being a prime case where we might expect Jesus to be inclusive of the outsider.

      • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

        Except it’s not just me, is it? There’s a growing bibliography of books and articles which address the Biblical case (at a scholarly level) and come out on the inclusivist side. You don’t mention Tobias Haller – if you read him, you might see why I and others think Bernadette van Brooten is wrong, to take just one example.

        Given that in the culture, same-sex activity was associated with pederasty, prostitution, and idolatry, would you expect to find any hint of approval? Really?

        • Peter Ould October 13, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

          There are plenty of examples of consensual same sex relationships in the Hellenistic and Latin environment Paul is writing into and he would have been well aware of them. The attempt to reduce the meaning of arsenokoiten and malakoi to “abusive” sexual relationships has no textual basis and if you think it does you need to point us to primary Koine sources that use them in this context.

          • Blair October 13, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

            Hello Peter,

            this does prompt some questions though, doesn’t it…? Your own series from a few years ago, ‘Slavery and sexuality’, if I recall correctly, didn’t find conclusive evidence for interpreting ‘malakoi’. Given the link back to Leviticus with ‘arsenokoitai’ there’s also Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s argument, which I think i sketched in a comment on your article on that word. There is also the point that whatever these two words mean, they don’t involve any acts between women, so it’s not *same-sex* relationships that are under discussion. Moreover, there could also be a question about the words Paul uses – e.g. why he didn’t use the word ‘kinaidos’. The late John Richardson mentioned this in a long blog conversation I had with him but I’d have to check back when I get home for what he said, and am not sure how much force this point has.

            in friendship, Blair

          • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 12:52 am #

            Plenty? In public discourse? When the massively overwhelming pattern was abusive (not just me saying this – generally accepted in classical studies)?

            As for arsenokoiten, you will know that we simply don’t have enough evidence of its semantic range to know. Etymology doesn’t help, because Jewish sources connect the Leviticus verses with pederasty. My best guess is that it’s a synonym for ‘child corrupter’ which we find in the Didache in vice lists. Dale Martin makes a case for it to have violent overtones, but points out the paucity of evidence to develop a good understanding.

          • Christopher Shell October 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

            Jonathan –
            (1) Which Jewish sources connect arsenokoites (the final letter is s) with pederasty?

            (2) It is already agreed to be ‘connected’ with it (rather than equated with it), since male-male pederasty has always been one of the subsets of it, and far from the rarest subset.

            (3) That is why your words ‘connected’ and ‘associated’ are too loose and vague. Pederasty, prostitution, idolatry – are these things part of the actual meaning of the term (let alone its etymological meaning) or just regular concomitants of the phenomenon?

            (4) Dale Martin being gay (so: a member of the 2% not the 98%) has every reason to be an advocate. ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’ The question is the arguments and factors he bases any such stance on, rather than just quoting the stance itself. What are his arguments in favour?

        • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 7:41 am #

          Jonathan can you please speak of factors and arguments rather than listing names. Listing names is committing the philosophical fallacy of accepting ‘the argument from authority’. (In any case, most schoilarly ‘names’ in this area of study, including practically all commentators, would disagree strongly with you.)

          • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 11:06 am #

            Christopher, I think your comment is better directed at Ian, who listed names in the first place.

          • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

            It’s not an either/or. No-one wins the argument by virtue of their surnames. They win it by virtue of the points they make. If there are convincing points, let’s have them.

    • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      Jonathan, it is a bit odd to suggest that the church hasn’t considered this before. Quite apart from the active discussions since at least 1967, the church has done quite a lot of thinking about sex and marriage.

      The language used here quite deliberately is ‘sex difference’, not ‘complementarianism’. Do read the text, rather than reading your own subtext of suspicion!

      Marriage as male and female is apostolic, in that it is included in the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the apostolic witness of the gospels. (Is there another definition of apostolic…?)

      I love the idea that every debate is like every other. That’s a bit like a child wanting to buy a pet tiger, the parents refusing, and the child saying ‘But we have had other animals before, and this is an animal.’

      • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

        I was talking about the broad sweep of church history (responding to the ‘apostolic’ bit). Given how long the Church takes to sort itself out on issues, 1967 isn’t that long ago.

        I appreciate I might have been over-suspicious, and did indicate this.

        I must have missed the bit in the gospels where Jesus addresses same-sex marriage. I was under the impression he was responding to a query about the permanence of marriage.

        Not every debate is like every other. But some of the signatories have a record of crying ‘wolf’.

        • Clive October 15, 2016 at 11:38 am #

          Jonathan, Ian didn’t say that Jesus directly addressed same-sex marriage, he said that Jesus addresses marriage in two gospels. Marriage involves Jesus telling the Pharisees that even from the Pentateuch marriage is between a man and a woman.

    • Alan Darley October 13, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

      Jonathan Tallon writes: However it must be remembered that even the Gnostics believed in the ‘authority’ of the Scriptures and the text of Scripture, but it was precisely their meaning which was in question and considered ‘hidden’ to all but the elightened (See F.F.Bruce, Tradition Old and New Paternoster Press, 1970, p.91.). The reply of Irenaeus to this Gnostic threat was an appeal to an apostolic tradition of interpretation ‘ from the beginning’. While from a Protestant perspective this tradition of interpretation might not be considered indubitable, nevertheless it remains, to use the terminology of Aquinas, ‘probable’ (Summa Theologia 1a, 1, 8, ad 2). The onus probandi is on its objectors to show why 2000 years of tradition is wrong. Counter-evidence should surely include some positive empirical data from the scriptures in which sexual relationships between the same gender are positively described as ‘good’.

    • Alan Darley October 13, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

      Sorry my last reply seemed to delete some of my content and I can’t edit it, so reposting now! Jonathan Tallon writes: However it must be remembered that even the Gnostics believed in the ‘authority’ of the Scriptures and the text of Scripture, but it was precisely their meaning which was in question and considered ‘hidden’ to all but the enlightened (See F.F.Bruce, Tradition Old and New Paternoster Press, 1970, p.91.). The reply of Irenaeus to this Gnostic threat was an appeal to an apostolic tradition of interpretation ‘ from the beginning’. While from a Protestant perspective this tradition of interpretation might not be considered indubitable, nevertheless it remains, to use the terminology of Aquinas, ‘probable’ (Summa Theologiae 1a, 1, 8, ad 2). The onus probandi is on its objectors to show why 2000 years of tradition is wrong. Counter-evidence should surely include some positive empirical data from the scriptures in which sexual relationships between the same gender are positively described as ‘good’.

    • Alan Darley October 13, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

      Don’t understand this – the page keep deleting the quote which I am responding to when I put it between signs. So it looks like my reply is Jonathan’s quote!
      The quote I am responding to in my previous post is ” The authority of the Bible is not in question – its interpretation is.”

    • David Shepherd October 13, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

      Jonathan,

      You quote from the letter the following: ‘The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature, and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.”

      You then opine: This looks like sneaking in complementarianism, and implying that it mirrors the Trinity (I know that Ian doesn’t think it mirrors the Trinity).

      The excerpt from the letter is actually more akin to St. Augustine’s statement in the Good of Marriage: ‘‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex.

      Otherwise it would not any longer be called marriage in the case of old persons, especially if either they had lost sons, or had given birth to none. But now in good, although aged, marriage, albeit there has withered away the glow of full age between male and female, yet there lives in full vigour the order of charity between husband and wife’

      No reference to the Trinity is implied.

      • Blair October 13, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

        Hello David,

        I know I’m butting in here but if “no reference to the Trinity is implied”, why does the letter say that “The gift of male and female sexual differentiation” is “a mirror to His own nature”…? Am guessing this is what Jonathan’s picking up on and at a glance, it does rather look like a trinitarian reference is implied, given the phrase about God’s “own nature”…

        in friendship, Blair

        • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

          Blair, you are correct. This is what raised my suspicions.

        • David Shepherd October 13, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

          Bliar,

          Sorry, but you’re way off base here. They are simply summarizing phrasing from ‘Men and Women in Marriage’ GS MSC 1046 (2013).

          ‘https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1715479/marriagetextbrochureprint.pdf

          3. What follows is intended to enlarge on that summary, drawing on what has been said by the Church of England historically and more recently, and especially on how the sexual differentiation of men and women is a gift of God, who ‘created humankind in his image… male and female he created them’. It is on male and female that God gives his blessing, which is to be seen not only in procreation but in human culture, too (Genesis 1.27-8).

          28. The ecological debates of our age illustrate how the perception of the world as a balanced and well-calibrated order, on the one hand, and the perception of it as a theatre of exploration and innovation on the other, need to be held closely together, correcting and
          informing each other. When the Bible declares that God made the first human beings ‘in the image of God’ and as ‘male and female’ (Genesis 1.27), it draws the principles of nature and freedom together.

          39. The Epistle to the Ephesians (5.32) describes marriage as a ‘mystery’ applied to Christ and the Church, and this word, translated into Latin as sacramentum, was generally understood to mean a concrete sign of God’s saving work for humanity. In expressing the third good in the marriage service as ‘the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’, The Book of Common Prayer also referred to this biblical passage. The Common Worship service elaborates: ‘as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church’.

          40. The encounter of man and woman in marriage affords an image, then, of the knowledge and love of God, to which all humans are summoned, and of the self-giving of the Son of God which makes it possible.’

          The relationship in view here is Christ and the Church, not the Trinity.

          • Blair October 14, 2016 at 1:34 am #

            Hi David,

            thanks for your response. I don’t want to make too much of this – but I’m still not convinced, because in none of the paragraphs you’ve quoted is there either an echo of the phrase “a mirror to His own nature” or any material that that phrase exactly summarises. The sentence from paragraph 40 is perhaps closest but isn’t quite saying the same thing. As I say, I’m not trying to load too much weight on to this point, but it may be notable (or not…).

            in friendship, Blair

        • David Shepherd October 14, 2016 at 7:20 am #

          Hi Blair,

          I guess that you don’t have to be convinced and the only evidence that could convince you would be to discover the use elsewhere of the selfsame phrase which you mention.

          That said, my reading is, at least, plausible alternative to yours, which warrants you and Jonathan giving the benefit of the doubt to the authors until your suspicions are actually confirmed or allayed.

          • Blair October 16, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

            Hello again David,

            well, I’m still not convinced, for the two reasons I mentioned above and because in the sentence quoted, it isn’t marriage that is referred to but “the gift of male and female sexual differentiation” in itself. However, I fear I’m getting too stuck on nitpicks here in some of the points I’ve made. I’m not sure that this one is that important – I’m not trying to argue it vitiates the whole letter.

            So I wonder if it’s more worthwhile to look at that paragraph (“There are substantive issues…”) and the next and ask about the anthropology that the text assumes. It’s not clear to me why the writer/s say that “it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human” – this is only asserted and not spelled out. And while I could guess at what might be meant it’d be vastly better to hear from the author/s, something of their intention at this point in the text.

            in friendship, blair

    • Phill October 13, 2016 at 10:54 pm #

      “No it’s not clear, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much disagreement about it.”

      Oh, I can think of a few other reasons why there might be disagreement about it, such as the fact there is massive pressure by society to conform on this issue.

      I’ve never been able to understand the “the bible is not clear” argument.

      The church for 2000 or so years has thought it is pretty clear. The teaching has been that unrepentant sin will exclude you from the kingdom of God. But now, same-sex sex is something which the Bible is unclear about. So it might exclude you from the kingdom of God, or it might not. Surely in that case the best thing to do is err on the side of caution?!

      It also seems to me that the Bible is about a thousand times clearer on the issue of marriage than it is on the doctrine of the Trinity. should we then jettison the doctrine of the trinity?

      I think what the letter says about the apostolic deposit helpful – if we accept the Bible is unclear on this issue we will open a Pandora’s box to all sorts of things. We must remain faithful to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

      • Andy October 13, 2016 at 11:47 pm #

        Hi Phill, I do find that an interesting argument which seems to rarely be discussed, I suspect because of our distaste of the doctrine of judgement and that many at heart (I seem to discover more and more) are universalists. Furthermore we don’t want this to sound worse than other sin we commit (which of course it isn’t) and we are well aware of our failings! Yet if the traditional, orthodox reading on this is wrong people are upset, many feel massively hurt and it is damaging our witness to the culture. On the other hand if the revisionist reading is wrong then this is in huge danger of giving false hope to those heading for an eternity without God. Surely, unless we have overwhelming evidence to the contrary we should err on the side of caution? But I am well aware that it doesn’t seem as simple as that, culture has changed, we are under immense pressure externally and internally and this whole thing is not going away. And in the midst of it all there are (as Preston Sprinkle’s book reminds us “People to be loved.”)

      • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 1:11 am #

        If you are going to talk about pressure, let’s be honest. There is massive pressure on evangelicals to conform on this issue. Put your head above the parapet for an inclusivist position, and you get thrown out of the club. You get told you are no longer an evangelical. If you’re a speaker, you will no longer be welcome. There are pressures on people on both sides of this debate.

        Oh, and for 1500 years the Church (all the Fathers, all the Councils) thought lending money at interest was wrong.

        And if you really want to play it safe and cautious regarding not inheriting the kingdom of God, I’d worry more about divorce and remarriage which is likely to affect far more people (also in 1 Cor 6:9-10). Never mind addressing those who are greedy or drunk.

        • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 7:44 am #

          Jonathan, please justify your idea that it is an either/or situation where we have a multiple choice between avoiding divorce and homosexual behaviour (and greed and drunknenness). I can’t see any evidence supporting an either/or stance.

        • Phill October 14, 2016 at 9:46 am #

          Pressure does apply within the church, yes. But with good reason. I have yet to see someone becoming affirming of same-sex marriage who hasn’t also changed in other more fundamental areas too – as I said, if the Bible is not clear about marriage then it’s not clear about even foundational doctrines. We can’t know anything for sure. If you read the Bible in a way that supports SSM you might as well throw the whole thing out, because it’s you that’s become the authority and not the Bible. That is why a broad range of evangelicals are so firm on this. It undermines the entire Christian faith.

          But it seems to me that when the world is giving you a slap on the back for being so progressive and inclusive, while you are going against your own brothers and sisters in Christ, you’re probably doing something wrong. “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:4). I’ve just been reading 2 Peter, esp. chapter 2, which talks about false teachers leading people into sin due to not restraining their natural desires, even leading people to hell.

          “For they [false teachers] mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.’ If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. ”

          When the church starts celebrating greed and drunkenness and holding services of blessing for them you may well have a point. I agree that we often overlook these things but it doesn’t given us license to overlook other sins too. And I think Andrew Goddard did a good job on the previous post to outline why divorce and remarriage is a separate issue.

          • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 11:30 am #

            21st Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports SSM you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            Late 20th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports women priests you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            Mid to late 20th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports remarriage after divorce you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            Earlier 20th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports contraception you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            18th/19th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports freedom from slavery you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            16th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports lending money at interest you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            16th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports infant baptism you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            16th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that denies infant baptism you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            11th Century: “If you read the Bible in a way that supports the procession of the Spirit from the Son you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            1st Century: “If you read the Scriptures in a way that denies the need for circumcision you might as well throw the whole thing out”

            The evangelical culture often seems to have great difficulty in differentiating between the authority of scripture and the authority of its interpretation of scripture. My issue is with its interpretation.

            You have been reading 2 Peter; I have been reading Luke 11:45-53. There are severe warnings from Jesus to those religious leaders who load people with hard burdens, and hinder them from entering.

            The church is now in a position where it officially sanctions in its canons the marriage of those who have been divorced (I do not disagree with this – I simply note that your argument is that where there is not complete clarity you should err on the side of caution. Clearly, the CoE disagrees with your approach).

            Oh, and I am sorry that you cannot find the Trinity. I find it on nearly every page of the New Testament.

          • Blair October 14, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

            Hi Phill,

            you “have yet to see someone becoming affirming of same-sex marriage who hasn’t also changed in other more fundamental areas too”… would you let me tweak that to folk who affirm committed same-sex relationships even if they wouldn’t want them called marriage? If so, what about Rowan Williams, Gareth Moore OP, James Alison, Sarah Coakley…? I don’t think any of them could be called liberal in other areas…

            in friendship, Blair

          • Clive October 15, 2016 at 11:48 am #

            Jonathan, a lot of the NT is actually binitarian and only part of it is Trinitarian. Out of the latter Trinitarian belief came.

        • Phill October 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

          “The evangelical culture often seems to have great difficulty in differentiating between the authority of scripture and the authority of its interpretation of scripture. My issue is with its interpretation.”

          So which interpretations are valid, and which are not? And how do you decide? It seems to me your approach to interpretation would leave any doctrine – any doctrine at all – up for grabs. You say that you read the Trinity on every page of the Bible. Is that your interpretation? What if someone has a different interpretation … say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

          Yes, the church has disagreed over other issues. But without looking at the specifics of those disagreements, as we were talking about the other day, you can’t really compare. I’m not sure most, if any, of those issues you mention are really in the same ballpark as marriage. The church has never had a united policy on divorce and remarriage.

          I’m sorry, Jonathan, but it seems to me that your arguments, if taken to their logical conclusion, would destroy the church and the faith you seek to uphold.

          • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

            And if saying ‘the Bible is clear’ was an automatic trump card alll male Christians would be circumcised. If you say ‘the Bible is clear’ it means you don’t actually care how I interpret the Bible – you already know in advance that you’re right and I’m wrong.

        • Phill October 14, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

          “And if saying ‘the Bible is clear’ was an automatic trump card all male Christians would be circumcised.”

          Seriously? 1 Corinthians 7:19? Romans 2? Galatians 6:15? Philippians 3:3? Etc. I’d say the Bible is clear – Christian males do not need to be circumcised and I’m not sure the church has ever required or debated this since the days of the early church.

          “If you say ‘the Bible is clear’ it means you don’t actually care how I interpret the Bible – you already know in advance that you’re right and I’m wrong.”

          On the other side of the coin, your attempts at saying the Bible is unclear could be described as manipulative. You only care about the Bible being unclear on matters you have a particular interest in it being unclear about. Andrew Wilson wrote a blog post about hermeneutical humility:

          “Lest I be misunderstood, let me say again: as a statement, “ah, but there’s lots of interpretations of the Bible” is quite true. That’s why we need to work hard to understand what the original authors intended; it’s why research matters; it’s why theology matters; it’s why I do what I do. But if that card gets played with unrepresentative frequency when people start talking about what we do with our genitals, then we may be excused for wondering whether something else is going on. It often is.”

          • Jonathan Tallon October 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

            My point is that Paul was fighting against people who could point to the clear meaning of Scripture. The very first debate we know about, the ‘clear’ meaning of scripture was overturned.

            I’m all in favour of working hard on understanding the issue – my own bibliography on the area currently runs to over 60 entries (about half or more at the technical level). So when others blithely say ‘the Bible is clear’ forgive me for not accepting that statement.

        • William Fisher October 14, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

          Jonathan Tallon:

          To your little catalogue I would like to add John Wesley’s pronouncement that giving up belief in witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible. (JOHN WESLEY, Journal, 1768)

          • Christopher Shell October 16, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

            Witches don’t exist? Anyone who wants to practise as a witch can do so (if not necessarily legally). In a world of 7bn people there will be those that want to do so.

  2. Rev Peter October 13, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    Thanks for sharing this, Ian. An excellent letter.

  3. Sarah October 13, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    I’m interested to see how few of the signatories to the letter are women. I’d also be interested to know how many of the people who signed are married. The Church is very good at saying Don’t to anyone not fortunate to have found their husband/wife, but totally ignores any suggestion that people outside marriage might be struggling and coping with sexual feelings, thoughts etc. I have never once heard anyone talk about this. It’s an area that should be addressed, regardless of one’s views of same-sex relationship. Celibacy is not something everyone feels called to; for many of us it appears thrust upon us because of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but no one has the courage to address the fact that those not in marriage may find struggles in not having outlets for their sexuality. There is a lot of condemnation on one side, and a suggestion that almost anything goes on the other but very little to help people in the middle. The church does not do singleness well, for those who have no chosen a celibate life.

    • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 10:15 am #

      To be fair, the signatories include some from “Living Out” – a group who promote celibacy for those who have ‘same-sex attraction’. People in this category would include Ed Shaw (who has written a book – ‘The Plausibility Problem’ – to try to encourage evangelical churches to be places where celibacy seems plausible) and Vaughan Roberts.

      • Sarah October 13, 2016 at 10:28 am #

        What about heterosexual people? It’s not just a same-sex issue.

        • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 10:35 am #

          There are a good number of single men and women who would be happy to sign this. Kate Wharton in Liverpool might be an example. But the letter was not sent round as a PR exercise to recruit as many as possible, so it was not an attempt to get numbers. The focus was on leaders in institutions and larger churches, and there are proportionately fewer women in these positions.

          • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 10:40 am #

            Given that many of these institutions and larger churches teach that women shouldn’t be church leaders, it isn’t surprising that there are proportionately fewer women.

          • Shiela Porter October 13, 2016 at 11:08 am #

            As a woman Leader of a larger church, I am thankful for this letter being written and going to the College of Bishops. I wasn’t asked to sign but would have done so if asked. I think it’s an excellent letter.

          • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

            Thanks Sheila! Perhaps we ought to offer a formal place for people to add names after all…

          • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 11:59 am #

            ‘Many’? Really? Which theological colleges defend this view? How many in New Wine?

          • Jonathan Tallon October 13, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

            ‘Many’ referred to the 28 members of Reform; the presence of AMiE, some from Anglican Mainstream; from the Church Society; and leaders of churches such as those from St Helen’s Bishopsgate (to take one example of a number who think along similar lines). You also have the principal of Oak Hill. My apologies if I have misunderstood the theology of any groups or individuals, but I thought they were all pretty public in their understanding of complementarianism/problems with women leading men in churches.

            This wasn’t a criticism (they are entitled to express their view); more an observation.

        • Martin Reakes-Williams October 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

          If I may ‘out’ myself – there is at least one single heterosexual among the signatories. Though I am sure I wasn’t asked for that reason.
          Martin Reakes-Williams.

      • Mandy Stanton October 13, 2016 at 11:25 am #

        I think Sarah has a good point, though – the Church doesn’t do singleness well, either for those who are LGBTI but feel it would be wrong to express that sexually, or for heterosexuals who for whatever reason don’t marry or find themselves divorced or widowed. Of course this is a separate issue (not unconnected with the fact that many church congregations are predominantly female) but it must feed into the debate about living a good life while celibate. I know Vicky Walker is currently doing some research on the whole area of relationships between men and women, and inviting survey responses from people of any age and marital status – see https://vickywalker.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/the-real-life-love-project/ for details.

    • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 7:45 am #

      Sarah, unless you’re saying that women are wiser than men then how is that relevant? Everything stands and falls on the quality of the arguments deployed. What has gender to do with that?

      • Sarah October 15, 2016 at 10:26 am #

        Christopher – I raised the issue because it was not clear to me why there was such a large imbalance between men/women on the list. Of course, I don’t think women are wiser than men, but it was noticeable to me how many men and how few women had signed the letter. I am interested to know whether this is because these are issues that men feel more strongly about than women, or because, as others say, the make-up of those asked to sign the letter happened to be more male. But that too raises a question about why that should be so. If larger churches and institutions were those who approached, why are women not leading those in any great numbers. Jonathan, above, did perhaps suggest one reason.

  4. Father Ron Smith October 13, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    A very predictable list here – mostly sola-Scriptura evangelicals, who would probably be more at home under the GAFCON Banner than that of the Church of England. I notice also the signature of Paul Perkin. Is he a bone fide Anglican? Oh, and yes, Messrs: Sugden and Symes! Nuff said.

    • Ian Paul October 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

      Ron, I think you are here demonstrating your lack of knowledge of the people here. As I point out in the introduction, this is not a group of GAFCON supporters, though it does include some.

    • Dan October 13, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

      I find this an odd response. You’re only saying, ‘I know who a lot of these people are, and I already knew what they think about this subject.’ Thanks for that. That the signatories don’t surprise you doesn’t make it any less important to listen to them. Isn’t that what we’re meant to be doing?

      As for deciding from a distance who’s a bona fide Anglican and not, well that seems a little judgmental.

  5. Rev Peter Thomas October 13, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you for sharing this Ian. And thank you for the stand you yourself are taking on this issue and your wise articles and helpful blogs.
    Beyond my concern to defend the historical understandings, I write as an evangeical Baptist Minister having chaired Churches Together groups in different towns over the last 30 years and joyfully worked with Anglican colleagues from across the theological spectrum, I fear that a significant change in stance by CofE could have some disastrous consequences for ecumenical cooperation.

  6. John Telford October 13, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    What a great letter. The signatories are indicative of many others, of whom I would count myself one.

  7. Peter Ould October 13, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    It’s a fantastic letter and has been signed by a wide spectrum of CofE leaders.

  8. Christine (@Quinnjones2C) October 13, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    Thank you for this, Ian.
    I also find the ‘it isn’t clear’ argument strange. Jesus speaks about what marriage is, not about what isn’t! If we were to qualify everything we said with a long list of negatives, it could take a long time!
    I read once (can’t remember where) about parents who went out, leaving a babysitter in charge of their children. They mentioned to the babysitter things such as reminding the children to clean their teeth, telling them a bedtime story and so on. When the parents came home, the children were playing on the roof of the house – the babysitter’s explanation was: ‘Well you didn’t tell me they weren’t supposed to play on the roof.’!

    • Christopher Shell October 14, 2016 at 7:46 am #

      A good and relevant point which ought to be obvious but is sometimes dishonestly ignored.

  9. Mat Sheffield October 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    I find the overuse of “flourishing” to be a little irritating: it is a filler word that doesn’t mean anything specific and adds nothing to the point being made (other than to imply in an off-hand way that tradition is better).

    It is my only annoyance with an otherwise excellent letter.

    • David Shepherd October 13, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

      Mat,

      As you may know, ‘mutual flourishing’ is the archiepiscopal mantra for reconciling any impasse between different wings of the Church.

      It’s surprising because it derives from the Greek eudaemonia which betrays its basis in the Hellenistic worldview.

      Have a look at my comment second-down here: http://www.peter-ould.net/2014/02/23/human-flourishing/#comment-1257610473

      • Mat Sheffield October 14, 2016 at 8:25 am #

        Fantastic, thanks, I suppose I should refine my criticism in light of what you’ve written…

        I dislike the word flourishing because it’s meaning has far greater connection to “the pursuit of happiness” than it does to, say, “fulfilling God’s purposes”, which is what should be meant. That it is hellenistic, even epicurean, is unsurprising.

        We wouldn’t want to offend anyone by saying what we mean now, would we?

        • Blair October 14, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

          Hello Mat,
          this is a bit of a nitpick in a way, but there’s another use of ‘flourish’ in the letter…: “We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design”. Do you object to this also…?
          in friendship, Blair

          • Mat Sheffield October 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

            Nitpick as much as you like…

            I wouldn’t object to it as much in this line because here it’s explicitly clarified in terms of “God’s intended design”. My primary objection was that when the word was being used elsewhere it meant that as well, but wasn’t explicit about it, and to my mind it needs to be.

            That’s the problem, things that are wrong can, and indeed do, Flourish.

            Therefore if what we desire is simply the “flourishing” of humans, without the qualification “according to God’s purposes/design”, then SSM might be the best way to do that.

            I’m now worried that I’m not making any sense.

  10. David October 13, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    Insofar as “The Church has not always navigated these social realities well”, it would be good if there were some detailed complementary document concerned with the practicalities of offering “sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.”

    Are you in a position to say if something of the sort is contemplated on an equally wide and varied basis?

  11. Ian H October 13, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    Good and clear letter. Thank you for this.

  12. Andy October 13, 2016 at 11:35 pm #

    Hi Ian, great letter, thank you to all involved. I realise as you say this wasn’t a PR exercise, but do you think there would be some way for others to add their names, in some way, at some point? Blessings

  13. Bev Block October 14, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Some very interesting comments here…as a Mum of 2 gay sons who have both walked away from their faith believing rejection from the Church and ultimately God I am living with the damage the Church has done in our family…and yes about time Christians stood up and apologised for the way that the LGBT community has been made to feel like they are aliens to the Christian world!
    I admit to not really understanding everything from a Biblical perspective, but I do think the Church has selected parts of the Bible to “modernise” thinking and others not so…but here’s my perspective, I know God made us to be in relationship with other human beings and to have the need for human connection, whether it be true or not whilst the Church stumbles over this issue the message given to the LGBT community is they are not welcome, therefore they will go elsewhere for their affirmation ie the gay community or supportive family and friends.
    I know that most of us believe in a God that loves us without conditions, and as a Mum I believe God has called me to do the same for all my children…this I intend to carry on doing.
    I am grateful for those in the Church that are thinking about reconciliation and love in this matter but as you continue to have the debates please keep considering their are real people in huge pain over this and nothing is totally black or white.
    Sorry to have rambled on but I wanted to give a Mums perspective on this whole issue

    • Ian Paul October 14, 2016 at 8:58 am #

      Bev, thanks very much for sharing your story. Please be assured that many of us who signed this letter are working with the reality of the personal pain that you describe, either in families known to us, in our congregations, or even in our own families. A number of the signatories have themselves had to work through this question as people who are same-sex attracted.

      One of our concerns is that having confidence in the historic teaching about marriage can release us to be truly welcoming and inclusive of all people. I do not believe the mantra of those who want to see change that ‘traditional views on marriage are homophobic’ and I think it gives very unhelpful to say that the church is unwelcoming—it gives just the message that is so damaging, and it has not been true of the churches I have been involved in.

      I should also add that the Living Out team (who have signed this letter) frequently work with families in the situation you find yourself.

      • James Byron October 14, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

        Ian, regardless of whether it’s “very unhelpful to say that the [English] church is unwelcoming,” many people who affirm LGBT relationships have reasonable cause to feel unwelcome. I can of course see why people who take the traditional position would want to dispute this, but its cost should be acknowledged.

        • Mat Sheffield October 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

          You’re splitting hairs.

          Ian did not say that that all churches are welcoming, nor is anyone saying that all churches are unwelcoming either. It is completely possible to be a welcoming and supportive church, without being an SSM-affirming one, just as it is possible to be the reverse: an SSM-affirming church that is unwelcoming and restrictive.

          Ian’s point is that it’s unhelpful to claim the former doesn’t exist, not that all traditionally-minded churches are Paragons of pastoral excellence.

          • James Byron October 14, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

            Mat, I’m not suggesting that Ian believes that all traditional churches are welcoming to LGBT people: he’s been clear that this is an area in which the church has often failed.

            I am saying that, for many who take an affirming position, it’s impossible to frame the traditional position in a welcoming way. I’ve no doubt that many who hold it are sincere in that aim (especially those who, to use their preferred term, are same-sex attracted), but for many, the traditional position is irredeemable.

          • Mat Sheffield October 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

            But what you’re saying is that any Church which does not affirm SSM IS unwelcoming, not “can be”, or “is at risk of being”, but that it just IS. This isn’t good enough.

            I think you’re confusing affirmation with welcome. You can be one without the other, but if you go to a church looking for affirmation for your belief and don’t find it, to label that Church as unwelcoming is unfair….

      • Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente October 15, 2016 at 8:46 am #

        Not sure. You sound a bit like the Labour party under Corbyn. If the overwhelming majority of Jews tells you you sound anti-semitic and only you and your mates insist that you’re perfectly okay… I’d say you have a problem. Similarly, when only a vanishingly small segment of the gay, sorry ‘same-sex attracted’ (you cannot even bear to use the usual terminology) community takes your side and the rest can clearly see your animus against them… you have a problem. You can always point to one or two mavericks to prove everyone else wrong, heck, Lichfireld cathedral recently invited Yossi Meckleberg to blather on against Israel, but it’s hardly a way to be reconciled with the majority.

  14. Blair October 14, 2016 at 11:51 pm #

    Hi Mat,

    continuing about flourishing down here…. i think you’re making sense to me but correct me if I’ve misread your words.

    i think I’m picking up something also mentioned in the thread on Peter O’s blog, to which David gave a link, when I say that given your comment, it must become important to distinguish between actual flourishing, and merely apparent (or even false…?) flourishing. As you hint, some of us have argued that people in committed same-sex relationships are flourishing and that this has significance – and I realise that you’d read this significance rather differently, or perhaps suggest that any flourishing is apparent only. I’m not sure if we’d agree on criteria for discerning genuine flourishing… some of this is also picked up in this essay by James Alison, with which I suspect you’ll also disagree 😉 http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng17.html

    hoping I am making sense…
    in friendship, Blair

    • Mat Sheffield October 15, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

      Ooh, interesting link, sorry I didn’t spot your comment down here before.

      Your summary, “..it must become important to distinguish between actual flourishing, and merely apparent (or even false…?) flourishing.”, I would totally agree with.

      In general terms, for something to be “flourishing” means that it is vibrant and growing, or full of energy and potential. I think it’s a great word to use when you want to describe church growth, or evangelism, or social action.

      The reason it is an issue when used in a letter like this, is that those are all words that could be used to describe SSM. “Flourishing” doesn’t describe the quality of something, or it’s value, only it’s quantity. The pornography industry is flourishing, food banks are flourishing. You see my point. We want our ‘flourishing’ to be according to God’s will, but need to accept that sometimes things that are contrary to God’s will, and do indeed, flourish.

      The word does not make this distinction unless it is subsequently clarified to mean that (as it is in the example you found later in the letter).

      I’d agree with David above, it’s used because it sounds positive and ‘soft’.

      • Blair October 16, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

        Hi again Mat,

        thanks for this. I largely agree with what you’ve said above (really like the definition you give of flourishing by the way), with a couple of tiny quibbles.

        One is that if things are “vibrant and growing” that tends to have positive connotations, and I suspect that ‘flourishing’ is most often used of things that we’d want to flourish. So while it has been said that ‘the porn industry is flourishing / food banks are flourishing’ that’s nonetheless (usually….) in a context where there’s some space given to the damaging and addictive nature of the former, and what an indictment on us are the latter. Because of that I’m not sure it’s quite right to say that ‘flourishing’ only describes the quantity and not the value of something. But yes, I do see your point – though I guess that returns us to the distinction I mentioned before, & that we both agree on (discerning between true / false flourishing), and how to apply that to the matter at hand, which was partly why I linked to the essay by James Alison.

        T’other tiny quibble is that I think this discussion has shown that it’s a richer word than one that’s merely “positive and ‘soft'”. And I don’t doubt David’s explanation of its link back to eudaemonism, but would just point out that words can change their meaning over time and shifting usage: consider the etymology and current use of ‘facilitate’ and ‘issue’ for instance.

        in friendship, Blair

        • Mat Sheffield October 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

          Yes, I am being more argumentative over the word than perhaps it genuinely warrants; we would both accept (I hope) that this is language and not mathematics, and therefore words do not have absolute definitions.

          Addressing/responding (such as I can) to your quibbles though:

          First, I’m glad we agree. I accept that the connotations of the word are usually positive, but again assert that positivity is entirely relative without context. If you said, say, “Fundamentalist Islam is Flourishing in Britain” without any qualification, depending on who you were and what audience you were addressing, that could be taken as either positive (we want it to flourish and are pleased it has) or negative (we don’t want it to flourish, so it is and we need to do something about it). That is the problem I’m trying to highlight here. If “flourishing” alone is the standard we are aiming for, then both sides can claim it, aim for it and argue that other side is preventing/putting up barriers to it.

          As for quibble #2, I’ll hold my hands up and say that I was just taking an easy (and predictable) shot at the CofE’s use of language, and that you are right of course. It’s just a little frustrating (and I say this as someone outside the CofE), that a great deal of material of this sort (formal publications, letters etc) insist on using language and idioms that are impenetrable, unusual, or simply ‘flowery’.

          The Plain-English campaign would have a field day with some of this stuff.

          • Blair October 17, 2016 at 12:41 am #

            Hello Mat,

            definitely accept that this is language not mathematics, not least because the latter isn’t a strong point of mine 😉

            We largely agree on this specific point so perhaps the question is how we apply it to ‘the gay issue’ (if you’ll accept that as shorthand). I wonder if you’d agree that flourishing *alone* isn’t the standard either side are aiming for, but that it is important to the case either way. (I agree that “both sides can claim it, aim for it and argue that other side is preventing/putting up barriers to it”). So I wonder what you make of claims that people in committed, same-sex relationships genuinely are flourishing…? e.g. would you want to say that there’s elements of illusion here, and they aren’t in fact flourishing, or that there is real flourishing there but it’s of no significance to discerning if such relationships are licit….?

            in friendship, Blair

          • Mat Sheffield October 17, 2016 at 10:17 am #

            “I wonder if you’d agree that flourishing *alone* isn’t the standard either side are aiming for, but that it is important to the case either way. “

            I do agree. If it wasn’t important, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

            “So I wonder what you make of claims that people in committed, same-sex relationships genuinely are flourishing…? e.g. would you want to say that there’s elements of illusion here, and they aren’t in fact flourishing, or that there is real flourishing there but it’s of no significance to discerning if such relationships are licit….?”

            This is an impossible question to answer fully.

            The first part is easy. I would say that, generally, people in SSMs are flourishing. I think that’s undeniable. For some I would go even further than this and say that they are not just flourishing; they consider themselves liberated and/or validated by the availability of SSM and also that in many cases this is a good thing. This is part of the reason setting “flourishing” as your aim is unhelpful, but we’ve both labored that point already. I do not think for one second that homosexuals are ‘deluding’ themselves into thinking they are flourishing; they believe so because they are.

            The second question (on illusion) is much harder. My opinion would be that the standard set for human relationships is God’s standard, revealed through the scriptures and taught by the church. I would argue that the “illusion” (if that’s even the right word?) at work in this situation is not in the perception of the relationship itself (as in my answer above, I think that perception is positive) but in recognition of God’s standard. I remained undecided myself for a while, and it is within this ‘fog’ of debate; “what does the bible say about same-sex relationships” that the ‘illusions’ are found.

            In myriad ways the many writers on this subject recently (on both sides) have added their own ‘hot air’ to the cloud, masking the (admittedly well-worn) signposts and leading others astray.

  15. Philip Almond October 15, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

    I can’t prove it and I would be glad and humbled to be proved wrong, but I think that only a minority of ordained ministers in the CofE believe ex animo that Articles 9-18 and 31 are true. How about an open letter to the College of Bishops on this situation?

    I note (by my Word search) that neither the letter nor any of the comments have mentioned the Fall nor Original Sin? Am I the only one that thinks those doctrines are significant in this disagreement?

    Phil Almond

    • Mat Sheffield October 16, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

      I don’t know about your first point (I’ll let a CofE minister try that one), but on the second I think the letter is pretty clear about what you’re asking.

      “We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.”

      I think the Fall/Sin issue is addressed most obviously through use of the word “Intended”, here and at other points in the letter. God had an intended plan for human prosperity, which humankind diverted from, but because of Jesus we are not expected to continued down that divergent route: though the rest of the world will, at least for a while.

      The other line that jumps out is, “….the gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature….”.

      Again the point is to link back to God’s creation intent and purpose for humankind. The fallen state of humanity, it’s deviation from original purpose and our mission as Christians to live according to God’s will is the fundamental bedrock of the whole argument being made in the letter. God’s will for humanity is laid out in Genesis, and hasn’t changed.

      It doesn’t appear explicitly because it doesn’t need to be. It’s obvious and assumed at all levels.

      • Philip Almond October 17, 2016 at 9:03 am #

        Mat
        You are right that the thought of the Fall is implicit. But they should have made it explicit that same-sex attraction is a feature of man’s fallen nature which (Article 9) is ‘inclined to evil’. As I have posted several times elsewhere – we are all in the same boat in that respect, if not same-sex attraction some other besetting sinful inclination, like an inclination not to be content with food and clothing and give the money thus saved to those in need: the Bible says a lot more about that than it does about same-sex attraction.
        Phil Almond

        • Mat Sheffield October 17, 2016 at 10:30 am #

          I don’t disagree with most of that, but I don’t understand why it needs to be made any more explicit than it is.

          Saying something as bluntly as“same-sex attraction is a feature of man’s fallen nature which (Article 9) is ‘inclined to evil’.” in a letter such as this will be incendiary. It may well be true in principle, I personally think it is, but using the words “same-sex attraction” and “evil” in the same sentence is just asking for trouble. When you consider (as the letter does) that the church has been less than understanding in the past, you can appreciate, surely, their desire to be a little more tactful with their language when they have the chance. 🙂

          As for your other point, about how this is no different than other issues we choose to ‘let slide’ (your criticism being that this issue is given “special treatment”), that is where I’d draw your attention to this line:

          “We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of ‘secondary importance’”

          The crucial distinction has been made. This issue specifically is given special treatment because it represents first order significance, thus it is in (and should be in) a separate category than food, order and money.

          Mat

          • Philip Almond October 17, 2016 at 11:06 am #

            Mat

            I take your point. But if we are being painfully candid with each other I think it is necessary to say that same-sex inclination is a sinful inclination just like any other sinful inclination, and to say it in those explicit words, and to recognise that mortification of that inclination is an excruciating and painful challenge, and to challenge ourselves about whether those who have not got this particular inclination whether we have tried, are trying, trying to the point of agony, to mortify whatever happen to be our sinful inclinations.

            I don’t understand how disobedience to the revealed will of God can ever not be of ‘first order significance’.
            Phil Almond

          • Mat Sheffield October 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

            “but if we are being painfully candid with each other I think it is necessary to say that same-sex inclination is a sinful inclination just like any other sinful inclination, and to say it in those explicit words.”

            That’s better than “inclined to Evil” I guess.

            For the record, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you on this. I just think the letter’s author is being wise and picking the battle very carefully. It is asserting, as strongly as it can (given the issues at stake and the desire to be sensitive to them) that the current teaching is biblical, and that a deviation from it therefore represents a departure from true christian teaching. In a way, the letter is actually fairly foreboding, ‘If you do this, you will risk this…..’.

            It is not of little consequence that the author has chosen to argue for upholding of the current position, rather than to argue for rejecting the proposed changes instead, which it could have done. The outcome will be the same in either case: a decision to uphold one idea will also be a decision to reject the other. It needn’t be phrased contentiously for the sake of making it’s point harder.

            Ultimately I don’t think the letter would be strengthened or weakened by changing it in the respects you advocate. It’s clear, and manages to be so without being conciliatory.

            As for; “I don’t understand how disobedience to the revealed will of God can ever not be of ‘first order significance’.”

            You know exactly what I meant. Play fair.

    • Andrew Godsall October 17, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

      “I can’t prove it and I would be glad and humbled to be proved wrong, but I think that only a minority of ordained ministers in the CofE believe ex animo that Articles 9-18 and 31 are true. How about an open letter to the College of Bishops on this situation?”

      Phil: we’ve been round this quite a bit before. The Articles are no doubt an interesting and important bit of history but nowhere am I, or have I ever been required to assent that they are correct. I am simply required to assent to the fact that they are historic formularies which ‘bear witness’ to the faith. I have no problem doing that. So do you bear witness to the faith. So does Ian Paul and this blog. So do I (I hope and pray). But that doesn’t make us all right all of the time. The same is true of the articles. They are not even taught in any detail on our courses and in our colleges so clergy can not be expected to have any detailed knowledge of them. So an open letter, letter, such as you suggest, would hardly do anything. I think it highly doubtful that many bishops have a detailed knowledge of the articles, although I have no proof of that beyond an online conversation with one bishop about them on one occasion whose opinion about them was even lower than mine.

  16. Philip Almond October 17, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Andrew

    To make the Declaration of Assent is to affirm ‘loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care’ (from the Preface to the Declaration).
    The ‘inheritance of faith’ is ‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons’ (from the Preface to the Declaration).
    How can anyone honestly promise to be loyal to an inheritance of faith which includes the statement that the Church was led by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christian truth in historic formularies which include the Articles, without believing that the Articles are correct?
    There is also:
    ‘A 5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England
    The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
    In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal’.
    If you are right in thinking that ‘..it highly doubtful that many bishops have a detailed knowledge of the articles’ then such a state of affairs, in the light of Canon A5, can only be described as ……………unsatisfactory.
    If you are right then all the more reason to send the open letter that I suggested.
    The reason I keep going on about this issue is that I believe that Articles 9-18 and 31 are true and that we all have a responsibility in preaching and teaching and conversation to sound the note of warning, terrible warning, embedded within them, and to pray that God in his mercy and grace will open the ears of our hearers to heed the warning and submit in repentance, faith, love, fear and obedience to the Christ who sincerely, genuinely exhorts and invites all to respond.

    Phil Almond

  17. Andrew Godsall October 17, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

    Phil: how can anyone believe the Articles are inerrant and infallible? I’m afraid it makes no sense given the circumstances in which they were written.

    • Philip Almond October 17, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

      Andrew

      Articles 9-18 and 31 rightly summarise what the Bible says.

      Phil Almond

  18. Andrew Godsall October 17, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    I’m sorry Phil – I’ve never been required to believe that and I have never been taught that.

  19. Bernard Stewart-Deane October 19, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    What a lot of twisting and turning to prove one point and then its opposite. As a common or garden pew squatter in the CoE, and probably typical of millions, my fear is that in time there will be no biblical certainties. All that will happen is that the CoE will be sucked along by the latest a social norm and incorporate it into the creed.

    Paul warned against conforming to this world. While the so-called Gay community – all 4 per cent of them – rail against their perceived exclusion, the vast majority of churchgoers are concerned about their exclusion…..that the tenets of faith in which they have believed for generations are being corroded by current social norms to the extent that such traditional believers feel that they no longer have a church that ministers to them.

    Many of the comments so far published fail to acknowledge the wider church community which is not steeped in obscure theological arguments, and their needs.

    • Ian Paul October 19, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

      Many a true word…

    • Blair October 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

      hello,

      thank you for the “so-called”…

      & i think your comment about “incorporate it into the creed” may be overstating things a touch: the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds don’t mention marriage at all, let alone same-sex relationships.

      Your “fear is that in time there will be no biblical certainties”, but could I ask how you feel about the lending of money at interest, for instance, as there’s no text commending this?

      It may well be that I don’t understand the extent of your fears but I can’t help wondering if this isn’t also about raising the stakes higher than they actually are.

      in friendship, Blair

      • Andrew Godsall October 20, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

        “Many of the comments so far published fail to acknowledge the wider church community…”

        I fully agree. Which is why it is so worrying that the bishops of Durham and Winchester are reported to have recently said at a conference in Cairo that ”Bishop Julian is also part of a Bishops’ working group on Human Sexuality to bring proposals to the House of Bishops so that we are not scuppered by people bringing antagonistic things to General Synod. We are determined that this issue shall be episcopally led.” In other words, it doesn’t really matter what the wider church community think. I’d be really happy to have a simple majority vote of electoral roll church members throughout the Church of England to decide on this issue. Then we would know, and can make decisions accordingly, based on what the wider church community thinks. Bring it on!

        • David Shepherd October 20, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

          Andrew,

          You wrote: ‘I’d be really happy to have a simple majority vote of electoral roll church members throughout the Church of England to decide on this issue. Then we would know, and can make decisions accordingly, based on what the wider church community thinks.’

          Pertinently, Professor Oliver O’Donovan wrote in his critique of The Church of England Pilling Report and Church of Scotland Commission on Same-Sex Relationships:

          ‘But what form does that considered faithfulness before moral challenges take?There is a range of substantive theological answers to the question, all of which can be true: faithfulness to mission, faithfulness to Scripture, faithfulness to the Spirit of Jesus, etc.

          But there is also a formal answer, which derives from the underlying shape of all
          practical reasoning. Considered faithfulness must involve deliberation on possible
          courses of action, and it must involve reflection on the shape and practical implications
          of the truths the church believes.’

          Given that the terms of reference for the HoB Reflection Group are not deliberative, it’s somewhat premature to call for deliberative action before the reflective process clarifies key questions about what’s at stake and potential answers for addressing them.

          As O’Donovan further explained:

          ‘A body may be primarily deliberative or primarily reflective. It may be charged
          with recommending a course of action, summing up the practical situation, weighing
          alternative possibilities, implications, modes of implementation, difficulties etc., or
          with reflecting on how the truths of the faith shed light on a new practical question,
          gathering the interpretative yield from the work of theologians, listening to those who
          reflect on it in the course of their lives and ministry, and synthesising it in a form that
          can facilitate deliberation.’

          Despite this, you may indeed support his follow-up observation, which reveals the Achilles heel of an episcopal polity:

          ‘The churches have unfortunately seen commissions and working parties that have focused on neither of those tasks. Some have simply gathered information, returning to their commissioning body with a mound of statistics and scattered information with no serious reflection done on it. Some have seen themselves as negotiators, charged with forging compromises between rival programmes. The churches have not usually been persuaded in either case that the voice of the Holy Spirit has been listened to.’

          http://sce.sagepub.com/content/27/3/344.full.pdf+html

          • Andrew Godsall October 20, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

            So 4% of the population don’t really matter but you are happy to leave the decision making process in the hands of less than 1% of the Church of England who aren’t even elected? Weird ……..

          • David Shepherd October 20, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

            Hmm…

            I explained that the terms of reference of the HoB Reflection Group are reflective, not deliberative, i.e. as O’Donovan described: ‘reflecting on how the truth of the faith she’d light on a new practical question’.

            Given their remit, what’s weird is that you respond ‘So, you’re happy to leave the decision making process in the hands of less than 1% of the Church of England, who aren’t even elected?’

            What part of considered reflection do you not understand?

            Concerning those who are elected, the deliberative role of synodical government is clear. It was how the Church decided on Women Bishops.

            Why doesn’t it surprise me that you would advance the special pleading of a church-wide referendum to decide on the issue of same-sex sexual relationships?

          • Andrew Godsall October 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

            What I’m saying, David, is that I’d rather trust the reflections of the whole church as opposed to an unelected tiny percentage. Goodness knows the number of reports and conversations we’ve already had. Time to hear what the wider church community think. That’s not special pleading, but simple common sense.

          • David Shepherd October 20, 2016 at 11:56 pm #

            In accordance with Church Representation Rules, the common sense approach would be to hear what the wider church thinks is through the Article 8 reference to the dioceses.

            Of course, for that to happen, you’d need for those elected to General Synod to vote for an accommodation of the revisionist position and for amending of canon law to that effect.

            Nevertheless, your belief that the normal procedure should be circumvented for a plebiscite makes me wonder why you think that the full complement of General Synod representatives, including yourself and Ian Paul, wouldn’t capably convey and voice and deliberate on the thoughts of ‘the wider church community’ (which elected them).

            Are those who were elected just last year so soon out of touch?

          • Andrew Godsall October 21, 2016 at 7:05 am #

            David: I’m responding, in a hypothetical way, to two things, and I think if you read back you will see that. Firstly, Bernard (above) asked for the views of the wider church community to be heard. I was agreeing with that sentiment. Secondly, I was responding to the reported words of two bishops who seem to want to prevent debates coming to General Synod so that what you suggest might actually happen. But you may or may not be aware that two Private Members Motions on these matters have been ‘stalled’ while the bishops, who are both unelected to their dioceses and to General Synod, decide what should come forward in February. So that is the background to my suggestion. But by all means put your faith in the fine print of the Church Representation Rules. The house of bishops still have the power to override the views of wider church community, even after an Article 8 reference, and so I retain my sympathy for Bernard’s point.

          • David Shepherd October 21, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

            Andrew:

            So, we are now in exactly the situation that O’Donovan describes: ‘a mound of statistics and scattered information with no serious reflection done on it’: whether reports, surveys, or conversations.

            So, the next step would be to reflect on ‘how the truths of the faith shed light on a new practical question, gathering the interpretative yield from the work of theologians, listening to those who reflect on it in the course of their lives and ministry, and synthesising it in a form that can facilitate deliberation’.

            For instance, without facilitation, the ‘wider church community’ might indeed latch on to and support the idea of a pastoral accommodation for same -sex couples, but as O’Donovan states:

            ‘The term ‘pastoral accommodation’ cannot simply be invoked, just to take the sting out of a proposal. Its use has to be proved by an effective design which promises to strike the balance required of it. In the case of the remarriage of divorced people this was to be done by a carefully conceived set of guidelines for pastoral enquiry. Here we are confronting a more radical departure, because the public prayers proposed will be more or less without precedent in the Church of England.

            Can there be a ‘public’ service in an Anglican church to which the church as a whole is not committed? Can a ‘public’ service occur without a liturgy of some sort, and if the service is authorised but no liturgy is authorised, does that mean that any liturgy is authorised? The bishops are invited to consider issuing guidelines. Would a liturgy that conformed to these guidelines be an ‘authorised’ liturgy? If a liturgy that conformed to the bishops’ guidelines were to include, as a public declaration, ‘Whatever your unique mix and measure of sexuality, be very glad; to be a human sexual [sic] is fundamental and ordinary and exceptional’ (p. 195), ought it to satisfy the consciences of those who had no idea what those words were supposed to mean, that nobody had authorised them as such, and that nobody was going to be required to pronounce them?

            So, it is the task of the HoB Reflection Group to facilitate deliberation by formulating coherent potential answers to these questions. I think O’Donovan is also right when he explains:
            ‘A good revision in practice cannot be supported by a ‘revisionist’ theology—on the contrary, it needs a thoroughly catholic and orthodox foundation. By articulating carefully everything theological that two sides in a practical disagreement can say together, we can get the scope of the disagreement in proper perspective, and may open the way to agreement on experiments which have a chance of commending themselves in practice. So long as proposals for experiment come with the label of ‘revisionism’, on the other hand, no church with concerns for its catholicity can embrace them. It seems to me that this elementary wisdom has never been seriously put to the test in the gay issue.

            However, I’d agree that there is a danger in the HoB Reflection Group either being hijacked by overpowering voices with a pre-determined agenda, or by overstepping its remit and committing the same mistake as the Church of Scotland Theological Commission in asking the Church to choose between rival theologies, as developed by separate traditionalist and revisionist sub-groups.

          • Andrew Godsall October 22, 2016 at 8:13 am #

            It sounds suspiciously like: “the bishops will work out what to think, then they will tell the rest of church what to think, and then they will ask the people what they think”. Whilst that approach might have worked once upon a time, and is of course the way the RC church still presumes to operate, it won’t really work in a post modern world. Something rather different is needed if we are to move forward.

          • David Shepherd October 22, 2016 at 11:59 am #

            Well, given post-modern ‘suspicions of authority and objective truth’, I’m not sure why you see any point in ordering the ministry of authority, or in having any liturgy whatsoever.

            According to the post-modern ethos, we all have our own narratives, and nothing particularly commends any grouping of individuals into an order who may well have so-called ‘facts’ about God and theology, but whose tradition has been characterised by exploitation and broken promises.

            I’ll expect your immediate resignation.

          • Andrew Godsall October 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

            David: it doesn’t call for resignations, but rather different approaches.

          • David Shepherd October 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

            Andrew: So, the post-modern ‘wider church community’ should ensure that their decisions are not overridden by episcopal authority, but should not dispense with the ministry of authority altogether.

            Doubtless, they’ll be convinced that absent ordained ministry, anarchy would ensue.

            Truly priceless.

          • Andrew Godsall October 23, 2016 at 6:21 am #

            David: I’m afraid I’m a bit lost here. I didn’t understand why my pointing out that a post modern culture should require you to expect my ‘immediate resignation’. And then I didn’t understand why my suggesting that a post modern culture requires a different missional approach should be ‘truly priceless’. Could you possibly explain what I’m missing?

          • David Shepherd October 23, 2016 at 9:46 am #

            Andrew,

            Firstly, even if you are seeking to cater to those whom Bernard describes as the ‘wider Christian community’, he himself admits that those who comprise it ‘are not steeped in ‘obscure theological arguments’.

            Yet, however obscure, it remains relevant for the Church to decide whether the traditionalist position smacks of complementarism, or whether St. Paul’s denunciation of arsenokoites is at all relevant to modern same-sex sexual relationships. A church member doesn’t have to be steeped, but there is a need to clarify the issues and to make them far less obscure without telling the rest of the Chirch what to think.

            How else do you propose that these issues become less obscure for the whole church to resolve them? Does every electoral roll church member get a free copy of ‘Amazing Love’ and Journeys into Grace and Truth’?

            In echoing Post-modern distrust of authority and objective truth, you’ve voiced your suspicion that the HoB Reflection Group is ‘working out what to think, then they tell us what to think’ simply by doing theological reflection on the kind of questions (that, for instance, O’Donovan raised) and developing coherent potential answers to them, which might be compatible with both sides of the debate.

            TBH, for the Women Bishops decision, the Rochester Report, Women Bishops in the Church of England? did a good job of crystallising the key issues at stake and the theological implications without telling the rest of the church what to think.

            Your proposed different approach actually undermines and bypasses the representative democracy of Synod, since you claim: I’d be really happy to have simple majority vote of electoral roll church members throughout the Church of Englsnd to decide on this issue. All to become missional towards post-modern society.

            My challenge was that, if you truly wanted to be missional in seeking to allay post-modern society’s suspicion of authority, you would not want to remain part of the self-same unelected clerical authority that you claim it distrusts.

            Proposing a single issue plebiscite is merely a token gesture and our post-modern society also distrusts tokenism.

          • Andrew Godsall October 23, 2016 at 10:12 am #

            David: reading back over my responses. I’m afraid I don’t see what you are trying to get at.

            The point about asking all the members of the Church of England (by which I’d mean electoral roll members) is that it would give us an indication of what the wider church community actually think.
            There seems to be a pretty clear disconnect for whatever reason between that electorate and the members of General Synod (and yes I know that not all of those people elect GS members). If you look at the voting figures in dioceses around the article 8 reference concerning women bishops and the GS voting figures you will see it. Likewise, if you look at the voting figures for the proposed Anglican Communion Covernant in the article 8 reference to the diocese about that matter, and then examine the house of bishops enthusiasm for it, you will also see a disconnect. Yet the Primates meeting last January behaved just like the covenant were in force – something I raised a question about in GS last February.

            We have had endless reports about this matter, and I see no reason for yet another working party. But that’s what will now happen, even though GS has not asked for it.

            It is a simple fact that bishops are unelected to their dioceses, and are unelected to GS.

            It is a simple fact that we live in a post modern culture.

            I’m still not sure why any of this calls my resignation. It calls for a different approach, and my suggestion of a vote about it was, as I state earlier, a hypothetical one.

            I wish I got your point, but I’m afraid I still don’t so I will leave it there.

          • Andrew Godsall October 23, 2016 at 10:14 am #

            Oh and I’m not part of unelected authority. I was elected.

          • Andrew Godsall October 23, 2016 at 10:32 am #

            And I hope it’s obvious that a single issue vote about this isn’t the only approach needed in a post modern culture. Clearly we need go on being mixed economy church.

            The one thing that does give me some hope in your reply David is your suggestion that the group might develop “coherent potential answers to them, which might be compatible with both sides of the debate.”

            I hope Ian is reading that concession 🙂

          • David Shepherd October 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

            You wrote: !The point about asking all the members of the Church of England (by which I’d mean electoral roll members) is that it would give us an indication of what the wider church community actually think.’

            You didn’t simply want an indication of what they think. You said that you would be happy for them to decide this issue. If you are not seeking a referendum on this issue, then you should be clear.

            My point is that this is just a pretension of being missional towards our post-modern society, when you cast suspicion on the episcopate of ‘telling the church what to think’, but exclude the other clergy (by whom you were elected) from such aspersions. Your selective suspicion smacks of tokenism.

            You have yet to establish the question (or questions) which would enable the electoral roll church members to decide this issue.

            The disconnect that you’ve mentioned is not peculiar to the Church, but is also found in the secular world. Many in Parliament did not share the anti-immigration sentiment of their constituents, which was identified as a key motivation for the referendum vote in favour of Brexit.

            The referendum approach might well address Bernard’s concerns, but bypassing General Synod (for how else would electoral roll church members decide this issue) shows patent disregard for those who voted in last year’s elections.

            The fact remains that, last year, a significant number of General Synod representatives were not re-elected because their votinff record on Women Bishops had alienated the electors.

            That’s how representative democracy works and will continue to work, if this issue is sufficient to aggrieve the wider church community.

          • David Shepherd October 23, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

            BTW, if ‘a simple majority vote of electoral roll church members throughout the Church of England to decide on this issue’ was your hypothetical response, it goes nowhere as a provisional conjecture until we have thoughtful questions that adequately encapsulate the decisive implications of this issue for the entire Church of England.

          • Andrew Godsall October 23, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

            David were you/are you a civil servant? This last sentence of yours is worthy of Sir Humphrey at his best! Bravo!

          • David Shepherd October 24, 2016 at 7:42 am #

            Andrew,

            Yes, I suppose that I might well be perceived by you, as Jim Hacker saw Sir Humphrey: constantly frustrating his clueless attempts to advance yet another half-baked proposal.

            Yet, given that you are now adding nothing more to this exchange than a cheap jibe, let’s move on.

          • Andrew Godsall October 24, 2016 at 8:47 am #

            Or, indeed, civil servants like Sir Humphrey constantly preventing any change or growth in the culture ……

    • Penelope Cowell Doe October 20, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

      Do you truly believe that the proportion of a community or group (4%) has theological significance?

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