On Synod, sexuality, and not ‘Taking note’

Yesterday the General Synod of the Church of England debated the report offered by the House of Bishops outlining where we had got to in the debate about sexuality. The form of the debate was unusual; rather than proposing anything, the motion was simply to ‘Take note’ of the report, which essentially means acknowledging that it exists. In most contexts, this functions as an opportunity for general discussion, after which a substantive motion is offered which proposes action in the light of the report. Because of this, ‘Take note’ votes are usually uncontroversial; a Synod ‘old hand’ commented that, in 28 years of experience, the person had only known of 2 or 3 occasions where a ‘Take note’ motion had not been passed.

But because there was no substantive motion offered, many of those who were unhappy with the report saw the ‘Take note’ motion as the only opportunity to express their view about the contents, even though such a motion technically does not mean that. Jayne Ozanne, a lay member from Oxford, seems to have spent the last weeks and months working full time on a PR campaign against the report, and this bore fruit in the voting. Overall, Synod ‘took note’ by 242 to 184, with 6 abstentions (and about 20 members of Synod not present or not voting). But, as is common when there is controversy or a close vote, there was a call for a vote ‘by houses’ i.e. the votes of bishops, clergy and laity are counted separately, and a motion is only passed if it passed by all three groups. The votes were:

  • 43 to 1 amongst the bishops (but it turns out the 1 against was an error, and one abstention was not registered);
  • 93 to 100 with 2 abstentions amongst the clergy; and
  • 106 to 83 with 4 abstentions amongst the laity.

Because of the clergy vote, the motion to ‘Take note’ was not passed.

The question is: what does this mean? The answers varied, from ‘a rebuke to the bishops’ (Martin Bashir of the BBC, Harry Farley on Christian Today) to ‘Anglicans come a step closer to gay marriages in church‘ in the Telegraph. To understand this, we need to consider both the reasons behind the vote, and the consequences of it.

The report itself was seen by many ‘traditionalists’ as positive, in that it made clear that there was no consensus for change in the Church’s doctrine of marriage. That infuriated those pressing for change, and explains the energy behind the campaign not to ‘Take note’; it was explained as frustration with the tone of the report, but most comments argued that the only change of tone that would have mattered was a change in direction and recommendations. Others who were sympathetic to the position stated did still find the detached feel of the report unsatisfactory, but for many there was also a sense of lack of connection with the Shared Conversations process, which was costly in more ways than one. Andrew Goddard analysed what he thought the bishops were aiming to cover in the report, but then asks the pertinent question: how did they end up with the conclusion they offered? Given that the group and the House must have considered a range of possible options, in the light of the Shared Conversations, why weren’t we informed what those options were, and why they were discounted?

It would, perhaps, have been helpful to the wider church if the bishops in their report had shown us more of their workings here.  This could have addressed such questions as:

  • How many other options were considered?
  • What were these other options and why were they framed as they were?
  • What evidence – biblical, theological, pastoral, legal, missional, ecclesiological – was presented in their favour?
  • What were the primary objections which meant they lacked sufficient “weight of opinion”? (These were presumably a mix of the more pragmatic for some – though desirable they would not achieve the necessary majorities in Synod to become a reality or in doing so risked causing division – and more theologically principled and biblically based for others)
  • Can the bishops – drawing on the Shared Conversations – help the church as a whole to understand the “very wide spectrum” there is even among the bishops, why different positions are held on that spectrum, why we are so divided, and where the heart of our disagreements lie?
  • What sort of process (a formal vote for and against each one or simply a sense of the meeting? the use of the Single Transferable Vote to choose between options?) was used to determine that one had “a clear (although not unanimous) weight of opinion”?

I suspect the practical answer is that this would have given too many hostages to fortune—but without this kind of explanation, many felt the bishops were simply saying: ‘This is where we are—trust us’ and that trust was lacking for a whole range of reasons.

But the vote cannot be understood without taking into account one other group: Conservative evangelicals. Alongside the commitment to leave marriage unchanged, there were several contrary indicators, included either as a genuine reflection of the range of views amongst the bishops or (if you are more cynical) as an exercise in balancing. A key phrase here is allowing ‘maximum freedom within the law’ for pastoral provision, and Conservatives saw that as an alarming compromise within the report. In the Synod debate, I had the impression that two moments were key for them. The first was the speech of Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, who wanted to honour the ‘anger, the fury’ of campaigners (I am still trying to work out where in Scripture ‘fury’ towards your fellow believers is a commended virtue), and who was determined to make the most of ‘maximum freedom’ in his diocese.

The second came in Archbishop Justin Welby’s speech, the last to be taken, in which he emphasised the need for ‘Christian inclusion’. I am not clear whether he intended the emphasis to be on ‘Christian’ or ‘inclusion’, but it was clearly a trigger phrase for Conservatives, who put it alongside Justin’s other positive comments about gay relationships as a signal that he cannot be trusted on this issue. Though I don’t agree with their approach, I can understand this viewpoint. He concluded his short speech with:

The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.

If this means anything, I am not sure what it does mean. Including clergy defying the Church’s teaching, and ignoring their bishop and their ordination vows? Including ‘non-realists’ who don’t believe in the existence of God? Including all? Moving boundaries is one thing, but abolishing them is quite another. (And where is mention of kingdom, redemption, newness of life?) Once Justin had said this, the die was cast, and I suspect just enough Conservatives joined with liberals in voting not to take note for the motion to fall. James Oakley was spot on when he commented:

Each group found the bits they disliked. The progressives really disliked the idea that marriage was not to be redefined. The traditionalists distrusted the idea that developments on the ground could now unfold without necessarily having future input from Synod…The report fell not because it was too conservative. It fell because it pleased no-one. It tried to hold together what cannot be held together. It was a pantomime horse.

One of the speeches which attracted most applause was from Simon Butler, Prolocutor (chair) of the House of Clergy. He began with a story in which I (unnamed) had a starring role:

I want to reflect on my relationship with a member of this Synod. He was the first person I ever told I was gay, 27 years ago. I will always be grateful to him: he listened without judgement and promised to accompany me on my journey. He gave me a card of a shadowy road lit by sunlight. It remained on my study wall for years.

Our paths separated. His ministry has taken a particular path. He got married and had kids. I met my partner fifteen years ago. Synod has brought us back together and we find ourselves serving the church in close proximity. I’ve told him something of my life and it has not been hard to see how difficult that is for him. He believes me to be living dishonestly in relation to the doctrine of the church. A red line has been crossed for him.

And of course it’s wounding for me too, working alongside someone who believes that about me. GS2055 took me over a red line too. What that means for future working remains to be seen. It’s too early to tell. But, despite those red lines being crossed the Church of England forces us to work together. It may not be Good Disagreement. But it is, I believe, just about Workable Disagreement.

Whenever I hear this story I am moved, not least because I never knew how Simon felt about it all until he posted it in a comment on this blog last year. (In passing, it also demonstrates that it is perfectly possible to be welcoming without being ‘affirming’.) But yesterday it felt bittersweet, because it seemed as though Simon was trying to compensate for having made false claims about me amounting to a gross misrepresentation, to Synod, from the platform, in his story about ‘the message’ he received on Monday. And believing these false claims, the Archbishop paraded me as ‘the perfect example of how not to act’ and the antitype to Jesus’ restraint and discipline in the temptations, in his Presidential Address. (Note to self: if I am going to damn someone in public, first check whom I am damning and whether it is for good reason.) I don’t think I have featured so prominently in Synod before without uttering a single word.

More significantly, Simon draws a parallel between what has been for each of us a ‘red line’ that has been crossed—but there is a difference. My ‘red line’ relates to what the Church actually teaches, articulating its understanding of the teaching of Jesus and Scripture, to which we as clergy have made a public commitment. Simon’s ‘red line’ relates to his anger with the report, and the disappointment that it brought. If we are equating aspiration, however laudable, and disappointment, however well founded, with the compromise of actual commitment to the teaching and doctrine of the Church, then I think we are in a very difficult place. In the light of the enormous lobbying and PR that went on, I wonder whether yesterday’s debate was the beginning of a new era: doing theology by social media. If so, it does not augur well.

Simon welcomed the debate as marking ‘a new era of honesty and openness.’ But for many in the chamber it was experienced as just the opposite. Questions on Monday were dominated by a few angry voices, and it seemed that everything in the Church was somehow linked to the question of sexuality. Many who support the Church’s current teaching, particularly those who are celibate as single and/or same-sex attracted, were fearful of speaking because of the atmosphere of intimidation, manipulation and even bullying. The response of one campaigner to this? ‘Now you know how we have been feeling.’ (Thankfully in terms of media coverage, the debate on Wednesday had a better feel—though the balance of speakers was skewed.) How have we got to this, where people are afraid to speak up in agreement with the teaching of the Church and of their bishops—in front of those self-same bishops and in the Synod of the Church?

Simon’s concluding comment drew on the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel at the Jabbock.

I thought that would be my last word but, as we worshipped last evening, a text of scripture came to be as a bolt from the blue. Genesis 32:26: “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Despite the enormous difficulty it presents, I say to that person who sent me that text and who finds my presence in this place so difficult, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

The statement has been picked up as a slogan, and as a sign of generous engagement on Simon’s behalf. But is that how it is functioning? Simon seems to me to be saying: ‘I am not going to leave until I get what I want from you.’ And used in this way, it is completely disconnected from its meaning in the Genesis narrative.

Jacob is, literally, a ‘heel’. He has been wheeling and dealing, plotting and scheming, since the day he was born. He appears to think that he will not get anything—from other people or from God—without using guile and cunning. It all comes to a head in the moment of crisis at the Jabbock, where he spends all night wrestling with (the angel of) God. The wrestling seems to symbolise Jacob’s struggle that God will actually give him anything good without his getting it for himself: ‘God helps those who help themselves’ it seems to him. As the climax of this struggle, perhaps as his final act of grasping for himself what God actually longs to give him, he demands a blessing. And he gets one. But he gets two others ‘gifts’ as well. The first is a wound, a limp, which disables him and reminds him for the rest of his life that it is not his strength or his cunning which in the end are the most important things. And he gets a new attitude—an attitude of humility, obedience and gratitude. He has finally learned to accept what God has given him, and to follow God’s calling, even if he thinks that he could do better by his own cunning—but he cannot. To remind him of the moment, his name is changed to Israel, and the people who then bore his name had to be constantly reminded of the same lesson—that flourishing lay in receiving from God his grace and his call to obedience, rather than in wrestling using their own cunning.

But Simon’s use of the phrase turns it into exactly the opposite. He has isolated it, stripped it of its narrative clothing, and put it to work as a weapon in service of an ideology. And as this happens, God is silenced. This process of atomisation, isolation and decontextualisation is writ large all over the argument for change in the Church’s teaching, and it is why the debate is about so much more than just sex and marriage. It is about whether we will allow God to speak to us by his Spirit through the pages of Scripture, and in so speaking will form us in the likeness of Christ.

Simon demands a blessing from me, but in doing so he is asking me to bless that which Scripture says God does not bless. Paul talks of the ‘love of Christ which constrains us’ (2 Cor 5.14) and if we are to be a loving Church, we must love with the love of Christ. Instead, my continuing affection for and commitment to Simon makes me pray that he (and I equally) will learn the lesson of Jacob/Israel, to accept God’s grace and calling to obedience as sufficient. It is not loving to bless what God does not bless—neither is it loving to demand such blessing from others. That is the heart of our dilemma as a Church, and no amount of language of ‘inclusion’ will resolve this.

What practical difference will the vote make? It will not lead to a new report, since we cannot consider one on the same issue in the life of this Synod. It is difficult to see how the position of the bishops will change; if some break ranks, many will respond ‘Why didn’t you speak up earlier?’ It might lead to a fracture in the House of Bishops, as some clearly hope—which will mean dioceses diverging in their teaching and policies. If so, evangelicals will start to withdraw both cooperation and funding—so keep an eye out for the next diocese to run out of money. It has perhaps raised hopes for change again—which are likely to be dashed once more, at least in terms of formal change in the Church. In introducing the report, Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, emphasised yet again that changing this teaching, shared in much of the Anglican Communion and ecumenically, wasn’t in the gift of the Church.

What it has done is highlighted the deep divisions in the Church—but done nothing to heal them. Not only do we disagree, we even disagree about what it is we disagree on. And it has set clergy against their bishops. Some will ask what the bishops have been doing all these years, in terms of teaching and training and holding clergy to appropriate account, to lead to such a deep level of mistrust. But others might ask clergy what they think they are doing in rejecting the teaching of those to whom they have pledged canonical obedience. Either which way, it is incoherent, and no way to run a railway. And in the end it has demonstrated the power of this issue to break the Church. Those seeking change have demonstrated their determination to continue pushing, regardless of the consequences.

As Zachary Giuliano concludes: there are no winners.

Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

152 thoughts on “On Synod, sexuality, and not ‘Taking note’”

  1. I think this comes across as very honest, especially in relation to your relationship to Simon Butler, so I thank you for what you have written. I feel much of what I’d want to say in response to the things you’ve discussed here has been covered already by comments made in previous posts, but I do still have two questions if I may?

    The first relates to Justin Welby’s ‘appropriation’ of Simon’s anecdote. Simply, is it worth raising this with the Archbishop privately? If it has grieved you to be exemplified in this manner I think you should seek response from him, perhaps redress, or at least a conversation. Perhaps this is too personal a question to make here so publicly, but you have been by and large positive about JW’s influence in the church here on this blog, and it would be a shame to see your opinion of the man suffer significantly as a result of this incident, as I sincerely doubt it was a vindictive or intentional assault on your character/action.

    The second is just to pick up on your comment about Evangelicals withdrawing funding. How likely is this? Is funding and co-operation likely to be used as leverage over the diocese(s?) (what’s the plural of diocese…?) and should it be? Is it a problem for the Evangelicals to use their resources in that way?

    • On the second point, withdrawing parish share (or directly spending their parish share on projects in the diocese of their own choice) is something that has been done in the past by evangelical churches, and I’m sure could happen again. Some would argue the diocese would spend the money immorally so they will invest it where it should be, some will argue that they have an agreement to give the diocese the money and not paying would be immoral.

  2. I think that the report has made the divisions worse and done nothing to heal them.The CofE is in a bad place with people set against each other. It is a poor report which has been rushed out. Andrew Goddard’s analysis of it on Fulcrum is excellent. The Bishops would have been better to have put the report out as a consultation document for comments rather than as ‘a take note’ document. We are now at an impasse with the battle lines drawn and much anger. For many the report reads as though the Shared Conversations had never taken place, though I know that you had reservations about them. It is hard to see what is the best way forward. From any standpoint, the authority of the Bishops is severely dented.

  3. The whole issue has been wrongly conceived as something that there is strong disagreement about. Until that ‘disagreement’ has been analysed for which parts of it are research-based and which parts of it are ideology-based (the diametric opposite) then that presupposition is not based on anything.

    Do people realise how colossal a waste of time the whole thing is, and how that time is precious and has effectively been stolen? People gravitate to this issue because it is more fun and their carnal nature instinctively likes it. The remedy for that is not to give them (us) the choice.

    One looks at it, and wonders how people cannot see that it is one big diversionary tactic – and among the biblical dramatis personae who plans diversionary tactics? What has it to do with the gospel or the kingdom? It is cultural accommodation.

    Andrea MW is quite right to say that there is no possible compromise and to speak of timewasting, but two things can be said here. First, compromise is not the name of the game anyway and how on earth did anyone come to think that it was? – unity IN TRUTH is the name of the game (any other so-called ‘unity’ is worthless and we are only on this earth for a few years, can you imagine a greater waste of time than devoting years to producing a bland toothless unity?).
    Second, there is no credit due to her for making this point, because it is such a blindingly obvious point to her, to me and to many. Like her, I am glad the vote was lost.

  4. But Simon’s use of the phrase turns it into exactly the opposite. He has isolated it, stripped it of its narrative clothing, and put it to work as a weapon in service of an ideology. And as this happens, God is silenced. This process of atomisation, isolation and decontextualisation is writ large all over the argument for change in the Church’s teaching, and it is why the debate is about so much more than just sex and marriage. It is about whether we will allow God to speak to us by his Spirit through the pages of Scripture, and in so speaking will form us in the likeness of Christ.

    Simon demands a blessing from me, but in doing so he is asking me to bless that which Scripture says God does not bless. Paul talks of the ‘love of Christ which constrains us’ (2 Cor 5.14) and if we are to be a loving Church, we must love with the love of Christ. Instead, my continuing affection for and commitment to Simon makes me pray that he (and I equally) will learn the lesson of Jacob/Israel, to accept God’s grace and calling to obedience as sufficient. It is not loving to bless what God does not bless—neither is it loving to demand such blessing from others. That is the heart of our dilemma as a Church, and no amount of language of ‘inclusion’ will resolve this.


    • The immaturity in wanting to be able to define God, sin, inclusion and everything else on our own terms has frequently been noted.

      Is it just me, or did I grow up in a church populated with soldiers and servants and has it not progressively become one where people define themselves not as co-workers but first as patients and now as abuse victims?

      This issue which has eaten up so much time and money is entirely a navel-gazing one: the church meant to be ministering to the needs of the world prioritising instead its own personal psychological needs or rather desires.

  5. Ian, I am so grateful for your clear and insightful comment on this. Two things alarm me…the first is the intimidation one feels (I feel) to say, ‘No, I don’t agree with your aim’ and the second is the reality that this issue has the power to break the church. That a minority are willing to keep pushing to get what they want until that happens really saddens me.

  6. “Simon demands a blessing from me, but in doing so he is asking me to bless that which Scripture says God does not bless.” Are you sure about that? It may be that he is simply asking you to bless him as a child of God, without reference to his sexuality or “lifestyle”. I believe there is nothing to stop you doing so in all integrity. Indeed, as a priest, I feel it is my duty never to withhold blessing.

  7. There is major dysfunction in the House of Bishops of the Church of England. The result of this debate is a seismic wake-up call. What we witnessed yesterday was the Synod exercising its governance role by trumping the supposed leadership of the bishops. Both ++Cantuar and +Norwich got it and were relatively on message. The matter can and will come back but not before some deep reflection. We can expect to see bishops breaking ranks. Adopting a policy of collective responsibility with the use of a few sticky plasters is no strategy. This discredited report will be consigned to the synod dustbin along with its earlier drafts. One wonders what they said! You do not deal with irreconcilable opinions by restating the status quo.

    • Er a clear majority of synod voted to note it. It narrowly failed in the House of Clergy, in part because of conservative opposition as well as liberal. And do you really think any actual changes in teaching and practice would get through synod, if a report with this much support couldn’t?

      The bishops were leading as they had been asked to do. The clergy, appallingly, undermined that leadership on a key issue at a key moment. What good exactly do you think can come of this? Certainly not any kind of unity, order or moving forward together. This is a mess.

      • In the synodical process of the Church of England we require a high level of agreement. A careful reading of the Standing Orders that govern our work together shows this. It means you can ask for all three houses to be in agreement but even that request requires members standing before it can be put to the vote. Any change to first order issues like doctrine and liturgy require a two thirds majority. Sometimes people of all persuasions use these safeguards as political tools but whatever the motive I think the very difficult requirement of this high level of agreement is a real strength. Often it makes us think again and whilst that may be painful the outcome is often better. At least the failure to take note prompted by the House of Clergy meant the Synod was not pushed into what could have been a very debilitating and les well prepared debate on two Following Motions.

        • Sue, I think you are right, and in fact I think it might be a blessing that we were saved from debating the following motions. I don’t think we were ready.

          But it has also struck me that the problem with this Take Note vote was that there was no following motion attached from the bishops themselves. If there had been, then I think protest against the report would have focussed there, and we would have been able to take note.

      • “The clergy, appallingly, undermined that leadership on a key issue at a key moment.”

        So we should do what? Abolish the House of Clergy? Perhaps abolish the House of Laity as well and allow the Bishops to rule as a Curia?

      • That rather depends on what you mean by a “clear majority”. If you look at the voting figures in the two elected Houses, then it was 199 against 183. That’s not a “clear majority”, but a 52%/48% split. That might be quite close to representing the views of the church membership in England at large.

        (It’s quite reasonable to leave aside the vote in the HoB in this kind of analysis, since they had previously agreed their position, and were likely under some kind of agreement to support the motion. I don’t mean that the vote of the HoB should be set aside in the synodical process.)

  8. Ian Thank you for the reflections here. I come from a different place to you but I assure you I read and listen with respect. I am with Anthony Archer on the one. Scripture tells us to test all things and synod did just that through due process. My hope is that this will actually take a burden off the backs of our bishops and make it possible for a different kind of oversight to emerge. As to your reference Jayne Ozanne. Unless you are suggesting that she was doing anything improper (as if no one else was campaigning or blogging from their own varied points of view) I will read your comments here as a very grudging, very backhanded compliment.

    • Thanks David. I have no idea why you should read my comments as grudging. I am well aware that people were lobbying from all sorts of angles. But Jayne is a PR professional who gave considerable time to this, and that was evident from a range of initiatives that had an impact on the debate and vote. To deny the impact of this seems to me to be odd and unnecessary.

      One of the features of the debate overall, as I have experienced it over the last four years, has been the gradually lowering of the bar in terms of discussion. The most trite and trivial arguments are now rehearsed with greater and greater frequency, when one might have thought that over time the conversation would develop.

    • On your other point, I think that reference to Scripture was notably absent in our testing. And I am curious what other forms of oversight might emerge in an episcopal church without chaos ensuing.

    • No I certainly did not. I am not in the habit of disclosing personal correspondence, but I have no problem with sharing the gist.

      Simon initiated a conversation through FB messenger on 8th Feb. It moved quite quickly onto the question of the upcoming debate, what was going to happen, and what Simon was after. He then said that what mattered was having a greater level of honesty.

      After reflecting on this for a couple of days, I felt I needed to challenge Simon on his honesty in self presentation. As he notes above, he met his partner 15 years ago. But in fact he had managed the public disclosure of his situation very carefully over a period of several years. I can see why; if he had stood as Prolocutor and been honest about being in a same-sex relationship, I don’t think he would have been elected.

      I did not (as claimed) ask for any personal disclosure, and I never have done. In fact, when Simon continued to disclose things to me at July Synod, I emphasised that I had no interest in prying into his personal life, and never would, and that it was up to him whether he wanted to disclose anything to me.

      But I think his handling of this matter has been dishonest at every turn, including his refusal (as he said to me) to ever answer a question as to whether he is living in accordance with the bishops’ and Church’s teaching. His bishop does not ask this question, in defiance of the bishops’ agreed position.

      I hope that clarifies the position.

      • The key issue is certainly honesty and truth in general (rather than, as others say, justice, inclusion, scripture). The degree to which people have changed the subject when given the statistical evidence about the effects of homosexual practice has been staggering. The permanent-stable-faithful quasi-sexual unions they campaign for, even if they were an intrinsically good thing OR in accord with biology (they are neither) are in practice a mere 1% of the practice of 1-2% of the population, in the case of men; and more in the case of women who however break up their relationships with greater frequency than the men, a case of serial permanence/faithfulness (an oxymoron). They never mention this elephant in the room when campaigning for things like SSM, nor the degree to which the absence of any possibility of a ‘biological’ family makes SSM a different category of thing altogether.

        • Citing your sources is usually good form if you are to rely on statistics. I’m not sure where your numbers come from, but there are certainly studies that exist suggesting wildly different numbers from yours, e.g.


          reports that a fifth of those who acknowledged themselves as same-sex couples in the US census are in registered civil unions or domestic partnerships. So, not 1%… It also reports that such same-sex unions are less likely to be dissolved than unions between those of opposite sex.

          • You mention here two issues, neither of which was among the subjects I was talking about, but you are right that they are closely related. Mattison and McWhirter ‘The Male Couple’ found no faithful male couples at all in their largeish sample (obviously some do exist); also, around 90% of homosexuals are not in a couple in the first place (see the collection of papers cited – NOT WRITTEN – by Gagnon, Bible & Homosexual Practice (2001): 452-60, ML Brown, A Queer Thing Happened (2011): 382-6.
            So – if 1.5% of people self-identify as homosexual, 0.25% of these are in a couple, and 0.0025% are part of a faithful couple, we can see that all the headlines are about a vanishingly small number of people.

            Those who make a more permanent union (who were not my topic, but were relevant to it) are, of course, going to be self-selectingly more faithful than the average: in this case, *much* more so.

            If same-sex unions are less likely to be dissolved, I wonder why people are getting statistics on something that has not been around long enough to yield accurate figures. The assertion may be true or false, but I wonder whether we can tell properly yet.

          • I was going too fast. Read:

            So – if 1.5% of people self-identify as homosexual, 0.15% of people are homosexuals who are in a couple, and 0.0015% of people are homosexuals who are part of a faithful and longterm couple (the faithfulness being more of an issue for the men and the long-term being more of an issue for the women), we can see that….

  9. I was rather concerned that ++Justin’s casting of the way forward seemed to prescribe only one outcome:

    The outcome is predetermined if we insist on seeing people as “created in the image of God” without reference to the fall. It is predetermined if we insist on basing our doctrine on a “21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual” without critiquing the current prioritising of individual psychology over God’s intentions as seen in our physiology and biology. And it is predetermined if we base our discernment “in scripture, in reason, in tradition [and] in theology” rather than acknowledging the absolute authority of the moral teachings of Jesus and His Apostles as found in Scripture.

    Please “stick in there” and speak up for orthodoxy on the Archbishops’ Council!

  10. Thank you Ian, as always, for your clarity and courage. You are highly esteemed where it matters.
    ‘… continue his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life.’

  11. Hi Ian,

    You mention:

    It would, perhaps, have been helpful to the wider church if the bishops in their report had shown us more of their workings here. This could have addressed such questions as:
    How many other options were considered?
    What were these other options and why were they framed as they were?
    What evidence – biblical, theological, pastoral, legal, missional, ecclesiological – was presented in their favour?

    As you know, I agree entirely with this sentiment, since it’s the basis for my criticism of the BRGS Report http://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/where-are-the-bishops-leading-on-the-sexuality-debate/#comment-343536:

    For instance, out of concerns for the Church of England’s catholicity, the Bishops’ Reflection Group of Sexuality (BRGS), could have articulated exactly where traditionalists and revisionists agreed and then clarified the exact shape of disagreement in theological implications. However much both sides would have continued to disagree, it would have demonstrated that the Bishops had listened carefully to the theological arguments from both sides.

    So, despite the comfort which the Report might give to conservatives, the Reflection Group did not engage in theological reflection as much as it deliberated on alternative options. Instead of clarifying the implications for the Church’s relationship to scripture, tradition and reason of accepting the revisionist understanding of same-sex relationships, or maintain the status quo, Annex 1 (an extract from a note from the Legal Office to BRGS) merely clarifies the legal options upon which General Synod can deliberate.

    Synod’s response to the Report should not have come as a surprise.

  12. A pantomime horse is how T S Eliot described the Church of South India when attempts were made in the early 50s for the C of E to enter into communion with it.You could say that is what the C of E has been since 1559.I have always cherished Cheslyn Jones description in Christian Believing…an unstable amalgam held together in an erastian framework…fortunately parish life seems to go on in its own way.sort of. despite the General Synod …tho recently when I told a distinguished Oxford historian I was now teaching an MA at Kent on 17c religion that said this might be good preparation for what is to come!

  13. I know I must sound like a cracked record, but I do restate what to me is the blindingly obvious: this whole disagreement has lacked the essential common ground of agreement that the doctrine of Original Sin as stated in Article 9 is true. The Church needs to go back to the drawing board and have a painful, candid and open debate about that doctrine. This would strike far deeper than the same-sex disagreement, important thought that disagreement is. I would be rebuked but pleased and humbled to learn that all the Bishops believe ex animo that that doctrine is true.
    The current Church doctrine of marriage is met with incredulity by many. How much more incredible is the Church doctrine of Man, that we are all born with a nature which is inclined to evil and are facing God’s anger and condemnation. All ordained persons have promised to be loyal to this doctrine as their ‘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?’ To proclaim that terrible but true warning, alongside the wonderful true proclamation of deliverance by submitting to Jesus Christ in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear is a greater challenge to the Church than standing its ground on the same-sex disagreement. The Church of England faces a moment of truth. To be part of the British Establishment and a servant of Society or to be faithful to its Master and his Apostles, with all the disbelief, scorn, incredulity and, sooner or later, persecution which they endured.

    Phil Almond

  14. Phil Greetings. Did you actually listen the debate? I heard no one denying or minimising the reality of sin. Several spoke strongly about it. But if you mean that to be gay is itself sinful in some fundamentally ‘original’ sense, and that the presence of people who are LGBTi is a particular sign of that sin? – well there we seriously differ.

    • The main flaw is so basic that people miss it – within the concept of ‘being gay’. By what right does anyone expect the idea of ‘being gay’ to be accepted without question, given that it is highly open to question?

      No-one familiar with the science could either think that there is any *necessary* correlation between present claims to be gay and physiological make-up, nor a notable stability in claims to be gay at different points while growing up, nor anything other than a massive environmental/circumstantial factor on average in claims to be gay. People are oriented a certain way *now* (however unstably or fluidly at times) but that does not mean they are so oriented by nature or were gay as a baby.

      When trying to find some difference between present same-sex orientation and present addiction to smoking or to crocheting, I am never sure why I should treat the former as something basic and the latter two as something contingent. Both are largely the result of life circumstances.

        • I have posted them 3 times but unfortunately the comment is not ‘taking’, not sure of the reason. They are in What Are We Teaching The Children? (Voice For Justice / Wilberforce ’16) 308-9, notes 324-5.

      • I could just as easily say, “When trying to find some difference between present other-sex orientation and present addiction to smoking or to crocheting, I am never sure why I should treat the former as something basic and the latter two as something contingent.” And there would be just as little reason to take it seriously.

      • One could make a similarly inept comparison between present other-sex orientation and present addiction to smoking or to crocheting. And there would be just as little reason to take it seriously.

        • That point has already been answered. The two cases are obviously not equivalent. It is only in very recent times (a tiny minority of history) that ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ have been thought to be needed as meaningful terms at all. Because there is every reason to see the one as something in accord with the biological process, and not the other.

          • A comparison of same-sex orientation to addiction to smoking or to crocheting is as inept as a comparison of other-sex orientation to addiction to smoking or to crocheting. Whether you consider the two orientations to be equivalent (and that raises the further question of what exactly you mean by “equivalent”), and how recently the need has been felt for ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ as meaningful terms, are no doubt interesting topics for discussion, but they have no bearing on that point.

          • But I am not comparing them as phenomena, am I? I am comparing how far they are innate, essential to us, present from birth; and how far they are behaviours that are learned and become irresistible through practice.

          • Christopher Shell – Here are your own words:

            “When trying to find some difference between present same-sex orientation and present addiction to smoking or to crocheting, I am never sure why I should treat the former as something basic and the latter two as something contingent.”

            I have not succeeded in making any sense of your assertion that you are “not comparing them as phenomena”, and your explanation that it is in particular respects that you are comparing them provides no illumination. It seems to me to be simply a meaningless excuse for making an inept comparison.

            A homosexual (same-sex) orientation, like a heterosexual (other-sex) orientation, is manifestly NOT analogous to an addiction to smoking (or to an addiction to anything else). An addiction is produced by a behaviour. To become addicted, you first have to DO something: you have to start smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, injecting drugs, gambling or whatever. There is no such thing as an addicted smoker who has never smoked, an alcoholic who has never consumed alcohol, a drug addict who has never taken drugs, a gambling adduct who has never gambled etc. A sexual orientation, by contrast, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is not a behaviour, learned or otherwise – although it frequently leads sooner or later to sexual behaviour – but an ongoing pattern of sexual attraction. To have either a homosexual or a heterosexual orientation you don’t have to DO anything at all. Most people are aware of their sexual orientation before they express it in sexual behaviour, often long before, and even if they never do. No sexual behaviour is literally irresistible, but it is the orientation that leads to the heterosexual or homosexual behaviour, not vice versa.

            As a man who knew that he had a homosexual orientation many years before he had any sexual experience of any kind with anyone, and whose sexual attractions were not eradicated, changed, or in any way diminished by those years of abstinence, and as a former smoker who is glad to have escaped from the addiction, I know whereof I speak. I haven’t got much patience with facile, armchair analogies which bear no relation to reality, nor should I have.

          • I do not think that to become addicted you have to DO something, though this is very frequently the case. There are clear exceptions:

            (a) Sometimes the addiction is produced by another person doing something to you.

            (b) Sometimes it is produced by circumstances, things that happen to you and/or are part of your environment.

            (c) Sometimes it is James 1.15, with desirous thoughts at the root: ‘desire, having conceived, gives birth to sin’.

          • Re: not comparing them as phenomena:
            The 3 behaviours addiction to smoking, to crocheting, and to same-sex behaviour are not similar. But the addiction aspect of them is; accordingly, it is proposed that the type of origin that addiciton has may very often be similar in the 3 cases as well.

          • Christopher Shell – I see no more reason to suppose that same-sex behaviour per se is any more of an addiction than other-sex behaviour is, nor have you provided any.

            However, earlier you were bracketing addiction to smoking or to crocheting, which are both unquestionably behaviours, with “same-sex ORIENTATION”. I see that you have now changed the last one to “same-sex BEHAVIOUR”. I wonder why that is.

            Your three “clear exceptions” to the general rule that one has to DO something to acquire an addiction might possibly be more convincing if you could supply a few concrete examples. I would add that the third exception sounds to me suspiciously like an attempt to play games with the meaning of “addiction”.

          • I agree with you that the word ‘addiction’ takes some careful defining. We are all addicted to food, to breathing, to sleeping – in the sense that we cannot do without them and would keenly feel the lack of them.

            In normal parlance, ‘addiction’ is quite often reserved for those habits that we keep repeating while knowing they are bad for us.

            My third point (James 1.15) is key: sometimes we can think sinful thoughts which can *later* cause sinful action. Thinking is an action too.

            Looking back over my comments, I began by bracketing ‘same-sex orientation’ with other habits (smoking, crocheting) – but of course orientation is not a habit, so these 2 things should be compared to ‘same-sex *behaviour*’ not ‘same-sex orientation’.

            The orientation may very well be the result of actions or choices or experiences or things suffered or circumstances. It is not, of course, in a vacuum. It may be also a passing stage of development which is not moved beyond.

          • Christopher Shell – It seems to me that the essential element of addiction is that the behaviour, whether or not it is in itself harmful – crocheting, which you have suggested as one activity to which a person could become addicted, surely is not – has become compulsive, out of control: the person can’t “lay off it” whether s/he would like to or not. It has taken over, so that no matter how much s/he says “No” to it, s/he ends up giving in to it. Obviously sexual behaviour of any kind can become an addiction, but it is clear to me that same-sex behaviour per se is no more of an addiction than other-sex behaviour per se is.

            I agree, of course, that thoughts can and frequently do lead to actions, but I see no evidence that it is possible to think oneself into acquiring a sexual orientation (leading to action or not). People who cannot or will not accept their sexual orientation often attempt to think themselves OUT of it; some even devote years of their lives to the project; they invariably fail.

            Theories about how either a heterosexual or a homosexual orientation is caused are, in the present state of our knowledge, merely that – theories, opinions, beliefs.

        • So, provide us with a suitable comparison.

          Of course, you can’t because you’ve stated on another thread that ‘a sexual attraction is disordered if any expression of that attraction in practice would result in behaviour which is morally wrong.’

          Yet, you remain particularly inept at clarifying the objective criteria by which you morally distinguish behaviour resulting from sexual attractions.

          Until you can, there’s also little reason to take your argument seriously.

          • David Shepherd – A suitable comparison? If you’re looking for a phenomenon with which to compare same-sex orientation, the most obvious one is other-sex orientation. There are, of course, some important differences, but both are sexual orientations, not addictions, and the correspondences are many. Didn’t that occur to you? Ah well, one can’t think of everything.

          • Will,

            Oh dear. I qualified the request for comparison by asking for the objective moral criteria by which you morally distinguish behaviour resulting from sexual attractions.

            You should have included them. Didn’t that occur to you? Ah well, but one can’t think of everything, can one?

          • Will,

            It did occur to me, but I qualified my request for comparison by asking you (once again) for objective criteria. That’s not the same as identifying similarities and import at differences.

            Your resort to snarky remarks can’t conceal your repeated ineptitude at providing this.

          • David Shepherd – You asked for a suitable comparison, and I gave you one. Yes, I ignored your so-called “qualification”, since I have no intention of getting side-tracked by an attempt to resuscitate a separate argument from a different thread.

            If you do not agree that my comparison is a suitable one, then I suggest that you tell us exactly why. That would be far more useful and instructive than producing red herrings.

          • William,

            Your estimation of objective moral criteria as a ‘useless red herring’ speaks volumes.

            You are welcome to remain in your world of subjective diatribe.

            As you’ve explained above, ‘there are, of course, important differences’.

            On the other thread, such mportant differences have been sufficient for you to dismiss other comparisons as inept..,in the same way as I dismiss yours now.


          • David Shepherd – Thank you. When we compare similar phenomena, there are always differences. (If there weren’t, they wouldn’t be similar; they would be identical.) And often those differences will be important ones. I rejected the comparison between a same-sex orientation and an addiction to smoking or to crocheting as inept because they aren’t even similar phenomena. That consideration is in no way affected by your view (even if it is correct) that I have not satisfactorily clarified “the objective criteria by which [I] morally distinguish behaviour resulting from sexual attractions”.

            Now that we have got that red herring out of the way, perhaps you would like to tell us why you consider my own comparison not to be suitable, and to give us a comparison which you DO consider to be suitable.

          • William,

            Reproduction is aligned with the inclusive fitness of our species. I know that kin selection theory is disputed, but even, in terms of individual fitness, this is an evolutionary priority for maintaining our overall genetic (allele) diversity.

            Since inclusive fitness is an average, ‘it will reflect the reproductive outcomes of all individuals of a particular genotype in a given environment or set of environments’.

            When compared to more costly efforts to perpetuate genetic diversity (which is crucial to the success of our species), it stands to reason that the majority of humans are other-sex oriented.

            In terms of the social aspect of these efforts, it also makes sense for human society to deploy inter-generational mechanisms (institutions, which maintain inter-generational meaning) to prioritise the types of sexual relationships that are naturally (and therefore more readily) capable of furthering the inclusive fitness of human society.

            This is prioritization is also reinforced by the need to counteract the threat of inbreeding depression.

            Kin selection (the evolutionary strategy that favours the reproductive success of relatives, even at a cost to the organism’s own genetic survival) has been advanced as an explanation of homosexuality, i.e. that same-sex attraction demonstrates an unconscious biological altruism in furtherance of the genetic outcomes of straight siblings (i.e. nephews and nieces).

            It remains a moot point whether those who experience homosexual orientation are unconsciously opting out of reproduction in order to promote better genetic outcomes for siblings. The quantitative proof of the theory’s validity would be a consequent improvement in those outcomes.

            So, according to kin selection (and even natural or multi-level selection), in terms of genetic outcomes, same-sex orientation would be biologically ‘altruistic’, while other-sex orientation would be biologically ‘selfish’. That’s why your comparison is unsuitable.

            Based on biological altruism, a better comparison would be another form of sexual attraction which bears the similarity of unconsciously opting out of reproduction.

            Of course, it would be easy to dismiss without justification any basis of unconscious sexual attraction in natural, kin, or group selection.

            In fact, such ease of doing so would indicate a lazy intellect.

          • David Shepherd – Thank you for that. It doesn’t make my comparison of a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation unsuitable at all. It simply points up an important difference between the two and briefly outlines a theory about it.

          • William,

            That is lazy. Instead of your one-sided resort to just declaring insufficient proof, I would similarly suggest that you tell us exactly why this important difference does not make your comparison unsuitable.

            Especially, given the rationale you’ve employed to dismiss other comparisons.

          • David Shepherd – To compare a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation is not unsuitable, because both are sexual orientations. The existence of important differences does not invalidate the comparison: both are still sexual orientations. I dismissed the comparison of a homosexual orientation to an addiction to smoking or to crocheting as plainly unsuitable because neither of the latter is a sexual orientation or anything like one. I hope that that is simple enough to understand. What comparison would *you* consider to be suitable? You still haven’t told us.

          • William,

            As you might say, homosexual orientation and heterosexual orientation are sexual orientations, so the comparison is *in that particular respect* valid.

            Bisexuality and, some would also say, asexuality, are yet other orientations. What of it?

            What should we conclude from such phenomena sharing this common characteristic of being orientations beyond that very fact? What else of importance does the comparison tell us?

            Nothing at all that I can see.

    • David, I think the point Phil’s making is that the image of God is marred in each of us; every aspect of who we are is sinful to some extent.

      That undermines that oft-made assertion that because I didnt choose my sexual orientation it is not sinful.

      • I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to describe sexual orientations as sinful. It’s certain sexual practices which are sinful. Orientations (and attractions and desires) can just be disordered. It’s an important distinction.

  15. David
    No, I did not listen to the debate. But I note that the Bishop’s report, while mentioning that God made us in his image, did not – as far as I could see – did I miss something – also say that because of the Fall we are all born with a nature which is inclined to evil. Was that doctrine mentioned in the debate? Was it clear in the debate that everybody believed it? My view (I know you disagree) is that husband-wife asymmetry, including male-headship, as in Ephesians 5:18-33 and in all the places in the Bible where marriage is a picture of the relationship between God and his people, is a feature of the ‘very good’ human nature before the Fall. It is inconceivable that same-sex attraction could also have been part of that ‘very good’ nature because in that same-sex attraction that asymmetry is absent. Obviously unless someone believes in the Fall and Original sin this view is not even in the debate.
    Phil Almond

  16. ” there are many devices in a man’s/ woman’s heart but the counsel of the LORD will stand” Proverbs 19 vs 21 KJV 🙂

  17. ” there are many devices in a man’s/ woman’s heart but the counsel of the LORD will stand” Proverbs 19 vs 21 KJV 🙂

  18. There are many devices in a man/woman’s heart nevertheless the counsel of the LORD that will stand Proverbs 19:21 🙂 Thank goodness x

  19. The Report spoke with a forked tongue, OTOH affirming marriage as between one man and one woman, and OTOH promising “maximal freedom” in pastoral matters – in other words, no discipline if you don’t feel like it and don’t get assurances from clergy that they are not in a sexual relationship.

    This is DISHONEST. This is *not how a church honours the Lord who said there must be on dissembling among his disciples nor should there be any hint of immorality among its leaders.

    Gavin Ashenden puts his finger on the issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2welm7icFU

  20. Amidst the few, loud voices and media selectivity there is a group who feel that they weren’t really heard, in spite of Sam Allberry’s speech. My friend, a celibate, gay woman said this, ‘The thing I find most disheartening about general synod this week is the persistent assumption by the media that all gay Christians feel the same. That we’re all outraged. That we all want change. Do I not exist? Do all the people I know who are also gay and celibate because they LOVE the Lord Jesus Christ not exist?!
    I’m not oppressed. I’m not a second class citizen. I’m not lonely or unhappy or ashamed or emotionally scarred. Nobody forced me to live like this. I chose to follow Jesus because I believe he is who he says he is. It’s not always easy, especially in our society where everyone is defined by/feels entitled to a monogamous sexual relationship, but it is worth it. I’m not the only gay Christian that feels this way. There are lots of us. We exist too.’

  21. Get back to The Book, the doctrine of Original Sin, will not change, the doctrine of Man won’t either. One of the problems seems to me, that The Spirit of God has no place in the hearts of many ‘Christian’s ( and perhaps the question of what is a Christian? should be answered honestly. We may need also to examine the place we give to the Holy Spirt in our churches and in the lives of individual believers.
    This is not rocket science, the Bible is clear, and obedience is required all round, priests and people alike.

  22. I think the great benefit of yesterday’s vote is that the Archbishop of Canterbury has finally come off the fence.

    His closing statement after the vote – “we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual” – is unequivocal. He’s a liberal revisionist. Some of us will have suspected this from day one of his tenure.

    From his appointment and his very first statement (9th November 2012) on the issue – “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully” – he revealed his assumption that he had every right to make up his own mind irrespective of what he had signed up to when he was ordained. He was never challenged on that statement (as he should have been) and ever since he has manoeuvred and manipulated people and situations, until yesterday when the game was up. He was boxed in by his own dissembling and had no choice but to declare which side he was on. Yesterday was the saddest of days for the Church of England and it never should have come to this.

    Yet there is freedom in truth. Orthodox members of the church need no longer (indeed they cannot any longer) join in the game of pretence, which loyalty to their archbishop has forced them to do. I have the greatest of admiration for faithful Christians who have calmly and persistently fought off every specious argument, weathered the insults, sat through the ‘Conversations’, pointed out the woeful lack of church discipline, asked that theology be addressed honestly, written and spoken month after weary month, read the documents, analysed the data – only to be undermined at every turn by a church hierarchy which, quite simply, cannot be trusted. Well now there’s no possibility of hoping that those at the top of the church will, in the end, come good. And that, although hard to bear, is the end of an uncertainty which has held the church in limbo for at least 3 years. ‘Good disagreement’ is dead, and there’s honesty and genuine freedom in that.

    My own view is that there should be one last major effort by orthodox members of the church to fight for its soul. The gloves are clearly off; the noise and anger from revisionists may sound like that of the prophets of Baal, but let us remember what the outcome was for them. Our majestic God can do what he chooses, and in his own time; if he chooses to save the Church of England no one will prevail against him. But orthodox Christians must unite, and they need the energy and leadership which the original minority who were revisionists have used so effectively. If God wills it, it will happen.

    But the church of God is not the Church of England; while the latter may rise and it may wane, the former will continue to stand, and the orthodox faithful will remain a part of it, wherever they choose to worship their Lord and Master. And God’s church is beholden to no human organisation for it is his and only he knows who its true members are.

    • I don’t think you can take his address like that. He’s the king of diplomacy. You need to read between the lines. If he wanted to affirm same sex sexual relationships he would have said that, and he wouldn’t have chosen that moment.

      He may yet surprise me but I don’t yet see him as a revisionist.

  23. Ian, I just want to thank you for the clarity of this post. It’s good to have your position expressed so clearly, and, as I said over at Thinking Anglicans, points to why any kind of compromise on sexuality is likely impossible.

    • As someone who stands outside the Anglican Communion and within a Christian tradition that values the independency (I prefer to talk in terms of interdependence), I find all this extremely sad. I fear however, that James is right. At heart there are two incompatible views here. two (at least) radically different understandings of Scripture and despite many attempts there has been no discovery of common ground.
      One of the strengths (and also weaknesses) of my own tradition is that it forces us to recognise that what binds the Church of Jesus Christ together is common doctrine and shared practice rather than institutional or organisational structures. I think we are entitled to ask whether these are qualities which characterise the C of E – or indeed ever have. While there is undoubted strength in unity with diversity (something my own tradition has not always recognised), there are surely limits to the extent of the diversity that can be held together in any one body, especially when, as it seems from the Synod debate, there is no clear idea of where authority rests.
      This debate is about much more than sexuality. But thank you, Ian, for your continue work to bring clarity and to draw us back to the questions of authority.

      • I broadly agree with John Grayston’s post. I point out, though, that whatever the Church of England is de facto, de jure it does have a defined doctrine – see Canon A5 on the CofE website. And in the Preface and Declaration of Assent (Canon C15) all ordained persons say ‘I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.’
        But – I cannot prove it, and I would be glad and humbled to be proved wrong, but I think that the truths stated in Articles 9, 10, 17 and 31are believed ex animo by only a minority of the ordained persons in the CofE; and their conscience is untroubled because, as they see it, either those Articles need not be understood to mean the doctrines they (to me) clearly state, or – the Declaration is so loosely worded that they can make it in good conscience without believing that those Articles are true.
        This debate is certainly about much more than sexuality. I keep urging that if some form of separation on doctrinal grounds becomes inevitable, these deeper disagreements on Original Sin, the Atonement and Predestination should be addressed. A colossal task to put it mildly, given the position of the CofE in the British Constitution and the practical questions of where does the money and buildings go. With my conspiracy theory hat on I surmise that the tin can will be kicked further down the road until Prince Charles ascends the throne, since that will further complicate the issue.
        I must stress, repeating myself, that these disagreements are about what the truths of Christianity are and what the objective fact Christians – known to God to be Christians – believe. It is not about who are the objective fact Christians. It is possible for an objective fact Christian to be astray and go astray in what they believe and how they behave. Conversely it is possible for someone to believe intellectually all the truths of Christianity and not be an objective fact Christian. I would never say to anyone, ‘You are not a Christian’. But I would say, and do say, ‘What you believe is contrary to the truths of Christianity’ or ‘what you deny is one of the essential truths of Christianity’, with the hope and prayer that the person would consider whether the God and Christ they are trusting and seeking to obey are the real God and Christ as revealed to us.

        Phil Almond

    • But if the proposed compromise is between Christianity and its main enemy the sexual revolution (secularism is more or less coterminous with the sexual revolution though the latter is a subset of it), then it does not take much analysis to see that it is a strange and impossible thing to propose – those were my thoughts in the first second of time that I heard about it. The failure to realise what statistics have always shouted at us – that the sexual revolution is really bad news in most ways, and that it is all of a piece, so that its various components will always be correlated with one another and adversely correlated with Christian progress – has meant the most colossal waste of time and money that has (because this issue has been prioritised as the number-one one) stolen both time and money from every cause including the most important ones of all.

    • James: I’m not sure compromise is possible or even what is being sought. Good disagreement is different to compromise. There wasn’t compromise over the matter of Women Bishops – we simply found a solution that various parties could live with and didn’t force people to compromise what they held dear. I have always believed that the same will have to happen in this matter, and the debate in Synod on Wednesday led me to that conclusion once more. Something like the ‘Five Principles’ will now have to emerge, and the vote not to take note has enabled that to happen more swiftly.

      • Andrew,

        In contrast to the current situation, the five guiding principles were founded on the overriding consensus of the majority who voted in favour of women bishops legislation. Also, the fact that women were already ordained to the priesthood provided momentum to spur Synod along the same ‘direction of travel’.

        By comparison, among the majority who voted against the take note motion, there isn’t a similar overriding consensus in favour of affirming same-sex sexual relationships.

        For instance, LGBTI mission has made it a priority that ‘Parishes that wish to do so should be able to celebrate same-sex marriages On this blog, David Runcorn described another revisionist contingent who believe: ‘that Scripture can be understood to allow, that God blesses, and that the church should honour, committed, life-long, faithful, same-sex relationships. But many of us have concern that the word ‘marriage’ be kept for the partnership of a man and a woman.’

        Neither does most of theaccept that revisionist arguments are just as plausible as those presented in support of women priests and bishops.

        For now, the vote not to take note has enabled nothing to happen more swiftly. In fact, Miranda Threlfall Holmes’ shrewd post in response to the BRGS report made much more sense than rejecting the Take Note motion.

        • Paragraph 4 should read: ‘Neither does most of Synod accept that revisionist arguments are just as plausible as those presented in support of women priests and bishops.

      • Andrew, good disagreement requires compromise.

        Equal ordination and consecration certainly did: for traditional Anglo-Catholics in particular, any ordination of women into the apostolic succession compromised what they held dear; for conservative evangelicals, the same held true of women having headship. Those who stayed made sacrifices for unity, as did ordained women who stay in a church in which many of their colleagues, and now their bishops, don’t recognize their priesthood as being authentic.

        For the majority of evangelicals (a majority that becomes overwhelming for those in leadership positions), since sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and a woman are a salvation issue, the church so much as tolerating them would be a red line. If it’s not adiaphora, it can’t be tolerated. Unless this shifts, I can’t see how any good disagreement is possible without a parting of the ways.

        If it’s to be divorce, let it be done quickly, and with the least rancor.

  24. One of the missing parts in the whole argument is the assumption that heterosexuals find sex and marriaage easy. By and large they do not. It can be just as painful, or more painful than the homosexual life. Our brokenness becomes visible for many of us, only in marriaage. With children, and pain and joy.
    Married christians know from hard knocks that the words of Paul in Ephesians are deeply true.

    Blessed are those who mourn is also true.

    Nevertheless, the joy of the Lord is my strength.

  25. Good comment from Andrea Williams in the Telegraph today. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/16/time-church-england-lay-law-marriage/

    She seems to think the not taking note represents an opportunity as the teaching is still unchanged. The agenda of Paul Bayes and his idea of what maximum freedom would involve does seem deeply troubling for maintaining any coherence between teaching and practice.

    Ian – what do you think – can good come of this, or does the rejection by the HoC of the leadership of the HoB reflect a growing anarchy in the Church which is storing up trouble for the future?

    • I have little time for Williams after the Jamaica debacle (which she never adequately addressed, either to deny the comments, or to issue an apology), but to give her her due, she speaks her position plainly and sincerely. However much I disagree with her, I respect that she has the courage of her convictions.

      Her uncompromising position isn’t, however, held by the majority of the CoE, and regardless, would be untenable a church established in a nation that’s enshrined gay rights in law. Whatever its merits (and I don’t believe it has any), he stance doesn’t offer a viable way forwards.

      • Her position is that the authority for the church should be the Bible. There is nothing untenable about that and the fact that you think there is is very telling about what this debate is also about. You seem to think its authority should be secular law. Now that really is untenable.

      • James, re Jamaica, are you sure you are not relying on headlines and soundbites? We have all come across the phenomenon where someone knows precisely 2 things about someone (A and B) so develops a theory of that person (A because B). But our partner-choices are certainly often to do with our parenting in various ways.

  26. A Statement from Canon Simon Butler
    Prolocutor of Province of Canterbury

    Following an allegation made by Revd. Dr. Ian Paul on his blog, [widely reported in social media] that, during a debate in General Synod on Monday 13th February, I “lied to Synod”, I would like to make the following clarification:

    During the debate, I said that I had received a “text from a member of Synod” [subsequently revealed by himself to be Revd Dr Ian Paul], which I said was “stunning in its lack of emotional intelligence and borderline harassment.” This was incorrect.

    In the heat of debate, and making an unscripted addition to my speech, I should have said I had received a “Facebook message from a member of Synod,” which was “stunning in its lack of emotional intelligence and borderline harassment.” I am happy to make this clarification and will leave it others to decide whether this made a significant difference to the truthfulness of my speech or the comments made later by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    I would also like to make it clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury made it very clear to me that he did not wish to know the identity of the person who sent me the message and that I did not reveal that to him, either before or after his speech.

    I am happy to make this clarification. There was of course no intention to deceive. I do not intend to enter into further explanation or exegesis of this matter.

  27. Ian, surely the position is not that we cannot return to any report on the issue having failed to take note of GS2055 but that we cannot return to GS2055 itself. The report was widely seen as flawed, even by those,who would share your view on the substantive issue. The debate was conducted with passion and integrity from all sides and this needs to be understood. There was no chaos, and it was not heated just honest and passionate. Prayer and careful listening must be at the heart of our discourse.

    • You don’t seem to be appreciating the affront to the episcopal authority by which the Church of England is governed for the House of Clergy to refuse even to note a report which comes with the unanimous backing of the House of Bishops. Whatever its flaws – and it undoubtedly has them – this was a disgraceful move by clergy motivated by many things others than respect for episcopal authority and the bishops’ responsibility as they see it to safeguard the faith as it has been handed down to them.

      Since the bishops have stated their commitment to maintain the present doctrine of the church, albeit with maximum freedom within the law, and underlined that changing it is not within the church’s gift, what good do you think could come from throwing the report back in the bishops’ faces? This isn’t the House of Commons.

      There are things within the report I didn’t like, but that wouldn’t have excused behaving as many in the House of Clergy did by not even recognising it. Had the bishops’ proposed changing church teaching – and I was half expecting they might – I would have just sorrowfully accepted that that was where they wanted to take the church, and begun prayerfully to consider my ongoing involvement in the Church of England.

      Deploying terms like honest and passionate and careful listening can’t paper over the irresponsibility of the clergy who voted against the episcopal authority they have pledged to obey. They haven’t made it any more likely that the bishops will suddenly decide they can change church teaching after all. But they have shown a church fracturing and unwilling to follow its leadership and hold itself together. Unless the clergy can wake up and smell the coffee this does not portend well for the church as it moves into the future – a future already uncertain through declining congregations and revenue. The survival of the church should not be subordinated to the gay rights agenda. A lot of clergy need to get their priorities in order, whatever their own ‘honest and passionate’ views of the matter.

      [This got posted below by mistake but was intended as a response to Priscilla White so I’m reposting it here.]

      • Will: I am afraid you are not giving the correct process there. The report came as a result of the shared conversations, and was a staging post on that process. By their own admission the bishops wanted to listen to the reaction to their report. They wanted to be in listening mode. That has to mean they were open to listening to an adverse reaction. That’s what happened. It’s part of the synodical process. It’s not an affront to episcopal authority. It’s part of the process.

        • You would have a point – except to refuse even to note the report does suggest a blank refusal to accept their leadership and the direction they are wanting to take things, rather than a desire to criticise the details of the report and to input into its outworking. They were quite clear that it was a neutral motion so clearly expected it to be passed.

      • We describe the church as Episcopally led and synodically governed. Synod has a place and was asked in this debate to take that place in commenting on the report. The lack of support came from a range of directions, which indicates that resolution will not be easy. The gracious response of the Archbishops is an example to us all

        • The synod was asked to comment and note the report, which it refused to do. The gracious response of the archbishops shows a diplomacy which is distinctly lacking from many of the clergy (on both sides) who failed to recognise their duty to note the report whatever their personal views on the matter. Imagine if the bishops had refused to note a report which came from the house of clergy. It really isn’t defensible.

  28. It would be helpful to know what exactly was written in the FB Post that caused such offence and solicited Dr Paul’s anonymous public rebuke as being “stunning in its lack of emotional intelligence and borderline harassment”, two things I have never seen evidence of in anything written by Dr Paul.

  29. You don’t seem to be appreciating the affront to the episcopal authority by which the Church of England is governed for the House of Clergy to refuse even to note a report which comes with the unanimous backing of the House of Bishops. Whatever its flaws – and it undoubtedly has them – this was a disgraceful move by clergy motivated by many things others than respect for episcopal authority and the bishops’ responsibility as they see it to safeguard the faith as it has been handed down to them.

    Since the bishops have stated their commitment to maintain the present doctrine of the church, albeit with maximum freedom within the law, and underlined that changing it is not within the church’s gift, what good do you think could come from throwing the report back in the bishops’ faces? This isn’t the House of Commons.

    There are things within the report I didn’t like, but that wouldn’t have excused behaving as many in the House of Clergy did by not even recognising it. Had the bishops’ proposed changing church teaching – and I was half expecting they might – I would have just sorrowfully accepted that that was where they wanted to take the church, and begun prayerfully to consider my ongoing involvement in the Church of England.

    Deploying terms like honest and passionate and careful listening can’t paper over the irresponsibility of the clergy who voted against the episcopal authority they have pledged to obey. They haven’t made it any more likely that the bishops will suddenly decide they can change church teaching after all. But they have shown a church fracturing and unwilling to follow its leadership and hold itself together. Unless the clergy can wake up and smell the coffee this does not portend well for the church as it moves into the future – a future already uncertain through declining congregations and revenue. The survival of the church should not be subordinated to the gay rights agenda. A lot of clergy need to get their priorities in order, whatever their own ‘honest and passionate’ views of the matter.

    • Will
      thank you for your words I feel exactly the same so many clergy seem to think they are above the authority of Bishops and do there own things, rather being in nice easy livings than the real world which many us serve and live in,

    • Hi Will,

      Perhaps you clarify, but I can’t see why clergy should be obliged to unite with bishops’ unanimous vote. Many traditionalists on General Synod were as dismayed with this report as their revisionist counterparts.

      The pledge of clergy to render canonical obedience does not extend to controlling how they exercise their democratic rights at Synod. By any standards, the BRGS’s abandonment of its reflective remit resulted in one of the poorest working group reports in recent church history.

      No-9ne should be obliged to recognise mediocre work.

      • They weren’t being asked to approve it, just note it. The bishops were setting out their response to the shared conversations, which was essentially not to change the teaching. Obviously they aren’t legally obliged to vote to note it. But morally they are, out of respect for the exercise of episcopal authority here; it was the bishops’ responsibility and right to produce this response and the clergy should have noted it. Whatever the deficiencies of the report I think it’s clear that those who voted against noting it did so because of its teaching and where they thought it was going rather than any concerns about methodology and omissions.

        I thought the report could have been better. But it was at least clear in what it was saying. The problem is some people didn’t like what that was.

        • Hi Will,

          You wrote: ‘They weren’t being asked to approve it, just note it’

          Agreed. Nevertheless, the vote became an expression of protest by clergy who saw this Report as encouraging a compromise typical of conflict facilitation, but without adequate theological justification (Canon David Porter take note!)

          The words of Professor Oliver O’Donovan are particularly prescient of conservative thinking behind voting to not take note of the Report:
          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’

          What he said of the Pilling Report could be equally applied to the BRGS Report:
          The majority report tells its readers it abides by the church’s teaching, while giving them no reasons for believing that teaching to be true. It avoids any affirmation of the marriage doctrine the bishops are currently committed to, namely, that marriage is between one man and one woman, and yet does not observe the territorial boundary set between it and the
          Marriage Report when there is a chance of hinting at an alternative. In other words, here
          is another arbitrary anthology of favourite theological thoughts without a theological

          Identifying a consensus among the bishops not to change the Church’s doctrine of marriage is not the same as providing the weight of theological evidence for affirming it.

          Again, O’Donovan wrote pertinently: 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, does that mean that any liturgy is authorised?

          Of course, the bishops decided that neither an authorized liturgy (which would require a long-winded synodical approval process and restrict local variation), and nor a commended liturgy would do (since the latter might be legally challenged as a form of service contrary to the doctrine of the church).

          Instead, they are opting to provide guidance ‘specifying what may not take place and offering advice about what may’, while permitting ‘maximum freedom within the law’.

          Why should there be respect for this reluctance to exercise episcopal authority: specifics about what may not take place and mere advice about what may? Revisionist clergy will run rings around that kind of guidance!

          So, the case for pastoral services in the context of same sex relationships has not been made. Also, maximum freedom within the law, a teaching document and offering liturgical advice is an episcopal abdication on this issue.

          Ultimately, the Report got the verdict which it deserved.

          • A report from the leaders of the church should not not be noted because you think it hasn’t made its case. If synod wanted the bishops to produce something which they felt the report was lacking they could do that. But it was important this report was noted. Disagreeing with it is not grounds for not noting it. And it was an affront to episcopal authority and leadership to refuse to do so.

        • Okay, so you appear to be saying that the reason that it was important for this inept report to be noted is that to do otherwise would be an affront to episcopal authority, which, in turn derives from the authority of Christ.

          In fact, you might say that anything short of a unanimous vote in the House of Clergy to take note would be tantamount to dereliction of the oath of canonical obedience.

          You are, of course, free to believe that, but your indignation on behalf of the bishops probably has more to do with your belief that ordination and consecration impart ontological difference (read, supremacy) than with the context of the actual vote.

          • Whatever your ontology it is uncontroversial that the church is led by the bishops, who have authority in the church and to whom clergy have pledged canonical obedience. Note that Ian draws on this argument in his post, and he doesn’t regard ordination as ontological.

            Imagine a reverse scenario. Suppose the bishops had asked the House of Clergy to produce a report. They do so and present it to the House of Bishops, as requested. The House of Bishops, however, refuse even to note it and instead, without noting it, inform the House of Clergy all the ways in which they deem their report to be deficient and how deeply they disagree with its conclusions. The House of Clergy respond by apologising profusely to the House of Bishops for producing such a poor report and promise to go away and do better. Now I don’t know about you but I can’t imagine that scenario ever happening, and that’s because it’s extraordinarily rude and undermining. It’s also because it invites us, implausibly, to imagine the clergy having the humble attitude of the bishops, and the bishops the turbulent demeanour of the clergy. And that’s before we even add in the special considerations which apply when it is the bishops producing the report – of their responsibility to lead and the duty of the clergy to respect that role and its unifying and ordering function in the church.

            Not even noting a report which it was the bishops’ responsibility and right to produce, in their capacity as leaders of the church, in response to the shared conversations, is an affront to common decency let alone to any canonical obedience. It really is not defensible.

          • Will,

            What’s missing from your reverse scenario is the promise of clergy to exploit fully the loophole afforded by the Report’s most unfortunate turn of phrase: ‘maximum freedom within the law’.

            Ian also notes the impact on conservative clergy of a bishop and Justin Welby respectively indicating and hinting at this intention. It was this that tipped the House of Clergy towards a significant majority voting against taking note of the Report:

            The first was the speech of Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, who wanted to honour the ‘anger, the fury’ of campaigners (I am still trying to work out where in Scripture ‘fury’ towards your fellow believers is a commended virtue), and who was determined to make the most of ‘maximum freedom’ in his diocese.

            The second came in Archbishop Justin Welby’s speech, the last to be taken, in which he emphasised the need for ‘Christian inclusion’.

            I know that we’ll probably never agree on this, but your reverse example is invalid because clergy don’t wield similar episcopal authority to make good on promise to exploit fully the Report’s reference to ‘maximum freedom within the law’ in favour of what Welby called ‘Christian inclusion’.

            Bayes and Welby simply overplayed the hand dealt them by the Report’s recommendations.

          • But now all you’re saying is that it was not noted because conservatives rightly disagreed with it, or disagreed with how it seemed some would use it. But that is not a reason not to note a report. That is a reason not to approve it (if you are asked that question). Or to vote against measures which emerge from it. It should still have been noted. This situation is very bad for church order.

            Having said this I agree that Bayes and Welby were very foolish to speak as they did, and Bayes in particular (like Alan Wilson) is showing himself contemptuous of church teaching and going well beyond a legitimate pressing for reform in line with his beliefs. Despite all I’ve said, I think I can agree with you that they brought it on themselves by betraying, at the key moment, the fact that they didn’t really mean what they had written.

          • Will: sometimes disobedience is called for, don’t you think? Taking note of this report would have signalled a direction of travel that approximately half of synod, and therefore the C of E, are not happy to travel. Sometimes you have to make a point in the only way available to you. Rosa Parks discovered that when she sat down in the wrong part of the bus. Disobedience changes things for the better good sometimes. This was a Rosa Parks moment. For so many of us, there was no other choice but to vote not to take note of this report. We simply didn’t want to travel the way that taking note would have committed us to.

          • Andrew – yes you’re right this was an act of disobedience, and I’m glad this is being acknowledged. You also acknowledge that it was because of what the report said rather than concerns about its methodology or its omissions, which have always seemed to me covers for real concerns.

            When disobedience on your part is called for is a matter for your conscience – though that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

            Around half of synod didn’t want to go where the bishops were leading – though for opposing reasons. I think we’re agreed that that is the problem (and reflective of the wider problem). The point though is that church order requires that clergy submit to episcopal leadership in order to preserve the unity of the church. If all clergy just oppose their bishops for their own reasons, and only note their reports when they are happy with what they say, then the church will not hold together. Which is the problem we are facing now. I also think it is significant that it was less than half of synod opposing a report unanimously supported by the bishops.

            Given the lack of agreement amongst clergy on these matters there is little prospect of any change receiving the approval of the bishops or synod. In these circumstances, disobedience on a scale which actually prevents the bishops from holding their church together would not seem prudent or justifiable.

          • I’m sorry Will, but if we followed your logic there would still be segregation on the busses and women would not have the vote. The direction of travel was not acceptable to half the church. That’s why it was opposed. The bishops are acknowledging they got it wrong and that’s a good start.

          • I’m sorry Will but if we followed your logic there would still be segregation on the busses and women would not have the vote. The bishops have ackowledged they got things wrong and it’s time to start again

  30. Where can one find the text of the two following motions?

    On an historical note ‘re Will Jones George 1st shut down Convocation in 1717 …it didn’t need again for 150 yrs precisely because the clergy were so turbulent and put of step with the Bishops.
    One wonders how today’s Parliament views the current disarray….Frank Fields thoughts would be interesting.

  31. Ian
    I have read all the comments and still wonder if I am in the church which on Ordination, I declared to be obedient and come under the authority of God the Queen and my Diocesan Bishop and the Canons of the Church of England, but Ian in all that your comments and insight has been welcome.
    So thank you from a very confused Evangelical,

  32. As a footnote, we are often warned of dire consequences for mission should the Church persist in not affirming same-sex sexual relationships.

    Here are two comments in response to the Telegraph’s report of the Synod vote:

    I am an atheist. However, while I may disagree and disbelieve, I can nevertheless respect a religion which holds up its scriptures and says “Behold! This is the Word of God!”

    The C of E has long since abandoned any genuine commitment to its own doctrine. It is essentially a social and political movement and is happy to bow to any and all of the fads of modernity and abandon its own canon in the process. Then it wonders why it is dying.

    As an atheist I completely disagree with the church’s truth claims, especially that the Bible is the word of God. But the church only exists on those terms – it has no relevance the minute it starts revising the supposed word of God. If God was wrong, then he cannot be God; if he was right, then they can no longer claim to speak for him and their religion is irrelevant to Christianity.

    These responses demonstrate the adverse consequences for the mission of any church which, by way of revision, undermines the very scriptures that declare its divinely authorised purpose and existence.

    • David: I’m afraid those comments that you quote from the Telegraph totally miss the point of what Christianity is about. The word of God is not written down in a book. It’s a loving and living person, Jesus Christ. There is still more light and truth to break forth from that word. The word of Gid that those comments refer to are only half the story, and perhaps explains why they are atheists.

      • The word of God is written down in a book. These things are not mutually exclusive.

        Any development in doctrine must be consistent with the faith once delivered to the saints. We have no reason to expect new revelation which overrides the clear provisions of scripture.

        Certainly we have no reason to expect God now to say: It is no longer the case that I created humankind male and female, with corresponding anatomy and mutual attraction for the furtherance of humankind. I now declare that the design of humankind is not relevant for sexual ethics, it is only subjective personal preference which matters. Neither am I any longer concerned for purity and fidelity in sexual matters, or the welfare of the children produced through sexual union.

        So I think we can be confident that any new light will not move us in the direction you are suggesting.

        You are also illustrating why this issue is broader than just sexuality. It is about the authority of scripture in the church.

        • It’s about the authority of God’s word Will. And scripture is testimony to that, and so is the church, and so is reason, and so is human expereicne. The Archbishops have made it clear that we now need to look more closely at these things, using that approach, and think again about what radical inclusion will mean.

          • But they all have to be consistent. And scripture is clear. We can’t just discern from reason and experience something at odds with scripture. I’m sure that isn’t what the Archbishops have in mind. If it is then I don’t think you’ll find it getting through synod or achieving consensus. Only precipitating catastrophic splits and decline. So let’s hope not.

      • Andrew,

        In response to my comment, you wrote: those comments that you quote from the Telegraph totally miss the point of what Christianity is about.

        Yet, missing the point of Christianity never prevents revisionists from quoting non-Christian public figures and secular commentators who are offended by the Church’s stance on homosexuality.

        Instead, we are told that, however theologically Inarticulate, their sage pronouncements should be accorded almost prophetic significance. Consider the weight that some revisionists gave to Elton John’s 2014 claim that Jesus would have backed gay marriage.

        Clearly, these commenters are not theologians.

        Nevertheless, whatever you say of these atheists can equally be said of others from the secular arena (like Elton John) who revisionists quote to prove that the Church’s stance on homosexuality is hurting its mission to reach non-Christians.

        You can’t have it both ways.

      • If there is more light and truth to break out of it, as indeed there is, then 6 questions for you:

        (a) Why does the ‘light and truth’ on this occasion contradict the ‘it’ out of which it breaks?

        (b) Do we trust the level of biblical literacy of this particular age to be especially able to find accurate new insights?

        (c) How are we to measure their accuracy apart from by the normal scholarly historical-critical method?

        (d) Doesn’t it strike you as suspicious that the proposed new light is so thoroughly in line with the present age?

        (e) What is the evidence that the ‘new light’ comes out of the text rather than being imposed upon it?

        (f) Isn’t it presumptuous for laypeople, bypassing biblical scholars to whom they are not even equal in this respect and to whom they should defer, to claim they know what the new light is? I don’t venture beyond my areas of competence, and why should anyone?

        • Excellent questions Christopher. Let me try to deal with them briefly:

          a: Who says it does? The ‘it’ is not the bible. The ‘it’ is God’s word.

          b: Why would trust/mistrust it any more than any other age or the age(s) in which the bible was written?

          c: How do we measure the ‘accuracy’ of the biblical texts?

          d: No, it doesn’t. The biblical writings pretty much reflect the age in which they were written too.

          e: What is the ‘evidence’ that the biblical writings are any more God’s word than human reasoning?

          f: Theological scholars are divided about this issue. So are the bishops (we are told). So are the clergy. So are lay people. I’m not sure what your point is there I’m afraid.

          • a. Jesus in Mark 7 calls the Bible ‘God’s Word’. The Bible is a genuine and good referent for that phrase, though not the only one and not the best.
            It is very hard indeed to assess what is and is not God’s word without some time-tested original-source written deposit. People would be and are highly tempted to equate God’s word with their own ideologies.

            b. You are claiming that everage biblical literacy is at almost exactly the same level in every age?? That would be a bit of a coincidence.

            c. Are you saying that the task of the historian, and the task of the student of texts, are impossible? The universities immediately lose major faculties internationally, then. Wherever there are texts there are people who are (far) more and (far) less able to assess and anaylse them against their historical and literary background, depending on how well informed they are about the latter.

            d. I totally agree, but a bias towards one’s own age will compromise any claim to speak timelessly. One ends up arguing in a circle.

            e. Your response is not connected to the point – or maybe it is and I didn’t see the connection. Eisegesis is error no.1 in the analysis of any text whatever it be.

            f. This point is the most incorrect, as far as I can see. People regularly cite this point as an excuse. ‘Division exists, therefore nothing can be said on the topic.’ The flaws of that angle are obvious:

            -(1) People might deliberately disagree with the consensus in order to create division and point to the fact of division as ‘evidence’ that the case can’t be solved and research is futile (presumably, they are claiming that research is no better than lack of research, or than ignorance).

            -(2) There will obviously be disagreement between experts and non-experts, because those who have not studied as much will not be able or equipped to arrive at the same conclusions as the specialists.

            -(3) Those who are most in advance in their thinking are always going to be in a minority in their conclusions. They are also normally going to be more correct, in the proportion of the truth that they grasp, than anyone else.

            -(4) Very often indeed, things that are called disagreements are actually not disagreements, just the researchers are saying one thing (what they **think** is true) and many others are saying what they **like, desire, or want** to be true – which is a totally different and unconnected matter.

            -(5) Even if one person disagreed and said so, people could then say ‘Oh, there’s disagreement on the matter.’. It is quite obvious that, because of this, there will be disagreement on everything under the sun. Do you think it follows from that that there is no firm knowledge on anything under the sun? – because that would be a highly totalitarian and sweeping generalisation, and I am sure you would not make it.

            The words ‘I’m afraid’ add nothing to your final point.

            If you hold to the idea that we should trust in people’s good faith, and in the fact that they do indeed hold the positions they claim to hold, then you’re in a majority, but I disagree. People may or may not be acting in good faith. Any position that is held is valid only if it is based on evidence, not on ‘I think this’ or on anecdote, or on a wished-for or preferred scenario, or on the Zeitgeist, or on what is expected or normal among one’s peer-group, or on anything else.

          • Christopher: I am afraid (there’s that phrase again) we will struggle to find very much agreement but briefly, in response:

            a: The bible can’t be self referent. It’s rather like saying ‘Christopher Shell is right because Christopher Shell says he is right’.

            b: I asked a question. I don’t think all ages are equal.

            c: Again, I asked a question. I didn’t say the task of theologian was impossible.

            d: I think we agree there!!

            e: Again, I put you a question. I didn’t undertake any eisegesis.

            f: I still don’t get your point. The theologians and bishops disagree about this matter. So do clergy and lay people. The question is, how are we going to handle this disagreement?

            I want to ask you a very basic question. What is the ‘evidence’ that a heterosexual couple are suitable for marriage to each other?

          • a. Self-referentiality and circularity is something you’ll find me constantly opposing. In fact, I already did it in this conversation under ‘d’. The example you give is unfortunate: it is only an example but I do spend my life opposing the ‘argument’-from-authority so you will never find me using it to say that my own views are right ”because” they are right (as if that made sense). You have got the wrong guy. Plenty of people do ‘argue’ that way though, which is an abuse of both truth and power.
            But the largest mistake in what you say is to treat ‘the Bible’ as a single entity – it is of course a library. Within its covers there are plenty of things which are self-evidently true, and plenty of others spoken by (or attributed to) people like Jesus who seem to have earned the authority that is often attributed to them. (And if the idea that anyone at all has authority be rejected, then that is an ideological refusal to admit that anyone knows more than oneself, an unlikely circumstance.)

            b Well then, because current UK biblical literacy is low enough for a massive proportion of people to have scarcely read the Bible (and to think Jesus never existed), the rest follows. That is something that was not the case for several preceding generations.

            c.I never said the word ‘theologian’. I was speaking about historians and students. My view is that theology is not a sufficiently hard science, nor sufficiently verifiable or falsifiable and therefore inclined to be over-ideological. If any task is impossible, that of the theologian is more impossible than most.

            d. We agree.

            e. The biblical writings are many and diverse but you are speaking of them all in the same breath. However, things do not pass into Holy Writ by chance. They will have proven their worth, wisdom and truth first. Human reasoning may be accurate or inaccurate. If it’s accurate and truthful it’s good, if it’s not then not. The usage of the term ‘God’s word’ does not generally cover human reasoning in general, but that is because they are in different categories, it’s not a disadvantage.

            f. This has already been answered in my points (1)-(5). For example, if person A’s *research-conclusions* disagree with person B’s *wants*, no way does that count as a disagreement since we are talking about 2 different things. It would be a disagreement if two different sets of research conclusions differed.

            The word ‘heterosexual’ needs to prove its worth; the vast majority of societies have got along very well without it; and obviously contemporaneity is not a virtue. None of us is 100% suitable for marriage anyway, since being suitable for marriage is about who we are in ourselves – are we a good gift to our future spouse? But there are things you look for – love, desire, sufficient maturity and lack of selfishness, exclusivity, friendship, being an item or a unit. Things like that make them suitable to be one flesh. ‘This is a great mystery; but I am speaking of Christ and the Church’ (Eph5).

          • Your initial remark was what puzzled me – ‘we will struggle to find agreement’ – how can anyone know that unless they have made up their mind (on *all* the sub-issues?) in advance? Not making one’s mind up in advance is the first prerequisite of debate and of open-mindedness.

          • Christopher: I don’t have much time now I’m afraid but thank you for your engagement snd let me respond to just a few things.

            You write: “But the largest mistake in what you say is to treat ‘the Bible’ as a single entity – it is of course a library.”

            Interesting. I have made that point many many times on this and other blogs. Absolutely. That’s why to call the bible ‘the Word of God’ makes no sense to me. It’s a library of human writings, wonderfully inspired by God. Amen to that.

            Different theologians and bishops have done the same research and reach different conclusions. That’s why we have a problem isn’t it?

            So where do you get your evidence for these opposite sex marriages working? And the list of things you cite seems good to me. Why can’t same sex couples experience those same things? It seems to me that they (evidently) do!

          • Andrew,

            You wrote: ‘That’s why to call the bible ‘the Word of God’ makes no sense to me. It’s a library of human writings, wonderfully inspired by God. Amen to that.

            How about describing that motley bunch of inconstant disciples and erstwhile strangers ‘the body of Christ’?

            The bible is as incarnational as the church. Or should we not call the church ‘the body of Christ’?

          • I should have phrased that better David. I find it makes no sense to call ONLY the bible the word of God. I like your comparison with the body of Christ, which of course is made up of many different parts. That, as I understand it, is true of the word of God too. See John 5:39 ff

          • Hi Andrew,

            Thanks for clarifying. Article 6 validly explains the spiritual significance of scripture by stating: ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

            The apostles and prophets of God all testify to potential sources of spiritual insight, which are complementary to the prophetic insight contained in scripture, such as nature (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:19), natural providence (Acts 14:16,17) beneficent experience (Rom. 2:4), philosophical reflection (Acts 17:28 – 29); conscience (Rom. 2:14), conviction aroused by exemplary behaviour (Matt. 12:42-43; 1 Pet. 4:4)

            Notwithstanding that these potential sources of spiritual insight are not sufficient for salvation
            In themselves, what is unique about scripture is the sufficiency for salvation of what is declared, testified to and admonished therein as being required for salvation.

            We should not teach as required for redemption either that which is superfluous, or that which is contradictory to what can proven by the breadth of God’s counsel through scripture.

          • Thanks David. I think the Articles try to express things that are inexpressible and don’t do a bad job but are of course totally written with the ecclesiastical politics of the English Reformation in mind. The scriptures testify to what is necessary for salvation. And the only thing necessary for salvation is surely the grace of God found perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ isn’t it? What more is needed?

          • Hi Andrew,

            Thanks for your reply. If the focus is only on what save, then, of course, it is the grace of God.

            Nevertheless, salvation is incarnational. There is just as much emphasis in scripture on *how* the grace of God is effected in changing lives, which is through repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

            Hence, James declares that ‘faith without works is dead’. In fact, if the ‘how’ didn’t matter, there’d be no need for Great Commission to include disciples ‘teaching them all things which I have commanded you’.

  33. Puckish of me I know, but gotta say, I’m tickled by so many evangelicals having a Damascene moment on the virtues of episcopal authority! 😉

    I wish all a speedy recovery. 🙂

    • James, actually the Damascene conversion happened in the 1960s, when evangelicals were persuaded to stay and work within the structures of the C of E, following John Stott, rather than leave and form a ‘pure’ church, following Martyn Lloyd Jones.

      I am as aware as you are that we have not always been quick in realising what that might involve. But it does also require us to hold our bishops to account for their own faithfulness to the teaching of the Church.

      Perhaps, rather than loyalty to episcopal authority, we see ourselves as loyal to the historic teaching of our denomination, and look to see this mediated by episcopal authority appropriately exercised.

      • Joking aside, totally agree about evangelical Anglicans committing themselves fully to the CoE post-Keele. As I’ve said elsewhere, opposition to the English church endorsing same-sex marriage doesn’t come from the much-maligned “con-evos,” (who’ve reached mythical status as some entryist cabal, when the reality’s much less dramatic, or neatly defined) but is the mainstream evangelical position, held by people integrated into the life of the English church.

        You’re right, the evangelical position’s best described as loyalty to historic teaching, rooted in scripture, which, in an episcopal church, will be overseen by the bishops. Suggestions for a path forward are gonna have to take account of this, and incorporate it into any proposals.

    • Can I also take this opportunity to thank you for your measured, insightful and constructive contributions to this conversation, even though we are clearly of a different view on this matter. I continue to really appreciate your insights and observations.

      • Aw, thank you Ian, and right back at ya. 🙂

        My own appreciation for the time and effort you give to this blog, in both the in-depth posts and the following discussions. It’s great to have a forum where people from such diverse traditions can discuss things honestly yet respectfully. A welcome change from a ‘net packed with echo-chambers. It’s invaluable to hear so many POVs, and I’ve certainly learned from it.

        Onwards and upwards!

  34. Rod is outspoken as always, but I thought people might be interested in seeing what was being said in the Sunday Times yesterday:

    ROD LIDDLE February 19 2017, 12:01am, The Sunday Times
    A foolish man builds his church on fudge. Take note, Justin

    Henry VIII is largely to blame, I suppose. If he hadn’t disavowed the Pope and ransacked the monasteries in that first, rather glorious, Brexit, we might still have a church that knew — just about — what it stood for. Instead we have the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rapidly diminishing Home Guard of well-bred, middle-class, hand-wringing snowflakes, desperately vulnerable to every fashionable cause that comes along — and yet unable even to do an ecumenical schism properly.

    Nearly 500 years after Henry decided he’d had enough of that rather sullen Spanish babe and fancied giving one to the hired help instead, the Church of England is still wrestling over the vital issue of who can and who can’t get married. Half a millennia to sort out the ground rules and they’re still nowhere nearer a solution. And what would Jesus say? Nothing, one suspects. He’d be paralytic with laughter.

    The General Synod of the Church of England voted not to “take note” of a massively long and hugely expensive report from the bishops that decided gay marriage was probably not quite on at the moment, all things considered. The clergy voted against, the laity were mostly in favour and bishops were unanimously in favour of taking note of the report — except for the hapless Bishop of Coventry, who was confused and pressed the wrong button by mistake.

    One openly gay vicar, the Rev Canon Simon Butler, from Battersea, complained, almost in tears, that he had received a text message from another synod member that amounted to “borderline harassment” just before the vote. Listen, Simon, poppet — what happened to Thomas Cranmer could reasonably be called harassment. What happened to you was a text message. Get a grip, Butler.

    So now there will be another report and years, perhaps aeons, will pass by. I would be more understanding of this one if I felt the bishops had taken a principled decision not to support gay marriage because they felt it directly contravened what the Bible says about such stuff (which it undoubtedly does) or that it was in defiance of what we know as the will of God (which I suspect it also is but I suppose we can argue about that).

    Instead, it was an excruciating fudge aimed at appeasing those vast parts of the Anglican communion, especially in Africa, that do not ever wish to marry gay people and would prefer they were inclusively thrown off a very tall building.

    Outside the synod, the LGBT protesters, who last saw the inside of a church when they were doused in the font, protested. As if it remotely impinged upon their lives. It is not enough to have, quite justifiably, equal rights. They also demand everybody in the country should embrace them and concur with their agenda, when there are still many who would rather not, on points of principle.

    Meanwhile, presiding over this farrago — with an incredibly pained expression on his face, as is almost always the case — was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He had earlier seemingly likened the British public’s decision to vote to leave the EU to “fascism” — which is, to my mind, a strange appellation for a vast and jubilant expression of democracy and that is being undermined by some of those who disagreed with the result.

    Given the synod debacle, I would leave your musings about what is democracy and what is fascism to one side, Justin, mate. And on the issue of gay marriage, have a quick flick through the Bible and see what it throws up. An important, if controversial book, some would argue.

    • “Outside the synod, the LGBT protesters, who last saw the inside of a church when they were doused in the font, protested. As if it remotely impinged upon their lives.”

      Does Mr. Liddle have any evidence for this claim? Some of the protesters are committed Christians, I suspect a majority. If Liddle clicks onto, say, Pink News, he’ll find that the consensus appears to be bafflement as to why any LGBT person would want to stay in the church.

  35. Just catching up and to correct a procedural point: as I had it in mind to table a Following Motion, I checked with the officials with the result that they stated that the same matter (ie to Take Note of a specific report) cannot return in the present quinquennium, the HoB can bring back a different report and for it to be debated.

    Incidentally, in th end I did not table my motion largely because those I respect who are more experienced int he ways of the Synod predicted the outcome, almost spot on, even before the start of Synod! As a result, some of the suggestions about what might have tipped a balance during the meeting are perhaps claiming too much.

  36. Andrew Bunn, the correspondence secretary, for Justin Welby, said that Archbishop Welby had been “shaken” by the reaction in the House of Lords to the Bishops’ opposition to the same-sex marriage legislation.

    It is interesting how Jeremiah 12:5a If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? – plays out….if he was completely overwhelmed and driven backwards by some pressure in the House of Lords how will he cope in the presence of Real Evangelicals? Because we are on Fire with the Burning Anointing and Unlimited Equipping of the Holy Spirit and we cannot be shaken….and how will he cope in the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ….if those “footmen” in the House of Lords wear him out so easily? They should try us….but then they consider us to be the equivalent of Storm Troopers crossed with ISIS in some experiment by a Post-Nietzschean Mad Scientist….


Leave a Reply to Christopher Shell Cancel reply