Back in July 2021, I wrote ‘Handing on the baton? Part 1‘ as a response to the presentation given to the outgoing General Synod on where the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process had then reached. You’ll remember that this all started in 2017, at which point I was a member of the History Thematic Group, supposedly feeding in a historical dimension to the creation of the learning resources. Since then, I’ve been elected to the Synod myself. There isn’t any formal discussion of LLF scheduled at the November 2021 Synod, but there will be an optional briefing session from the Bishop of London and members have all been issued with a new document to bring them up to speed on where we are with the ‘journey’ (a rather over-used image), GS Misc 1306. This has a section summarising the responses to the questionnaire issued to members of the ‘old’ Synod, and the ‘passing the baton’ image is used there too.
Presumably the phrase ‘passing the baton’ was suggested, or at least agreed, by the group of bishops who are now taking LLF forward: called, in another reference to travel and journeys, the Next Steps Group. But it’s now concerning me. The idea of a race has good Biblical precedent; it is used in the New Testament by the author of Acts (who mentions finishing the course) and in the epistles, for example in 2 Timothy 4: 7 on how ‘finishing the race’ is equivalent to keeping the faith, as well as 1 Corinthians 9:24, where only one runner takes the prize. In a context like that of LLF, where everyone is supposed to be heard, the idea of a prize seems out of place.
I’m not a runner, but it seems to me that there are important differences between LLF and a race. In a normal race, the course is marked out; you know where the finishing line lies. That doesn’t seem to be the case with LLF. Briefly, when we began in 2017 after the failure to ‘take note’ of the report GS2055, it was clear; the finishing line, in the sense of the date when the report was to be completed, would be summer 2020, ready for the Lambeth Conference. But even then it was less clear where the finishing line would be in the sense of the Church taking decisions on the questions which led to LLF, questions which in in GS2055 were all around equal marriage. That finishing line has continued to shift and shift; part of that was due to Covid and to the postponement of the Lambeth Conference, and it’s my suspicion that the latest timeline’s schedule for issuing a report on how participants responded to the LLF course reveals that the bishops want that to happen only when Lambeth 2022 is safely over. The distance over which this ‘race’ is run goes on being extended.
I am a realist. I know that when LLF started, we were making up the plan as we went along. There couldn’t be a clear list of topics for a publication until our discussions began, and for some time there wasn’t even agreement over whether there should be a ‘big book’ or something more accessible as the output. Over the course of 2017-2020, things kept changing. The initial concept for the book was to have something on where society and the church are ‘now’, with an explanation of how we reached that; then, a section on how God communicates – at one point, in that time-honoured Church of England tradition of things beginning with the same letter, that was going to be Creation, Canon, Church, Context, Conscience – and then a section on being human. That final section moved more and more towards being about humanity as fallen and then redeemed. You may well wonder how a document on equal marriage became such a huge project.
If there is a baton to pass on, it has changed its shape many times over the process. At one point, the book was drafted so that the story of the road to Emmaus provided the overall shape: at another point, one of the eucharistic prayers became the framing device. This all felt awkward; trying to fit everything into one of these frames obviously changed the content and its emphasis, but we were told that some bishops thought the book should tell the story of salvation more fully, and it’s the bishops’ teaching document.
When you pass the baton in a relay, you don’t change the baton and you don’t change the race length at the same time. Yet even at this (supposedly) late stage, there is the proposal to add in more resources: one of them, a resource called The Gift of the Church. What’s that? I’d no idea until I saw the document which forms the basis of GS1306, which tells me that it “encourages theological reflection across the church about what it means to be church in the light of the LLF process and the questions it raises. It also aims to ensure that the work of discernment and decision-making is biblically, theologically and
experientially grounded in what it means to be church”. Who’s writing it? From the minutes of the Next Steps Group meeting of 29 September 2021, apparently the Next Steps Group and the Faith and Order Commission, with unspecified “others”.
Another addition is “an annotated bibliography relating to gender identity and transition”, even though trans Christians have argued against going ahead with this now. The letter from Revd Tina Beardsley of Changing Attitude England to the Bishop of London, summarising the current situation for trans people, has been published on the Unadulterated Love blog. Who is this bibliography for? Does anyone need it, bearing in mind that the LLF book has already discussed what it is to be trans and that, as Tina points out, the Church’s position on ordination and marriage of trans people is clear? Why problematise this group now? Tina has offered a training session to the Next Steps Group and, as for a bibliography, I’d have thought a simple recommendation to read Shon Faye’s book, The Transgender Issue: An argument for justice (2021), would suffice.
If this is a race, the losers still seem to be people who identify as LGBTQI+. The bishops-only Next Steps Group has a more diverse advisory group but it isn’t clear whether this has even met. At the moment, the involvement of LGBTQI+ people in this process has moved from minimal to apparently non-existent. It feels to me like the baton is just being passed between white cis-het people, while the race continues to be extended.