updated 4 October
One of the things which various ‘inclusive’ groups – and no doubt other groups too! – are talking about at the moment concerns contacting bishops to put our views and our suggestions about what happens next with Living in Love and Faith. Letters can still be written. Meetings can still be arranged. On 4 October, the official Roadmap for the process was updated to show that, in addition to the various meetings of the College of Bishops, there are more meetings happening between Dr Eeva John, the convenor of the LLF experience, with a range of pairings from the nine bishops of the Next Steps Group and representatives of 21 different groups within the church.
As vice-chair of the General Synod Gender & Sexuality group, I attended one of these meetings on Friday. I asked about why, at that stage, the meetings hadn’t been publicised and, indeed, why the publication of the two new resources on 2 September had not been more widely shared. In both cases the answer, in brief, was that they should have been, and that when the notes from the most recent meeting of Next Steps Group were released, they would be mentioned there. And as of 4 October, both feature on the Roadmap! It seems like an opportunity was missed, but better late than never, I suppose (could that be the new slogan for the Church of England?!). The list of groups makes it clear that, as well as the inclusive groups, they are of course meeting representatives of those groups who do not accept equal marriage or whose opposition to Issues in Human Sexuality is because they don’t think it went far enough and that its constraints should apply to lay people married to a same-sex partner as well as to clergy (the C of E equivalent of a postcode lottery means that, in some dioceses, this is already happening).
So what about these meetings? Others will be saying more about their content since, under Chatham House rules, the existence of the meeting and the information shared can be discussed, just not the identity of the speakers. It was a long day, not least because I wanted to stay around Lambeth Palace for longer to catch up with the afternoon groups, but I thought it was a worthwhile use of my time (and money – no mention of any reimbursement of expenses…). Like many people, I belong to more than one ‘group’, so it was a real pleasure to meet folk to whom I had previously spoken only online, or who I hadn’t seen for a while, as well as new people, and to hear their stories. Although it was billed as a ‘listening’ exercise, in which ‘they’ would listen to ‘our’ reactions to the new resources, it went much further; Dr John and the bishops were willing to answer our questions and there was genuine conversation and honesty.
I would say that the two main themes of the morning meeting were transparency, and hospitality. I didn’t say this at the meeting, but really, to be in a national Church in which there is only one ‘out’ gay bishop, yet it is common knowledge that there are others, says it all; if it is so unsafe to admit to being lesbian or gay in this Church that those at the very top can’t be open about themselves, then what hope for a person in the pews? With the notable exception of those in the Inclusive Church network – represented at our meeting on Friday – local churches are often not transparent about whether or not they are safe places to be yourself. People who are brave enough to take that first step across the threshold of a church need to know whether they will be welcomed; really welcomed, whoever they are. For those of us on the ‘inside’, it is hard to realise just what that risky step into the unknown requires. When I have led groups on exploring the Christian faith, I’ve used the analogy of the betting shop: so, regular church-going person, would you know what to do if you were to go into one of those? And what would you do if someone you knew saw you going into the building??
One of the topics we discussed on Friday was the way that social media can increase the sense of opposition. This isn’t helpful when we are trying to find a way in which we can respect each other’s consciences and stay together as a church – as we already do around women’s priesthood and episcopacy, and around making Church marriages available to people who have been through a divorce. I’ve heard people talk about how, chatting informally to those from a more conservative viewpoint, they’ve found all sorts of areas of agreement; even the fact that this is a discussion about equal marriage suggests that we agree that marriage is a very important relationship for human flourishing. And it’s from social media that I pose this final question, raised in a Twitter thread published on 1 October; there, Andrew T. Draper asked “How can we as orthodox, Biblical Christians push back against the free-for-all ethic of the sexual revolution (where consent is the only acceptable moral category) but then not allow space for gay & transgender people to live holy, faithful lives in monogamous covenants?” Coming away from last Friday’s meetings, I feel that it’s the ‘both … and’ for which we need to make space: not ‘either … or’.
A good feedback from what sounds like a positive meeting, Helen, which I’ve heard from other sources.
But I get really angry that conservative fundamentalists are using the designation “orthodox biblical Christians” . I’m an unashamed liberal/radical anglocatholic. But I am also deeply biblical and very orthodox. They are not contradictory. Not your problem I know, but I do find myself wanting to challenge this misappropriation.
I would agree with you over the ‘labels’ – when evangelical/fundamentalist groups say ‘Christian’, with or without other terms being added, they really mean ‘people who agree with us’. We have the truth, analysed, codified and deviate from it at your peril. (Yes, I was converted via CECU and IVP too) And people who don’t share our views, well, they’re not really genuine believers, are they?
And the problem which Peter Hopkins (below) and I can both see coming is that very shortly a call to ‘come out from among them and be seperate’ will be issued.
Do we still have ‘flying bishops’? How well did that really work? The idea of a ‘new province / diocese’ which has ‘authority’ over individual churches within existing dioceses who have chosen to opt out of them is a receipe for chaos, yet seems to be implicit in the first Peter’s sugestion of a ‘general settlement and sensible agreements about money and property.’ (In common language, prepare for a split.) This is orchestrated chaos; ask the Baptist Union.
To end with the words of two friends of mine; one a lady ordinand, “When the world is more righteous than the church, the church is in serious trouble.’ And the other, a free church minister and theology lecturer – “If you’re accepting gay equality because the world demands it, then God help you.” Rudyard Kipling had some wise things to say about ‘Us’ and ‘They’………
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“Coming away from last Friday’s meetings, I feel that it’s the ‘both … and’ for which we need to make space: not ‘either … or’. ”
Thank you, Helen.
Helen. I am a conservative evangelical and I wanted to wish you well in the conversations you are now having with those with LLF.
I think it is a mistake to assume that a willingness to work in a respectful and courteous way across the divide means that the apparent precedents (the ordination of women and divorce) point to a way forward.
We need a general settlement and sensible agreements about money and property. We help ourselves (all of us) by being courteous and reasonable. However, we cannot go on as if this is just one more bump in the road to avoid. The chaos of Anglicanism of North America is the real precedent that we risk repeating .
We need two jurisdictions -it’s time to face the reality and work out the practicalities.
Thank you for that, Peter. I hope we don’t need to proceed to a division of property; I have no idea how that could work, and I honestly still don’t see why these issues have to trigger that. But of course I’m in a very different place to yours. Which one of your two jurisdictions gets to call itself ‘The Church of England’, I wonder?
Hi. I think what will emerge is a new province/diocese which has a boundary based on doctrine not geography. That avoids the difficulty of who gets to keep “the brand” if you will forgive a dismal metaphor. The only alternative is an argument that goes on for ever and ever. A material number of conservative evangelicals will not remain in spiritual communion with the bishops who are going to make the concessions which are inevitable next February. It could, of course, become a game of chicken based on the belief only very few people will take my view. I think that will be a huge mistake and I appeal to those who would characterise themselves as progressives to see that an orderly parting of the ways is the best solution Peter
I suppose much depends on what an orderly paring of the ways would look like. I’m not convinced that the ‘new province’ idea would work: if we pursue this further, would each parish have to decide which province it was in, and revisit that resolution after a fixed number of years, or when enough people voted for a change? Would this move be made because some conservative evangelicals did not consider that confirmations were valid if made by – who? A gay bishop? A gay married bishop? A bishop who has ordained people in same sex marriages? A bishop who has confirmed people in same sex marriages? If what conservative evangelicals want is some ‘parting of the ways’, I’d like to hear much more about the practicalities. Thank you for engaging, although I am saddened that any of this may happen.
Hi Helen You are absolutely right that a parting way of the ways would be agony in every sense. I am not for a moment suggesting it would be straightforward. However, It is surely a false hope to think that everything is going to gradually settle down after February 2023 and make further struggle unnecessary. I think you and GS colleagues have huge decisions to make. My sense that if and when conservative evangelicals reach out to you on GS to try and find a settlement then you will engage with them with sincerity. I wish you every blessing and assure you in my prayers in the critical months ahead Peter
Thank you Peter – this is very real, and we need everyone to feel heard, and valued.
We’re not really experiencing “chaos” here in North America. In TEC there were a handful of dioceses that left and the property issues have been resolved. Some of the schismatics have come back, the schismatic church is yet another small sect among many. The official teaching of the larger church is acceptance, but at the parish level, priests marry according to their conscience. It isn’t perfect, but the voice of open and affirming acceptance as the “mind of the church” is very healing. LGBTQ+ teens and adults in most places can find supportive parishes. Because LGBTQ people tend to seek out openly supporting parishes, the few unsupportive ones just carry on.
There is a place in TEC for conservatives, but they don’t get to impose their beliefs on others.
+Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003, same-sex blessings returned and some marriages started circa 2012 and equal marriage became policy in 2015. There was not a big pushback against equal marriage in 2015, all of that happened circa 2003 to 2010, then it was over (with a couple of court cases dragging on in only a couple of dioceses).
Fear of North America’s situation really should not be a driver. Being the “established church” in a country that has a very broad legal and cultural acceptance of full equality for LGBTQ+ people is surely the greatest factor, right?