Change in church teaching expected
by Gavin Drake
Posted: 16 Aug 2013 @ 12:07 – Behind closed doors: Changing Attitude says that the absolute confidentiality of their meetings enables bishops to be open and trusting
THE nature of the debate on women bishops at the General Synod meeting last November has “finally shocked most bishops into the realisation that conservative demands can never be met”, a report of “a series of confidential conversations” with bishops by the gay-rights group Changing Attitude (CA) suggests.
The group has already met nine bishops that are “affirming” of their stance, and will meet another eight shortly.
“The absolute confidentiality we guarantee means that bishops have been very open and trusting,” the director of CA, the Revd Colin Coward, said, in an interim report of the conversations, A Vision of the Future, that was distributed to supporters this week. “We have learnt much from the conversations. With each new encounter the narrative has evolved.”
Mr Coward says that “the stance of conservatives who are hostile to the full inclusion of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the Church, in all forms of ministry, has to be confronted.”
He said that during the last hour of the women-bishops debate last November, “bishops listened to speaker after speaker revealing, for the first time, theological ideas underpinning their hostility to women in ministry that have no place in the Church of England. Bishops were finally converted to the need for a single-clause measure.”
In December, the House of Bishops will receive a report into the C of E’s “approach to human sexuality” from a group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling ( News, 6 January 2012). CA says that it is “increasingly confident that a change in teaching and practice of the Church of England . . . will be recommended.”
CA’s report says that the majority of bishops “seem to be moving towards the formal affirmation of committed same-sex relationships”, and that “the original hostility to civil partnerships has been revised and there is now a belated welcome from the majority of bishops.”
But the executive secretary of the conservative Evangelical group Anglican Mainstream, the Revd Andrew Symes, said that the debate on same-sex relationships was “nowhere near on the agenda” of the General Synod. “It hasn’t been concluded in any way in the Church as a whole or among the bishops.”
He acknowledged the need for “a proper review and debate” after the publication of the Pilling report, and said that “Anglican Mainstream would put their weight behind the continuation of the historic position of classical Christian teaching on human sexuality.”
Gavin Drake’s article in this week’s ‘Church Times‘ is indicative of the mood of certain Bishops of the Church of England towards a change in the tenor of teaching on the status of Women and Gays in the Church. Colin Coward speaks of private conversations with members of the House of Bishops who feel the time has come for a radical re-appraisal of the Church’s stance on matters of gender and sexuality.
Naturally, in response to this news, the mis-named ‘Anglican Mainstream’, Evangelical ginger-group, are pledging their outright opposition to such changes in the traditional doctrine of the Church; but that was only to be expected.
However, with the deliberations of the specially-tasked “Pilling Group’ enquiry due to be released to the House of Bishops of the Church of England in December, their lordships will have to decide whether, or not, to take on board its recommendations, in their approach to the next General Synod which will be charged with debating the issues. It is expected that the Group will have brought new light into the ongoing debate that will necessitate some change in the current impasse on the treatment of Women and the LGBT community in the Church.
In the light of the British Government’s legislation, which now provides for a form of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples, for instance, it is expected that the state-sponsored Church of England will need to relax its entrenched attitude against – at least – the civil partnership of Same-Sex Couples
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand