Synod’s sexuality conversations “going to be risky”
The Church of England’s shared conversations on human sexuality are “going to be risky”, the man leading them has warned.
David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, told the General Synod the discussions to be had at the next meeting in July may not go smoothly. He said the meetings were “private”, will not be open to the press or the public and social media use will be restricted.
The Church of England launched its shared conversations on sexuality in November 2013 in response to gay marriage and changing public attitudes to LGBTI people. Conversations on how the Church treats gay people have been taking place across England in advance of July’s Synod session in York. During the session members will take part in a number of small groups. There will also be panel discussions on scripture and what it says about LGBTI people. David Porter, who was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process, told Synod that after the meetings around the country it was clear “some people don’t want to talk”. He said he had predicted “at least four would implode, so far by the grace of God none of them have”. “What we’re offering is facilitated space, not mediated space.
“Safe space does not mean that you won’t hear things that you’ll find difficult or even at times offensive. “It will be a guarded space.”
He added that “it has always got to be an honest conversation” and he urged members to find the “ability to move from campaigning discourse to a compassionate discourse.”
“We may still not agree but we are listening to each other,” he said.
After his presentation David Porter opened the floor to questions.
The Bishop of Manchester David Walker, who was chairing the session, warned members: “The clue is in the name, these are questions, this is not a debate”.
LGBTI campaigner Jayne Ozanne asked Mr Porter: “What involvement at a panel level will LGBTI have in these conversations? It is terribly important that we listen to all involved. We need to ensure that we’re hearing from real people and not just talking about them.”
Mr Porter replied: “We are committed to making sure the balance respects both the balance in Synod and in the wider Church.”
The Church of England’s ‘Director of Reconciliation’, David Porter, here outlines to the current meeting of the Synod his expectations of the difficulties that will likely be encountered at the next (July) meeting of General Synod, which is set to deal with the outcome of diocesan Conversations on Human Sexuality – with special reference to the claims of LGBTI people to equal treatment in the Church with their heterosexual counterparts.
The fact that the meetings of the July Synod will be privately conducted, with no members of the general public or the press in attendance – with only limited social media access – means that discussions may be open and frank, with both liberal and conservative Synod members encouraged to speak freely and openly.
David Porter was once ‘involved in the Northern Ireland Peace Process’, so he will be well used to the level of debate that might eventuate at the York General Synod in July. No doubt all of the Provincial Churches in the Anglican Communion will be interested in the outcome of the Church of England’s bid to determine the social and theological veracity of the claims of LGBTI people to be considered equally valued in the sight of God – not only in the world, but in the Church to which they belong
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand