THE report of the House
of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired by Sir Joseph
Pilling, has prompted a wide range of response and criticism.
Among those who welcomed
the report were groups that lobby for greater acceptance of gay and
lesbian people in the Church.
The Revd Benny
Hazlehurst, the secretary of the Accepting Evangelicals group,
issued a statement: "We welcome this clear recognition of diversity
in biblical understanding and commend the report to the whole
Church. We also welcome these small steps towards church services
for same-sex couples."
The chairman of Inclusive
Church, the Very Revd Dianna Gwilliams, said: "We hope that this
will enable all Christians to find ways of celebrating the
covenantal love between people which reflects the love of God for
Many, however, also
criticised the report for not going far enough. Changing Attitude,
which campaigns for equality of opportunity for lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people within the Church, said in
a statement: "The report, far from reassuring us, goes so far out
of its way to balance the needs of conservatives that it reinforces
the lack of welcome for lesbian and gay people. The Church of
England is systemically homophobic."
The Sibyls, a group that
represents transgender people in the Church, also condemned the
report for not addressing its concerns.
The chief executive of
the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Revd Sharon Ferguson,
said: "This was a great opportunity for the Church of England to
make some substantial changes to embrace all God's children and I
am sad that it hasn't grasped it fully. Whilst the freedom for
clergy to 'mark' committed same-sex relationships following civil
partnership or marriage registration is a cause for celebration, it
is a shame that a formal liturgy of blessing wasn't included."
The Bishop of Chichester,
Dr Martin Warner, said that the Church must address its perceived
"homophobia" if it wanted to establish a dialogue with LGBT
communities, such as the one in Brighton, in his diocese.
"Let us speak more
clearly to people who do not share the Christian faith,
irrespective of their sexual orientation: 'God loves you very
much,'" he said.
Other groups, however,
condemned the Pilling report, describing it as unhelpful and in
conflict with the Bible. Andrea Williams, chief executive of
Christian Concern, said that the lack of new teaching in the report
was undermined by the proposal that clergy should mark same-sex
relationships. She said that the Church should offer "courageous
leadership" and "speak clearly about marriage as the union of one
man and one woman and the only proper place for sexual
An official response to
the Pilling report from Anglican Mainstream stated: "The report as
a whole errs towards trying to appease this secular world-view by
saying in effect we should ditch any biblical and supernatural
certainties. The report says that Scripture and theology are
apparently unclear on the rightness of homosexual practice, but we
should go ahead and bless it anyway, as long as the relationships
are 'permanent, faithful, stable'. We are faced with officially
sanctioned apostasy in our own Church."
The chairman of Reform,
Prebendary Rod Thomas, described the report's proposals as "very
divisive and distressing". He said: "True pastoral care in the case
of those experiencing same-sex attraction will be to help them live
The "open Evangelical"
group Fulcrum said in a statement that it was glad that the report
had not recommended any change in the Church's teaching on
It criticised what it
described as "a willingness to separate teaching and practice", and
the recommendation that the formation of permanent same-sex
relationships could be marked by a church service.
Meanwhile, Sir Paul Coleridge, a senior High Court family judge,
has announced that he is standing down because of opposition to his
traditional understanding of marriage. A number of complaints were
made to the Judicial Com- plaints Investigation Office, after Sir
Paul described same-sex marriage as a "minority issue" last
Question of the week: Is the
Pilling Report radical enough?
Report findings and
By Madeleine Davies
CLERGY should be permitted to provide a public service
to mark same-sex relationships, a House of Bishops working group
The recommendations in the Report of the
House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (GS
1929), known as "the Pilling report" after the group's chairman,
Sir Joseph Pilling, are modest. They speak of the need for
"pastoral accommodation", but do not propose any change in the
Church's teaching on sexual conduct. Although the report does not
speak of "blessing" gay relationships, Sir Joseph said on Thursday
of last week, at the report's launch, that he would not write a
letter of complaint to a journalist who used such a term.
Other recommendations include repentance for
homophobia in the Church, the avoidance of "intrusive questioning",
and further debate, in particular a series of "facilitated
conversations" (Report findings and
As the Pilling report was published, the Archbishops
of Canterbury and York issued a statement to draw attention to its
status: "The document offers findings and recommendations to form
part of [a] process of facilitated conversations." They emphasise
in bold type: "It is not a new policy statement from the Church of
The long-awaited report was published on Thursday of
last week, with hardly any warning. Bishops received their copies
only at nine that morning.
The report suggests that "the Church of England's
travails over these issues are becoming an increasing scandal to
many and . . . a massive missiological challenge." It also lists
the working group's observations after their research:
• that the Church of England's current teaching and
practice is "deeply off-putting to those outside the Church and
therefore a serious impediment to mission";
• that opposition of gay and lesbian relationships was
"simply not an issue for most young people";
• that "the Church's current discipline, with regard
to ordinands and clergy, was inconsistently applied, encouraged a
culture of dishonesty within the Church, and was particularly
difficult for the partners of those concerned";
• that the views of conservative groups and individual
members of congregations were preventing church authorities from
appointing gay and lesbian people to posts with the same freedom as
• but also that the C of E's current teaching was
"helpful to those with same-sex attraction who believed that
scripture forbade same-sex sexual relationships because it assisted
them in resisting sexual temptation. They would experience any
change in a more permissive direction by the Church of England as a
Perhaps as a result of this diversity of opinion, the
report recommends no change to the Church's general teaching on
homosexuality, and offers no encouragement for anything that would
look like a gay marriage. All its recommendations are subject to a
consultation period "conducted without undue haste but with a sense
of urgency, perhaps over a period of two years".
On the subject of permitting gay-relationship
blessings, Sir Joseph said on Thursday: "If a priest and a priest's
PCC agree together that a couple in a permanent, faithful, stable
relationship, typically a civil partnership, come forward and say
they would like their relationship to be marked in an act of public
worship, that should be possible."
The report does not recommend that the Church of
England authorise a formal liturgy for use in such services, until
such time as the Church agrees to "some modification of its current
teaching". Nevertheless, it suggests to the Bishops that they
consider issuing guidance to the clergy about what form a service
might take. It states that "such a service should not be capable of
being mistaken for the marriage service." No member of the clergy,
or parish, would be required to offer such services.
The report contains a long exploration of the evidence
on sex-uality from scripture and science. At its conclusion, the
report states: "At the level of declared doctrine, we are agreed
that there is not sufficient consensus to change the Church's
teaching on human sexuality."
The Church of England's current stance is that those
who are not married should practise abstinence. Resolution I.10 of
the 1998 Lambeth Conference describes homosexual practice as
"incompatible with scripture". A pastoral statement issued by the
House of Bishops in 2005 stated: "The Church of England should not
provide services of blessing for those who register a civil
partnership." But it also said: "Where clergy are approached by
people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil
partnership, they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the
light of the circumstances of each case."
On Thursday of last week, Sir Joseph sought to draw
attention to the working group's exploration of "pastoral
accommodation". A "human and humane" pastoral response was not the
same as saying that the recipient was "in the right".
The Pilling group was established by the House of
Bishops in 2012 to review its 2005 Pastoral Statement on civil
partnerships, and to reflect on discussions that had taken place
since the 1998 Lambeth Conference undertaking to listen to the
experience of gay and lesbian people. The group was small and
episcopal, comprising the Bishops of Gloucester, Birkenhead,
Ebbsfleet, and Warwick, and it was assisted by advisers.
The report is not unanimous. It contains a dissenting
statement and appendix from the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd
Keith Sinclair, a conservative Evangelical, in which he warns that
"the trajectory in the report will undermine the discipleship and
pastoral care of many faithful Christians and, by leading the
Church into the kind of cultural captivity which much of the
prophetic writings warn against, weaken our commitment to God's
There follows a second appendix, written by the Revd
David Runcorn, which states the more liberal view of "Including
The House of Bishops will meet next month, and the
College of Bishops the following month, to consider the report.