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C of E discipline on sexuality, and the use of evidence in the Pilling report

10 October 2014


From Mr Gavin Turner

Sir, - I was pleased to read letters ( 26 September) clearly unhappy with the Pilling report. But what seems to be missing from most debate is any recognition that the official guidance is almost certainly a serious obstacle to mission, now that the Church is so detached from most of society in its attitude to homosexuality.

This is a generational attitudinal issue. The latest surveys show that, among the wider population in the UK, acceptance of homosexuality has risen markedly over the past 30 or so years, by some estimates now reaching as much as 70 per cent - and this includes approval of gay marriage.

Many of the homophobic minority are predominantly of the older generation, and most would deny their homophobia: approval ratings are likely to increase further. But is anyone thinking about the implications of the Church's official line for its mission to younger people? Most younger people now regard homosexuality as a morally neutral fact of life, to be accepted, and sometimes even to be celebrated as part of life's rich pattern.

I live in a relatively isolated rural community whose two-thirds vicar in a six-parish rural benefice struggles to meet the demands on him. Our diocese is now talking of merging us with another benefice under one new full-time cleric who will simply not be able to cope with the demands of 12 parishes in a new larger benefice. The justification from the diocese is that it cannot recruit enough new clergy.

Does anyone know how many potential young ordinands are being turned away because they are not prepared to dissimulate about their sexuality in the way that everyone had to in the past? This nonsense is going on at a time when there are plenty of gay clergy throughout the Church and in senior positions (as there always have been). These sorts of hypocrisy only emphasise the values gap between our ecclesiastical masters and the real world.

I do not follow synodical politics, but if it is powerful Evangelical minorities who are setting the agenda with these absurd attitudes, and pushing most bishops in a direction in which they don't really want to go, is it not time that the Bishops took a stand? It is leadership that we need, not pandering to bigoted minorities in a very dubious democratic process that is making the Church look absurd in the wider world.

I don't expect the Roman Church to lose its unhealthy centuries-old obsession with sex any time soon, but I really thought better of the Anglican Church.

3 Stable Yard, Gunton
Norfolk NR11 7HJ


From the Revd Professor Christopher C. H. Cook

Sir, - As Dr Christopher Shell has noted (Letters, 3 October), I was not writing about human sexuality (Comment, 19 September) as a New Testament specialist. Contrary to his assertion, however, I did not say that the term arsenokoitēs was "imprecise".

Rather, I stated that "scientific terminology is precise and open to examination, even when contested, in a way that ancient Hebrew and Greek terminology (e.g. arsenokoitēs) is not."

Further, I was commenting on the Pilling report, and not on the New Testament texts. Thus, I chose this term as an example, since it is stated in the report that "Most scholars recognize that the precise meaning of this word is extremely difficult to pin down." I defer to those who are specialists in this area as to whether or not this statement is actually correct, but it seems to me that there is indeed much debate concerning this term, and that it is at least less precise and open to examination than is the current scientific terminology.

There are multiple views concerning proper translation of this word, and we cannot ask St Paul exactly what he meant by it. Given that the current term "homosexuality" was introduced in the 19th century, that its nuances of meaning are correspondingly modern, and that it is open to examination in ongoing scientific research, at least we can know precisely that this is not the term that St Paul had in mind.

Department of Theology and Religion
Abbey House, Palace Green
Durham DH1 3RS


From Mr Dermot O'Callaghan

Sir, - The Revd Professor Chris Cook attributes elevated LGB mental ill-health to societal stigma, and criticises the Pilling working group for accepting Core Issues Trust's evidence over that of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He claims that Core's evidence was selected to support "a particular interpretation of scripture".

But Core's evidence was from the College's own cited sources: "the precise causal mechanism at this point remains unknown. Therefore, studies are needed that directly test mediational hypotheses to evaluate, for example, the relative salience of social stigmatisation and of psychosocial and lifestyle factors as potential contributors" (Gilman, 2001); "many people will conclude that widespread prejudice against homosexual people causes them to be unhappy or worse, mentally ill. Commitment to this position would be premature, however, and should be discouraged. In fact, a number of potential interpretations need to be considered" (Bailey, 1999); and "It may be that prejudice in society against gay men and lesbians leads to greater psychological distress. . . Conversely, gay men and lesbians may have lifestyles that make them vulnerable to psychological disorder" (King, 2003).

Thus, the Pilling report rightly affirmed that "the three scientific papers referred to by the Royal College of Psychiatrists . . . actually refuse to attribute the causation of mental health issues among gay and lesbian people to societal factors."

Furthermore, the College has produced a new position statement (April 2014) that takes on board some of CORE's criticisms. In particular, it no longer follows a "biological" theory of causation, and it allows that sexual orientation may be "fluid", so that "born gay" can no longer be sustained (though it doesn't draw this logical conclusion).

27 Monument Road
Co. Down BT26 6HT

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