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‘Good disagreement’ breaks out at CEEC meeting

06 March 2015

CREATIVE COMMONS

Sacred space: a mural at St James the Less, Pimlico, where the Council's consultation day took place 

Sacred space: a mural at St James the Less, Pimlico, where the Council's consultation day took place 

HOPES for the shared conversations about sexuality appear to have been raised by an outbreak of "good disagreement" at a conference held by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) in London on Saturday.

The "consultation on scripture and sexuality" was held at St James the Less, Pimlico, and organised by the Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, associate director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, and a member of the Council. There were 22 people present, invited as holders of "a variety of different views". Before attending, they had been issued with a report commissioned by the Council from Dr Martin Davie, tutor in doctrine at Wycliffe Hall: Studies on the Bible and Same-Sex relationships since 2003. The report urges the Church to pursue "a path of radical and uncompromising discipleship" by upholding the Church of England's "existing teaching on sexual ethics".

The Revd Colin Coward wrote on Sunday that this "deeply unfriendly document" had initially tempted him to withdraw, but "my apprehensions were not realised. I was greeted with a warm smile and felt at ease from the moment I stepped into the building." The day had been "generously even-handed", with a "strong, critical counterbalance to the report" provided by three speakers.

"I was pleasantly surprised, moved even, by the sense in which this disagreement was not allowed to occlude all else," said the Revd Dr Andrew Davison from Cambridge University. "That was because of the emphasis on building relationships. I had a strong sense of being recognised as someone whose perspective is a theological one, even if it is not the perspective of the organising body."

Jayne Ozanne, director of Accepting Evangelicals, said on Monday that she had feared that she was "walking like Daniel into a lion's den", but felt that "deep listening was happening on all sides", and that "no one could doubt that the Holy Spirit had been powerfully present." The Revd Dr Ian Paul, honorary assistant professor at the University of Nottingham - a strong supporter of Dr Davie's conclusions - confessed on his blog on Tuesday that he, too, had not looked forward to the day. But he praised Dr Goddard for creating "a positive process. . . I felt I was being invited into a sacred space of other people's experience." Nevertheless, he reiterated his view (News, 6 February) that "despite all these positives, I am not clear that there can be 'good disagreement'."

Those at the other end of the spectrum retain concerns, too. Dr Davison, Mr Coward, and Ms Ozanne all set out substantial objections to Dr Davie's report, and Dr Davison said there was a "sour note" from "the one or two people there who were clearly worried by the eirenic tone and the quest for mutual understanding, and who simply could not see how one could take a different view from them and still be a proclaimer of the gospel and a believer in the historic faith."

Mr Coward had experienced a "breakthrough" concerning what might be gained by abandoning "labels", despite "a background of the Anglican Communion's culture wars". 

For Ms Ozanne, the "huge chasm of difference" was a cause for hope: "We were challenged to think through whether the pain we are feeling is the pain of separation and divorce or of childbirth. I for one believe and pray it is the latter - which will come through us finding a way to bridge this enormous chasm we have between us.

"I believe God is doing something extremely powerful by bringing us all together . . . to a place where we have a deeper revelation of who Christ is and what he has done for us."

Accepting Evangelicals has launched a webpage entitled "Good Disagreement", to which the Dean of St Paul's, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, has contributed an essay. A Facebook group also dedicated to the topic has attracted 865 posts within six days. 

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