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
"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.