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UK >

Debate hots up as Synod’s sexuality take-note approaches

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 14 Feb 2017 @ 09:52

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‘Much to learn’: the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow

‘Much to learn’: the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow

DESPITE a warning from the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, that protests and campaigns at General Synod meant that “hackles will rise” and the media “circle like wolves”, efforts to mobilise a vote against taking note of the Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships are gathering steam.

On Tuesday, OneBodyOneFaith (the group formerly called LGCM) published a series of proposals offering an alternative way forward to that proposed in the Bishops’ report. The recommendations include the publication of a teaching document to “to make clear that clerical civil marriage is not of itself . . . a matter for discipline”.

Other proposals include a new sexuality-and-relationships working group of the Archbishops’ Council, “responsible for holding the theological diversity of the Church of England”, a national lead for LGBTI matters at Church House, and the publication and recommendation of an approved liturgy for prayer and thanksgiving with same-sex couples after a civil partnership or marriage.

OneBodyOneFaith says that these proposals are “very far from being all we want to see, but it would be a way forward”.

In a blog published by the Church of England’s communications department, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, says he is aware of plans for protests and alternatives to the take-note debate.

“I understand the motives behind this, but wonder what will be achieved,” he writes. “Will it lead to change and a greater acceptance of LGBTI people in churches? I’m really not sure. The media will circle like wolves and everyone’s hackles will rise.”

He says he is “saddened” by reports that some will boycott the group work, scheduled to take place before the debate on Wednesday. “I have much to learn in my own pastoral response to LGBTI people and I can only learn it by listening,” he writes. “Vent your anger at me, but please do it face-to-face in a small group.”

The first day of Synod saw gay members raise concerns about the group work. The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler, questioned how safe it would be to participate, and said that he had already received a text from another member that was “borderline harrassment”. The text was condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the chamber as “inexcusable self indulgence . . . a perfect example of how not to act”.

Also published on the Church House site is a blog by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner. The Anglo Catholic tradition has “often been caricatured and derided as harbouring a gay subculture,” he writes. “Irrespective of the actual sexual orientation of Anglo-Catholic laity and clergy, past or present, we have borne the opprobrium, and offered safe space to recipients, of homophobia. . .

“Still we love the faith and the sacraments received by the Church of England as something rich and life-giving, an articulation of Christian truth shared with the ancient Churches of East and West,” he goes on. “I have no formal mandate for saying so, but that is the reason why many Anglo-Catholics, and others, sincerely and gladly accept the retention of the doctrine of marriage as we have received it.”

The challenge, he concludes, is to “live authentically in the world, in the fullest communion possible”.

On Monday evening, members of the Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) were presented with a request to reject the “Affirmations” of the Evangelical Alliance. These are ten points on “biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality” that include opposition to moves to “accept or endorse sexually active same-sex partnerships as a legitimate form of Christian relationship and to permit the ordination to ministry of those in such sexual relationships”.

A letter was circulated to all members of EGGS by five members of the group who oppose the endorsement, including Jayne Ozanne, a lay Evangelical from the diocese of Oxford. The group wrote of a concern that the present stance of Evangelicals was creating “severe problems for our mission and ministry in today’s world”.

The letter refers to “high levels of homophobia” and calls for “more honesty about the effectiveness of sexual-orientation change efforts”. It urges Evangelicals to consider a response to “mounting scientific evidence that sexuality is neither chosen nor changeable, and that gender is non-binary”.

It is understood that no vote on the Affirmations was taken at the meeting. 

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