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Bishops press ahead after Synod defeat

24 February 2017

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Road not followed: bishops attend to the debate

Road not followed: bishops attend to the debate

THE Archbishops have sketched out how they hope to move forward after the vote against the House of Bishops’ report on sexuality at the General Synod last week.

In a letter to members of the General Synod, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said that a Pastoral Oversight group, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, would be established to advise dioceses on how to fashion a pastoral response to those in same-sex relationships.

The teaching document on sexuality originally promised in the House of Bishops’ report will still go ahead, the letter also said.

Finally, a more general debate on marriage and sexuality will be proposed to the Business Committee of the Synod. “We wish to give the General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm,” the Archbishops wrote.

The long and heated Synod debate at Church House, Westminster, culminated in a narrow vote not to take note of the Bishops’ report, which offered “maximum freedom” but no change to marriage doctrine or clergy discipline to accommodate same-sex unions.

Despite the insistence of bishops who said that taking note did not imply agreement, and promises that this was the beginning and not the end of the debate, the motion was lost in a vote by Houses, in which the House of Clergy voted 100 to 93 against, with two recorded abstentions.

In the House of Bishops, the vote was 43 in favour, with one against. In the House of Laity, 106 to 83 voted to take note, with four recorded abstentions.

The rejection of the report has prompted a variety of reactions within and outside the Church.

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, has sought to emphasise the common mind of the House by admitting that he was responsible for the sole vote against the report, by accidentally pressing the wrong button on his voting machine.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has written an open letter to his diocese informing churchpeople that he abstained on the vote. He decided to do so because of the need to “listen attentively to each other in the love of Christ”, not to distance himself from his fellow bishops.

The new campaign organisation OneBodyOneFaith (OBOF), the product of a merger between the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude, has welcomed the message of “radical new Christian inclusion” in the Archbishops’ letter.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who chairs OBOF, said that the letter was a “bold and welcome response to address the disjunction between the House of Bishops and Houses of Clergy and Laity in their understanding of, and response to, human sexuality”.

In a statement, Inclusive Church said that the vote should herald a new honesty in the Church about the variety of views on sexuality. “This means that we can now look at new ways of working together to produce a fresh approach to how we embrace and celebrate the lives and loves of LGBTI people.”

Modern Church has welcomed the failure of the “take note” motion, saying that it would “send the bishops back to the drawing board. This major defeat can mean only one thing — it is time for the House of Bishops to bring forward legislation which will enable all LGBT+ Christians, whether single, in a civil partnership, or married, to be treated with equality in the life of the Church.”

But not all those who voted not to take note of the report did so for the same reasons: some conservatives also voted against it because they thought that it did not affirm traditional teaching on marriage strongly enough.

The chair of Reform and member of the House of Laity, Susie Leafe, who voted not to take note, said during the debate: “I am told that this report is beautiful because the doctrine of marriage is safe and secure, but I am not seeing that. . . We need clarity if we are going to be able to take note of a report of this kind.”

The chief executive of Christian Concern, Andrea Minichiello-Williams, said that the vote was not a “victory for the LGBT lobby”, and that the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage would not change as a result of it.

“Now all we need is for [the House of Bishops] to follow through by upholding the teaching, and disciplining those that brazenly seek to defy it,” she said.

GAFCON UK has said that the C of E was now in “disarray”. “Our view was that orthodox believers could have no confidence either in the report or in the process it was intended to initiate,” the group said in a statement.

“The inevitable crisis in the C of E is now upon us: one that cannot be covered up by more platitudes about reconciliation and unity.”

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