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Sex and marriage dominate questions

24 February 2017

SEXUALITY and marriage dominated the first round of questions to the House of Bishops at the General Synod on Monday night. But concerns were also raised over community integration in the aftermath of the European Union referendum and the first policies of the new President of the United States, Donald Trump.

In response to a question from Jayne Ozanne (Oxford), the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, denied that the C of E was “institutionally homophobic”, but said that it was “unrealistic” to suggest that church employers always got the “tone and action” surrounding the Church’s gay and lesbian members right. On salvation, he said: “The teaching of the House of Bishops is that sexual orientation has no bearing upon a person’s salvation.”

Bishop James said that the teaching document would “not cover every topic related to human relationships”. No timescale was given for the completion of the House of Bishops’ work on sexuality.

It also emerged that the two-year process of Shared Conversations from September 2014 to August 2016 had cost £384,525 — about £370,000 of which had been spent on running the Shared Conversations in the dioceses. Of these costs, £300,000 had been covered by the Church Commissioners, the remainder by the dioceses, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Souther Suffragans), said in a written answer to Clive Scowen (London). The additional administration costs of the Shared Conversations that took place after the July group of sessions last year, behind closed doors, had come to £14,572.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, who chairs the Ministry Council, said that seven out of 581 candidates for ordination in 2015, and seven out of 591 last year, had declared that they were in a civil partnership, and that “the Director of Ordinands had discussed Issues in Human Sexuality with the candidate, and the candidate was content to live within the guidelines contained in the report.”

Concerns were also raised regarding homophobic or abusive behaviour in schools. A report from the gay-rights campaign group Stonewall in 2012 suggested that more than half LGBT pupils had experienced homophobic bullying.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who chairs the National Society Council, pointed to a C of E education report, Valuing All God’s Children, published in May 2014, which, he said, offered guidance on sex education in faith schools, and “avoids any suggestion of being dismissive of people or other views, particularly emphasising the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found”.

Responding to a question from the Revd Charles Reed (Norwich) on how the Church might respond to the “issues raised” by the actions of President Trump during his first weeks in office (News, 31 January), the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said that “the Church can offer an example and encouragement to all those who confront the potentially corrupting pressures of politics — not least those who bear the burdens and face the temptations of high office”.

On President Trump’s decision to reintroduce torture of US detainees, Katherine Alldread (Derby) questioned the current guidance of the Ethical Advisory Board on torture, and whether the C of E’s national investment bodies (NIBs) would be disinvesting from US companies that might undermine Christian ethics.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that, although the EAB had not reviewed the issue of torture, “any company providing instruments of torture would fall foul” of policies adopted by the NIBs.

On welcoming refugees, Dr Smith emphasised the importance of “welcoming the stranger”, and criticised the Government’s recent decision to admit just 350 children under the terms of Lord Dubs’ amendment.

The progress and effectiveness of church climate-change initiatives was also discussed. Dr Smith said that 488 churches (of which 62 per were Anglican) and nine cathedrals, including St Paul’s, Guildford, Portsmouth, and Salisbury, had signed up as eco-churches.

The Chairman of the Pensions Board, Dr Jonathan Spencer, also pointed to the progress of the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) launched last month (News, 13 January). TPI intends to offer accurate data, provided by FTSE Russell and processed by the LSE, to enable investors to scrutinise how companies are managing climate-related risks. “At a minimum, we expect companies to adopt, by 2020, business plans aligned with the Paris Nationally Determined Contributions to global emissions reduction,” he said.

On the funding of clergy retirement homes, Dr Spencer also said that it would have been “completely irresponsible not to close” Manormead Nursing Home last year (News, 21 November). “Because of increasing difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified nursing and care staff, we could no longer guarantee the long-term safety of our residents, and therefore we had to act,” he said. “Now that Manormead Nursing Home is closing, the Pensions Board will no longer provide any nursing care.”

Dr Smith also commented on the high number of prison deaths by suicide reported last year (News, 2 December). “Our prisons are in a serious situation,” he wrote in response to the Revd Jonathan MacNeaney (Chelmsford).

“Self-inflicted deaths are up 32 per cent, and assaults on staff up 40 per cent, while self-harm incidents have risen by almost a quarter. Serious assaults on staff have trebled since 2012. The work of Chaplains is vital, the more so as the number of other staff has fallen in recent years.”

Questions on the diversity of the laity; the distribution of central funds; the promotion of Creationtide; a report from National Secular Society; and the lack of religious broadcasting were also considered.

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