PRESSURE groups in the Church of England broadly welcomed the publication of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) resources this week. All agreed that LGBT people should be welcome in the Church, but they differed over what exactly this would involve.
The President of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEE), the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, said that the group would “look closely” at the materials and “respond fully in due course”.
He continued: “While discussions about these issues are always welcome, the key question is not one of church procedure, but whether we think that the teaching of Scripture is right. So we will engage, but this is actually about obedience to Scripture.”
Bishop Henderson made it clear that the CEEC’s position on sexuality and marriage would not change as a result of discussions arising from LLF. “To all those in the Church of England who are unsettled by suggestions that the Church might decide, in the future, to depart from historic orthodoxy, we say: ‘We are here for you. You are not alone’,” he said. “We will resource you, support you and lead you.
“We will contend unflaggingly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We will uphold what Christians have always believed through history and what the overwhelming majority of Christians globally still believe. These are not matters on which we can simply agree to differ, for reasons the New Testament makes clear.”
The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, who is shortly to become National Director of the CEEC, said: “This isn’t about whether we want gay people or those with bisexual or other attractions to be included in the Church — we want them to be welcomed and included in all our churches. It’s about how we do that as those who want to follow the radical way of Jesus and the New Testament.”
Alison Coulter, a lay member of the General Synod, responded to the publication of the LLF resources on behalf of the Evangelical Forum, a group that was recently set up to represent Evangelicals on the Synod who no longer wish to be part of the Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) because of its stance on sexuality and marriage (News, 12 July 2019).
“We commend the LLF resources to all members of the Church of England, and encourage all to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern God’s leading over the coming months,” Mrs Coulter said. “We urge Evangelical churches of all views to engage positively with this material, and for safe spaces to be created where people are valued and all voices are truly heard. Our prayer is that we can discuss and reflect together with love and respect, to be a powerful testimony to our oneness as the body of Christ.”
In an article published on the Church Times website and ViaMedia.News this week, the Archdeacon of Dudley, the Ven. Nikki Groarke, who is also a member of the Evangelical Forum, writes: “My journey towards a more inclusive interpretation of scripture has speeded up as I have realised that Jesus loves my gay and lesbian friends and colleagues, too, and that the Bible surprisingly ‘tells me so’.”
The Ozanne Foundation, a charity that works to end discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, which is lead by a Synod lay member, Jayne Ozanne, said in a statement that it welcomed the publication of the LLF resources, “and thanks all those who have come forward to share their stories in such an open and vulnerable way.
“We hope and pray that their moving testimonies will be heard and reflected on, and that in doing so the Church will become more genuinely inclusive, recognising the high cost borne by so many LGBT+ people today, and the significant safeguarding risks that need to be urgently addressed.”
In a personal statement, Ms Ozanne said that whether the resources would deliver on the “radical new Christian inclusion”, which had been promised by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (News, 17 February 2017), “has yet to be seen, however, it is a necessary step in the arduous journey to the Church understanding that ‘love is love’”.
Ms Ozanne expressed concern, however, that “a document that recognises the harm caused by some Church teaching does not learn from this and immediately implement urgent changes”.
The chair of the General Synod Gender and Sexuality Group, Christina Baron, said: “The prayer, scholarship, and personal commitment put into Living in Love and Faith by so many people over the past three years must now be put to good use. This means using the LLF resources in respectful, honest, and open discussion throughout the Church. It is the bishops’ responsibility to see that this happens and we trust that they will.”