Living in Love and Faith talks ‘will have an end’

14 February 2020

The process will lead to a way forward, says Dr Cocksworth

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, addresses the Synod

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, addresses the Synod

THE Living in Love and Faith (LLF) discussion about sexuality is not a process without an end, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, reassured the General Synod on Tuesday.

Due to be launched in early July, the teaching resources produced by the LLF group would mark “the beginning of a period of whole-Church learning, leading to discernment about a way forward”. During this period — “for at least a year” — every diocese, deanery, and parish would be encouraged to hold their own conversations.

The Church was being called to “step out of the comfort zones of our like-minded church communities” and to “come to terms with our prejudices, blind spots, fears, hypocrisies, and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our leaning together”.

The Bishops were being called “to listen to the people of God, and to the Holy Spirit as together they begin to discern a way forward for the Church.”

Members of the Synod have expressed impatience at the Bishops’ timeline (News, 14 July 2017). Speaking during the Business Committee debate on Monday, Jayne Ozanne (Oxford), a prominent Evangelical LGBT campaigner, suggested that a take-note debate at the July meeting was needed, “at minimum. We need to be able to scrutinise and discuss the report together.” She spoke of the “tired fig-leaf of calls for more understanding and discussions — we’ve had that for nearly 50 years.”

Dr Eeva John, the LLF enabling officer, said that the group was “trying to hear the still small voice of God . . . We have begun to wonder, why is God so slow to act? Or why are we so slow to hear, to see? If there is a solution out there, why hasn’t it been revealed to us? . . . Could it be that we are not yet ready for the answer, whatever it is? Could it be that there is a perspective that we have not yet seen, that enables us to understand, to see our differences and the way forward in a new light?”

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Living in Love and Faith group meeting in the chamber

Quoting Psalm 139, she hoped that the Church’s conversations would “complexify rather than simplify matters that ‘are too wonderful for me’.”

“It has not been plain sailing,” she said, reflecting on the work of the group. “We have learned through our failures, sometimes with eruptions of anger, sometimes with tears of frustration and confusion and sometimes with moments of epiphany, of tiny glimpses of what may be happening behind the scenes in the heavenly realms.”

In a discussion on the floor of Synod, members of the LLF coordinating group also spoke of difficulties, including a “spectacular fall-out”. The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said that some people “who thought I was there to argue their case have been pretty brutal in terms of feeling I have not fought hard enough for them”. But, “It has to be above parties.”

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) spoke of gaining “a much greater respect for those who take a conservative view, who have left the room feeling vulnerable”, and was “much surer now that we need to find a way of working forward… but we can’t be as we were, or as we are.”

They met with robust questions from members. The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) referenced “a pulling away from whether Jesus really is a good pastor”, and was challenged about whether there was one way to understand Christ’s teachings.

Ms Ozanne said that it was the LGBTI community who served as “the pawn, putting themselves in a place of unsafety where their lives are unpicked, where their hopes are dashed, not allowed to be married.” How would the group guarantee their safety during discussions? “How will you assure us we are not going to keep kicking this can down the road for more discussion?”

Safety became a prominent theme. A theologian, Dr Elaine Storkey (Ely), argued that, “LGBT people have the culture behind them, whereas many in the Church don’t have the culture behind them and it can be a very lonely place.”

The Revd Andrew Lightbown (Oxford) recalled his daughter asking where she and her girlfriend would be “safe” to attend Midnight Mass, a “disgusting question for anybody to ask”. He confessed to “dreading” the launch of the LLF resources.

Bishop Holtam remained hopeful, suggesting that “the conversation has moved on light years in the last few years.”

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