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Leader comment: LLF conversations must go on

01 March 2024

WHEN it comes to headline news, the debate in the General Synod on the Business Committee report seldom features prominently — and, in terms of business done, this past session was no different. The debate last Friday was, however, the forum in which the Revd Dr Ian Paul spoke for an incendiary minute, criticising time spent debating Living in Love and Faith when church attendance had dropped so severely: “Fiddling while Canterbury burns doesn’t even capture it.” The need for brevity meant that he did not get round to mentioning other reasons for the fall in attendance in recent years — the pandemic, for example — so that the impression given, quite accidentally, we presume, was that the C of E’s attempt to find agreement on same-sex relationships was wholly responsible for this decline. None the less, the point hit home, and stuck in the mind during the debate on estates evangelism, when Synod members described the tough conditions on urban estates under which the clergy and laity work, too few of them and almost universally under-resourced; or when the struggle in Ukraine was described; or when the need for action on housing, the environment, racial justice, slavery, employment, and so on, was made clear.

Sadly, we have progressed little further than a situation in which each side in the sexuality debate complains about the time wasted, but advocates bringing the debate to an end only on its own terms: liberals wishing to push ahead to the point at which same-sex couples can be blessed or married in churches where this is approved; conservatives wishing to push back to a situation in which only heterosexual couples are married or blessed. Dr Paul, in the latter camp, was partly right when he referred to “this fruitless conversation”. Anyone who observed the elections to the present Synod in 2021 has been sceptical since then that the matter could be settled by the present cohort, so many of whom were elected on a ticket to promote or defend a particular position.

Paradoxically, when spared the need to come to a decision this week, the Synod managed to debate the matter with relative openness and graciousness. It is not surprising that some are advocating a pause to bring down the heat being generated, since, as well as synodical debates, the Church has tried parish conversations, episcopal pronouncements, small-group meetings, and even (whether deliberate or not) the healing power of time. None the less, painful though disagreement can be, it is important to press on when issues of inequality, discrimination, and mission are at stake. Conversation is not only fruitful, but necessary, if opposing views, and opposing people, are to be understood. The concept of “good disagreement” has been mocked, but it works if seen as a staging post on a journey in which travellers continue to treat one another with respect.

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