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Landing zone needed for LLF

by
19 April 2024

‘Compassionate orthodoxy’, not a divisive settlement, is required, says Christopher Landau

Finn Hafemann/iStock

FOR those of us who were non-Synod members of the short-lived Living in Love and Faith working groups that met intensively last year, it has been rather bewildering to read of their re-formation, though now populated only by General Synod members (News, 15 March).

The groups were disbanded at the very point at which enough relational capital had been established for fruitful work to proceed. But there had been unresolved questions throughout about the nature of their work, and, in particular, whether the groups should assess options for a structural settlement in response to the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF).

Ed Shaw has proposed a “uniting settlement”, which, he argues, would “strengthen every part of the Church of England rather than split her apart” (Comment, 12 April). Given the current debate about the efficacy of the settlement concerning women’s consecration to the episcopate, I am sceptical that the Church could find a structural solution that is genuinely “uniting”. I fear that any such settlement undermines core Christian convictions about truth as being singular. Instead, I wish to offer two suggestions about ways forward.


THE first is to underline the need for a shared commitment across the breadth of the Church to a scrupulous and fearless honesty about the implications of where we actually are now, whether we like it or not.

We need to admit that Anglicans of differing perspectives cannot even agree on the implications of the motion passed in February of last year (News, 17 February 2023). Yes, the commendation and publication of the prayers was supported by a clear majority. But how this relates to the motion also agreeing “not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage”, and that the PLF “should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”, patently remains unresolved.

So, what can we agree on, whether we like it or not? Take one example, in relation to the potential future relaxation of the current ban on same-sex civil marriage for the clergy. We should surely be able, across our divides, to agree that the Church’s winning its employment tribunal in 2015 after the Revd Jeremy Pemberton’s same-sex marriage (News, 6 November 2015) — and winning two further appeals, including one in the Court of Appeal in 2018 (News, 29 March 2018) — is not nothing.

Given that the Church’s own doctrine of marriage was central to that case, changing the very policy at the heart of those legal rulings would be significant, whether we like it or not. In other words, if the Church’s doctrine of marriage is, in fact, to change, there are clearly defined synodical processes that anyone respecting those processes would surely want to see followed.

The second way forward that I wish to suggest concerns an appeal to “compassionate orthodoxy”, offering a conceptual foundation that guards the unity of the Church, while avoiding a disastrously divisive “settlement”.

This would represent a step beyond the “generous orthodoxy” that has been in vogue in recent years, having been a founding tenet, for example, of St Mellitus College’s “broad tent” approach to ordination training. As Holy Trinity, Brompton, and others have clarified their conservative stance on sexuality (News, 12 January), my sense is that, for many, “generous orthodoxy” today feels worryingly euphemistic.

Compassionate orthodoxy, however, builds on the hallmark of Jesus’s moral engagement with people such as Zacchaeus or the Samaritan woman: a full welcome and inclusion of the person before him, and a transformational invitation towards fullness of life.

This coheres with an Anglican approach to moral theology, which has ordinarily expressed moral absolutes, alongside a commitment to what might be termed “pastoral generosity”. This is often what distinguishes Anglican and Roman Catholic ethical approaches: examples might include a qualified rather than absolute opposition to abortion, or the pastoral accommodation that enables the divorced to marry again in church. Crucially, compassion is shown to those who do not, or cannot in conscience, follow the letter of the Church’s teaching.

In other words, the Church retains its orthodox stance on a given issue (which, in the case of marriage, the Synod motion says that it wants to do), but also offers compassionate local flexibility for those who minister to LGBTQIA+ couples, with opt-in liturgical provision for churches that wish to offer it. Such provision — crucially for conservatives — would be proved to be legally watertight in not indicating a doctrinal departure from existing teaching.


WHAT I am pointing towards is what, in the Brexit negotiations, was referred to as a “landing zone”: an identifiable place of mutual agreement.

In relation to the Prayers of Love and Faith, such a process would require a move beyond an apparent squeamishness when discussing sexuality; questions concerning sexual intimacy would be left to the pastoral conscience of the minister involved. In other words, conservatives would retain confidence in the Church’s established teaching, and progressives would be given deeper freedom — within an agreed framework — to offer what they believe to be the compassion of Christ.

We face a choice. We either end up with a Church within a Church, teaching different sexual ethics, living through a delayed English version of the disunity and division that have distracted Episcopalians in the United States for a generation; or we can explore the path of compassionate orthodoxy, following the logic of the Synod’s commitment to the existing doctrine of marriage, while seeking to offer the compassion of Christ to all people. Faced with schism, surely it’s worth a try?


The Revd Dr Christopher Landau is the director of ReSource, and the author of Loving Disagreement: The problem is the solution, published by Equipping the Church (Books, 16 June 2023).

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