Thursday, December 12, 2013

Responses: too far or not far enough

Click to enlargeTHE report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, has prompted a wide range of response and criticism.

Among those who welcomed the report were groups that lobby for greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the Church.

The Revd Benny Hazlehurst, the secretary of the Accepting Evangelicals group, issued a statement: "We welcome this clear recognition of diversity in biblical understanding and commend the report to the whole Church. We also welcome these small steps towards church services for same-sex couples."

The chairman of Inclusive Church, the Very Revd Dianna Gwilliams, said: "We hope that this will enable all Christians to find ways of celebrating the covenantal love between people which reflects the love of God for all people."

Many, however, also criticised the report for not going far enough. Changing Attitude, which campaigns for equality of opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people within the Church, said in a statement: "The report, far from reassuring us, goes so far out of its way to balance the needs of conservatives that it reinforces the lack of welcome for lesbian and gay people. The Church of England is systemically homophobic."

The Sibyls, a group that represents transgender people in the Church, also condemned the report for not addressing its concerns.

The chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Revd Sharon Ferguson, said: "This was a great opportunity for the Church of England to make some substantial changes to embrace all God's children and I am sad that it hasn't grasped it fully. Whilst the freedom for clergy to 'mark' committed same-sex relationships following civil partnership or marriage registration is a cause for celebration, it is a shame that a formal liturgy of blessing wasn't included."

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said that the Church must address its perceived "homophobia" if it wanted to establish a dialogue with LGBT communities, such as the one in Brighton, in his diocese.

"Let us speak more clearly to people who do not share the Christian faith, irrespective of their sexual orientation: 'God loves you very much,'" he said.

Other groups, however, condemned the Pilling report, describing it as unhelpful and in conflict with the Bible. Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said that the lack of new teaching in the report was undermined by the proposal that clergy should mark same-sex relationships. She said that the Church should offer "courageous leadership" and "speak clearly about marriage as the union of one man and one woman and the only proper place for sexual expression".

An official response to the Pilling report from Anglican Mainstream stated: "The report as a whole errs towards trying to appease this secular world-view by saying in effect we should ditch any biblical and supernatural certainties. The report says that Scripture and theology are apparently unclear on the rightness of homosexual practice, but we should go ahead and bless it anyway, as long as the relationships are 'permanent, faithful, stable'. We are faced with officially sanctioned apostasy in our own Church."

The chairman of Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas, described the report's proposals as "very divisive and distressing". He said: "True pastoral care in the case of those experiencing same-sex attraction will be to help them live Christianly."

The "open Evangelical" group Fulcrum said in a statement that it was glad that the report had not recommended any change in the Church's teaching on homosexuality.

It criticised what it described as "a willingness to separate teaching and practice", and the recommendation that the formation of permanent same-sex relationships could be marked by a church service.

Meanwhile, Sir Paul Coleridge, a senior High Court family judge, has announced that he is standing down because of opposition to his traditional understanding of marriage. 

A number of complaints were made to the Judicial Complaints Investigation Office, after Sir Paul described same-sex marriage as a "minority issue" last year.

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