Comments: Statement from the English College of Bishops

I think that it is surprising that this communication does not mention gay people (or lesbian people, bi people or trans people) once.

I wonder what issues of sexuality they are talking about.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 5:16pm BST

I hope it is ok to post this in this thread.

It shows a couple in an Irish RC church being actively supported by their congregation and pastors.
Aand touching and encouraging it is too.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 5:45pm BST

I wonder if the people in the pews of the Church of England get tired of the bishops making all of the decisions for them behind closed doors.

Posted by Dennis at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 5:55pm BST

I enclose a link which seems to show a different approach from the RC bishops of England & Wales (to that of the anglican bishops).

Or should that be attitide and approach TO them, from pro-gay activists within the Church ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 6:08pm BST

What does episcopal discernment mean? I'm afraid this does read like an in-group trying to preserve its own exclusivity.

Posted by Averil Cameron at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 6:42pm BST

"The full membership of the group and its terms of reference will be published in due course."

First it was the Pilling Review and no Bishop could say anything and nothing was going to happen until that was published. Then it was the shared conversations and no Bishop could say anything and nothing was going to happen until that process was finished. Now it'll be "we're waiting for the Bishops' Reflection Group to report."

Looks like this is just going to go on and on forever.

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 7:10pm BST

I'm a bit foxed. Having had two years of not talking to anyone because all the rest of us were talking to each other, now the bishops are going to talk to each other some more about issues in sexuality. But they won't talk openly about it because if they did we all might talk about it some more. So we will have to wait until they have talked about it enough - probably by next spring. And the point of all this talking is for episcopal discernment.

But no out LGBTI people will be part of this except possibly the Bishop of Grantham. So they will be discerning things at one remove from the reality that we are living with while they are talking.

I am sure that the talking and discerning is well meant - but wouldn't it be an idea to get some of us in the room? After all, I know bishops are important and different, but they aren't that important or that different.

Alternatively, they could just do the whole process much more openly, and not have special episcopal sessions at all, but just talk with all the rest of us and ask the Holy Spirit to help us all discern the will and purpose of God. After all, we don't believe in a heirarchical church in that kind of a way anyway, do we?

There is also the risk that when they have done all this secret talking and discerning that they might then tell us all the answer, and that we might disagree with it and say that that is not what we have discerned in all the talking and listening that we have done. And if that happens then we will have to do a load more talking all together again to see if we can all find some common ground between bishops and the others. So wouldn't it be simpler and quicker just to do it all together from the word go. That might let go of some episcopal power, but it is probably a risk worth taking in my view.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Thursday, 15 September 2016 at 10:04pm BST

So we are now to have a period of 'episcopal discernment'. Is it impolite to ask what they have been doing for the past 20 years or more?

Posted by Richard Ashby at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 9:02am BST

I think "episcopal discernment" is a euphemism for hitting the ball into the long grass. Just as the bishops haven't got a notion on how to proceed with this contentious issue - so the vicar's daughter - Theresa May hasn't got a Scooby about how to make progress over the disastrous referendum result apart from uttering her mantra "Brexit means Brexit" which is, in itself, a euphemism for "I'm sorry I haven't a clue". At least Mrs. May has thrown the bringing back of Grammar Schools into the ring as a diversionary tactic but the prelates don't seem to have come up with a similar red herring to divert attention away from this issue which simply won't go away.

Posted by Father David at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 10:40am BST

We have had 'shared conversations' for a small invited group and now it seems for Bishops. The next step forward is surely to keep up the praying and take the discussions to the other 99% of the church.

Posted by aic at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 11:24am BST

At least Bishop Graham will understand the need for openness to LGBTQI people in the Church. A good Pastor and Teacher who knows his onions.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 12:05pm BST

Oh good! More discernment, possibly with shared conversations, breaking into small groups, and perhaps just a sprinkling of compassionate listening... and more years for the locusts to eat.

Posted by Nathaniel Brown at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 2:14pm BST

To my brothers and sisters in England:

Obviously the English bishops are quite willing to talk and talk ad infinitum rather than actually lead and make any decisions.

We faced the same situation here in Canada. Last January, our House of Bishops came out of their winter meeting with a statement that the requisite majority was not there to pass the amendment to the marriage canon that would come before General Synod, and suggesting Synod look for alternatives.

In between that letter and Synod in July, a grass-roots lobbying movement arose. Faithful LGTBQ members engaged (even bombarded) the bishops with personal stories which told of their pain, as well as the joys of finding accepting and affirming faith communities. When Synod came around, the bishops who had been on the fence (1/3 of the house, according to reports of the January meeting) almost all voted yes, including 3 whose diocesan delegations had a majority on the no side. Several bishops commented on the volume of correspondence received, and on the contrast in tone and content.
Also part of the campaign was making lesbian and gay married couples more visible.

Time for a similar effort in England.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 3:33pm BST

Discernment is actively listening to the Spirit.

Terms of Reference is a secular device to indicate what should be considered and, more pertinently, what should not.

There is a clear discord between the two. If the Bishops are genuinely interested in hearing the Spirit they would not be saying to the Spirit please talk to us, but please keep to these terms of reference. If you suggest things outside the terms of reference, we will ignore you. Any Christian who has struggled with guidance, which is the individual form of discernment, will have learnt that guidance can be corrupted if one prejudges the issue by laying boundaries on the outcome.

I am struggling to get past the shocking realisation that our bishops give the impression that they don't truly understand discernment.

And anyway, this is not a matter for discernment. The Bible does speak on these issues. If the Bible is prohibitive, no discernment can genuinely reach any other conclusion and, if it did, would be corrupt and not from God. And if the Bible doesn't prohibit these things, then the huge burden on LGBTI people makes supporting same sex marriage a Biblical priority and again no genuine discernment can reach the opposite conclusion. The prayer should be for knowledge and wisdom, not discernment.

Susannah keeps reminding us that Jesus taught us to love people, not ideas, although actually He taught us to love God more than people and people more than ideas. As Kelvin so importantly points out, there is no mention of LGBTI people in the press release, no words even of comfort to those who are suffering. Jeremy points out that LGBTI people aren't loved enough to be invited to partake of the discussion which affects them so acutely. More remarkably still, it is a press release which doesn't mention God or Jesus even once - and the Spirit is included only by inference in the term discernment. Knowledge is a dispassionate gift, but wisdom and discernment are gifts grounded in love. Yet the press release displays neither love for the Trinity nor for LGBTI people.

LGBTI people live with these issues. While we come to different conclusions, we will all have spent hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of hours, in prayer on this issue. If one believes in prayer the inescapable conclusion is that the Lord will have revealed his will to those who have spent a lifetime in prayer on this issue, not to those assigned to a working party. If the bishops truly thirst for discernment then they will give up their other responsibilities and spend several weeks just talking to LGBTI people about what God has revealed to them. If one truly loves LGBTI people, one would spend vast amounts of time with those most affected by the decision. Discernment is not about sitting in a working party and saying a few, quick prayers. True discernment involves effort and a great deal of it.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 4:50pm BST

A touching story from Laurence. So the takeaway is that a Catholic congregation in Co Kildare is more accepting, more welcoming and more loving of gay people than Justin Welby (who hates treating gay people badly, until it actually comes to stopping treating gay people badly, at which point he just can't stop himself)? So if you want a progressive, modern, accepting church, try a Catholic Church in a town of 10000 people in Ireland, but if you want to find old men making excuses, try the bishops of the Church of England.

Posted by Interested Observer at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 6:02pm BST

This process is too removed from the lives of real people. God works through people, so sequestering themselves is not really conducive to the movement of the Spirit of Love and Wisdom.

This could not possible be more different from TEC. We discussed these things openly for decades, with task forces of diverse people, including LGBTQI people. The mind of the church moved together. Yes, we had our schisms over WO and +Gene, but not since SSM was voted in with something like 90 percent affirmation. (And schismatic laity have been trickling back).

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 8:26pm BST

My opinion is that many of our bishops are sincere and dedicated, and its reasonable for them to have private discourse. What interests me is the outcome.

Having said that, as a person who falls under the LGBT+ umbrella, it doesn't feel very marvellous to be 'talked over' and 'talked about', and I would welcome a consultation mechanism so that all members of the Church of England were able to contribute views and proposals, as part of the Bishops' deliberations and prayers.

Anyway, may God be with the Reflection Group and the Bishops generally.

In the end, this is a matter for the whole Church of England, and not just the bishops. The bishops are merely advisory in their capacity.

On great issues of conscience there can be no place for authoritarianism, and it boils down to how individual church communities choose to treat people, live with them, love them.

The solution should be built on that principle.

The outcome that I hope for is one where each PCC can have the right to decide its position on the affirmation of gay relationships; where priests can exercise the conscience to bless them or not to; where individuals have right of access to their local churches for such blessings (with a different priest if necessary); and where 'unity in diversity' means loving and respecting each other, even if we hold different views.

If the Bishops end up saying 'The Church believes this...' it will not be reality - because the Church, through its faithful members, believes a range of different things.

What is needed is mechanism to accommodate these differences, and prayer for grace to love one another and keep serving the communities we share our lives with, and those beyond our borders too.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 8:26pm BST

Archbishop: I hate how the church treats black people. I know, let's set up a working party of white bishops to advise the House of Bishops on racial issues. We can then offer leadership to the church - including our BME members - on this important issue.

Journalist: Your Grace, don't you think only having white bishops on the working party might affect its legitimacy, even its actual ability to examine the issues?

Archbishop: well, we only have one black bishop...

Journalist (interrupting): so why wasn't he appointed to the working party?

Archbishop: I have every confidence in the bishops who have been appointed.

Journalist: so what would you say to those who feel you talk about hating how the church treats black people - until it comes to appointing a black bishop to a working party to look at institutional racism within the church?

Archbishop: I don't accept we are institutionally racist.

Journalist: but do you understand why people see the church that way?

Archbishop: over the past decade the church has invested an enormous amount of time listening to black people. Time we could have spent discussing issues like reaching out to marginalised groups, succession planning or important issues like clerical vestments

Journalist: thank you, Archbishop. I think people will make up their own minds.

Is the House of Bishops really that blind and naive? Quite apart from the fact that the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality is manifestly unqualified, which in turn highlights how unqualified is the whole College of Bishops, can they really not see how appallingly stupid and prejudiced this makes the College of Bishops look?

Posted by Kate at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 8:58pm BST

Can ....kick.....road....long grass....

Posted by S Cooper at Friday, 16 September 2016 at 11:51pm BST

"Well we only have one black bishop" - how shameful is that! Women bishops now vastly outnumber bishops from ethnic minorities - isn't it about time we appointed more Black and Asian bishops?
It would seem that Coronation Street is well ahead of the Established Church as the bishop who is currently interviewing the Reverend Billy about his relationship with Todd Grimshaw is definitely black. I'm a little anxious about the smallness of his pectoral cross but at least he wears it in the correct position - on his chest rather than on his belly. Poor Billy after dumping Shaun and setting up home with Todd is now being forced into making a difficult choice between continuing with his ministry or continuing his relationship with Todd.
Of course, I only watch Corrie in order to keep a pastoral eye on what my parishioners watch which enables us to have meaningful and reflective facilitated conversations together.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 7:07am BST

@FatherDavid - I was speaking allegorically not literally but you are, of course, right to raise that facet of diversity - or rather the lack of it - too

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 8:28am BST

"The outcome that I hope for is one where each PCC can have the right to decide its position on the affirmation of gay relationships; where priests can exercise the conscience to bless them or not to; where individuals have right of access to their local churches for such blessings (with a different priest if necessary); and where 'unity in diversity' means loving and respecting each other, even if we hold different views." - Susannah

Well some progress as you now recognise that LGBTI people have a right to blessing or marriage in their own parish, which is great, but we still need more. If ministers can in conscience refuse to bless gay couples isn't there also an obligation in return on such ministers to respect the consciences of gay couples who marry and not to describe their conduct as wrong or sinful? Or are the consciences of ministers to be respected but not those of gay and lesbian couples?

Are we really setting our sights so low now that we would accept a blessing which doesn't recognise marriage and still allow conservatives to say that even that is sinful? That's negligible progress.

But anyway, I don't think what you are suggesting is possible. I might be wrong, but I suspect a number of conservatives have Donatist tendencies and are likely to view any ordination by a gay bishop as invalid. Can we really cope with parishes which won't accept female ministers or ministers ordained by female bishops, plus an overlapping but different set of parishes which are anti-gay - and possibly a third set of parishes, different again, who won't accept a minister who has changed their gender presentation? Suppose someone suggested simplifying that so the parishes which won't marry gay couples or accept a gay, married minister or bishop were also the parishes which won't accept the ordination of women. At that point, women fearing an erosion of the number of parishes accepting female ministers, would vote against the proposal.

I understand your desired outcome has a prima facie attraction but dig deeper and I believe it is both of objectionable and impractical.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 9:12am BST

Kate, you're simply not getting what you ask for.

Even my own conciliatory approach is possibly unlikely - see my overview of the Vice-Chair (Pete Broadbent)'s history of comments in my next post. But 'good disagreement' and 'unity in diversity' might - just might - be embraced (by most)... in which case, over a period of further time, I suspect more and more church communities would come to accept gay blessings, and even marriage, as normal.

But unless Bishop Pete has changed his views following the Shared Conversations, he seems very sceptical about the 'two integrities' and 'unity in diversity' approach I see as essential to protect consciences and integrities; and even more sceptical about gay marriage itself.

My belief that lesbian and gay people should have a right to be married in their own local church is not 'progress' as you describe it. It's been my view all along. But out of respect for conscience, PCCs and priests should have the right to request an affirming minister to come and preside over a service they cannot - in good faith - accept or carry out themselves.

You can't force people against their sincere consciences. Ways have to found around. Equally, we cannot let those same people force others against their consciences (and rights) either.

The more stridently you insist on one single, exclusionary 'belief' in our Church, the more people will react and entrench against your views, and oppose them.

Excellent post of yours, imagining the dialogue between the Journalist and the archbishop, btw. It is regrettable that there is seemingly no LGBTI voice in the Reflection Group. Even in the lead up to women bishops they co-opted females into their discussions. So why couldn't that have been done in this case? Time to all up Jeffrey John... (who Bishop Pete opposed as Bishop of Reading). And a lesbian or two would be respectful as well.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 1:47pm BST

Taking the record of one of the more forthright bishops on that list (Pete Broadbent), liberal change cannot be assumed:


Re: Jeffrey John at Reading: "I was one of those who advocated that the appointment should not be made..." (3rd Dec 2005) because he "teaches a revisionist position on homosexuality in the Church, and has published writings which can be adduced to prove that this is his position." Indeed, Pete was one of the signatories to the letter protesting against the appointment. In contrast, 7 years later, Nicholas Holtam is expressly voicing a revisionist position "that is not the position of the Church of England... within the life of the Church there are more views... I think it is appropriate to use the language of marriage in relation to same-sex partnerships" yet Pete who is sitting beside him in the radio interview opposed Jeffrey John. (Sunday programme, 5th February 2012).


On gay marriage: "I have reservations about it because I don't think that's what we find revealed in scripture." (Same programme)


"I want us to address this carefully and thoughtfully, which is why the Church of England has got the bishops working on it, and then to have a conversation about whether it's permissible to have official services... an official service that gave a blessing to folk who were in a gay relationship would actually fundamentally change the doctrine of the Church of England." (2012)


In 2014: On the concept of Shared Conversations he was "not optimistic about the outcomes. Archbishop Justin has broached the concept of 'good disagreement'. I don't think we know what that might look like. There is a huge polarity between those who want the C of E to hold to its historic understanding of marriage - and not to change its canonical and liturgical formulae - and those who want the C of E to embrace total equal treatment, expressed in a change in relation to doctrine, marriage, and pastoral practice. Some are looking for a 'two integrities' approach - personally, I can't see the Church holding together on that kind of basis."

Pete’s blog, September 2015: "I’m not convinced that 'good disagreement' is a place to end up in – though it’s certainly a means of travel!"

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 17 September 2016 at 1:57pm BST
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