Fulcrum welcomes the House of Bishops’ Report “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations” (GS 2055).
We are grateful that the bishops, having discussed and listened and prayed, here reaffirm “the Church of England’s existing doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships” (para 26) and call on each other and the church as a whole “to expound it with confidence” and to ensure that “what happens in our services consistently reflects that teaching” (para 61).
We also welcome the bishops’ call to continue to reflect theologically on how we live this teaching out faithfully in our pastoral care and mission. It is, we believe, right to review existing materials to seek to establish a fresh tone so that we “can communicate welcome and support for lesbian and gay people and for those who experience same-sex attraction” and “promote mutual understanding across the Church as a whole” (para 29).
There remains much important work to be done in preparation of the Teaching Document and Guidance for the Clergy. It is vital that the Teaching Document be drawn up by those who are recognisably committed to the teaching it seeks to expound and that, in seeking “to permit maximum freedom” (para 22) within existing law, the new Guidance for Clergy does not encourage practices which undermine that teaching. It is also vital that the full range of those who accept the report's position are represented as this process develops and that the welfare of LGBTI people and their protection from abuse, as advocated by the Anglican Communion's 'Don't Throw Stones' intiative, is given greater prominence than in this report.
As the bishops acknowledge, if the church accepts this framework “serious and at times painful disagreements are still likely to surface” (para 27) but we believe it is important that these disagreements are addressed within this clearly defined framework rather than “seeking to move towards a different conversation” (para 27).
The bishops have clearly sought and struggled to hold us together across our differences and to avoid “major fracture in our Church…at this point” (para 59). We are encouraged that in doing so they have also given due weight to “the unity of the Universal Church” and “the Church of England’s own position in the Anglican Communion” (para 60). As the bishops note, true unity “cannot be detached from our common faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore from the teaching through which that gospel is faithfully passed on” (para 61). This means that there “needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the Church, in their own lives and in their ministry to others” (para 64). We are, consequently, deeply concerned that some of the responses to the bishops' report have made it even more difficult for those of us who wholeheartedly affirm that teaching as good news to have such trust in some clergy.
We hope and pray that the Church of England and wider Communion will see in the bishops’ proposal a framework, perhaps the only framework, which could enable us “to continue to ‘walk together'….in a way that is based on a common commitment to biblical truths but recognises our continuing disagreement with one another” (para 59) and we encourage General Synod to “take note” of it in its February session.