Fulcrum Response to the Pilling Report

Fulcrum is grateful for the research and the listening to God, each other and the wider church undertaken by all members of the Pilling Group.  We offer these initial reflections on their report which we recognise is going to take us all some time to weigh and test so that we can hold on to what is good.

A. Welcoming agreements shared by the main Report and the Dissenting Statement

It is important to recognise that the Dissenting Statement agrees with many of the Report’s recommendations which contain much that all should be able to welcome.

In particular, Fulcrum agrees with all members of the Group that:

  1. We must warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained (Recommendation 1)
  2. Urgent facilitated conversations (Recommendation 3) about our differences on this subject are needed in the church as a whole and these must “involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture” (Recommendation 2) at their heart.
  3. The Church of England “should address the issue of same sex relationships in close dialogue with the wider Anglican Communion and other Churches” (Recommendation 4)
  4. Hostility to homosexual people is a serious sin requiring repentance and resistance (Recommendation 5).  With the Report, we also commend the “Don’t Throw Stones” initiative (paras 189-191).
  5. “No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships” (Recommendation 6)
  6. We need to consider seriously scientific work on same sex attraction (Recommendation 7) and recognise that sexuality is not reducible to “gay or straight” (paras 181 and 419-423)
  7. We must recognise that attitudes to same sex attraction have changed markedly in recent years, particularly among younger people, but “that should not of itself determine the Church’s teaching” (Recommendation 8).
  8. The Church, nationally and locally, “needs to find ways of honouring and affirming those Christians who experience same sex attraction who, conscious of the church’s teaching, have embraced a chaste and single lifestyle” (Recommendation 13).  Here we note the new website Living Out which tells the stories of such Christians and offers guidance for pastoral care and support.
  9. “All candidates for ministry should be treated in the same way regarding their sexual conduct: that is, they should be reminded that they are called to chastity and fidelity in their relationships and to order their lives according to the will of the Church on matters of sexual conduct, and they should be asked to give an assurance that they will seek to live by that standard” (para 411).

B. Welcoming elements of the main Report

In relation to the main Report, Fulcrum welcomes:

  1. The recognition that “there is not sufficient consensus to change the church’s teaching on human sexuality” (para 349)
  2. The acknowledgment that we face a new context in which those of us committed to upholding that teaching face new and major pastoral and missional challenges.  We believe that these must be taken very seriously if we are committed to evangelism and mission and may require new responses.
  3. The importance of challenging many aspects of our culture’s approach to sexuality while recognising and encouraging any virtues we find in relationships, including sexual relationships which do not conform to the church’s teaching.
  4. The introduction of the category of “pastoral accommodation”.  This is a way, in the words of para 49 of the Faith and Order Commission’s report, Men and Women in Marriage  (which is referred to in paras 118 and 275 of the Report), of the Church marking “the point where teaching and pastoral care coincide”.  It does so by devising “accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm”.  We agree with the Faith and Order Commission that the goal of such accommodations is to “proclaim the form of life given by God’s creative goodness and bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it”.

C. Welcoming elements of the Dissenting Statement

In relation to the Bishop of Birkenhead’s Dissenting Statement, Fulcrum welcomes:

  1. The clear and irenic statement of the church’s teaching that “the proper context for sexual expression is the union of a man and a woman in marriage”.  We also welcome the biblical case set out for this vision by the Bishop of Birkenhead in Appendix 3 and would further have liked to see this biblical engagement throughout the whole report.
  2. The commitment to shape the Church’s witness by Scripture, tradition and reason even when that results in a counter-cultural stance which may be costly and cruciform.
  3. The careful analysis and critique of the Report’s weaknesses and inconsistencies.  We believe these need to be weighed seriously by the bishops in their discussions and by those structuring the facilitated conversations because they express concerns which are shared by many.

D. Concerns about the main Report

In particular, in the light of the Dissenting Statement, we express the following concerns about aspects of the Report:

  1. Although the church’s teaching is upheld, its theological and biblical basis is not clearly articulated and there appears to be a willingness to separate teaching and practice in a way which threatens incoherence and charges of hypocrisy.
  2. The emphasis on the qualities of a relationship without clear reference to the gift of marriage fails to do justice to Scripture and tradition in relation to both sexual same-sex relationships and heterosexual cohabitation (para 148).
  3. The recommendation “to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service” and to leave the form of this to the discretion of the parish priest risks undermining the unity of the church’s teaching and practice and our ecclesiology. This is particularly of concern if such services were to follow a civil marriage. We would like to see a form of genuine pastoral accommodation together with rigorous engagement with doctrine and Scripture.
  4. This recommendation disregards the statement of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion in 2006 that “the authorisation by any one bishop, diocese or Province, of any public Rite of Blessing, or permission to develop or use such a rite, would go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound” (italics added) and its judgment in 2007 that the celebration of a public liturgy which includes a blessing on a same-sex union is not within the breadth of private pastoral response envisaged by the Primates in their Pastoral Letter of 2003” and that “the use of any such rites or liturgies” with the bishop’s authority would represent a breach of the Communion moratorium.
  5. We therefore believe that for the House of Bishops to implement this recommendation, particularly prior to the conclusion of any facilitated conversations (as appears to be proposed in para 391) would damage the unity of the Church of England and the Communion.

E. Exploring “Pastoral accommodation”

In considering alternative forms of genuine “pastoral accommodation” ("pastoral hospitality" may be a preferable designation) we believe that there are two distinctions which are helpful and important and which need further thought and application:

(1) The distinction between (a) “blessing” (declaring on behalf of God to his people) and (b) “thanksgiving” (the people offering thanks to God for that which is good)

(2) The distinction between (a) private prayers and (b) public services and acts of worship.

We believe that “pastoral accommodation” which upholds church teaching is best expressed in private prayers in the context of Christian formation that sets out God’s purposes and leads people into greater conformity with them.  Such prayers should focus on prayers for God’s grace and thanksgiving for the virtues evident in a loving non-marital relationship.  This, rather than public services, particularly services of blessing, on non-marital patterns of life, is the form of “pastoral accommodation” we commend.

F. Conclusion: The Church after the Pilling Report

The lack of agreement within the Report reflects the deep divisions which are found within the wider church.  We urge all Anglicans to pray for the bishops as they face major decisions and for those who will design the proposed facilitated conversations.  In addition to exploring sexuality we believe these need also to consider how, given such deep differences, we can better live together and be faithful to what we understand to be God’s call in this area.

In Fulcrum we remain committed to “participate in debates on issues in sexual ethics arising today in the life of the Church” and offer these initial assessments to assist fellow evangelicals and others in discerning how to respond to this important Report.

9 thoughts on “Fulcrum Response to the Pilling Report”

  1. Phil Arnold: ‘5. God and Christ invite all people to repent and submit to Christ as Saviour and Lord, and those invitations are sincere.

    Very probably all those who share David Gillett’s and Roger Hurding’s view on same-sex relationships would heartily assent to point 5 above.’

    But what would David and Roger think that all people need to repent of? Presumably not of being in a homosexual relationship. If the bible is no longer the yardstick, then how do we know what is sinful and needs to be repented of. Take burglary for example. Is that OK if the burglar loves Jesus and doesn’t cause bodily harm when he appropriates other people’s possessions? Or if the victim has more money than they do? Real-life burglars tend to try to justify themselves morally, and who is to decide whose moral code is the right one if we no longer submit ourselves to the bible’s commandments?


  2. Re: David Gillett’s ‘Unless we as evangelicals can acknowledge difference of interpretation on this issue among ourselves we will be ignoring an increasingly significant dimension of the debate’.
    But one of the main points on the Fulcrum forum has been about the disagreements on fundamental doctrines (as I see it) among those who classify themselves as ‘evangelicals’, including:

    1. Because of Original Sin we are all born with natures that are inclined to evil and facing God’s wrath and condemnation (Article 9) and curse (Article 17).
    2. Because of the Fall of Adam we depend on the grace of God to give us the good will to turn and call upon God (Article 10).
    3. God has chosen in eternity those to whom he will give that good will. (Article 17).
    4. ‘The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual…’ (Article 31). And that propitiation pacifies the wrath of God against all who repent and submit to Jesus Christ.
    5. God and Christ invite all people to repent and submit to Christ as Saviour and Lord, and those invitations are sincere.

    Very probably all those who share David Gillett’s and Roger Hurding’s view on same-sex relationships would heartily assent to point 5 above. Do any who share that view also heartily assent to all the points 1-4 above?

    Phil Almond

  3. Bowman: ‘ the Pilling Report has discredited positions based narrowly on the Six Texts’. Has it? It would seem sensible to pay a lot of attention to what the bible says directly about homosexuality, would it not? ‘Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’ [1 Corinthians 6:9b-10] That’s clear, is it not? Why depart from the orthodox faith?


  4. I just find this whole issue a very sad reflection of how the gulf between public and private worship can be so far apart.

    (1) The distinction between (a) “blessing” (declaring on behalf of God to his people) and (b) “thanksgiving” (the people offering thanks to God for that which is good)

    (2) The distinction between (a) private prayers and (b) public services and acts of worship.

    Being a Christian is like many other high risk ways of living. it makes demands of us which we find difficult emotionally practically and financially, yet like with all high risk ways of living most would say the outcome is worth the risk. The real issue here is that the risk is not on any ones shoulders other than Christ it is Christ who carries the burden of sin, it is Christ who relates to the individual and the individual to Christ.

    The bible has always been a book of contradictions in its statements with not just the battle of good and evil but also problems and solutions and old and new. Many manipulative people have taken the bible and used selected pieces to defend their own arguments, which is indefensible, by the very fact that the bible is the living word and a book of revelation. For that which is revealed to us is not to harm us but to prosper us. That is a very individual statement , and an individual invite .
    The fact that we do not always like the other people who are invited or the way they interpret and live out their faith, does not alter the fact that we are all invited, BUT one thing I am very sure of and that is through the communion we are united in one Lord and one faith and if we are the representative body of Christ there can be no distinction in public and private worship as a corporate body we are only strong if we are unified.

  5. David Runcorn’s manifesto is more eloquent and consistent than the Pilling Report is grounded and coherent. Given their respective sponsors, the clear focus of the former, and the expected scope of the latter, that is not surprising.

    Fulcrum’s centripetal response to a centrifugal report makes sense.

    Oliver O’Donovan’s discussion of ‘accommodation’ is shifting the centre of discussion away from the old conflicts over the Six Texts and toward the theological ground for practise now. There are, after all, new practical questions before working clergy today, and the experience of those will shape whatever else comes.

    Those who welcome this shift, for the moment, include not only the ‘conserving,’ but also the ‘observing’–

    those for whom the issues of this day deserve consideration apart from tired teleologies of ‘the decadence of the North’ or ‘one liberation after another’ that are dear to diehard activists, but an arrogant denial of the meaning of our actual lives in the labyrinth of time;

    those who did not detect charity and objectivity in all claims made over the past few years, and who will take time to discover which evidence is false, which arguments invalid, which lines of inquiry ended, which paths of action foreclosed, and what living possibilities remain for exploration;

    those who see that the most partisan voices on these questions are in bubbles;

    those who believe it wise to consider more and richer scientific evidence, and to do so with openminded curiosity and compassion, to avoid foolish missteps;

    those who believe that the unity and depth of Christian understanding on sexuality was revealed and should be expressed as a whole;

    those who prioritise the independence of Church teaching from other ideologies locally and temporarily popular;

    those who do not act in God’s name without a positive theology for what they do;

    those for whom the weakness of an older theology may be more inhibiting than its health would have been;

    those who, after a long and mostly fruitless preoccupation with the Six Texts, want to reopen consideration of the whole scriptural witness to human sexuality without preconceptions or goals;

    those who see realistic adaptation to changing mores in the global village as the task of churches in several societies over a few generations, and not the result of one or two of them reacting to pressure and politics over a decade or two;

    those who believe that, where human nature is so intimately concerned, the best options will not be invented and imposed but discovered and enabled to spread;

    and most generally, those who suspect that the options on the table today are unlikely to be the ones we would choose if we knew now what we will know in the middle future.

    It is possible that activists who see this area of human life and Christian practise with any sort of liberationist left/reactionary right narrative in mind will find it difficult to give due weight to these concerns. They irritate one mindset with their attention to ‘the unexpected consequences of purposive social action’ and the other with their acknowledgement of real change and openness to the future.

    It can’t be helped. History is not just one story running over and over again, and not one of us can play the same roles in every movie. “To everything there is a season and to every time a purpose under heaven.”

    If a report does not drive some bad opinions out of polite discussion, then it has accomplished nothing. With a shove from Parliament and the ABC, the Pilling Report has discredited positions based narrowly on the Six Texts, however read. To prove anything about sexuality now, much more ground must be covered, and honest minds will revise their opinions as they face emergent evidence and the reflection based upon it. All of us will be surprised, albeit by different things.

    It was a great pleasure to see that the Report drew on David Runcorn’s essay to achieve this result. His ‘Gamaliel principle’ and ‘Godly pragmatism’ will be with us for a long time.

    However, we will need them as much for the journey itself as for the destination, which is not yet known.

  6. While this response covers some important aspects of Pilling, it appears one-sided in its failure to note that the report opens the possibility of changing the church’s teaching, and it makes a crucial omission. It references the Bishop of Birkenhead’s dissent and appendix to the report, but why is there no reference to David Runcorn’s appendix, which affirms LGBT relationships from within an evangelical framework?

    Surely it should at least be acknowledged that affirming same-sex relationships is now a debate within evangelicalism?

  7. As this debate continues it will be more and more important to acknowledge that there are two broad positions on same sex relationships within evangelicalism. There are a growing number of us over the years who have come to believe that the scriptures do not put a bar on faithful same sex relationships. Rather we believe that the gospel of grace encourages us to reach out in generosity to those clergy and lay folk who are in such committed covenanted relationships, a good number of whom are evangelicals. We wish to find ways of celebrating with them and blessing their relationships in a way that I and my wife (along with millions of other married couples) so valued throughout the whole of our married life.

    I am surprised that Fulcrum’s response does not include reference to David Runcorn’s article in the report which outlines very cogently the including evangelical viewpoint. Unless we as evangelicals can acknowledge difference of interpretation on this issue among ourselves we will be ignoring an increasingly significant dimension of the debate.

    • I entirely agree with David Gillett’s surprise that the beautifully argued Appendix by David Runcorn gets no mention in Fulcrum’s response to the Pilling Report. Whereas the Bishop of Birkenhead’s Appendix is clearly representative of the more conservative and traditional wing of Fulcrum, David Runcorn’s piece is a well argued analysis of the more including element amongst Fulcrum members, myself included. Both Appendices seek to be faithful to Scripture and we all need to be grown up enough to see that there is a continuing debate to be had. Mutual understanding and respect are needed in this discussion and Fulcrum is to be commended for having allowed both views to be expressed within the Forum threads over the past 3 or 4 years. A comprehensive appraisal of Pilling should certainly have included the expression of an alternative evangelical voice.

  8. Surely the main message must be that all can come to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from eternal hell, trusting only in Him and in His precious and holy blood shed for us poor sinners, repenting of our wicked ways, including homosexuality for those bound by that particular vice, and receiving forgiveness and healing and deliverance, and a new life of love in Jesus. He can set the captive free and bring the prisoner bound in darkness out into His marvellous light. Hallelujah for He is the light of the world and there is no darkness in Him, nor must there be in us as we live in His presence, coming to Him daily and hourly for forgiveness of our mistakes and failures, and receiving a fresh supply of His Holy Spirit and His joy and love and peace in Him our Saviour and redeemer and friend.


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