Ekklesia report cited as Synod discusses 'living with difference'

By Savi Hensman
February 13, 2014

An Ekklesia research paper might be useful in helping the Church of England to tackle the controversial issue of sexuality, a general synod member suggested. Synod, meeting from 12-14 February, also discussed women bishops, climate change and safeguarding.

The possibility was raised during a question and answer session on a report by a working party on sexuality (the Pilling report). Recommendations included a process of facilitated conversations across dioceses.

Susan Cooper, one of the lay representatives from London diocese, asked if those designing the discussions were familiar with Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground, which sets out a continuum of seven views commonly held among Christians.

She pointed out that it might be helpful to think of this range instead of "dividing people into 'sheep' and 'goats', which can be rather polarising.’

General Synod, the church’s governing body, had earlier agreed to fast-track the process that might allow women to become bishops – though this will still have to win enough votes at the final stage for the rules to be changed. Many feel that the current situation, when only men can be considered, makes it harder to reflect and share the good news of Christ.

Other issues covered included ethical investment and climate change, tightening child and adult safeguarding procedures and countering gender-based violence.

Cultural change is needed “if we are to live out a commitment to the flourishing of every tradition of the church,” urged Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a presidential address. This includes willingness to appoint “people who disagree with us most profoundly.”

This would lead to “an untidy church” with “incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places”, he admitted. “This sort of gracious reconciliation means that we have to create safe space within ourselves to disagree.”

“There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today”, he remarked.

However, he urged that “We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes. This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.”

While Welby perhaps underestimates the damage caused by exclusion, there is indeed value in getting better at living with difference. Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground suggests that tensions could be reduced “if more church leaders acknowledged the extent of common ground” in the middle of the continuum, “allowed limited flexibility of practice, and enabled their communities to develop practices of discernment oriented towards the ‘grace and truth’ (John 1.13-15) that lies at the heart of the Christian message.”

* Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground is on http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19512

* The Synod debate is on https://soundcloud.com/#the-church-of-england, General Synod Wednesday 12 February PM, part 2, mentioning Ekklesia's report from 42.15 to 45.50.

© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare, sexuality, theology and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.