Church Releases Sexuality Report

by Gerry Lynch last modified 27 Jan, 2017 10:12 AM

House of Bishops publish report: Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations

The Church of England’s law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church’s doctrine of marriage itself, bishops are recommending.

A report from the House of Bishops to be discussed by the Church’s General Synod next month upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.

But it also concludes that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples – which allows clergy to provide informal prayers for those marrying or forming a civil partnership – is not clear enough and should be revisited.

It also calls for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people and those attracted to people of the same sex throughout the Church of England.

The paper recommends that bishops prepare a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships to replace or expand upon documents drawn up in the 1990s.

And it calls for new guidance to be prepared about the kind of questions put to candidates for ordination – irrespective of their sexual orientation - about their lifestyle.

It also speaks of the need for the Church to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirm the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.

The report from the House of Bishops attempts to sum up the Church’s position after a two-year process of shared conversations on the subject of human sexuality, involving clergy and laity.

It acknowledges that it represents the consensus of opinion among the bishops rather than a unanimous view and sets out a process rather than attempting a final resolution.

The General Synod will discuss the paper in a “Take Note” debate on the afternoon of Wednesday February 15. Members will have an opportunity to consider it in small groups immediately before the debate.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said, “This is part of a continuing process in which the Bishops are wanting General Synod to have an opportunity to discuss and comment on what we are proposing as next steps.”

In a foreword to the document, the bishops explain: “We recognise our deficiencies and offer this paper with humility.

“We know that this report may prove challenging or difficult reading.

“We are confident, however, that the commitment that has been shown to listening to one another, not least through the Shared Conversations, in dioceses and in the General Synod, will have helped prepare us all as members of Synod to address together the challenges we face as a part of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

“We would ask for it to be read as a whole.”

Presenting the paper at a press conference this morning the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James said, “This isn’t the end of a process but we are somewhere in the middle of it. 

“We are sharing where we have reached in order to be as transparent as possible, and open to other voices.

“We hope that the tone and register of this report will help to commend it, though we recognise it will be challenging reading for some.

“This is no last word on this subject.  For there are very different views on same sex relationships within the Church, and within the House of Bishops, mainly based on different understandings of how to read scripture.”

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, said, “The report will be the subject of a ‘take note’ debate. Such a debate is a neutral motion.

“It allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in the report, but a vote in favour of the motion does not commit the Synod to the acceptance of any matter in the report.

“The House of Bishops will listen carefully to the debate, and to any subsequent matters raised by members in correspondence, to inform their further work.”

The report is contained among papers circulated to members of the Church of England's General Synod which meets in Westminster next month. 

A press release from the National Church Institutions, including statements from the Bishops of Norwich and Willesden, is available here.

The report is available in full here.

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