Pilling Report: a right-veering via media through sexual polarisation
The Church of England's Pilling Report on human sexuality has (finally) been published.
Whatever it says in very bold type in a very prominent foreword, the media will spin this as bigotry over progress; the triumph of dinosaur conservatism over enlightened liberalism; or simply another slap in the face for gays. In fact, it is an intelligent, sensitive and informed pastoral document which merits rather more scrutiny and contemplation than most will give it. All the proposals and recommendations it contains are not the official position of the Church of England unless and until they are endorsed by a vote of the General Synod.
But that won't stop the hysterical cries of bigotry or further anti-Anglican pronouncements of 'caving in' from the Telegraph (which will be made irrespective of Pilling's conclusions).
The full Report may be read HERE. In summary (His Grace's emphasis):
..the Archbishops commented that the report "is a substantial document proposing a process of facilitated conversations in the Church of England over a period of perhaps two years. The document offers findings and recommendations to form part of that process of facilitated conversations. It is not a new policy statement from the Church of England."Should the House of Bishops be minded in due course to make any changes to the Church of England's official position on human sexuality, it will need to ensure that Synod is given an opportunity to debate these matters before anything is implemented. Given the Synod’s resolution of 1987, which stated unequivocally that adultery, fornication and homosexual acts are to be met with “a call to repentance”, it is not easy to see how any shift will be made unless the General Synod is going to be socially engineered by age and/or gender quotas to become "more representative".
Noting that "the issues with which the Report grapples are difficult and divisive" the Archbishops recognise Sir Joseph's Pilling's comment that 'disagreements have been explored in the warmth of a shared faith'. The Archbishops continue "Our prayer is that the process of reflection that will now be needed in the Church of England, shaped by the House of Bishops and the College, will be characterised by a similar spirit."
Commissioned by the House of Bishops of the Church of England in January 2012, the working group included the bishops of Gloucester, Birkenhead, Fulham and Warwick. The group invited three advisers to join in the work. They were: Professor Robert Song, The Ven Rachel Treweek and the Revd Dr Jessica Martin.
The report considers the rapidly changing context within which the group undertook its work. It examines the available data about the views of the public in our country over time. The report considers homophobia, evidence from science, from scripture and from theologians. During their work, members of the group not only gathered evidence from many experts, groups and individuals but also met a number of gay and lesbian people, often in their homes, to listen to their experiences and insights.
The report offers 18 recommendations. The first recommendation is intended to set the context for the report as a whole. It warmly welcomes and affirms the presence and ministry within the church of gay and lesbian people both lay and ordained.
Three recommendations look at the report's proposal for 'facilitated conversations', across the Church of England and in dialogue with the Anglican Communion and other churches, so that Christians who disagree deeply about the meaning of scripture on questions of sexuality, and on the demands of living in holiness for gay and lesbian people, should understand each other's concerns more clearly and seek to hear each other as authentic Christian disciples.
Further recommendations call on the church to combat homophobia whenever and wherever it is found, and to repent of the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past.
The recommendations do not propose any change in the church's teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.
The report notes that the church's teaching on sexuality is in tension with contemporary social attitudes, not only for gay and lesbian Christians, but for straight Christians too. In relation to candidates for ministry, it recommends that whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership should have no bearing on the assurances sought from them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the teaching of the Church on sexual conduct.
The report includes a 'dissenting statement' from the Bishop of Birkenhead who found himself unable to support all the recommendations made by the group as a whole. The main part of the report is supported and signed by all the other members of the group, including the advisers.
The House of Bishops will discuss the report for the first time in December 2013, and it will be further debated by the College of Bishops in January 2014.
The Pilling Report simply offers findings and recommendations for the Church of England to consider. The group is to be commended for the theological depth of its research and the sociological sensitivity of its expression.
Importantly, the Liturgical Commission is not to be charged with the development of new same-sex marriage liturgy. No concession is being made to the possibility of providing a service for gay or lesbian couples, and this will no doubt greatly offend many.
Last week, the Prime Minister praised the Church of England for its shift on women bishops, which, he said, was necessary "to ensure its place as a modern Church in touch with our society".
Today he will be decrying that same church as being otiose and out of touch. But the Body of Christ does not exist to please the Prime Minister all of the time.