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Church of England Synod Report: Highlights and Extracts

Church of England Synod Report: Highlights and Extracts

By Andrew Symes
February 12th, 2014

Doxa Meeting: The implications of Pilling

The Evangelical Group of General Synod (EGGS) met on Monday evening after the first sessions of Synod, to air concerns about the current issues, and to pray. On Tuesday a lunchtime fringe meeting was hosted by Doxa, a broad conservative grouping, where at least 50 Synod members (including four Bishops) came to hear Professor Glynn Harrison and myself speak about the Pilling Report and its implications. Professor Harrison, a Psychiatrist and academic and long time Synod member, has written booklets and articles on the subject of homosexuality and the Christian faith. He focused on the forthcoming facilitated conversations, and pitfalls for the orthodox to avoid if they participate in them. For example, participation in the conversations may require agreement that certain fundamental issues are up for discussion, and it needs to be communicated in advance that this cannot be acceptable. Above all, Harrison warned that orthodox participants are likely to be underprepared and therefore vulnerable to the techniques of manipulation of which those advocating radical change are experts.

My short presentation followed on from the issues raised in my article last week. The Pilling Report follows a manifesto for church growth which assumes that changing core doctrines, or at least being relaxed and non-dogmatic about doctrine and especially sexual ethics, will make it easier to promote Christian faith to the general public.

The Bishops have admitted profound disagreement among themselves and in church and society at large on the subject of homosexual practice, and while they appeared to rule out support for gay marriage, they could only commit to a moratorium on blessing of same sex couples during the period of "conversation". Our response as "confessing" Anglicans must be to be more proactive in teaching the "dissenting" but positive biblical view (after Bishop Sinclair's statement) of marriage and sexuality, as many even in conservative congregations are no longer sure of the plausibility of this position. We must be clear on balancing clear biblical moral standards with compassionate and sensitive pastoral response to those struggling with sexual sin and especially singles and those with same sex attraction. We must name and face the "powers", by identifying false philosophies and their inevitable results in society, and finding ways to oppose through spiritual warfare and strategic action in the public square. Finally, should we enter into the conversation? Not to negotiate on fundamentals, but perhaps once clear dividing lines have been identified, to talk about how to "walk apart" and what form that might take.

Women Bishops: The next stage

After this meeting it was back into the main chamber for the final speeches about women Bishops. A huge majority (358 to 39) backed the motion to suspend the Standing Order which will enable Synod to short cut some procedural hurdles. Speaker after speaker had put forward the sentiment that a speedy resolution was necessary: if the measure can be finalized by the July Synod, then the final stage of gaining the assent of Parliament can be completed before the end of the year.

Any further delay would make this difficult as 2015 is an election year for Parliament and for Synod. Susie Leafe of Reform had argued that pressure to 'get with the programme' (Prime Minister David Cameron's phrase) meant that the issue of provision of alternative arrangements for conservatives has still not been resolved. Dialogue has been closed down, which does not augur well for a context of trust on which those opposed to women Bishops are being asked to rely. Susie has been a persistently excellent voice on behalf of those opposing women Bishops, but it seems now that the negotiation is now about the package of measures designed to give traditional parishes a procedure for grievance under a woman Bishop, not the principle of accepting her authority.

Pilling and facilitated conversations (again)

On Wednesday morning Archbishop Justin addressed the assembly. What he said was eagerly awaited, especially given recent pronouncements on 'homophobia' in Africa, the enthusiastic endorsement of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's honorary Oxford degree, and the revelations about funding from TEC. His speech, only 15 minutes long, was published on his website immediately. While it has been interpreted in some quarters as giving the go-ahead for gay blessings, this was not what he said. His message was about overcoming fear with love; showing a watching world that Christians can disagree while remaining in fellowship, and that this process of gracious conversation is itself part of preaching the Gospel.

This theme was continued in the final session of Synod, a presentation on the Pilling Report and facilitated conversations, followed by questions and answers, but no debate. Sir Joseph Pilling and Bishop Stephen Croft summarized what we already knew, in the carefully phrased non-controversial language that we shall increasingly hear over the coming months. Questions from the floor were invariably met with assurances that the design and implementation of the listening process would ensure that all views were heard. Comments and conclusions

We know that Justin Welby has made this new version of Indaba a central feature of his archepiscopacy. There are several problems though, not least theological difficulties. It may be possible to get people who profoundly disagree with each other to be nice and respectful (it happens at Synod, and regularly in Deaneries up and down the land). But the ideological and philosophical differences remain unresolved and will continue to be so as long as the fiction persists that contradictory views on primary issues are equally valid and both welcome in the same church. To put so much energy and money into getting people to repeat the same arguments and tell the same stories in refereed, set piece engagements appears to be making superficial reconciliation within the church a primary means of facilitating mission. However it is not preparing the ground for Gospel preaching, but a flight from it, because of the admitted confusion about the content of the Gospel. It is being portrayed as a model of peaceful and courageous negotiation, but how will it be seen? Yet more navel gazing, or worse - a dishonest form of manipulation?

Jesus' intention was that Israel should be a light to the nations, as the prophets had foretold. He found an Israel profoundly divided on their understanding of the nature of God, the reality of the spiritual realm, the meaning of salvation, and the interpretation of God's word. He did not see the way forward in facilitating conversations between the Sadducees and the Zealots as the key to creating a united, witnessing people. Nor later did Paul see reconciliation between Jew and Gentile as a precondition for mission, but the result of it.

Different groupings of Confessing Anglicans will take part in 'the conversations' in some form, perhaps treating it as an exercise in interfaith dialogue, and as a way of forcing the Bishops to look seriously at "good separation". There is pessimism about the outcome, but meanwhile optimism about the power of the Gospel as it is being preached and lived faithfully in parishes up and down the land.


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