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LLF and Reconciliation- taking the wrong path?

LLF and Reconciliation- taking the wrong path?

Februay 20, 2024

"This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."

These words, from Jeremiah 6:16 were quoted by the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, retired Bishop of Birkenhead, at the end of his address at Gafcon IV in April 2023. He had been asked to speak about the global implications of the decisions taken by the Church of England's February General Synod to introduce prayers of blessing for same-sex couples. His presentation was masterful and measured - as befits one of the most respected conservative leaders in the Church of England - and it was met with the most extraordinary standing ovation.

A year later, the Rt Rev Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester has also suggested that the Church is at a crossroads. In GS 2346 Living in Love, Faith and Reconciliation, a paper which he hopes the Church of England's General Synod will vote to accept at the upcoming meeting, he writes:
"We are at a crossroads - either we have reached the point of separation, accepting that our opponents should not be part of the Church -- or we must shift the debate to the question of how we live well with difference."

Bishop Martyn believes "firmly in the latter option" -- and goes on to outline ten 'Commitments' which will, in his view, provide the "basis of a settlement" to enable "people at both ends of the spectrum to continue within the Church of England."
These Commitments can be found in full at the end of this Blog post.

However, just ten days after publishing these Commitments, Bishop Martyn has taken the "unusual step" of writing to all General Synod members, encouraging them not to "pick apart" the wording of these particular Commitments, because, he says, "the precise wording will be explored in the coming weeks, alongside the ongoing work of preparing for the authorisation of the standalone Prayers of Love and Faith."

This is a helpful clarification. It means that as this blog said a few weeks ago - there is no real need to consider the detail of the current Commitments - they are just a bait and switch - it is the goal that matters. By hook or by crook, the majority of the bishops in the Church of England are determined to introduce standalone services of blessing for same-sex couples.
For all Bishop Martyn's talk of a "reset" to the Living in Love and Faith process, this blog sets out five reasons to think that is very much business as usual and the travelator is just moving on.

1. The 'mainstream' are marginalized

In a move straight out of the political playbooks, Bishop Martyn bases the need for these commitments on the existence of a spectrum of views within the Church of England. Without any evidence, this spectrum places those who "yearn for LGBTQI+ people to be accepted, loved and valued for who they are, while recognising that the Church of England deliberately takes its time to consider possible changes in significant teaching and doctrines," in the middle -- and pushes those who wish to uphold the current doctrine and teaching of the Church of England on marriage to one 'extreme'.

It is not the first time this tactic of shifting the perception of where the middle ground is to isolate conservatives and encourage change has been used. The Living in Love and Faith materials set out a similar spectrum on biblical authority - arguing that a caricature of an evangelical understanding of the Bible (by God's grace, it is inerrant, sufficient and authoritative in the life of the believer) was so extreme it was "beyond the mainstream of the church's conversation about the Bible's authority and purpose". [Living in Love and Faith p 295-298]

2. The direction of travel is fixed

Both GS 2346 and Bishop Martyn's more recent letter are clear that the priority is "the ongoing work of preparing for the authorisation of the standalone Prayers of Love and Faith." The Commitments, as they stand, oblige the Church to introduce them on an experimental basis (without the need for a two-third majority at Synod) and to find a way for clergy to enter into civil same-sex marriages without discipline.

Similarly, although the Commitments pledge not to "begin any discussions about same-sex marriage in this quinquennium," this does not rule out the possibility of starting that process as early as 2026.

On the other hand, there is no option given for stopping the process or repenting of the decision to allow the Prayers of Love and Faith to be introduced in regular services.

It seems that the choice is to join Bishop Martyn on this journey towards same-sex marriage or take the path which would mean the orthodox "should not be part of the Church".

3. The issue is declared to be 'adiaphora'

The Commitments require the whole church to accept the validity of the whole 'spectrum' of views on same-sex blessings and marriage, by affording them all "an honoured place within the Church" because, according to Bishop Martyn, "we need the gift of 'the other' if we are to grow in grace and love".

In short, all must accept that issues of sexuality are adiaphora - something the Church can safely agree to disagree about. This is something that the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), along with the vast majority of the global Anglican Communion, have vociferously denied throughout the debate.
In saying this, Bishop Martyn has followed in the footsteps of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose high-handed dismissal of the concerns of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 has had disastrous consequences for the unity of the Communion. As Archbishop Justin Badi, said at the time, "Today in Canterbury, we may be gathered together, but we most certainly cannot "walk together" until provinces which have gone against Scripture -- and the will and consensus of the bishops - repent and return to orthodoxy. The Communion is not in a healthy condition at present and only major surgery will put that right."

4. Concessions are minimal...

While the progressive path is laid out clearly in GS2346, all that is offered to those who wish to uphold the current teaching and doctrine of the Church is a pledge "to exploring the minimum formal structural changes necessary to enable as many as possible to stay within the Church of England".

Note the imbalance in both the level of commitment and the negotiating position.

The progressives are told that, if they are patient, they will get what they ask for, while the orthodox are merely offered the chance to "explore" some unspecific "minimum formal structural change."

At a recent Press Conference, Bishop Martyn introduced these Commitments and described this exploration as a 'negotiation'. This is not an offer of gracious generosity or abundant provision, or an assurance that those who uphold the current doctrine of the Church of England will flourish in the future. Instead, it is a negotiation based on doing as little as possible to keep the highest possible number in the Church (for now).

As such it is an echo of what David Porter said earlier in this process, "It is my job to reconcile. I hope that 80% of the Church of England can find a place of compromise. Fracture will happen."

5. ... and just to enter the negotiation, the orthodox must give up their bargaining chips

The Commitments require the orthodox to put aside the use of civil courts, or even church discipline, to challenge the legality of what is being proposed, which is nothing less than an attempt to provide a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card for those in the College of Bishops who are backing these changes.

It appears that the bishops have encouraged General Synod down the path of Prayers of Love and Faith against the legal opinions they were given. Hitherto, this legal counsel was kept secret, but now the bishops have been forced to publish it (GS Appendices A &B) the full extent of their duplicity has been laid bare. Andrew Goddard has written about this on another blog.

But rather than hold their hands up and reset the process on a solid legal footing, the approach put forward by Bishop Martyn is to call on those who wish to uphold the law to turn a blind eye. With no risk of legal challenge, the bishops would then be free to fulfil their plans to authorise standalone blessings and allow clergy to enter into same-sex civil marriages.

It is acknowledged that there are a small number of Diocesan bishops who would struggle, in conscience to ordain clergy, who in their eyes (and according to the current doctrine and teaching of the Church), are not fashioning their own life and that of their household according to the way of Christ.

There are also many lay people who would agree and would ask their bishop to discipline those entering into same-sex civil marriages. The Commitments offer a solution to this, which is presented as 'freedom of conscience' -- no bishop would be forced to ordain such a person -- but they would have to "explore alternative national approaches" and "resist attempts" to discipline them.

Once again, the conservative conscience is only free as far as it has no impact on the progressive entitlement to act as they choose.

So, what will happen at General Synod?

In February 2017, the Bishops presented GS2055 to the General Synod -- it also sought to reconcile the irreconcilable. The traditionalists were encouraged by their leaders to vote in favour, because despite talk of "maximum freedom", the bishops were holding the line on the doctrine of marriage and that was the best that could be expected. The liberals took the risk that they might get more and voted it down. They were rewarded with lunch with the Archbishops and the announcement that "a radical new Christian inclusion" was needed in the Church.

Six years on and it is unlikely that many of the orthodox will fall for the same trick - and even if they did, realpolitik means the orthodox cannot get a 50/50 vote over the line without the support of a large number of liberals. This means that to secure the vote, it is the liberals who need to be convinced that they will be given what they want, without the bishops imposing any humiliating formal structural change. In their mind, as the Bishop of Dover said last year, the settlement over women bishops "ain't working", so they will not accept any further change.

It is a certainty that there will be many private meetings and whispered conversations taking place over the coming week in a last ditch attempt to find a way of persuading Synod that a square is just a circle with pointy bits.
There is a crossroads ahead - but it is hard to see a good outcome for the orthodox.

If GS 2346 passes they will be locked into a hopeless compromise; if GS 2346 falls, then they will find themselves ever more marginalised unless by some miracle they can persuade the bishops to offer them the orthodox archepiscopal oversight they desire.

The Draft Ten Commitments

1. Humility and repentance - we will seek to embody the apology we have already made to LGBTQI+ ourselves to Holy Scripture with an openness to all the Holy Spirit is saying to us through God's word, acknowledging that at times this will be deeply uncomfortable and challenging for us all.

2. Honesty and transparency - we will ensure a transparent, honest process for LLF which fully includes the Houses of Laity and Clergy in General Synod and (as far as possible) Diocesan and Deanery Synods, as well as PCCs. We commit to listening to voices which are often absent from our discussions -- in particular the voices of LGBTQI+ people, those of children and young people, and GMH people. We will seek the maximum possible level of transparency regarding legal advice given to the House of Bishops (acknowledging the complexities of such advice). We will ensure that LLF does not dominate agendas of the House / College of Bishops or Synod.

3. Reconciliation - we will prioritise reconciliation as our primary witness to wider society at this time. We will commit to being a 'learning Church' and to embodying the 'habits' of reconciliation (be curious, be present, reimagine).6 We will learn from other parts of the Anglican Communion where there have been serious splits (in some cases now deeply regretted). We will seek to appoint an interim "Independent Reviewer" as soon as possible, to monitor the practical outworkings of the bishops' commitment to value and respect different theological understandings, to advise us, and to reassure those concerned about their future place within the Church.

4. Breadth - we will recognise the gifts of the different traditions within the Church. We will actively reflect on how these gifts are exchanged such that power is acknowledged and everyone -- those who use the PLF and those who don't -- are afforded an honoured place within the Church. We will draw fully on the LLF Resources and the expertise of FAOC (allowing them time to do their work well). We will do everything we can to ensure that no-one feels pushed out of Church. We will seek a commitment to avoid using the civil courts to settle our disputes.

5. Freedom of conscience - we will ensure freedom of conscience in relation to PLF for all clergy and lay ministers. We acknowledge the complexities within this -- society is not always tolerant of differences and therefore clergy and lay ministers will come under pressure from within and outside the Church. We will ask all bishops to commit to supporting all clergy and lay ministers whether they use the PLF or not.

6. Prayers - we are committed to the experimental use of standalone services of PLF, with legal protection and support for those who opt-in to using them as well as those who don't. This includes completing the Pastoral Guidance and Pastoral Reassurance work before enabling the use of the standalone PLF.

7. Same-sex marriage - we will not begin any discussions about same-sex marriage in this quinquennium, and we make no commitments beyond this quinquennium. Rather we will learn from the use of the PLF and allow General Synod to decide when and if to begin any discussions about SSM.

8. Ministry -- we commit to exploring the process for clergy and lay ministers to enter same-sex civil marriages. We recognise that not all bishops would be content to ordain or licence such ministers, and bishops must be allowed freedom of conscience in relation to LLF in the same way as clergy (point 5). This inevitably means that there may be different approaches across dioceses until such time as changes to Canons are considered (acknowledging a change of doctrine). In this scenario, bishops would need to commit to being transparent with candidates for ministry about their own personal approach and commit to exploring alternative national approaches for candidates who they, in conscience, could not sponsor. Bishops would also need to agree to resist attempts to use disciplinary processes to force deviation from these commitments.

9. Episcopacy - we will explore an approach to episcopacy which enables us to live well with difference and provides pastoral reassurance to all across the spectrum of views on LLF. We are committed to learning from the '1994 settlement' and the '2014 settlement', where (in the latter case) it was only the pain of the 2012 crisis that forced more serious cooperation across divides. We seek this cooperation now, and therefore we commit to exploring the minimum formal structural changes necessary to enable as many as possible to stay within the Church of England.

10. Communion and unity-- we commit to seeking the highest possible degree of communion between ourselves, other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, and our ecumenical partners. As we seek a settlement within the Church of England, we will explore the idea of 'degrees of unity', recognising that there are ways of staying in relationship and working together even where there are fundamental disagreements.


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