Blessing Gay Marriage in the Church of England? The Pilling Report: 10 February

In November last year an official, but not authoritative, Church of England Report recommended allowing ‘celebrations’ of faithful same sex relationships. The Report was from the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired, not by a Bishop, but by Sir Joseph Pilling. The Report is known as The Pilling Report.

We have here a typical Anglican, English, fudge. A Report set up by Bishops but distant enough from Bishops for them to evade responsibility. A Report which satisfies the need to show that due attention has been paid by our episcopal leaders, after which nothing further need be done for a while. A Report which is a finger up to the wind about blessing gay marriage. If there is a strong current in that direction, the Bishops can ride it. If not, no face lost.

The Report conveys this message:
We have listened carefully to a wide variety of people and not come to a clear common mind about the permissibility of homosexual sexual practice for English Anglicans. (One of us considers there is a clear Biblical mind and disagrees with our not coming to a common mind.)

We recommend that
The whole Church of England also engages in a process of careful listening to a wide variety of people and views on homosexuality
In the meantime, clergy and parishes who are so minded be given permission to conduct semi-formal blessings for same sex couples. There is to be no authorised rite nor push towards such blessings, but, equally, there is to be no outlawing of such blessings.’
(The Report uses ‘celebrations’ instead of ‘blessings’ but, as many people have noted, ‘blessings’ is the usual terminology. cf para 481)

Why more listening to people and views when listening has not led to agreement?

The Report states: ‘The problem we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in Scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful, Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by Scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.’ (para 58)

The problem has remained despite much listening. The Report does not explain what is to be gained by more listening by the Church as a whole, other than a deeper sense of fellowship across disagreement. This deeper fellowship is, to some extent, helpful but the experience of the Group is that it does not ‘solve the problem’ of disagreement.

What might solve the problem of disagreement?

Two complementary approaches:

A deliberate process of listening to Jesus, focusing on both His recorded teaching and practice, and on His present voice brought to His Church by the Holy Spirit. This fresh approach to authority might lead to a fresh sense of agreement.

As part of this process, a deliberate focus on whether homosexuality is a matter about which we can agree to disagree. If there is no fresh sense of agreement about the issue, we might have a fresh appreciation of how primary the issue is for Jesus and His Church.

For a detailed explanation see:
http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/the-latest-from-the-church-of-england-the-pilling-report/

May the listening process recommended by the Report be more than a careful listening to differing views among us. May it be also and primarily a careful, humble, listening to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, both about ‘the problem’ and about what we are do when we disagree about ‘the problem.’

Roger Harper

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