The other issue, still bitterly divisive in the Communion, is that of our approach to same-sex unions. It is inevitable that, whether in open debate or in general discussion, this will be around during the lifetime of this Synod. I shall make only a brief comment here, having said a fair amount on the subject this time last year and in other settings. And it is that this has become a cardinal example of how we avoid theological debate. The need for some thoughtful engagement that will help us understand how people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism can come to strongly diverse conclusions is getting more urgent, because I sense that in the last few years the debate on sexuality has not really moved much. It is unthinkingly treated by some as almost the sole test of biblical fidelity or doctrinal orthodoxy; it is unthinkingly regarded by others as one of those matters on which the Church must be brought inexorably into line with what our culture can make sense of. Neither side always has the opportunity of clarifying how they see the focal theological issues ”“ how one or the other position relates to our belief in a divine Saviour. And if we are not to be purely tribal about this, we need the chance for some sort of discussion that is not dominated by the need to make an instant decision or to react to developments and pressures elsewhere.
Let me be clear. I don’t in the least mean to say that there is a lack of theological work on either side. Comments I have made on this subject in communications with the Communion, in which I stressed that what had to make up our minds should be theology not social convention, have been interpreted as ignoring or dismissing the quantity and quality of existing work. This is not at all my point. Of course there is a formidable literature in this area, with much theological sophistication; but in the debates we involve ourselves in, in and out of Synod, here and elsewhere in the Communion, the prevailing tone is often rather different. If you think that there is no respectable debate to be had, or if you think that the debate is entirely over, it is unlikely that there will be a useful exchange. But this means that our disagreement will too easily become just that familiar struggle to win leverage rather than to arrive at shared understanding. I’m told fairly often that the lack of advance in nurturing this debate properly is a serious failure in the leadership of the Church and the Communion. I am bound to accept my share of reproach; but I would want to invite you all to help me do better by working with me to create the ambience where better understanding may happen. I hope that Synod will not be averse to thinking about how we can take this forward, without the pressure of feeling we have some single and all-important decision to make. Happily we can point to the methods currently being developed in the ‘Continuing Indaba’ project, with its success in creating many such spaces for face-to- face discussion across cultures. This project, which is considering a wide range of actually and potentially divisive matters, has been pursued with heroic energy and imagination by many people of profoundly diverse convictions in the Communion and needs prayer and support.
This in turn takes us to one of the more sensitive areas we have to look at ”“ how we handle the Covenant proposals. One or two things need saying here. This is by no means the first time we have discussed the Covenant in Synod or in the Church of England. Our input into the process has been considerable, and it has come from theologians of widely divergent views. The Covenant text itself represents work done by theologians of similarly diverse views, including several from North America. It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province’s canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.
Read it all.