A very thorough analysis by the Rev Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, and well worth reading
…As we can’t know anything for sure, the report says we can only move forward with mutual respect by a listening process. This is explained in page 103f. Specifically not a series of debates, but relationship building, with no predetermined outcome. There is an assumption that this process will be entirely fair, where conservatives and liberals can meet and listen to each other in an unthreatening environment. The report does not seem to recognize the very real danger of bias as the dice are loaded ”“ the culture is providing the weight on one side heavily inclining towards acceptance of homosexuality, and the choice of facilitators will be determined centrally and are much more likely to be liberal.
Blessing of same sex relationships
Now, on to the specific proposals about “blessing”. The legalization of gay marriage has brought an urgency to the question of pastoral care for same sex couples “who seek ecclesial recognition for their”¦relationship” (371). On one hand, to offer blessing, especially in church using formal liturgies, would be seen to be changing the doctrine of the church and to mimic marriage (384) which the Bishops have stated categorically should be reserved for heterosexual couples. But on the other hand, a failure of the church to celebrate faithful same sex couples continues to discriminate, and confirms the view that the church is not good news for gay people. So the report recommends “less formal approaches”, whereby a “pastoral accommodation” to pray informally with a couple need not entail a final moral judgement. Para 399 appears to go further, implying that such informal prayer may be an “act of worship to mark the formation of a same sex relationship”. The decision to do this should be left to individual clergy who must make the decision in consultation with their PCC.
Another “elephant in the room” comes up in the section about candidates for ordination. Guidelines from “Issues” of 1991 and the response to Civil Partnership legislation in 2005 confirmed that gay clergy could be in CP’s as long as they were celibate. The redefinition of marriage means that the sexual act is now no longer mentioned. CP’s will be converted to marriages. So it is theoretically possible that a gay person offering himself for ordination and his same sex partner could be “married” without being sexually active. While the report takes seriously the need for clergy “to order their lives according to the will of the Church”, it seems to assume that this will always be the case with partnered gay candidates who have verbally assented to the Church’s official teaching. Its not just conservatives who have pointed out that this is at the very least a charter for dishonesty, but much worse it is a deceptive witness to society. To expect people to believe that a gay clergy are not having sex with their partners could be more of a stumbling block for the average pagan than that Jesus died for their sins, rose again and is coming back as judge. To be fair, the report does call for this anomaly to be put on the table in the facilitated discussions, so that the requirement for sexual abstinence for gay clergy can be quietly dropped.
The dissenting statement
Bishop Keith Sinclair’s dissenting statement bravely refutes the report and clearly articulates the biblical vision for human flourishing which includes the proper place for sexual expression. The Bishop affirms the need to repent of homophobia in the way the report has defined it, but goes on to say that in the Gospel Jesus challenges everyone to repent, die to self and embrace a new identity in him. While the report affirms those who experience ssa and are celibate, it sees this as a minority choice which is optional, and so offers only confusion to those who want to know how to follow Christ. The report’s claim that it is not advocating a change in the church’s teaching is undermined by the recommendations to affirm gay relationships. Sinclair accuses the report of “cultural captivity” ”“ trying to appease society, undermining historic Christian doctrine and ethics, and not protecting conservative ssa people who want the Church to help them avoid temptation. Rather, he says, Christians should be different from the world, offering an alternative account of what we are to do with our desires.
Bishop Keith says that a valid listening process should be for pastoral application of what we know clearly from Scripture. Instead, what is being proposed is that facilitated conversations will help us to work out whether we should find new ways of communicating the traditional line, or discover that that line is wrong and should be changed (452); in the meantime clergy and PCC’s can pre-empt the process and ignore the Church’s official teaching as part of local pastoral accommodation. Although Bishop Keith is much too polite to say so, this is dishonest and manipulative. He is however forthright enough to say that it will produce “liturgical anarchy” ”“ although of course the official response will be that it’s not a liturgy, and it’s not a blessing, and we haven’t changed doctrine. There will be pressure on clergy with traditional views to perform blessings for same sex couples, and pressure on liberal clergy who believe in “permanent, faithful, stable” to bless couples who have no intention of living that way. Bishop Keith’s dissenting statement closes with a quote from Canadian theologian Edith Humphrey, that for the Church to invoke God’s blessing on an act for which repentance is required, is to replace God with an idol (481).
What can be done?
This is why we are faced with officially sanctioned apostasy in our own church. It has finally happened. What do we do? The first thing to say is that the report has not yet been endorsed by the house of Bishops. We must pray for them and lobby them as politely but intensively as we can before their meeting to discuss the document. Groups like Church Society, Reform, CEEC must play their part, but perhaps more importantly local DEF’s or other orthodox groupings at Diocesan level, and of course individual parishes. We need to make it clear to the Bishops that we stand by Bishop Keith, and urge them to do the same; that on their response to this report God will be judging their effectiveness as shepherds. As Peter Ould has said, this is the time for the godly among them to stand up and be counted. The bishops can vote to kick this report into touch, reaffirm the church’s traditional teaching without equivocation, and start again, building on +Keith’s vision and suggested course of action. Or they can challenge supporters of the report to put a motion to Synod to change the teaching of the church, and have a real public debate. If this does not happen, and the report is endorsed, then it is difficult to see how to avoid many cases of impaired fellowship between bible believing clergy and congregations, and Bishops who voted for the report. AMiE is now up and running and ready to help in those circumstances….