The General Synod of the Church of England opened today. For those reading from outside of the UK, think of the General Convention in the US, but full of people who might take the Bible seriously.
Wednesday morning sees the start of a day of Private Members’ Motions, and the two that got the most votes are ones on sexuality. The church’s response to these two motions will be crucial in seeing whether it is serious about supporting the wishes of the Primates as expressed in their recent Communique and recommendations.
The first motions comes from Mary Gilbert of Lichfield and reads as follows:
‘That this Synod acknowledge the diversity of opinion about homosexuality within the Church of England and that these divergent opinions come from honest and legitimate attempts to read the scriptures with integrity, understand the nature of homosexual orientation, and respect the patterns of holy living to which lesbian and gay Christians aspire; and, bearing in mind this diversity,
(a) agree that a homosexual orientation in itself is no bar to a faithful Christian life;
(b) invite parish and cathedral congregations to welcome and affirm lesbian and gay Christians, lay and ordained, valuing their contribution at every level of the Church; and
(c) urge every parish to ensure a climate of sufficient acceptance and safety to enable the experience of lesbian and gay people to be heard, as successive Lambeth Conferences in 1978 (resolution 10), 1988 (resolution 64), and 1998 (resolution 1.10) have requested.’
I can’t see this passing. The really contentious line is “respect the patterns of holy living”. That’s coded language for “accept same-sex unions”. That goes clearly against Lambeth 98 1:10 and the Primates’ recommendations which clearly imply that a same-sex union is not a life-style choice for a Christian. The particularly dangerous word here is “holy” because it implies a blessing by the church, and if the church blesses something that means it thinks God kinda likes it. I hope someone points that out. Bottom-line – if the motion passes we are in deep trouble.
The second motion comes from the conservative camp:
‘That this Synod, deeply concerned that
(a) in an understandable desire to remedy injustice and remove unjust discrimination, the Government’s Civil Partnership Act undermines the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage
(b) the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement, while reiterating the Church’s basic teaching on marriage, has produced a recipe for confusion by not stating clearly that civil partnerships entered into under the CP Act would be inconsistent with Christian teaching;
(c) that the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement has given to bishops the task of ensuring that clergy who enter into these partnerships adhere to church teaching in the area of sexuality without giving the bishops the clear means to do so; and
(d) that by declaring that lay people who enter into such partnerships should not be asked about the nature of their relationship, in the context of preparation for baptism and confirmation, as well as for the purposes of receiving Holy Communion, the Bishops’ Pastoral Statement has compromised pastoral discipline at the local level:
declare its support for bishops, clergy and other ministers who continue to minister the godly discipline required by the scriptures and the canons and request the House of Bishops to set up a study of the ways in which that discipline is being applied and the implications thereof for future pastoral guidance and bring a report to Synod by the July 2007 Group of Sessions.
Two months ago I wouldn’t have given this a cat in hell’s chance of passing, because basically the motion says “This house believes that the House of Bishops stuffed up in their Pastoral Advice on Civil Partnerships”. But given recent developments, I wonder whether, with amendment, it might have some distance. The Church of England likes study groups – it lets them get off a mistake by spending time stroking beards and eventually coming to a new conclusion. It all comes down to whether the House of Bishops, who met a few weeks ago, think that their advice needs to be updated, especially in the light of the fact that some Bishops aren’t exercising it in the first place and that the Government’s promise that Civil Partnerships wouldn’t mimic marriage have been proved to be blatantly false.