College of Bishops Statement on Pilling

It’s everything I said it would be.

Bishop's MitreThe College of Bishops met on 27th January, 2014 to begin a process of reflection on the issues raised by the Pilling Report (GS 1929). The College expressed appreciation to Sir Joseph Pilling and to all members of the working party for the work they have done on behalf of the Church.

We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.  We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.

We are united in seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church and in seeking to make a loving, compassionate and respectful response to gay men and women within Church and society.

We recognise the very significant change in social attitudes to sexuality in the United Kingdom in recent years.

We recognise also the strongly held and divergent views reflected in the Pilling Report, across the Anglican Communion and in the Church of England.  We acknowledge that these differences are reflected also within the College of Bishops and society as a whole.

We accept the recommendation of the Pilling Report that the subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations, ecumenically, across the Anglican Communion and at national and diocesan level and that this should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture. These conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing.

We have together asked the Archbishops to commission a small group to design a process for these conversations and additional materials to support and enable them.  We hope that the outline for the process and the additional materials will be approved by the House of Bishops in May.

We acknowledge that one of the challenges we face is to create safe space for all those involved to be honest about their own views and feelings. This has not always happened and it must do so in the future. We recognise that we will not all agree and that this process is in part committed to seeking good disagreement that testifies to our love for one another across the church in obedience to Christ

As the Archbishops noted in November, the Pilling report is not a new policy statement from the Church of England and we are clear that the Church of England’s pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged during this process of facilitated conversation.

No change to the Church of England’s teaching on marriage is proposed or envisaged. The House of Bishops will be meeting next month to consider its approach when same sex marriage becomes lawful in England in March.

We are grateful to the whole Church for their prayers for our meeting today and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We recognise that on many occasions in the past the Church has faced challenging questions.  It is vital in these moments to take counsel together, to read and reflect upon the Scriptures and to continue to discern together the mind of Christ.

So the Bishops set up the Facilitated Conversations and quietly but clearly shelve the “Freedom to Bless Relationships” idea. Expect the revisionists to be spitting tonight.

19 Comments on “College of Bishops Statement on Pilling

  1. Who cares if the bishops shelve it, it was meaningless tokenism anyway. Nothing short of equal marriage with do now.

    Let them try to set the timetable for another’s freedom. Events will fast overtake them.

  2. There is a pivotal sentence in the College of Bishops statement on Pilling that provides the future framework for the proposed facilitated conversations in the Church of England. It is this: ‘These conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing.’

    The phrasing was no doubt influenced by Archbishop Justin Welby’s inaugural address in which he stated: ‘by mission I mean two things. First, it is the conscious engagement of churches at local, diocesan, provincial, national and global levels with the challenges and issues that diminish flourishing of the human race…there is the love of Christ that constrains us, that drives us forward, and that, when allowed to reign and rule in our individual lives and in the lives of societies and communities, transforms structures and practices and permits human flourishing’

    As most here know, the quest for human flourishing or eudaimonia is a central aspect of Aristotle’s world view and Hellenistic philosophy. Strange that it now finds more resonance than blessedness makarioi: a state that, in the beatitudes, contradicts our immediate sense of well-being and meaning because suffering loss (of family affection, social acceptance and even life itself) in pursuit of what is eternally right has teleological purpose. ‘If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him’ (2 Tim. 2:12)

    Yet, while conservative theologians would argue that human flourishing is not the goal of the gospel, Anglican tradition, as seen in particular the Elizabethan settlement, has often embraced this idea. Though Catholics lost much ground after Mary’s death, the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity permitted the liturgy of the church to accommodate some of their sincerely-held beliefs.

    In Theological Reflection for Human Flourishing, we read: ‘Alison Webster (2002) in her theological commentary on wellbeing suggests that the distinctive thing that Christian spirituality has to offer is structures of meaning for the bad things that happen in life so that they too may be incorporated into a personal quest for wellbeing’

    Admittedly, the College of Bishops has closed the door (for now) on any revision to theology of marriage. However, there is a clear and unequivocal intention spearheaded by Welby to develop structures of meaning, i.e. Institutions, that reverse the detriments to well-being, whether personal debt (via Credit Unions), or the effects of homophobia (via Civil Partnerships).

    The discussion of sexuality will not prioritise any debate over whether to favour the order imposed by a majority, or freedom of minority conscience as the means of furthering human flourishing (at least no more than the Elizabethan Settlement did). What it will try to agree on is what human flourishing looks like as it relates to all sexualities, rather than delve into dogmatic prescriptions about different forms of sexual expression. It will allow for all sexual orientations to develop such institutional alternatives and hybrids as will provide meaning for them within the church. Revisionist should take some heart from this.

    Of course, as with the Elizabethan Settlement, a substantial number of clergy will find these innovations unconscionable, despite assurances that the Christian theology of marriage remains intact. It may even result in another Great Ejectment.

    For conservatives, it might still be worth looking into what it would take to revive that nearby derelict non-conformist chapel. As they say, the writing is on the wall and it’s a lot clearer than old graffiti.

    • That phrase (“human flourishing”) leapt out for me too. I suspect it is to be read to mean “happiness”. But happiness is rooted in subjectivity. Flourishing is rooted in objectivity.

      • I think that when the College of Bishops use such carefully nuanced philosophical language, we should unpack it.

        They mean a lot more than just subjective happiness, or objective flourishing. The focus to subordinate order and freedom to the gospel of self-actualisation. Nothing of John the Baptist’s: ‘He must increase and I must decrease’

        • I thought ‘human flourishing’ was a term borrowed from the Catholic Church. Didn’t the Pope recently say something along the lines of ‘we don’t oppose these things (contraception etc.) because we think sex is dirty, but because these things work against human flourishing’

          • When used by the Catholic Church, the phrase “human flourishing” retains its philosophical content – to flourish is to access those parts of life that allow us to experience the full potential of our human-ness (such as marriage and family, education, community).

            I would politely suggest that, when used as here by the Bishops, the phrase retains an “appearance” of philosophy, but loses its content.

    • Hmm, a great ejection…. Interestingly, I have heard of quite a few job adverts or interviews for CofE vicars where the blessing of same-sex relationships Is discussed.

      Given the lack of church teaching on sex, most people get their views from the media, so a negative response will be taken as homophobia. Thus, allowing this question effectively biases recruitment against conservative clergy.

      If the Bishops don’t want to create a great ejection by stealth, or at least the church to divide over this issue, they need to make some policy decisions in line with the church’s official teachings. By allowing the pastoral prayer (private or public) without the teaching facts on the ground are being created.

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