+Chelmsford’s Diocesan Synod Address
I thought this address to Chelmsford’s Diocesan Synod was actually really good. First, on mission and evangelism +Stephen sounds like a Bishop who actually means and does what he says. Secondly, on human sexuality, he indicates the right kind of path forward.
On the issue of human sexuality I want you to know that I am aware of and feel for the hurtÂ that the House of Bishops letter has caused to some people, and that I fully support theÂ facilitated conversations that will be set up later this year to help us respond and ministerÂ appropriately to gay, lesbian and transgendered people.
On the issue of gender the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has been able toÂ agree that those who accept and those who cannot accept the oversight and ordainedÂ ministry of women are both faithful Anglicans. We do not have that sort of goodÂ disagreement on the issue of sexuality. That is surely why we need to talk about it.Â Since the publication of the House of Bishops Pastoral Letter on same sex marriages, I haveÂ received a lot of mail. Some hurt and angry. Others relieved that traditional teaching isÂ upheld. However, that letter begins by making it clear that LGBT people are welcome in theÂ church and welcome in the ministry of the church. I want that to be known in our diocese. IÂ want gay and lesbian Christians to know that I do believe there may be ways of enablingÂ them to flourish in the church. I also want those who continue to hold to the traditionalÂ view to know that as far as I am concerned they are not homophobic. Indeed, this remainsÂ the position of the Church of England wherever we stand on this issue. Nothing in ourÂ doctrine or practice has changed. However, to the eyes of the society in which we serve weÂ look homophobic, and this should cause us all concern.
But most of all I want it to be known that I believe we need an honest conversation. And weÂ need it for the sake of the gospel.
The context in which we minster has changed. We need to rise and meet the challenge thatÂ this culture poses, not least from sisters and brothers within our own community. TheÂ outcome of the facilitated conversations is not, therefore, already decided. Far from it. ButÂ the agenda is set. There are real and substantial theological and pastoral discussions aheadÂ of us. Faithful gay and lesbian Christians are often forced to live a lie within the church theyÂ serve so well. This grieves me. It canâ€™t be right. At the same time, faithful followers ofÂ Christian tradition feel as if the carpet of the faith is being pulled out from under them. ThisÂ grieves me too. I want us to have an open conversation where we can be honest with oneÂ another, and hear more clearly whatever it is that the Spirit may be saying to the church.
Of course this will be difficult. Of course it will be painful. Of course we have to take heed ofÂ our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Anglican Communion. I go to Kenya next week.Â So I am very well aware of this. But behind the presenting issues of gender and sexualityÂ there are other vital questions which will form the agenda for these facilitatedÂ conversations. What sort of church does God want us to be? One where we all agree? OrÂ one with diversity and difference? And if so, what are the boundaries of legitimateÂ disagreement? And how can we live with diversity? And what does it mean to be made inÂ the image of God and yet made with such variety and difference?
We find ourselves standing where our forebears have stood before, taking the gospel intoÂ the uncharted territory of post-modern, post Christendom, 21stÂ century culture. There are things to embrace and there are things to resist. The gospel will stay unashamedly andÂ determinedly the same. But as we open ourselves to this missionary challenge I believe weÂ will discover, within this unchanging gospel, new depths and new insights; and speaking it inÂ the strange tongue of this culture, hear it as if for the first time.