Saturday, 28 January 2017

A personal response by Wyn Beynon to Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations A Report from the House of Bishops


2. Indeed, the issue involves even more than the classic Anglican triad of scripture, tradition and reason.

“Triad”. I am not convinced that the authors of this report understand what the use the word "triad" really means. “Scripture, tradition and reason” is not a sequence of 3 nor is it a hierarchy. It is a dance in which none of the 3 has priority. A triad, in music, is a chord in which there is a fundamental tone and supporting notes. That is not what “scripture tradition and reason” means!
The report has already stalled in Para 2 because the House of Bishops has, it seems, a defective understanding of one of main images Anglican imagination.


8. Anglicanism has always been a contested tradition. Our vocation to be the spiritual home for all the people of England has, historically, enabled us to work together despite the distinctives of catholic, evangelical, and liberal traditions.

"Anglicanism" is here being confused with "Church of England". Anglicanism in the English experience is quite distinct from Evangelicalism and in varying degrees to both Catholic and Liberal theologies, though the relationship there is complex.


9. It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God

There is some evidence that the Evangelical constituency in the Church of England, whilst using Trinitarian language, is demonstrably modalist in its practical outworking. If this is so then it is a serious weakness that must be addressed. It makes this comment rather less powerful than it ought to be.


9 It is in this calling to everyone that all agree that today we fall short as part of the Body of Christ and that we must do better.

"that we must do better" is an extraordinary phrase. Attaining to the holiness of living that is the Body of Christ is a gift, and no amount of "doing better" will have any affect, save that of inflaming our pride.


10 That is why we do not offer “resolution” in ways that will please some and dismay others but seek to make steps together that will allow us to act together while retaining doctrinal coherency.

I am largely minded to agree with this statement but with the caveat that, in the end, we must distinguish between paradox and contradiction. I fear we are now at a point where we have completely moved from one to the other.


18 there was little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage

This, in effect, ends the discussion. It is precisely the need to change our our understanding of what it means to be human, and therefore what marriage might mean, that has driven the whole movement to include of same sex marriage within the ark of the Church. But let’s keep going with the report…..


23. In practical terms this would mean:

Para 22 looked as though it might move us forward. But the report immediately stalled again. Para 23 is not an opening up, but a closing down. There is no room for real manoeuvre and it is clear that anything that will be allowed will simply be stones instead of bread, and snakes instead of fish. No thank you.

These prayers appear to be so constrained by caveats as to become a judgement and a condemnation. This is a shabby business.

Again, the way in which we discern vocation must be much, much better than this intrusive, blunt questioning … indeed on any matters, not just sexuality.


31. The national Shared Conversations

The Shared Conversations, whilst designed with good intentions, and participated in with a genuine desire to engage... have not really achieved either a great deal of change on the one hand or a willingness to walk together in our differences. It is the Bishops alone, I suggest, who see these as the achieved outcomes. They are not real outcomes, however.


32. How does welcome and support for people and their families fit with moral judgments regarding the choices people make about relationships, marriage and family life?

"Moral judgements". We now come to another worrying and serious aspect of this report: the idea that Christian life is about moral judgements. There is a legalism here which at variance with the Gospel of Christ and it is quite alarming to think that LGBTQI folk are the subject of moral judgements, for being who they are. The report ignores that vast amount of scientific data, peer reviewed and trustworthy, that being Gay is natural and normal. It is not a moral - or immoral judgement made by individuals and to use the language of moral judgement is to tacitly agree with conservative theologies that refuse to accept scientific evidence. So called scientific evidence to the contrary has been shown to be poor academically and not supported by peer review. Such a thing has no place in an Anglican Church of England.


10. Affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church

“Affirm” is used several times in the report, though not by any means always in speaking of affirming LGBTQI. “Acceptance” (of LGBTQI) is not once affirmed.

It is worth noting here that the ‘BTQI’ community also wonders (I have seen their writing) where they exist in all of this debate.


34. There was some support for the view that the teaching document should include penitence for the treatment some lesbian and gay people have received at the hands of the Church.

Only “some support”?

This is the most shameful sentence in this whole sorry report. Dust and ashes from all of us, not least for me, for the way we have historically sat in judgement on those who are Different, would be the expectation, surely?


39 Clergy may pray informally with same sex couples

Informal prayers.. is all we’re offering an incoherent mumbling of “justs” and “reallys”?


56 some bishops who would like to see the sinfulness of any sexually active relationship outside heterosexual marriage more consistently upheld

I realise this is important to many. But are we seriously going to make this a central issue?


59 We do not accept that those disagreements make some kind of major fracture in our Church inevitable at this point, nor that it is time to start planning for division

There already is a major fracture in our Church. It has happened. see below

That the House cannot see this, or is unwilling to acknowledge it, is worrying, to say the least.


60 Moreover, the Church of England’s own position in the Anglican Communion

The Church of England has let pass, without much comment, the Gafcon Churches’ statement of faith that has no place in any historic Anglican Church. The Anglican Communion died as the ink dried on the Jerusalem Declaration. There have been two Communions since then pretending to be one. It is time we faced up to this and honestly went our separate ways. If that means a split in the Church of England, then so be it. The Church of England has no a priori right to exist. Churches die and Churches are raised up. It is our Christian history, sad as it is. We are no better than our ancestors, How dare we think we are?


64 There needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the Church, in their own lives and in their ministry to others

I can heartily support this sentence.


65 Anglicanism from the later sixteenth century onwards and the way it has enabled space for legitimate diversity

But the conservatives have made this impossible to maintain.


65 To maintain an unambiguous position on doctrine in this matter while enabling a generous freedom for pastoral practice that does not directly and publicly undermine it is entirely consistent with our traditions and is a perfectly coherent approach to take.

This is NOT the Anglican way. Anglicans allow a diversity of pastoral practice around a generous orthodoxy in which doctrine is enshrined a broad-hearted liturgy which avoids over definition. This once again shows that conservative evangelical thought seems not to comprehend how Anglicans do theology. Anglicanism is a trajectory.. things move, ideas change and grow … It is a journey. If you don’t want travel then you might be happier if you get off at the next stop.


The report ends with some pages on the legal position and options.

What is so dreadful about this report is that nowhere, nowhere, is there any engagement with LGBTQI folk as human beings. This report deals with an issue.
They are not an issue, they are beautiful human beings made in God’s image, for whom Christ died and rose again and who stand with God’s people as full and undiminished members of Christ Church with no caveats, ifs, buts, or maybes.
That the House of Bishops has failed to make this abundantly clear is a serious misjudgement which undermines confidence in their collective competence.

It is time for the Bishops to stop acting in a cartel and for each to say what they feel freely and honestly. It would make for a much more alive Church of England and the nation would listen, critically, roughly and noisily. But rather that than being ignored as the Church is now.

This report is, in fact, a closing down of liberality. I feel less able to offer hospitality to LGBTQI folk in any officially supported way than I could before.

This has never been a question of justice, although many campaigners for the ‘rights’ of LGBTQI think it is. They are, in the end, mistaken. It is a question of chesed, of loving kindness and mercy. As it is for every one of us without distinction.

Jesus said, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
Matthew 12:7 (NRSVA)

We asked from bread....