THE CHURCH of England’s battles over sexuality re-erupted this week as senior evangelical bishops warned leaders to consider ‘the practical consequences of these sincerely held differences.’
The bishops have written a letter to Bishop Christopher Cocksworth to share their own responses to the ongoing Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project for which he is Chair. They invited him to share the views with the wider co-ordinating group.
Following the February 2017 Group of Sessions, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York outlined their proposals for continuing to address questions concerning human sexuality.
The Archbishops committed themselves and the House of Bishops to two new strands of work: the creation of a Pastoral Advisory Group and the development of a substantial Teaching Document on the subject, Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage.
The evangelical bishops say that they cannot ‘abandon’ traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality‘in order to appear relevant’.
The bishops say that it is important for them that LLF maps out arguments that challenge traditional teaching but also offers teaching that provides a theological evaluation of them based on Scripture.
“LLF will therefore rightly attend carefully to the experience and understandings of LGBT+ people (and their diverse self-understandings and visions of the faithful pattern of Christian discipleship).We also believe that LLF must recognise and address the wider challenges in church and society to traditional Christian teaching,” they said.
They say that people must not ‘lose sight of our common, shared humanity’ and they call out‘the need for the church to offer a coherent, single ethic’.
“We are convinced that it is essential for LLFto clearly articulate and explore the traditional teaching of the Anglican Communion,” they said.
They outlined three key demands: that sexual intercourse only take place in married settings, that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman and outside of that abstinence was the only stance the Church should recognise.
If Church leaders adopt these three positions, they can ensure church unity, they claim.
They add: “Our recent Anglican experience has made clear that our deep differences in this area make ‘walking together on the way’ not only a challenge ecumenically but within existing denominational structures.
“We therefore think it essential that, as part of providing teaching and learning, LLF must also help us consider the implications of these differences for our common life.”
But they acknowledge that adopting this position will be difficult for many, but any change of teaching or liturgy would also be difficult for others.
However, former Bishop of Bolton, David Gillett, has said that while once he would have agreed with the evangelical bishops, he now believes ‘we should be looking to expand our understanding of marriage’.
“While preserving the tradition that marriage is a commitment to a faithful, life-long and intimate relationship between two people, we will now be able to see the tradition in a fully inclusive way — or, at the very least, hope that others who disagree will allow blessings of same sex marriages–thus leaving a variety of ways of living God’s story that recognises the full humanity and equality of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters.”
Former Bishop of Thetford, David Atkinson, said that Lambeth resolution 1.10 is ‘too blunt an instrument for an appropriate pastoral response to those for whom this is a pressing personal question’, and ‘too unclear an instrument for forming any constructive Christian mission to gay communities, and too insensitive an instrument for affirming and accepting what is of God in the lives of many Christian gay people’.
The bishop refer in their letter to the Church of England Evangelical Council’s recent work ‘Gospel, Church &Marriage: Preserving Apostolic Faith and Life’. The document warns that ‘significant departure from apostolic teaching requires in response some degree of visible differentiation,in order formally to acknowledge and mark this distance.’
They say they hope that LLF will ‘go beyond helping us to understand and evaluate our different perspectives’ and also address ‘the practical consequences of these sincerely held differences’.
“We will then be able to consider how our structures may need to adapt so as to enable good, continued fellowship, respect, dialogue and co-operation with one another in Christ while honestly recognising the impact of our disagreements on the shape and degrees of communion truly present among us.” They added.