The House of Bishops’ review of human sexuality group announced – and CA isn’t optimistic

Yesterday, the group of 5 people appointed to review human sexuality on behalf of the House of Bishops was announced. The Group will be chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling  and the other members are the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Michael Perham, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Rev Keith Sinclair, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Jonathan Baker and the Bishop of Warwick, the Rt Rev John Stroyan.

Of the five, I know only one, the Bishop of Gloucester, who is LGB&T affirming. I’ve never met any of the others. The other three bishops are all suffragans or flying bishops – none are members of the House of Bishops. Therefore they are much less accessible to Changing Attitude and to other bishops. They don’t attend General Synod nor House of Bishops meetings so they are not present at Synod where introductions can be made and conversations had.

The chair is a total unknown to me. Does he have any experience of human sexuality discourse? I couldn’t find anything about him that suggests he does.

So a group has been appointed which reflects certain stances in the church – gay-positive, gay negative, anti-women-conservative-anglo-catholic, plus one unknown bishop (liberal, sort of, I suspect) and one unknown lay person.

Sir Joseph Pilling chaired the group that produced the report on senior church appointments, Talent and Calling, published in 2007. The other members of the group were Canon Dr Christina Baxter, Canon Prof. Michael Clarke, Mr Aiden Hargreaves-Smith, The Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, Bishop of Sheffield, The Revd Rod Thomas, The Very Revd Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury and The Revd Canon Lucy Winkett. All except Lucy Winkett and Sir Joseph were members of General Synod. The group had two women members.

Eight people, six of whom were members of Synod, were appointed to review senior appointments. Five people, one of whom is a member of Synod, have been appointed to advise the House of Bishops on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality. There are no women. There is one lay man, so no reason why at least one woman shouldn’t have been appointed. This is a group addressing the full breadth of human sexuality, after all.

Those selected don’t give any confidence that they are going to produce a report which will be constructive for the church process. With the exception of +Gloucester, they don’t come with an existing background of experience and knowledge about LGB&T issues. Jonathan Baker, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, will have plenty of contact with gay male priests, but the majority of them will be deep in the closet. Why appoint a group with these characteristics?

The task of the new group is to help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document in 2013. In July 2011 The House of Bishops announced that it intended to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality. It also committed itself to offering proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process.

So two years down the line, we can look forward to ‘something’ from a group which will ‘help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document’. The House will then offer proposals on how continuing discussion might best be shaped. This is worse than a kick into touch, this (to mix metaphors) is a wildly deliberate drive into the longest of long grass.

Now, I will be happy to find myself surprised by the final outcome but my reading of the composition of the group is that it is not designed to be confidently creative in taking the church forward to a produce a report that provides a step change in the process.

Whoever appointed the group has no sense of the urgency for LGB&T Anglicans for a dramatically radical revision of Issues in Human Sexuality to be produced. We have been impatiently waiting for movement. What we have been presented with seems to be a strategy for indefinite delay.

We are already fully present at every level of the church, from the episcopate (yes, I’ll mention the 13 gay closeted or married bishops again) to the clergy to every congregation. We have no doubt that God has created us LGB&T and called us to faith as LGB&T. Half the House of Bishops already know this. What is it going to take to convince the other half?


  1. says

    I have no doubt whatsoever that the Bishop of Gloucester is nice to gay people he encounters. However, his actions regarding the consecration of the Rt Rev Mary Glasspool should caution anyone against labelling him as LGBT supportive.

    At one of the most significant moments in the Communion’s life, he encouraged the Bishop of his partner diocese not to join in consecrating Bishop Mary, for the sake of a relationship with an African diocese.

    The decision from the Bishop of El Camino Real not to consecrate (under great pressure from Bishop Michael) was as unpleasant as Archbishop Rowan’s decision over Jeffrey John and was in its way an equivalent betrayal of a lesbian bishop.

    The Bishop of Gloucester should be presumed to be someone who cares more about church structures than LGBT people.

    It is liberals who take such actions who present the greatest challenges to LGBT inclusion in the churches.

  2. says

    Kelvin writes, “It is liberals who take such actions who present the greatest challenges to LGBT inclusion in the churches.”

    Indeed. In this regard, I refer you all to a classic text from the US Civil Rights Era, the Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. If you have not read this iconic piece before, it is well worth the effort. It is addressed to King’s fellow clergymen and is manifesto for social justice–and a description of how friendly moderates can do more damage than reactionary opponents.

    The link:

  3. Richard Ashby says

    I cannot believe that this line up of clerics will procuce anything worth while at all. The Bishops here are all compromised in some way or another, the ‘listening’ process has hardly got going in most places and I anticipate a few nice words and no action. They are all too afraid of disagreeing, or taking a stand for what is right and causing an outcry from the conservatives who will again threaten to take their congregations and more importantly their monry elsewhere.

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