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?