Thirty years on and the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality begins hearing evidence

Next Wednesday and Thursday, 4th and 5th July, the House of Bishops Working Group is meeting at Church House Westminster for two ‘evidence hearing’ days. Changing Attitude has been asked to attend at 10.30 on Thursday. The Changing Attitude ‘evidence’ will be given by Dr Rob Clucas, Keith Sharpe and myself.

Other groups and individuals who will be presenting pro-gay ‘evidence’ are Inclusive Church, June Osborne, and Adrian Thatcher.

Those groups and individuals who will be presenting ‘evidence’ from a conservative perspective are Andrew Goddard, Reform, Anglican Mainstream and David Holding. David is Master of SSC (Society of the Holy Cross) and Forward in Faith. I don’t think he’s pro-gay – SSC and FiF are riddled with internalised homophobia.

This morning I started reading another of the books I inherited from Fr Bill – Peter Coleman’s Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality published in 1980. I wonder whether quoting from the book might be a starting point for our ‘evidence’ to the group. I want to present them with a question – If this is what was being written by an Anglican priest 32 years ago, how will your report be current for today’s society, today’s Church and today’s LGB&T Anglicans?

In his introduction, Peter Coleman wrote:

“For many people the dilemma the Churches face concerning homosexual behaviour cannot be resolved without considering fundamental questions about the meaning and abiding value of the relevant scriptural texts, the teaching authority of the Church throughout the ages, and the significance Christians should allow to modern understandings of human sexuality. The morality or otherwise of homosexual behaviour has therefore become something of a test case among Christians, challenging long held certainties and probing for the future what the consequences might be in other aspects of Christian thought if a change were to be made.”

This could have been written today, so little has apparently changed in Anglican thinking in the ensuing 32 years.

Peter refers to a comment made by Bishop Ian Ramsey at a seminar on Natural Law he was conducting with a group including Peter in Church House, Westminster, in 1964. Ian Ramsey said, ‘The Church has always been opposed to homosexuality – I don’t know why’.

That was 48 years ago! Forty eight years ago a bishop didn’t know why the Church was so opposed to homosexuality. And today?

Peter Coleman said: “There has been a steady flow of reports by working parties of varying expertise and authority, and a great number of individual studies published reflecting on this question [of expressing homosexual love sexually], and the debate is at the time of writing in no sense resolved, except for those who find no sufficient cause to question the traditional teaching.”

While everything around us in civil society has changed totally in the 32 years since Peter Coleman’s book was published, I have an ominous feeling that the Church, at least as we will encounter it next week in Church House, has changed not at all.

The most important thing I want to say to the bishops is, you have a responsibility to produce a report which will inform the needs of the Church and all her members, LGBTI and straight, in 2013. Your report has to move Christian thinking and teaching on dramatically from where it was in 1980 when Coleman published or 1988 when Osborne wasn’t published, let alone 1991 when Issues in Human Sexuality was published.

The conservative-evangelical backlash has been disastrous, and the more I read from the past, the more disastrous I can see it has been. Osborne in 1988 did good work as did Coleman in 1980, others before him, it seems. Ian Ramsey had got it in 1964.

I am constantly being reminded by an internal voice that the Church adapts slowly to changes in society and it will take the Church time to overhaul its teaching and practice to integrate the changes in society that have happened since 1997 following the election of the Blair government.

But voices in the Church, bishops (Peter Coleman became bishop of Crediton in 1984) and others, had done the thinking, writing, theology, putting into the public domain, years ago.


  1. Savi Hensman says

    I believe there has been a lot of very good material published on this matter in the past 32 years, but this has largely gone unacknowledged by the C of E leadership. In the wider Anglican Communion, things are even worse: some bishops for instance seem to believe that if they keep repeating that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality, igmoring reams of evidence to the contrary and indeed what would seem the most obvious meaning of the text, their views should be taken as true.

Join the discussion