Yes, I know, until it is published and we know what it actually says, we can’t make a judgement on the Pilling Report’s content and recommendations.
But we are already being told from numerous sources that its recommendation will be for very modest change and it will (deliberately) be written to satisfy neither ‘side’
If the predictions about the stance of the report turn out to be true, what CA will react to is the idea that there are two opposed ‘sides’, both of which have a legitimate claim to be respected and accommodated within a broad Church of England.
We dispute that there are two opposing ‘sides’ or ‘factions’. This is an inaccurate reading of the map.
One set of groups in this map is arguing for no change in the current stance of the C of E towards homosexuality as set out in the key documents, and a reinforcement of the Church’s ‘traditional teaching’ about homosexuality (based on their reading of scripture and history). They are mostly biblical conservatives or fundamentalists, a small subset of those who identify as evangelical in our Church.
This small subset is perceived to be in conflict with the other set of groups which are pro-gay and pro-trans: Changing Attitude, LGCM, Inclusive Church, Sibyls, Accepting Evangelicals and other members of the LGB&T Anglican Coalition.
The accepted narrative by those telling us what Pilling is likely to recommend is that these are two sets of groups, which claim equal legitimacy for our positions based on our theological and biblical understanding and our experiential analysis of homosexuality.
I think this is totally wrong because the mapping of positions is quite wrong.
Opposition to the biblical fundamentalist position on LGB&T people does not come from a narrowly drawn set of pro-LGB&T organisations.
Firstly, it comes from within their own set, from younger evangelicals, who believe their elders are totally wrong in their anti-gay attitude and rhetoric. Those of us in the pro-gay organisations are not the main problem for the conservatives – the difficulty they face is opposition from within their own constituency.
The second arena of opposition comes from the majority of people within the Church of England, straight people, married couples with children, people with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender colleagues, sons and daughters, family members, friends at church. Social attitude surveys demonstrate that the overwhelming majority reject the biblical fundamentalist position and so-called ‘traditional’ teaching about homosexuality. (Of course, this simply reinforces the determination of some conservative evangelicals to campaign even more forcefully against what they see as a capitulation to prevailing cultural but not biblical norms).
The mapping of attitudes in the Church of England, especially in the younger age groups, reveals a significant majority who don’t see the presence of LGB&T people in church and society as a problem – quite the reverse – they see anti-gay Christian attitudes as a problem.
There is no parallel spread of biblical fundamentalist attitudes across the Church. They are contained within particular parishes and congregations with conservative evangelical patronage and incumbents and leaders who dogmatically maintain a conservative ethos about homosexuality.
There is a more substantive reason why Changing Attitude will reject the Pilling Report if, as predicted, one of its prime aims will be to satisfy neither set of groups.
The biblical fundamentalist groups opposed to the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church do not accept that we are in the same category as women, black people, ethnic minorities, those subjected to slavery, people living with disabilities, or any other category of people who are subject to prejudice and thought to be less deserving of dignity, equality and fundamental human rights in society and Church.
Biblical fundamentalists believe that in the Bible God shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not created equal and have no right to protection or equality because our pattern of life is disordered and deliberately flouts God’s ‘natural’ laws in creation as defined by Scripture.
In other words, biblical fundamentalists justify discrimination against LGB&T people based on their interpretation of Scripture, an interpretation which they insist must be adopted universally by the Church. Some of these groups still use Scripture to justify discrimination against women. Few, I hope, still use Scripture to justify racial or ethnic discrimination or discrimination against disabled people, even though Biblical justification might be produced for such attitudes.
I think this is the bottom line for Pilling (and I know he is in an incredibly difficult position):
Is the group going to publish a report which continues to justify Christian discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality and gender?
The British Government doesn’t think this is legitimate.
The majority of people in the UK and in many western societies don’t think this is legitimate.
The only reason for publishing a report that will satisfy neither side is to appease a tiny subset of evangelicals – a narrowly drawn group of biblical fundamentalists who in General Synod have already sabotaged the Church’s attempt to fulfil God’s vision for the equality of women in the Church. In opposing women bishops, Reform and Anglican Mainstream are in alliance with conservative catholic organisations such as Forward in Faith. But FiF is filled with closet gays. Does their internalised homophobia also need to be appeased?
The circle Pilling will be trying to square, of course, is the circle defined by the Global South network, the millions of so-called Bible-believing anti-gay Christians around the world and those homophobic political regimes that think it is legitimate to deny LGB&T people equal dignity and human rights.
The evil that legitimates violence and murder against LGB&T people in Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, and many other countries where Christian anti-gay rhetoric and teaching is a major influence on public attitudes should be a strong reason for Pilling to recommend a radical change in attitudes for the Church of England.