Colin’s reaction to the Pilling Report

Changing Attitude England has a vision. We are working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at every level of ministry in the Church of England. We campaign from our experience of God’s unconditional, infinite love for the whole of creation.

I feel sad after two days of reflection on the Pilling Report and having read many of the reactions and blogs from pro-gay and conservative positions. The Pilling Report and the Church of England establishment is so far from the deeply spiritual, Christ-like faith of so many of my friends and colleagues and I know many of them feel profound despair at the outcome of nearly two year’s work by people, some of whom know that the report is desperately inadequate.

I feel sad after having been told by various people involved in the production of the report that the hoped-for outcome was that  both pro- and anti-gay groups would react with equal disappointment and critical comment. I’m not sure the report disappoints me in quite the way I anticipated, but it seems the hopes of those who wanted everyone to attack it have been fulfilled.

What a low ambition for Christians. That makes me feel very sad. The goal was to produce a report that disappointed everyone, not a report that at least for some opened a vision of creative new life and a path to Christ-like transformation.

I doubt that manyfrom the pro-gay will have the stomach for the process Pilling proposes – two years of conversation and reflection. I know perfectly well from observing the saga of women in the epsicopate that the extreme conservative groups will never, ever countenance change in a pro-gay direction. They are saving their resources and campaigning vitriol to launch attack after attack. I think it will be counter-productive in the long run, but I’m certainly not going to wait around to be abused.

A huge amount now depends on how the College and House of Bishops react. If they continue to tolerate homophobia in the Church, not recognising that what conservatives claim to be ‘traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality’ is indeed deeply, poisonously homophobic, then LGB&T people who a drawn into an ever-deeper, loving relationship with God will seek to nourish their faith in contexts beyond those offered by the C of E.

My own faith has grown richer and deeper over the years, no thanks to my experience of the Church of England both at local and national levels. There is far more to feel sad about than a report about LGB&T people which is so incredibly inadequate because none of us were directly involved in the group and the conversations that ensued having taken ‘evidence’ from us, and then balanced it with ‘evidence’ from those with homophobic views. Christianity is in thrall to literalist faith. I meet very few people who have really ‘given their livesd to Christ’ by which I mean people who are risking their very selves and lives, practically, intellectually and emotionally, to open their hearts to the loving, tender, elusive, gentle, nurturing presence of God. It’s a heart thing. A HEART THING. Those who do all their living and theology in their heads will never really encounter God.

And now back to the text I prepared earlier:

Changing Attitude England has two primary goals: for the church to welcome loving, faithfully committed same-sex couples, offering services of prayer and dedication in church; and for equality in ministry for lay and ordained LGB&T people, including those living in committed relationships which may be expressed sexually.

We evaluate the Pilling report in the context of our vision and goals, in the wider context of theology, mission and pastoral effectiveness, and in the specific context of the current teaching and practice of the Church of England as defined by the 1987 General Synod motion, Issues in Human Sexuality 1991, and Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 of 1998.

The House of Bishops Review Group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling suffered from a fundamental flaw when the group was created – the absence of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender members of the group.

In dealing with the role of women in the church and the process of formulating legislation leading to the full inclusion of women in the episcopate the bishops learnt a critical lesson – women are integral to the process and have to be included in the conversations; they have to be present around the table, their voices heard.

The Review Group’s report is inevitably inadequate. LGB&T voices were absent in the group. The presence of conservative members with strongly held convictions about homosexuality and an inadequate grasp of LGB&T experience and the gospel imperative of justice for all has resulted in an unbalanced report. We know the heart of many bishops is unsympathetic to current policy.

Following the commitment of the House of Bishops and College of Bishops to include women at their meetings, I believe the College of Bishops should consider inviting a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans to the meeting on 27 January 2014 when the Pilling Report will be discussed in detail. Changing Attitude is serious about this idea. Pilling should never have been constituted without openly LGB&T members. So, it is a Working Party of the House of Bishops, and the House has  gay members but none of them are open in the House. That’s a huge problem for the Bishops and one way or another LGB&T people now have to be included. One way of including gay men would be for a number of bishops to come out. Failing that, the House has to find a way of including LGB&T people from outside the House in the same way as it has formally included 8 women.

The inadequacies of the report result from the theology held as orthodox and traditional by many Christians, belief in the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God, and belief in God as a supernatural being, remote from the world, who is primarily a law-giver and rule-maker, judging our lives and behaviour.

The report lacks empathy and compassion for LGB&T people. It lacks the courage needed to free the church from gender and sexuality-based prejudice and hypocrisy. It lacks the vision needed to over systemic homophobia in the church.

The trustees of Changing Attitude England know that the majority of bishops understand this. It is now time for them to use this flawed report creatively to transform the lives and ministries of LGB&T Anglicans, our families, friends and congregations – and ultimately to continue to transform the church itself.

Bishops, of course, know the truth about God revealed in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. God is the infinitely compassionate Father who runs with open arms towards his child, extending an unconditional welcome to the wayward son, celebrating his return with a banquet. We wait with hopeful expectation for the bishops to extend an all-embracing welcome to LGB&T people.

The social and legal status of LGB&T people in British society has been transformed since the 1997 General Election. There is now a radical disjunction between attitudes in society in general and Christian attitudes as reported by the media. Conservative Christians argue that society is moving away from the laws of God as enshrined in scripture. As noted above, people in secular society disagree. They think the Church, far from following the teaching of Jesus, is trapped in attitudes which are contrary to the nature of God as revealed in scripture and creation.

They are also well aware that the Church is dishonest. There are bishops who are gay, and bishops who turn a blind eye to single and partnered LGB&T people in ministry, and bishops who turn a blind eye when clergy allow services in church following a civil partnership.

Many LGB&T clergy and readers have survived thanks to those bishops who have been warm and affirming towards those in their dioceses who have felt safe enough to be open. There are many in the Church who continue to fear for their security were the bishop to discover they are gay and partnered.

We all collude in one way or another with this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture. It is corrosive of trust, transparency and the flourishing of individuals in relationship and ministry.

We encourage the House of Bishops to explore ways in which the place of LGB&T people in the Church can begin to change now in parallel with the conversations. Delaying further progress for another two years will test our patience and tolerance of what is already an intolerable environment in the Church.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you Colin, this is heart felt and profound. Your final paragraph of the blog, hits me between the eyes, because it describes how I strive to live with that openness of heart for God, which perhaps reflects how and why, I who is straight, feels so strongly the hurt and harm that the poison of those violently opposed to LGBT in the church cause. I can’t hope to know the suffering involved, but some of the moving stories that I’ve read and heard are sufficient to convince me that the Church is institutionally homophobic and it’s time it changed.

  2. Rob Edlin-White says

    I hope this report can be seen as frustratingly and agonisingly slow progress rather than a kick in the teeth. I thought the prologue to the report was profound and well articulated, and the listening process seems to have been beneficial in “changing attitudes” if inadequate. And there are some positive recomendations: equal treatment for gay and straight people in the amount of prurient questioning they are subjected to – e.g. for people aspriing to ordination.

    I completely agree that “It’s a heart thing. A HEART THING. Those who do all their living and theology in their heads will never really encounter God.”

    As for maintaining a disparity between official principle and practice on the ground (The ” ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture”) , I agree that it’s undesirable, but it may be less bad than all feasible alternatives and sustainable for a transitional period.

    As I wrote elsewhere:

    “I think sometimes it is approprate to accept a disparity between principle and practice, at least for an interim stage. Practice is informed by the nitty gritty experience of pastoral realities on the ground, whereas principles (and doctrines) can be rather too abstract, and when applied without compassion and feeling, can seem quite aloof and – at times – inhumane. Practice can at its best then help to refine the principles. I think this might be a bit like what the liberation theologicans call “praxis”.

    Jesus, it seems to me, always preferred to be compassionate and humane when confronted with real human need, even if long-held principles (e.g. about the sabbath, or other ancient legalistic restrictions about menstruating women being unclean and untouchable) had to be compromised. The sabbath, and in fact the whole of the law, was made for humans, not vice versa.

    This principle, of humane treatment being more important than ancient taboos and ingrained feelings of revulsion, seems to me a far deeper and central theme of Christian scripture than a few fragments of rather obscure, bartely translatable text thought to be against homosexual behaviour. “

  3. says

    I hope this report, for all its inadequacies, can be seen as frustratingly and agonisingly slow progress rather than a kick in the teeth. I thought the prologue to the report was profound and well articulated, and the listening process seems to have been beneficial in “changing attitudes” if inadequate. And there are some positive recommendations: equal treatment for gay and straight people in the amount of prurient questioning they are subjected to – e.g. for people aspiring to ordination.

    I completely agree that “It’s a heart thing. A HEART THING. Those who do all their living and theology in their heads will never really encounter God.”

    As for maintaining a disparity between official principle and practice on the ground (The ” ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture”) , I agree that it’s undesirable, but it may be less bad than all feasible alternatives and sustainable for a transitional period.

    As I wrote elsewhere:

    “I think sometimes it is appropriate to accept a disparity between principle and practice, at least for an interim stage. Practice is informed by the nitty gritty experience of pastoral realities on the ground, whereas principles (and doctrines) can be rather too abstract, and when applied without compassion and feeling, can seem quite aloof and – at times – inhumane. Practice can at its best then help to refine the principles. I think this might be a bit like what the liberation theologians call “praxis”.

    Jesus, it seems to me, always preferred to be compassionate and humane when confronted with real human need, even if long-held principles (e.g. about the Sabbath, or other ancient legalistic restrictions about menstruating women being unclean and untouchable) had to be compromised. The Sabbath, and in fact the whole of the law, was made for humans, not vice versa.

    This principle, of humane treatment being more important than ancient taboos and ingrained feelings of revulsion, seems to me a far deeper and central theme of Christian scripture than a few fragments of rather obscure, barely translatable text thought to be against homosexual behaviour. “

  4. Tony Phelan says

    A terrific response, and a heartfelt blog telling truths that will likely fall on deaf ears. I wonder whether the appropriate application of the parable of the Prodigal is to the bishops themselves, who now need to return to the generosity of God in the richness of his gifts in lgbt Christians – the banquet had been waiting for them for a long time: we don’t want it to get cold …

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