Global South Anglicans will see Pilling Report as Betrayal of Jerusalem Declaration & GFACON

Church of England urged to offer same-sex blessings while rejecting marriage ceremonies for gay couples

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org

A report produced by four bishops and chaired by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling said members of the clergy of the Church of England should be allowed to offer blessings to same-sex couples but rejected a “formal liturgy” for gay marriage as “unacceptable”. However, it says priests should be “free” to give gay couples a “public service”. Other recommendations include repentance for homophobia within the Church and the avoidance of “intrusive questioning”.

The report says the Church must find “ways of honoring” gay Christians who “conscious of the Church’s teaching, have embraced a chaste and single lifestyle, and also those who in good conscience have entered partnerships with a firm intention of life-long fidelity”.

For some 1,400 mostly evangelical Global South Anglicans who met recently in Nairobi under the banner of GAFCON II, this will be viewed as a distinction without a difference and will confirm in their minds that they were right to plant the Anglican Mission in England (AMIE).

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu opined that the Pilling Report is “not a new policy statement from the Church of England” but noted that the issues with which the Pilling Report grapples are “difficult and divisive.” The House of Bishops will meet next month and the College of Bishops the following month to consider the Report and decide how such a process might best be shaped.

BISHOP OF BIRKENHEAD RESPONDS

Criticism of the Pilling report erupted almost immediately with the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt. Rev. Keith Sinclair declaring that Scripture and Christian tradition offer a clearer and better vision from God for the world in his gift of our sexuality as men and women. This is sufficient for directing the Church at this critical time of major cultural change. He is persuaded that the Biblical witness on same sex sexual behavior is clear.

“I believe the trajectory in the Report will undermine the discipleship and pastoral care of many faithful Christians and, by leading the Church into the kind of cultural captivity which much of the prophetic writings warn against, weaken our commitment to God’s mission.

“I believe in the unity of Christ’s Church and think the Report has not heeded the view of General Synod expressed in February 2007 that ‘efforts to prevent the diversity of opinion about human sexuality creating further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion… would not be advanced by doing anything that could be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its commitment to the entirety of the relevant Lambeth Conference Resolutions (1978: 10; 1988: 64; 1998: 1.10)’.”

Bishop Sinclair said the core issues are that the Bible is not ambiguous in its treatment of gay sex: it is always and everywhere condemned; that the Church of England is falling below Biblical standards in failing to repeat this condemnation; that the scientific evidence for homosexuality as a natural condition can be disregarded because all sorts of sinful desires are part of our natures; and, finally, that the change in the official line represents a betrayal of all those gay men who have rejected their own desires in favor of marriage or celibacy. “As someone who has experienced same sex attraction since my teens, I was so grateful that my Church showed me unconditional acceptance whilst gently guiding me to live according to the teaching of the Church of England,” he concluded.

This is despite the fact that no clergy would be forced or obliged to perform a ceremony for a same-sex relationship.

REFORM, an evangelical network of 1,700 (one third are clergy) members in the Church of England, condemned the Pilling Report as “very divisive”. Reform Chairman Prebendary Rod Thomas said he was “deeply ashamed” that the Pilling Report was opening up divisive discussions about the church’s stance on human sexuality.

“Anglican evangelicals want to encourage the best possible provision of pastoral care for everyone involved in parish life. The calling of Christians is to a transformed life. True pastoral care in the case of those experiencing same-sex attractions will be to help them live Christianly. The report does not do this in its recommendations for “pastoral accommodation”. Reform profoundly regrets this insensitivity to real pastoral need.”

Speaking at the close of the pan-evangelical ReNew conference, attended by over 250 senior Anglican leaders, Thomas said that the report’s proposals are “very divisive and distressing”. He warmly endorsed the Bishop of Birkenhead’s dissenting statement with its understanding that the trajectory of the report “…undermined the discipleship and pastoral care of many faithful Christians”.

The Reform Council concluded that the inevitable result of the report’s recommendations would be that pressure will increase for changes to the church’s understanding of marriage and of God’s purposes for human flourishing as outlined in the Bible. The Council reiterated its belief that the Anglican approach to doctrine and ethics can only be based on Scripture and therefore was not open to negotiation in facilitated conversations.

Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society, responded to the Pilling Report saying that while the Society welcomed the publication of the Report, “Like the apostle Jude, in the Bible, we would prefer to discuss the good news of Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers to all, but feel constrained to respond to the teaching of those who are changing the gospel into an affirmation of immoral behavior.

“We call on the church to read the report prayerfully, and to weigh its teaching and recommendations carefully in the light of scripture’s very clear teaching on sexuality, to which the Church of England is committed in its canons, doctrinal formularies, Synodical statements, and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference. We particularly commend to people the ‘dissenting statement’ in the report from the Bishop of Birkenhead, and thank him for its clarity and care. A further statement will be made in due course.”

Andrea Williams, the chief executive officer of the conservative campaign group Christian Concern, accused the report’s authors of sowing “yet greater division and acrimony” within the church, adding: “This doublespeak is as destructive as it is deceitful.”

Others welcomed the report. The Very Rev Dianna Gwilliams, chair of Inclusive Church, which campaigns to make LGBT people welcome in the church, said it was “a reflection of careful listening to many voices in church and state”.

Benjamin Cohen, publisher of PinkNews and founder of the Out4Marriage social media campaign for same-sex marriage in the UK, said the report effectively recommended same-sex marriage within the Church of England in all but name. “If approved, Christian gay couples will be able to pop into a registry office on the way to church where their relationship will be celebrated with their family and friends,” he said.

BISHOP OF GUILDFORD AND THE ARCHBISHOP OF NIGERIA

One bishop, the Rt. Rev. Christopher Hill of Guildford, made a trip to Nigeria prior to the release of the Pilling Report and told the most powerful archbishop in the Anglican Communion outside of the Archbishop of Canterbury that the CofE’s position on marriage was unchanged. Perhaps, but the bishop was too disingenuous by half.

He failed to tell the Nigerian Primate that his own diocese allows gay couples who are wanting to make plans for their weddings next summer, and that those who are disappointed that they can’t have their ceremony conducted in church can approach their vicars for the possibility of a blessing afterwards. The Bishop of Guildford has published guidelines on “Requests for Prayer” from same sex couples. The bishop opined, “It would be appropriate for clergy who conscientiously judge a same sex Civil Marriage to be an authentic Christian relationship to similarly pray with, and for, such a couple. Because the teaching of the Church remains that this is not marriage, the texts of the Marriage Services should not be used.”

Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream blasted this observing that the Church of England Bishop is saying, in black and white, that it’s possible for a same sex marriage to be “an authentic Christian relationship”, which should be supported in prayer and, by implication, blessed by the church, as long as marriage rites are not used.

Symes accused the bishop of offering “guidance” and of having gone ahead and changed the doctrine of the church by pre-empting Pilling and the Bishops’ discussion at a stroke.

The question now must be asked, was there an attempt to pull the wool over Archbishop Okoh’s eyes by not telling him the whole truth about where he stood on the issue.

The timing was too disingenuous by half. The actions of the Guildford bishop can only be interpreted as an end run to stave off public criticism by the Global South leader. The timing was a deliberate challenge to GAFCON’s clear position on maintaining the traditional line on sexuality and a poke in the eye at Lambeth Resolution 1:10.

The sad truth is that the Church of England is following the trajectory of the American Episcopal Church. We have seen the fruit of that in whole dioceses fleeing The Episcopal Church along with hundreds of individual parishes and tens of thousands of parishioners – all for a handful of homosexuals who represent 1.5% of the total population. The lawsuits have run into the tens of millions of dollars with no end in sight.

The formation of the Anglican Mission in England could not have come at a more timely moment.

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