The Pilling Report: When Listening Processes Replace Moral Conviction


by John Nolland

On 5th February 2008 the Guardian reported that ‘the Bible sanctions same-sex relationships’. The piece was written in relation to an article by James Jones, then Bishop of Liverpool. All that Jones had actually done was to refuse to rule out of court the possibility that the friendship between David and Jonathan, and that between Jesus and John were sexual. I don’t think he thought they were, but he was wanting to make the point that Christians who think they were have as much a right to come to the table as those who think they were not.

Reasonably enough, the journalist concluded that there can be no Christian moral objection to same-sex relations if the view that Jesus and John had a sexual relationship is an acceptable view in the church. Of course he was over-simplifying, but he wasn’t wrong about a key practical consequence of what Jones was asserting.

This was just one bishop, speaking for himself, but there is quite a history of the Church of England creating unfortunate and largely unintended public messages.

Back in 1991 the House of Bishop’s report, Issues in Human Sexuality, essentially reaffirmed traditional Christian teaching, but it allowed for a freedom-of-conscience exception for lay-people who sincerely believe that it is God’s call to them to be in a homosexual sexual relationship. The press had no interest in the reaffirmation of traditional Christian teaching, the ‘cash value’ of this was that the Church of England was giving approval to homosexual sexual relationships.

In the context of reaffirming traditional Christian views of same-sex sexual relations, Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 included a commitment ‘to listen to the experience of homosexual persons’. Also, in view of the theological discussion going on in various parts of the Communion, and with a desire to keep in step, the resolution included a request to ‘the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us’.

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