By Bishop Wallace Benn
“No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” 1 Corinthians 11:19
“No Church can live in integrity if it proclaims loyalty to Scripture, but then ignores Scripture when faced with new proposals for her life “ – Bishop Keith Sinclair (page 158)
“While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture…cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions” (Lambeth ’98 Section 1:10)
On Monday 27th January the College of Bishops of the Church of England met to consider the Pilling Report on human sexuality, issued in November 2013. The subsequent statement has been widely anticipated, like the Report itself, and many hoped that the Bishops would use the opportunity to seriously question the assumptions and the more controversial recommendations of the Pilling Report. They did at least openly acknowledge the deep division among them, and express their commitment to “seeking good disagreement” (this seems to imply that we can agree to disagree about God’s revealed truth, which we cannot do). In the light of their statement it seems both hard to understand why they troubled to meet and that it was an opportunity missed.
Despite paying lip service “in seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures and the tradition of the church”, a phrase that will be sincerely meant by a number of the bishops, it needs to be understood that this phrase comes from the Report itself which is anything but faithful to the Scriptures as we shall see. The bishops accept the suggestion of Pilling for a period of “facilitated conversations” in the Church and seem to accept the disastrous basis on which Pilling suggests these, but also requests the Archbishops to commission a small group “to design a process for these conversations and additional materials to support and enable them” to be approved by May this year. What this group decides is crucial, as will be how individual bishops handle these conversations in their respective dioceses. In the meantime, until after these facilitated conversations take place the Archbishops have stated that “the Pilling Report is not a new policy statement from the Church of England and we are clear that the Church of England’s pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged”. We need to be vigilant about how this might change afterwards!
What then is wrong with the Pilling Report that we should resist the direction it advocates?