In response to the group of 72

The letter from the group of 72 to the College of Bishops makes interesting reading. The letter can be read in full on the Thinking Anglicans website:

The signatories suggest that the Church of England provides more time and space for the studying of Scripture so that the C of E can  ‘make theologically informed decisions about human anthropology and sexuality.’ 

In particular the signatories stress that we all, collectively, need to understand what it means to ‘honour God with your bodies’ (1 Corinthians 6:20, NIV).

This would be fine and dandy if the signatories were committed to a process of open inquiry, during which they discarded all of their own prior subjectivities. But, they are not.

The fact that they are not is clear from their letter:

‘As you prepare to meet in the College and House of Bishops, we urge you not to consider any proposals that fly in the face of the historic understanding of the church as expressed in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (1991) and Lambeth Resolution 1.10. To do so – however loud the apparent voice for change – could set the Church of England adrift from her apostolic inheritance. It would also undermine our ability as members of General Synod to offer support and lead to a fracture within both the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.’

The letter is in reality a declaration that the status quo must be preserved; nothing must change.

Of course this is dressed up in the language of unity, nothing must be done that allows different parts of the Church of England (or the Anglican Communion) to pursue different modes of practice, derived from different hermeneutics of the Gospel. Sexual practice has been, elevated to a first order issue and, the notion of subsidiarity is not to be countenanced.

The letter suggests that those who support the opening up of pastoral rites for same-sex couples don’t take Scripture seriously, or have a high view of Scripture. This is deeply patronizing.

Most ‘progressives’ have wrestled with Scripture and seek to live a life informed by Scripture. Most progressives take it is a basic fact that all are made in the image of God. Most progressives have spent many years wrestling with the interplay between Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, often at some personal cost. And, they have come to the conclusion that God, truth be told, is interested in justice, equality, dignity, inclusivity and, love. In fact these are among the very attributes and characteristics of God. So, if we are to look at Scripture, yet again, let’s focus on these virtues as well as the very few individual texts specifically concerned with notions of homosexuality.

Most progressives, and especially LGBTI Christians I would suggest, take the injunction to honour God with their bodies extremely seriously. To suggest otherwise, as I have already suggested, is deeply patronizing. Drawing on my own experience I have no reason to believe that my LGBTI friends, and family members, take virtues such as love, fidelity,monogamy  any less seriously than my heterosexual friends. LGBTI folk are just as capable of cherishing a sexual partner as straight folk. The fruits of their relationship can be equally spectacular. As Archbishop Justin reflected in March 2013:You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” 

The implied threat to withdraw support (what does this mean? Are we talking about financial support?) must be treated with caution. Maybe it is a statement of the obvious but most LGBTI Christians, and their ‘allies,’ don’t really experience ‘support’ in any meaningful and concrete sense from the arch conservative group in the Church of England, in any case.

You can’t withdraw what you aren’t perceived to be providing!

However, if the implied threat is the withdrawal of financial support then maybe the C of E should simply accept its lot as a ‘poor Church?’ It may find itself both wealthier and healthier in the long run.

The suggestion that ‘we are committed to building a church that is genuinely welcoming to all people, irrespective of the pattern of sexual attraction that they experience. We would welcome initiatives to help local churches do this in a way that is affirming of and consistent with Scripture, and would hope to support suggestions you might wish to bring to Synod to that effect,’ must therefore be received with some suspicion.

The small print needs to be read carefully, for terms and conditions surely apply. Same sex attraction is allowed (how could it not be), but active same-sex relationships, it would seem, are not.

The letter, I hope will be politely acknowledged, but not acted on. It is time for the Church of England to move on. The Church of England, as the established church, must be a church that is there in real and concrete ways for all people.



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