What is wrong with the Bishops' Report: a handy guide
This article was originally published in a format which caused considerable offence to many of our readers. We apologise unreservedly for the very real hurt which was inadvertently caused. The main points of the article appear in revised form below.
So much for trying to spin ‘no change’ as a move to a ‘change in tone’ and ‘maximum freedom’. In its lack of honesty and attempt at a compromise, the Report will limit clergy’s freedom and increase conflict within the Church and for those outside, heighten the awareness of the Church as an unhappy institution compromised by its homophobic beliefs and practices.
1. in restricting what prayers and forms of liturgy clergy will feel able to use with same sex couples, this will limit freedom and cause anxiety and pastoral conflict;
2. in making relationships between bishops and clergy and ordinands more duplicitous, less honest and more gilded by the damaging impact of homophobia in ‘more searching and wide ranging’ conversations on sexual morality, the problems of fragmentation and pastoral breakdown in the Church of England will only increase
- The bishops haven’t listened:
Regarding process and representation, GS2055 doesn’t do justice to the voice of LGBTI people:
GS2055 was generated without contributions from LGBTI people
- The voice of LGBTI people in the shared conversations is not heard in the document
- The bishops haven’t led:
The document describes a process by which a compromise was achieved between a divided and conflicted house and college of Bishops. Rather than creatively innovate, they have attempted to preserve a status quo around a common position, whilst tweaking details of present practice.
The compromises over those details, whether the questions asked of ordinands, or prayers for LGBT couples after a civil partnership or marriage, promise to make things worse rather than better. There is ambiguity and uncertainty communicated in the bishops’ deliberations: on the one hand, there is an admission that bishops judge the identity, relationships and families of LGBTI people; on the other, there is a desire to be seen to be welcoming and loving; there is no middle way between these that a teaching document or pastoral guidance can resolve!
This is a hopeless strategy to make the church a safe place for LGBTI people, let alone a welcoming place.
- The bishops show B T I erasure:
Bisexual people, gender variance, transsexuals and intersex get no mention in the report.
- The bishops haven’t been honest:
Whilst the desire for a ‘change in tone’ and for ‘maximal freedom’ under present CofE doctrine and law is no doubt a sincere one, it is pie-in-the-sky to think that it is possible to keep on doing what you’ve always done and not get what you’ve always got (especially in the context of a changing society: what you’re going to get will be worse, rather than better).
The Bishops need to admit not only that they don’t agree, but that the CofE needs to find a structural way to let those disagreements cause less harm whilst keeping all Anglicans in conversation, learning from each other and valuing one another’s gifts.
- The bishops have gone backwards:
The report betrays a lack of honesty from the bishops in what they think about their present pastoral practice:
- about their duplicity and moral conflicts over disciplining clergy who enter marriages with partners of the same gender;
- over their contradictory words and practice in condoning clergy who are likely to be sexually active in civil partnerships;
- in using ‘the law’ and synodical process as foils for their choice not to consider the pressing need for commended and authorised liturgies for same-sex couples seeking prayers, who have entered a civil partnership or have married
- Over their discomfort in asking intrusive questions of ordinands and clergy over the nature of their relationship with their partners, when they know this questioning to be inappropriate, unjust and hypocritical
The result is that GS2055 is already creating retrograde movement, but there is a real risk: