My heart lifted as I read the invitation in the Pilling Report (its second recommendation), that
The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views on both sides, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level.
I couldn’t agree more. When I am asked about this – mostly by people who think they know what I’m going to say – I can only answer that we haven’t really yet begun the conversation. We have exchanged increasingly entrenched opinions between different camps, but we haven’t really talked – because we haven’t really listened.
The listening I’m talking about is the sort which is rooted in the process that the Pilling Group records of itself, that
As a group, we continue to seek the presence of Christ in one another. In the end, we are not prepared to say that our deeply held views render any of us un-Christian or put any of us outwith the Church of Christ. We commend to the wider Church a version of the process which we have found ourselves undergoing – attentive listening to brothers and sisters in Christ whose understanding of God’s demands and our responses is very different from our own. (Para 65)
The Report deliberately does not come to conclusions, and that will discredit it in the eyes of many. But I believe we are not yet ready for conclusions. I hope that we are now ready for a process: a process which will reflect our Anglican identity. I couldn’t agree more with the Group when it says
Anglican social ethics is characterized by listening to each other within the church. If one emphasis in theological ethics is allowed to dominate all others, the whole nature of Anglicanism, as a conciliar Church which holds together distinctive traditions, is lost.
The Anglican approach to social ethics is profoundly Christian in its refusal – in theory if not always in practice – to countenance premature foreclosure on matters where discerning the mind of the Church and the mind of Christ is elusive. In the flawed way of all institutions, that can be a counter-intuitive gift to a world fixated on immediacy, certainty and intolerance of difference. (Paras 307 & 308)
Not being ready for conclusions also means that we as a Church are not ready for changes (if we are to make them). We just haven’t reached the depth of mutual understanding of this issue which would enable us to move forward in love, even in loving disagreement.
The Report’s eleventh recommendation will be difficult for many – for some the first clause, for others the remainder
Whilst abiding by the Church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality, we encourage the Church to continue to engage openly and honestly and to reflect theologically on the circumstances in which we find ourselves to discern the mind of Christ and what the Spirit is saying to the Church now.
But as far as I can tell, for us in the Church of England, here and now, it is the most faithful response we can make.