Bishop of Norwich speaks about sexuality report
The Church of England's law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide "maximum freedom" for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church's doctrine of marriage itself, the Bishop of Norwich has said today.
As Chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality, Bishop Graham James was addressing a press conference at Church House in Westminster this morning (January 27) on a report from the House of Bishops published today on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after a series of Shared Conversations.
The report attempts to sum up the Church's position after a two-year process of shared conversations on the subject of human sexuality, involving clergy and laity.
Bishop Graham said: “We hope that the tone and register of this report will help to commend it, though we recognise it will be challenging reading for some. This is no last word on this subject. For there are very different views on same sex relationships within the Church, and within the House of Bishops, mainly based on different understandings of how to read scripture.
“The House is agreed, however, that our present teaching documents do not address some elements of the contemporary situation regarding marriage and relationships in our culture.
“The House of Bishops believes that the Church of England's teaching on marriage, which it holds in common with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the majority of the churches of the Reformation, should continue to be expressed in the terms found in Canon B30, namely that "the Church of England affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is a union permanent and life-long, of one man with one woman…"
“The report affirms the place of lesbian and gay people within the Church. We reaffirm for Christians our identity in Christ is primary, and of greater significance than gender, sexuality, age, nationality or any other characteristic. So no change in doctrine is proposed but it is often pastoral practice - how we treat people - which matters most. This means establishing across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people, for those who experience same sex attraction, and for their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church. And so we speak in the report about re-examining the existing framework of our pastoral practice to permit maximum freedom within it,” said Bishop Graham.
The paper recommends that bishops prepare a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships to replace or expand upon documents drawn up in the 1990s.
It concludes that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples - which allows clergy to provide informal prayers for those marrying or forming a civil partnership - is not clear enough and should be revisited.
And it calls for new guidance to be prepared about the kind of questions put to candidates for ordination - irrespective of their sexual orientation - about their lifestyle.
It also speaks of the need for the Church to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirm the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.
The report, to be discussed by the Church's General Synod next month.
Read the full statement here.