The Church of England has just published the Pilling Report, the report of the working group on human sexuality. Their press release says that its purpose is to be the basis of discussion over the next two years, and not to be a new policy statement.
The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.
The document calls on the church to repent of its homophobia, defined as hostility to gay people, but claims that No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.
The church should pay close attention to the continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex attraction. The evidence is reviewed at pp60-66. Most people are either male or female, some are intersex, some are transsexual. Most only feel heterosexual attraction, some only feel homosexual attraction, some move between the two (and may or may not self-identify as bi). Orientation has a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. Biology is not destiny, but some have a greater propensity to same sex attraction. Are our observed greater problems with mental health, and greater instability in our relationships, due to prejudice and the lack of societal support? Possibly, but not certainly, they say, disagreeing with the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They even suggest that “sexual orientation change efforts” may be effective.
At p97, they assess the implications of this for the church. Belief is not incompatible with science, they say, but while science proceeds by inductive reasoning, theology proceeds by deduction from scripture and tradition. Today’s Christians can change doctrine where it contradicts our experience of the world and of God (para 334) but doctrine stands until there is sufficient evidence to change it.
As the report appears to show the position of the church is worth discussing, and as the position of the church is wrong now, there is some faint hope of improvement. They do say that discussions should take note of the position of the wider Anglican Communion, and as some Anglican churches want to split away because of the CofE’s current position, which they find insufficiently homophobic, we can’t expect rapid movement.
What does the report say about the Bible (pp67ff)? Just that it is complex and disputed, with translation problems and differences of culture, too complex for even a Bishops’ report to summarise usefully. At p176 there is a useful essay by David Runcorn on the Evangelical perspective, accepting same sex relationships “on the basis of, not in spite of, scripture”.