Readers in Britain will be particularly struck by the comments directed to the recent Church of England College of Bishops' decision to promote facilitated discussions on human sexuality following the report of the Pilling Committee:
"Earlier this week, the English College of Bishops met to reflect upon the ‘Pilling Report’, commissioned to reflect on how the Church of England should respond to the question of same sex relationships. Its key recommendations were that informal blessings of such unions should be allowed in parish churches and that a two year process of ‘facilitated conversation’ should be set up to address strongly held differences within the Church on this issue.
While we should be thankful that the College of Bishops did not adopt the idea of services for blessing that which God calls sin, it did unanimously approve the conversation process and this is deeply troubling. There has been intensive debate within the Anglican Communion on the subject of homosexuality since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it is difficult to believe that the bishop’s indecision at this stage is due to lack of information or biblical reflection. The underlying problem is whether or not there is a willingness to accept the bible for what it really is, the Word of God.We might agree with the suspicion that in the past, on issues dear to the hearts of doctrinal revisionists in the Anglican Communion, 'facilitated discussions', 'indaba groups' - or whatever term is currently being employed - have been used as simply another means of pursuing the ongoing and seemingly inexorable liberal agenda. Discussion and reflection have been, too often, part of a one way process.
At Lambeth 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion, by an overwhelming majority, affirmed in Resolution 1.10 that homosexual relationships were not compatible with Scripture, in line with the Church’s universal teaching through the ages, but the Pilling Report effectively sets this aside. The conversations it proposes are not to commend biblical teaching on marriage and family, but are based on the assumption that we cannot be sure about what the bible says.
I cannot therefore commend the proposal by the College of Bishops that these ‘facilitated conversations ‘ should be introduced across the Communion. This is to project the particular problems of the Church of England onto the Communion as a whole. As with ‘Continuing Indaba’, without a clear understanding of biblical authority and interpretation, such dialogue only spreads confusion and opens the door to a false gospel because the Scriptures no longer function in any meaningful way as a test of what is true and false ..."
However, where some of us may wish to differ from the GAFCON letter is that, if such reflection on the theology of human sexuality is to be done at all, the arguably much needed conversation, certainly in response to, if not in agreement with, changing social attitudes in some parts of the world, should take place in an ecumenical context, globally cross-cultural and as far removed as possible from the strident lobbying and manipulative emotionalism of the contemporary ecclesial anglosphere and, accordingly, must include and welcome the insights and contributions of the great apostolic Churches of East and West.
All too often in recent years western Anglicans have betrayed our historic claims by behaving as if we were the Universal Church, rather than just a small (and, in the West, declining) part of it. Responsible theological reflection on these issues, as opposed to irresponsible unilateralism, is a duty we owe to ourselves and to the whole Body of Christ.
If theological reflection on the subject of sexuality is not merely a underhand means of pursuing radical change who could possibly object to that?