Lee Gatiss explains what to expect and how to prepare for the publication of the Living in Love and Faith resources next week.
The Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith teaching and learning resources are going to be published on Monday 9th November. They will explore questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage. The resources have been commissioned by the House of Bishops, and will include a book, a series of films and podcasts, and a course which have been developed over the last three years by a group of more than 40 people from across the spectrum of opinion in the Church.
All this is intended to initiate yet another process of “learning and engagement”, such as we have had several times in the past. The intention is that this will contribute to the Bishops’ discernment of a way forward in relation to questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage. There have been several reports on these issues over the last 40 years. Each time, there has been a statement of the traditional, biblical, orthodox view of the subject, as well as a lot of space given to air opposing views. I have many of the official reports, from Homosexual Relationships in 1979, to Issues in Human Sexuality, and its sequel, Some Issues in Human Sexuality, to the Pilling Report just a few years ago, a Faith and Doctrine Commission report on Marriage recently, and so on.
While I think it is right to study contemporary questions like this thoroughly, and to be open to hearing all sides in a debate, the reason we open our minds has always been the same as the reason we open our mouths — in order to close them again on something solid. The problem here is that we are never allowed to come to a settled mind on this, and it is repeatedly said that clergy are free to preach and teach the opposite of what the church has always believed.
The Church of England’s official position was expressed in a motion of General Synod some years ago. Sex properly belongs within a marriage between a man and a woman, and all sex outside of this — both heterosexual and homosexual — is sinful, and to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. Synod also declared that ‘all Christians are called to be exemplary in all matters of morality, including sexual morality; and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders’.
The Lambeth Conference of bishops from all over the global Anglican Communion in 1998, reiterated this teaching. It also added that “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.” Their resolution was very clear that the bishops “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”
This historical and international consensus has been worn down by repeated actions, especially in the United States where the episcopal church has done all it can to undermine the traditional view and tear the fabric of the Communion as a result. Just this week, a bishop I know personally was disciplined and forced out of that church because he refused to allow gay weddings to be performed in churches in his diocese.
Because some people are saying this: Jesus and his apostles were wrong not to embrace a change to their understanding of sex and marriage. They were just following what believers had always believed. They didn’t know what we now know about human nature. Jesus didn’t know people like we do, so we can’t take what he and his apostles say as authoritative or sufficient for us now. This is what we hear in the world around us, and what some are now saying in the church.
We have to be prepared for this to get harder and harder, as the question is put again and again. Our culture in the West has changed, and the Christian view of things is now thought to be immoral and repressive or even evil. You may know that already from the way Pride has worked its way into every school and workplace in the country. So be prepared for the coming debate to be a difficult and personal one, not just in churches but in offices and on the streets.
So, make sure you know what is going on. If you can’t face reading the whole Living in Love and Faith report itself (LLF), and watching all the videos and so on, you’ll be able to find summaries and critiques of it all on the Church Society website and podcast, in coming days.
The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) will be producing some resources around these issues: make sure you get them when they come out, and perhaps commend them to others. There’s already an excellent book called Glorify God in your Body (available free here) which we in CEEC have produced, together with a study guide suitable for use in small groups or by individuals. It covers all this ground, in a faithful and biblical way.
Above all, please pray. This is not about different parties in the church fighting a political battle. It is about the authority and sufficiency of God’s word, and the best way for human flourishing in a confused and confusing world. And if we take the Bible seriously, then it is also ultimately about people’s place in the kingdom of God.