By John Martin
Leaked versions of the much-anticipated House of Bishops report to General Synod fanned expectations of a shift in the Church of England’s policy on sexuality. —Multiple articles gave an impression that the church was about to adopt a laissez-faire approach.
Not so. The 16-page report makes it clear that the bishops have no plans to redefine marriage or officially to bless gay unions. The bishops did concede, however, that the system in which prospective clergy are quizzed about their attitudes to sexuality was not working. While calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people, the report put forward no plans for radical change.
The Bishop of Norwich, who chaired the drafting committee and presented the report to the media, said the church should not “adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time.” He said the report sought to give gay and lesbian people “maximum freedom” without changing the church’s doctrine of marriage.
He promised that the bishops would produce a fresh report on sexuality and marriage because existing provisions, based on the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality, no longer worked.
Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure.” Some warned that clergy would disregard church rules about sexuality.
Conservative voices welcomed the report, although several said it did not go far enough. GAFCON welcomed the decision not to recommend a change to church teaching on marriage. It said the report had “taken seriously the views of the global Anglican Communion.” GAFCON nevertheless doubted if the document would “guarantee the maintenance of orthodoxy.”
Bishops have met four times since mid-2016 after two years of shared conversations on sexuality. The report will be discussed at next month’s synod under a “take note” motion, which signals there will be no full-scale debate or vote on its substance until later.
Persecution of Christians Grows
Open Doors, the human rights campaigning charity founded by the Dutch Bible smuggler Brother Andrew, says global persecution of Christians has climbed for the fourth consecutive year.
A new report from Open Doors, which has monitored persecution for more than 60 years, says India has risen to 15 on the list of countries in which practicing Christians are most likely to be persecuted.
North Korea is the worst. The report claims, on average, more than 15 Christians were physically attacked every week in India in 2016, with a sharp increase in violence against Christians after accession to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014.
“The suffering of Christians simply because of their faith is taking place on a staggering scale,” the report said. “But it is not only Christians who suffer. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and many others suffer persecution too.”
It notes Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights affirmed the rights of people from every faith and none to practice their beliefs.
India’s Muslim neighbor, Pakistan, rose to fourth place on the list, even more than northern Nigeria. In Somalia, second on the list, at least a dozen Christians were killed this year by al-Shabab militants.
Freedom of religion or belief “cannot remain the Cinderella of human rights,” the report said.
Bishops Concerned for Holy Land
The Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessum, Bishop of Southwark, has made an ecumenical visit to the Holy Land with several Roman Catholic bishops.
“Sadly, this visit has brought home the stark reality that 50 years on from the 1967 war, the prospects for a negotiated settlement look as distant as ever, while the costs of maintaining the status-quo look alarmingly prohibitive to both sides,” the bishops said in a communiqué.
“Now is the time, before the creation of new facts on the ground finally close the window of opportunity on a two-state solution, for both Palestinians and Israelis to recommit to working towards a negotiated political settlement that provides security for Israelis, justice for Palestinians and peace for all.”
Christians, the bishops said, “continue to be a moderating force for reconciliation and, through the large number of Christian institutions, offer vital services to the wider community.”
Liverpool Reshapes Curate Training
The Diocese of Liverpool has announced plans for a radical change in the way curates are deployed and trained. Normally a curate serves with a single vicar (rector) for as many as four years.
The change envisions shorter curacies that blend wider experience and training in core aspects of mission and ministry. Curates would probably work alongside different priestly trainers.
The scheme is being piloted in Wigan, a town made famous by George Orwell’s book, The Road to Wigan Pier, which highlighted the poor working and living conditions of its residents in the 1930s.
“We have listened carefully to our curates and training incumbents and reflected on the experience of the national church,” said Suzanne Matthews, Liverpool’s learning manager responsible for curacy development. “We know existing models don’t match current needs and will not support the church into the future. So we are looking to grow and develop models and ideas that will help our curates become fully fit for mission.”