Church of England report on sexuality recognises tension on gays in church but urges for understanding

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Today the Church of England published a report on “human sexuality” which notes a tension between the church and contemporary culture, but which recommends that same-sex marriages and civil partnerships should be blessed, and that homophobia should be tackled across the church.

The Pilling Report, also known as the Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, was published today

The working group for the report was headed by Sir Joseph Pilling, and the group released a statement today which said the report “is a substantial document proposing a process of facilitated conversations in the Church of England over a period of perhaps two years. The document offers findings and recommendations to form part of that process of facilitated conversations. It is not a new policy statement from the Church of England.”

Going on, the statement read that the “issues with which the Report grapples are difficult and divisive.”

Sir Pilling commented that “disagreements have been explored in the warmth of a shared faith”, and the group continued to say they hoped reflection would continue to be in “a similar spirit”.

The Report recognised the “rapidly changing context within which the group undertook its work”, and said it had looked “over time”, and changing attitudes of the public through available data, as well as “evidence from science, from scripture and from theologians”, and meetings with gay and lesbian people about their personal insights and experiences.

Addressing a need to tackle homophobia within the church, a need for blessings, and an understanding from those on both sides of the debate around gay people in the church, the report made eighteen recommendations.

The first reads that it “warmly welcomes and affirms the presence and ministry within the church of gay and lesbian people both lay and ordained.”

In keeping with tradition, the Report says that Bishops, gay or straight, should remain celibate. It reads that “it is entirely legitimate for the Church to require higher standards from its clergy than for the laity (and indeed higher standards from its bishops than from the clergy) in various aspects of life. The facilitated conversations should explore the extent to which different principles on sexual conducts should be required of bishops, clergy and laity.”

Three more recommendations look at a proposal from the report for “facilitated conversations” across the church, as well as with other churches, so that those who “disagree deeply about the meaning of scripture on questions of sexuality”, and those with opposing views can understand each other’s concerns.

Later recommendations call on the church to combat all homophobia “whenever and wherever it is found”, and “to repent of the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past.”

Teaching on sexual conduct within the church should not be changed, recommends the report, but the church will offer “appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship.” It goes on to say that no member of the church would be forced to participate in such a blessing.

The report notes that “the church’s teaching on sexuality is in tension with contemporary social attitudes, not only for gay and lesbian Christians, but for straight Christians too.”

The Report was commissioned in January 2012 by the House of Bishops of the Church of England , and included the bishops of Gloucester, Birkenhead, Fulham and Warwick as well as three advisers, who were Professor Robert Song, The Ven Rachel Treweek and the Revd Dr Jessica Martin.

It included a dissenting statement from the Bishop of Birkenhead, who “found himself unable to support all the recommendations made by the group as a whole.”

The report will be discussed by the House of Bishops for the first time next month, and it will go on to be debated by the College of Bishops in January 2014.