Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships – letter to General Synod

Dear General Synod Representatives for the Diocese of Oxford,

Re: GS 2055 – Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops

I am writing to you in your capacity as a General Synod Member representing the Diocese of Oxford, to urge you to vote not to take note of the above paper during the take note debate in the forthcoming session of General Synod.

I was part of the Shared Conversations process which led up to this report, participating in the shared conversations involving members of our own diocese in March 2016. I found the process challenging and at times painful, but was also greatly encouraged by the degree of openness, respect, and honest discussion between brothers and sisters in Christ which I encountered.

Sadly, I do not see this reflected in the report of the House of Bishops at all. I think it is disappointing that the bishops did not seek to reflect the outcomes of the Shared Conversations, nor did they apparently make any effort to include the views and experiences of LGBT Christians – who will be most effected by the content of the report – in the process of writing it.

If Synod chooses to take note of this report, I am concerned about the effect it will have, both within the church and on our mission, which is why I am asking you to consider voting not to take note.

Within the church, it has been obvious for many decades that there is not a consensus regarding the place of LGBT people in the church, and the status of relationships between people of the same sex. A very wide range of views – all based on people’s prayerful interpretation of scripture – were expressed during the Shared Conversations, but there is no acknowledgement of or allowance for this theological diversity in the bishops’ report. Instead, the bishops seek to impose ‘unity’ by failing to acknowledge the differences that exist, rather than trying to address them in ways which could lead to true unity.

Many LGBT Christians, myself included, have been deeply hurt and angered by this report, and many have decided that this is the tipping point at which they can no longer stay in a church which does not seem to want us. I am not walking away, but I understand why people are, and I think this should be a cause of sorrow for the whole church. ‘Unity’ which causes faithful men and women to feel that they can no longer be part of the church is no unity at all – it is deeply damaging to the body of Christ.

However, far more important is the damage which this report will do to the mission of the church. I work with young people within and outside the church, and it is clear that they see our response as a church to LGBT people as discriminatory, homophobic, and lacking in love. Christian young people identify it as a major impediment to sharing the gospel with their peers, and non-Christian young people are put off by what they (understandably) perceive as the hypocrisy of a church which preaches love and practises the opposite. I know this situation is by no means limited to young people.

If the Church of England is to be a church for all people – and if, more importantly, we are to live out Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all people” – we must begin to engage with the reality of the people we seek to serve. If the Church of England is even to be a place for all Anglicans, we must acknowledge and respect the diversity that exists within the body of Christ.

I had thought that the Shared Conversations were beginning to take us in this direction, but the bishops’ report bares little or no resemblance to that process, and is a disappointing retrograde step. I urge you to vote not to take note, in order to demonstrate to the bishops that this is not good enough. At the very least, Synod deserves a report which accurately reflects the diversity of the church and the reality of the Shared Conversations process.

Please be assured that you and the whole Synod will be in my prayers during the coming session, and I am most grateful for your work as a representative of this diocese.

Yours in Christ,

Ruth Harley
Children’s and Families’ Minister
All Saints Church, High Wycombe

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