The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) acknowledges the hard work of those who have contributed to the production of the Pilling Report and notes that the Archbishops are clear that “it is not a new policy statement from the Church of England”.
More time will be needed to consider the Report before giving a detailed response and we are very aware that, in relation to its recommendations, “how they were arrived at is as important as their content” (paragraph 490). We welcome the fact that our consideration of the Report will be helped by the dissenting statement from the Bishop of Birkenhead. We stand with him and are grateful to him for setting these out within the report. We believe it is vital that his criticisms are taken seriously by the House and College of Bishops before proceeding to structure conversations on sexuality in the wider church.
We are concerned that the media is already focussing on the proposal in recommendations 16 and 17 for permitting public services “to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship”, including potentially same-sex civil marriages. The CEEC’s St Matthias Day Statement of 2012, which we submitted in evidence to the Pilling Group, sets out clearly why we believe this would mark a departure from biblical truth and Anglican teaching. It concludes by stating that “Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships or affirming or blessing sexual activity outside marriage is contrary to God’s word. When a church does either of these things it therefore becomes difficult to recognise it as part of the visible Church of Christ”. The fact that such recommendations can be made is, we believe, a surface sign that there are deeper and more serious flaws in the report as a whole.
It is clear that the Church of England is going to face difficult discussions and decisions about human sexuality in the coming year. We look to our bishops, individually and corporately, to be faithful to Scripture, to continue upholding the practice of the Anglican Communion as set out in Lambeth I.10, and to encourage all their clergy and people to do the same.
We believe that Scripture offers us a clear vision for our flourishing, personally and socially, as human beings made in God’s image, including how we live best as sexual creatures. As evangelicals in the Church of England we are committed to bearing witness to this in word and deed and to offering it as good news to our nation in the face of what the Archbishop of Canterbury has described as a “sexual revolution”. We are concerned that the recommendations for public services and the need for a dissenting statement signal that this Report seeks to move us away from that vision. We therefore call on evangelicals to renew their commitment to biblical teaching and to pray that the Church of England as a whole will do the same.