Coming Out at General Synod

General Synod Feb 2014The Church of England’s General Synod met in London this week and took the next steps in dealing with two contentious issues.

The first was legislation to bring women bishops a step closer, unpicking the fiasco of November 2013 when a small number of ‘No’ votes held the church to ransom.  This week however, the vote was decisive and clear.  The next steps of legislation sailed though and actually speeded up the process.  As result we may finally see women bishops early next year.

The second was a presentation on the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality with an opportunity for Synod members to ask questions about the process by which its recommendations are to be considered and implemented.

The Archbishop of Canterbury referred to both these issues in his presidential address.  On the subject of sexuality, he talked of enabling the Church of England to ‘disagree well’ and seek the flourishing of every part of the church – progressive and conservative.  He also echoed previous statements he has made about the dangers of sticking with the current position which refuses to acknowledge or endorse same-sex relationships.

“We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling.  There is great fear among some, here and round the world,  that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes.  This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.”

But the most striking contribution to that debate came in the questions on the Pilling Report, when Canon Simon Butler posed the following question:

“My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don’t have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I’ve always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know this too.

My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as licensed priests, deacons and bishops in the Church rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my personal spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider church I think we will all need to have a clear answer to that question.”

Simon is an evangelical vicar in South London.  Although his sexuality has been known to his friends for some time, this is the first time he has spoken in such a public way at General Synod about it.  His example is both an encouragement and a challenge to church leaders and Bishops to lift the veil of silence and speak openly and truthfully about their sexuality. 

It must have taken considerable courage to make his statement and yet this is the kind of honesty which we need, if we are to have the genuine and open conversations which will lead us all forward ‘in Spirit and in Truth’.

To read the Archbishops address in full, follow this link


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