Thursday, December 05, 2013

Reporting Pilling

So the Pilling Report has been published.

The list of those who wrote or spoke to Joe Pilling's working group on human sexuality for the House of Bishops reveals that many conservatives were determined that their voice should be heard, and that many from the differing gay lobby groups also wanted to have a voice.

I'm not entirely clear how many non-interested parties wrote in, which is perhaps an inevitable shame.

The report is careful: it sets out its context very slowly, establishing methodology, its understanding of Anglicanism on several levels, and discussing the differing types of evidence brought before the group. It seeks to be practical and theoretical, and does not deliver any killer new doctrinal statements.

What it does do - importantly - is set out a generous, grace-shaped space for the future. The report understands that there is difficult work to be done, but I think at times instead of describing what the future might look like, it tries to describe what the future might feel like.

In the past, all our discussions on sexuality in Anglicanism have been extraordinarily angst-ridden, as if this was our most precious set of doctrines. But get real; we are about Jesus folks. The Pilling report doesn't say that sentence anywhere - indeed, the Bishop of Runcorn's dissenting statement appeals to Tom Wright's Durham address where he would not put this debate into the 'adiaphora' file. Yet the tone of the whole report gives the Bishop of Runcorn cause for his dissenting statement. All the way through there is a push to lower the angst, to up the grace, to look for the best in those with whom we may disagree and to accept that Christians differ.

That's the key, vital, Anglican nature of this report.

And it doesn't put the Scriptures to one side in order to allow for this. It engages in some debate (throughout; and in the two very lengthy and differing appendices), and has much room for references to more, and clearly shows that freshness and generosity will take us further - if not in changing minds then certainly in how we conduct ourselves as we speak with one another. And that has to be fundamentally Biblical.

I have to admit I am beginning to be saddened by a new popularity of the word 'revisionist'. It gets used when someone doesn't like someone else trying to look at the Scriptures from any fresh angle. 'Revisionist interpretations are to be avoided because the weight of scholarship is against them' is in fact like saying 'New things are to be avoided because there are more old things'. Biblical scholarship is always to be examined; if it handles the Scripture well, it is to be taken seriously whether it fits with our current understanding or not. I love 'revisionism', I thank God for 'revisionism' - in these terms Luther was a 'revisionist'. So was Cranmer. And Hooker. And Calvin. And Aquinas. And Wesley. NT Wright definitely is. These are all people who make us stop and change how we read the Bible. Thank God for these people. To suggest that we ever have everything right is - risking missing out on more. It's not suggesting the truth changes; it's saying that God is wonderful, and still may open our eyes.

But - and this is vital - whilst I don't like the attitude that wants to belittle change, I love the guys that sometimes come out with the attitude. They are vital to the church because their hearts are so good. I want new scholarship; I think the old scholarship doesn't do the Bible justice here because it doesn't work with the bigger picture of God. Yet I want to break bread with the people with whom I disagree - that's Church, that's what Jesus calls us to, and that's the tone I often find in Pilling.

On the day it was published I got sent a link to a new conservative evangelical website supporting gay people. LivingOut is clear: it upholds the trad line; here are a group of gay men who are (somewhat courageously) stating their sexuality very publicly, and adding that they will be celibate or look for a heterosexual relationship.

Honestly, as I read the site, I understand them completely, but disagree with their understanding and application of the Scripture. And I am glad we belong to the same church. It's a big house.

Because that's the other thing I found in Pilling, and this is priceless: nowhere in the findings or recommendations or general tone of the report did I find that it was in any way suggested gay people are sinful or second class. Gay people belong in the big house; there is - at last - officially room.

Even if there is work to be done, even if full equality is a long way off, even if the discipline of the church is still what it always was: there is room. I get that for some 'full equality' is not a goal; I get that for some the current discipline is quite good enough. As I said - I disagree, and with respect, do so because of the Bible.

I am grateful to the Pilling report as I read it for the first time and I hope it will see the Church of England move forward with generosity and grace and care, and perhaps with a few less raised voices along the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

gracious.....reasoned....hopeful.....thank you