Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Times, They Are a Changin'

Just one week after the Scottish Parliament took the first step to allow same-gender couples to marry, the Church of England has published a report which recommends that "clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship."

In other words, it should be considered okay for clergy to offer the kind of private, pastoral response that we Episcopalians have enjoyed in some congregations and dioceses since the 1960s. Of course there have been quiet (and not so quiet) blessings in English churches too – the change here is that they would no longer have a cloak of secrecy. Unlike the plan in Scotland, parishes in the Church of England and the Church of Wales are not legally allowed to offer marriage to gay couples, so that is completely off the agenda, but the suggestion that blessings might be legitimate is a significant change.

The Church of England has made it very clear that the Pilling report is just for discussion and debate; the Church leadership has been falling over its feet to make sure we all understand that this is not a change in policy, just a good idea for more study. Once again, we LGBT Christians are the subject of endless meetings, reports and recommendations as though we are a strange phenomenon to be studied and analyzed.

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
The Pilling report calls for yet more talking and listening, stating that "The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level. This should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation of scripture." It adds that consultation should be conducted "without undue haste, but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two years." For how many years have we been promised that gay and lesbian Christians will be listened to?

Gay Episcopalians will be forgiven a sense of déjà vu – been there and done that. This report echoes so many that we have read over the past forty years. Change here has been slow in coming, but now it seems to be coming faster every day. Our deepest sympathy goes to our friends who are living and working in the trenches of the Church of England where it seems that acceptance comes at snail’s pace and every failure to fully accept is another slap in the face.

But change does creep in. Although the Pilling report is still looking over its shoulder to the rest of the Anglican Communion, it is not afraid to say that, "We do not differ from each other in our desire to welcome the presence and ministry of gay and lesbian people within the Church." (para.73)

The other team has already declared that the "Pilling Report recommends breach of Lambeth Resolution 1:10, and Windsor Report recommendations, and Scripture; [and thus] places position of Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of England in Anglican Communion in doubt." No longer is the Episcopal Church alone out on a limb: the Church of England has officially joined us.

Yes there is a long way to go. As Rev. Dr. Jessica Martin says in the Prologue, "Culturally the whole issue is being made to bear more freight than it can or should possibly carry." Gay, lesbian and transgender equity carries the weight of a global cultural debate and we can unfortunately expect it to take quite a while longer. But the Pilling report takes us a step closer to the tipping point. And for that we thank God.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity and author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.

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