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19 November 2014

Participating in ‘shared conversations’

Participating in ‘shared conversations’

The Church has not been immune from the impact of the social revolution over human sexuality since the 1960s and even orthodox evangelical views on this issue have come under significant pressure in recent years along with questioning of other orthodox doctrines such as the nature of sin and hell as well as salvation and atonement.

In direct response to questions being raised and amidst a general lack of knowledge and understanding about the issue of human sexuality, the Evangelical Alliance at the end of 2012 published its resource for church leaders entitled Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality. This clearly reaffirms and sets out evangelical understanding of this controversial topic.

Other helpful resources aimed at those wrestling with same sex attraction have since been launched by Alliance member organisations such as those from the Living Out group, the Christian Medical Fellowship, and Core Issues Trust.

Following the Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (the 'Pilling Report') published in November 2013, the Church of England announced a programme of formal 'facilitated conversations' taking place over the next 18 months to address the "strongly held and divergent views …across the Anglican Communion and in the Church of England". Reports from insiders have suggested that Church authorities have effectively determined beforehand the outcome of the 'conversations' and that it has already been decided that same-sex marriages will be permitted or blessed whatever the findings of the consultation –thus risking a cataclysmic split in the Anglican Communion. However, the College of Bishops insists that "the Church of England's pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged during this process of facilitated conversation" and that "no change to the Church of England's teaching on marriage is proposed or envisaged."

At the Evangelical Alliance we have been receiving many requests from member churches for guidance as to how to organise and conduct such 'conversations'. We have been able to offer some help and guidelines and encourage the study and use of Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality.

However, in addition to its own response to the Pilling Report, the Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) has now issued its own resource specifically aimed at equipping those responsible for organising and participating in local 'conversations' to understand and advocate for orthodox beliefs regarding human sexuality. EGGS regards the Pilling process as a great "opportunity for evangelicals to engage in public debate and to offer a positive biblical anthropology, based on the richness of our inherited Christian tradition" and believes that their guidelines "represent a large number of evangelicals who continue to be convinced by an orthodox view on God's rich gift of sexuality (sometimes called a 'traditional' or 'biblical' position)."

The new resource is downloadable from the EGGS website. It includes a library of short, easily understood articles, recommended books and helpful web based resources aimed at building confidence amongst church leaders, small group leaders, students and individual Christians to engage effectively with the Church of England's programme of 'conversations'. Apart from setting out wise guidance relating to the mechanics of conducting meetings in a sensitive way, there is a useful range of articles aimed at providing biblical overviews as well as offering resources for those who wish to compile short series of talks or articles for church meetings and magazines. In addition, the EGGS guide points to video resources appropriate for meetings where speakers are not available and which include personal stories as well as detailed teaching.

The articles themselves cover a wide range of relevant materials including what the Bible actually teaches, questions from science, pastoral issues and cultural challenges. Typical helpful short articles include questions such as:

  • The goodness of sex and sexuality
  • Marriage –is it necessarily between a man and a woman?
  • Is the orthodox/traditional position dependent on a small number of Bible verses?
  • Are evangelicals unreasonably subjective in their selection of the Scriptures they keep and those they reject?
  • If Jesus' emphasis in relationships is love, isn't marriage a quality of relationship rather than a prescribed shape?
  • Science and human sexuality
  • If Jesus didn't condemn homosexuality then is the Church homophobic and obsessed with same-sex sex?
  • How can we expect some people to remain single?
  • Are Christians behind the times on marriage?
  • How do we welcome everyone without necessarily endorsing their beliefs or choices?
  • How can the Church support single people seeking to live a godly life?
  • Is traditional Christian teaching about sex a problem for mission?

We concur with EGGS that this is an excellent opportunity for evangelical Christians to engage effectively with this issue with the future of the Church of England at stake. But it is essential to engage with truth and grace, and EGGS has produced an excellent resource to ensure that participants are properly informed and equipped to make appropriate contributions.

Regionally based meetings are also being convened by EGGS to resource local church leaders for teaching/preaching and supporting members in defending orthodoxy over issues around human sexuality. For dates and venues visit the EGGS website.