Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) commentators criticised it for entrenching homophobic and excluding attitudes in the Church. Conservative evangelicals and traditionalists criticised it for attacking orthodox understandings of scripture and conforming to the whims of the world. In fact, it was criticised from all quarters, across the theological and sociological spectrum.
The report (which is not a policy statement, as the Church is keen to point out) is the result of two years’ investigation by a working group headed up by Sir Joseph Pilling, and presents 18 findings and recommendations to be considered by the Church for two years. Included in these is a recommendation that the Church should repent of homophobia and for failing to rebuke it, as well as one that nobody should be accused of homophobia just for holding to ‘traditional Christian teaching’ on same-sex relationships. Proposals like these, clearly aimed at balance, have instead angered activists on all sides of the debate.
The report asks the Church to recognise that its current teachings are out of step with English society and that it should monitor closely scientific developments in the study of same-sex attraction. This has, predictably, annoyed more conservative voices in the Communion, who see it as pandering to the world rather than obeying God’s commands in scripture. They are far from happy with the report’s approach to scripture itself, too.
Proposals aimed at balance have angered activists on all sides
Rev Dr Mike Ovey, principal of Oak Hill theological college, for example, referred to ‘imprecision of thought’ on the part of the report, which he called ‘extremely unfortunate’. He was referring to the report’s argument that the scriptures were unclear in their attitude towards same-sex relations. Pilling group member Rt Rev Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead, publicly concluded that he could not sign the report for similar reasons. ‘I am not persuaded that the biblical witness on same-sex sexual behaviour is unclear’, he said in a statement, which also affirmed his agreement with much in the report.
LGBT campaigners and those characterising their position as more progressive, on the other hand, objected to what they saw as the report’s pandering to conservatives, as well as for ignoring issues specific to transgendered people, and generallynot going far enough in its welcome of LGBT people and lifestyles. While the report recommended lifting the ban on blessing same-sex marriages (if agreed at a local level), it also recommended that no national liturgy be provided for this and that clergy should not perform same-sex marriages. Campaigner and writer for the liberal Christian website Ekklesia, Symon Hill, wrote that he had never been so alienated by an official Church report, which he called ‘depressing’
Hill’s view is fairly representative of same-sex relationship affirming voices, though Rev Benny Hazlehurst, the secretary of Accepting Evangelicals, did welcome the report for the ‘small steps’ it made towards church services for same-sex couples and its recognition of diversity within the Church.
And that last point may be the most important. The Church of England encompasses a staggeringly broad range of attitudes to scripture, sex and Church life. As the Christian blogger known as The Church Mouse wrote in response to the Pilling Report, the Church ‘should admit at the outset that there is no answer to this question which will accommodate the full spectrum of opinion’
Pilling: Key conclusions
The Church should repent for not rebuking homophobia
Same-sex unions should be blessed but without national liturgy
Holding traditional/conservative views does not equal homophobia
Chaste, same-sex-attracted Christians should be affirmed
Gay and lesbian people are affirmed in ministry