Church Pastoral Aid Society under pressure over position on sexuality

Editor's note: A response from the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) has been appended to the end of this article in full. 

The Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) has been forced to reconsider its position on sexuality after a social media storm.

The mission agency, which is well known for its children's summer Ventures and their patronage of hundreds of Church of England churches, had taken seriously the House of Bishops' request that those with concerns about the new "Prayers of Love and Faith" should be transparent about their reasons.

On Saturday, the Trustees of CPAS endorsed the position taken by the Evangelical Alliance, which describes itself as "an authentic, mainstream evangelical response to human sexuality in general and sexually active same-sex partnerships in particular".

CPAS's outworking of this position appears to have been carefully considered, balancing the desire to "affirm God's love and concern for all human beings, whatever their sexuality, and so repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex", with a commitment to "oppose moves within certain churches to accept and/or endorse sexually active same-sex partnerships as a legitimate form of Christian relationship and to permit the ordination to ministry of those in such sexual relationships".

While many orthodox Anglicans were encouraged by their clarity, more progressive members of the Church of England disagreed and took to social media to drive their point home. One person on X, formerly Twitter, wrote, "CPAS has fallen into the hands of fanatics." Others described the position as "toxic", and challenged CPAS' right both to oppose same-sex blessings and maintain their responsibility for appointing vicars to parishes.

However, one section, which many might think promoted the prayerful support of consenting adults who experience same-sex attraction and wish to live chaste lives, is where the pressure has been applied: "We welcome and support the work of those individuals and organisations who responsibly seek to help Christians who experience same-sex attraction as in conflict with their commitment to live in accordance with biblical teaching. This help will involve counsel and pastoral support to live a chaste life and, as part of this process, some may seek and experience changes in the strength or direction of their same-sex attractions."

It appears it was the accusation that CPAS was promoting 'conversion therapy', in conflict with a motion passed at General Synod in 2017, which led CPAS to change position on Monday and post this message on their website: "For the avoidance of any doubt, CPAS is opposed to any form of conversion therapy. In response to concerns, we have removed reference to the Evangelical Alliance document referred to as 'Affirmations of human sexuality' whilst we work further to express the CPAS position more clearly."

It is not known whether the Trustees of CPAS felt that they had to withdraw their original position purely because of the reaction on social media or whether pressure was brought to bear in more formal ways. The Archbishop of the Church in Wales stated on X that he planned to write to complain to the trustees of CPAS.

What is certain is that many orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England are now feeling very nervous. If a large organisation like CPAS can be silenced by a social media campaign, then the pressure on local clergy to acquiesce to public opinion or face similar complaints only increases.

In their recent Pastoral Guidance accompanying the prayers of Love and Faith, the Bishops wrote, "It is within [heterosexual] marriage that sexual intimacy finds its proper place." Fine words, but meaningless, if the House of Bishops will not publicly support organisations such as CPAS, who wish to encourage the prayerful support of those, whether same-sex attracted or opposite-sex attracted, who seek help in their struggle to live chaste single lives or remain sexually faithful to their spouse.

Similarly, such words are meaningless if the Lords Spiritual allow Baroness Burt's 'Conversion Therapy Prohibition' Bill to go through Parliament unamended.

The House of Bishops meets next week.

CPAS Trustee Statement, 11 January 2024

We know there have been concerns raised in recent days about CPAS' position on sexuality, and, most significantly, whether CPAS is a safe and welcoming organisation for people of all sexual orientations. We want to respond to these concerns directly.

We believe that every church and residential holiday we support should be a place of welcome and a community of love for anyone who attends, no matter their belief, gender, sexual orientation or background.

In the interests of transparency, the trustees of CPAS posted a statement in February last year, updated in November, to clarify their position on the Prayers of Love and Faith. Churches within our patronage represent a broad family, holding a spectrum of convictions, and our intention was to provide clarity about the trustees' position, namely that they hold to the doctrine of the Church of England on marriage and sexual ethics.

In the November update, we posted links to three frameworks: the CPAS Basis of Faith, Outworkings of Faith and the Evangelical Alliance's Affirmations on Human Sexuality which was written in 2012.

On Monday 8th January, we removed the link to that 2012 version of the Evangelical Alliance's Affirmations on Human Sexuality following concerns raised about, for example, whether some wording within the document could be interpreted as supportive of conversion therapy.

To be absolutely clear, CPAS is opposed to conversion therapy, and seeks to uphold the highest standards of safeguarding and pastoral best practice. The Evangelical Alliance has been working on producing a revised version of the document for many months, and the CPAS Trustees wrote to them last year on this matter.

For 188 years, CPAS has existed as an evangelical Anglican mission agency, working with people from a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds so that people of all ages might come to know the good news of Jesus. We have training in place to ensure that Venture and Falcon holidays are safe, welcoming and accessible to a diversity of children and young people of any belief, race, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and financial circumstance. We provide training for church leaders which is designed to serve people from different theological positions. We work with bishops, archdeacons, elected parish representatives and a wide range of patrons to appoint a diversity of mission-minded clergy to grow local churches.

We believe that the Christian faith is good news for everyone, and we will continue to reflect that conviction in all our ministries.