Living in Love and Faith process is a 'call to action' for Church of England - bishop

(Photo: Unsplash/Gabby Orcutt)

The bishop overseeing the Church of England's Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process told its parliamentary body on Tuesday that the project is a "call to action" for the Church.

Resources from the LLF process are due to be published before the next meeting of the General Synod in July.
They are intended to be used within dioceses, deaneries and parishes for discussions around love, relationships, marriage and sexuality.

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, said he hoped that the release of the resources would mark the start of a period of "whole Church learning".

In an update to the General Synod meeting today in London, Bishop Cocksworth said the LLF resources were a chance to "embark on a new way of doing things", as he repeatedly spoke of his desire to see a "change in culture" within the Church.

"The LLF teaching and learning resources are effectively a call to action, an invitation for the Church," he said.

"It's a call to learning together, using the resources to engage more deeply with the Bible and with the Church's theological tradition, with the context we find ourselves in, in relation to what it means to be human, to be sexual, to be loved by God, and to be made in the image of God.

"It is a call to relationship, relationships of openness, honesty, mutual vulnerability. It is a call to engage with difference, to step out of the comfort zones of our like-minded church communities, to meet those who understand things differently from us."

He added: "It is a call to confession and repentance as we discover and come to terms with our prejudices, blindspots, fears, hypocrisies, and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our learning together."

A book, online library, films and a podcast series are some of the LLF resources to be launched soon.

Eeva John, LLF Enabling Officer, said that the last three years of meetings and discussions as part of the project had "not been plain sailing", as she spoke of "tears of frustration and confusion" as well as "moments of epiphany".

As the working group prepares to launch the resources, she said there had been "an ever louder chorus of voices" expressing disappointment that the LLF process is designed to produce teaching and learning resources, and not a set of recommendations or final report into the Church's position on sexuality.

"There are voices claiming that the resources are favouring one perspective over another and interestingly these are coming from both sides," she said.

She said that one of the aims of the resources was to help Anglicans "to reach out beyond their echo chambers, to have informed conversations about what it means to be human, what it means to love, to be sexual, to be faithful, to be embodied members of the body of Christ, [to have] conversations shaped by Scripture, nourished by the Church's tradition, conducted with godly reason that's attentive to God's world, enriched by stories of lived experience, conversations that complexify, rather than simplify".

Earlier in the proceedings, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Rev Christine Hardman, introduced a set of six pastoral principles devised by the LLF working group to aid discussions, which she dubbed "the six pervasive evils": acknowledging prejudice, speaking into silence, addressing ignorance, casting out fear, admitting hypocrisy and paying attention to power.

She said it was her fear that the principles would "remain just a pack of cards that stay on people's shelves or, worse, in piles not used somewhere in bookshops".

"Just the fact they exist isn't enough. We need to live them, we need to use them," she said.

Later in the session, the floor was opened up for questions, with Ian Paul, editor at evangelical publisher Grove Books, expressing his desire to see the Church of England use the LLF process "give us a renewed commitment to the apostolic inheritance of the teaching of the New Testament".

"I've been struck by the commitment to listening and the commitment to one another, but what seems to have been slightly more muted in the discussion so far is the commitment to re-engage with the teaching of Jesus," he said.

"I think we need to be honest and say both within the Anglican tradition and within this room there is a pulling away from whether Jesus really is a good pastor and whether His teaching is what we need to hear - that teaching which I believe is also echoed in the teaching of Paul."

Jayne Ozanne, a lesbian and campaigner for LGBT equality in the Church of England, said that she did not want to see the Church of England "just keep kicking this can down the road for more discussions".

"The truth is, it's not been a safe space for many involved with the LLF," she said.

"Yet again, it's the LGBT community who are the pawn, who are putting themselves in a place of unsafety while their lives are unpicked, while their hopes are dashed, while they're not allowed to be married, while they're in places where they're told that they don't listen to Jesus."

Elaine Storkey, a member of the LLF pastoral advisory group, said it was important that all Anglicans feel safe in the Church.

Sharing her experience of being no-platformed by a women's conference for being a member of the Church of England, she said it was incumbent upon Anglicans to model a different way.

"I want everyone to feel safe in the Church because we should have open doors where we can embrace one another and not create these hostile zones which are fearful for people to walk in, because that's what they do outside the Church. We can't go in that direction," she said.

Addressing some of the concerns, Bishop Cocksworth said that the purpose of the LLF process was not to state definitively what the Church believes about sexuality but build "resonance" between people "so that they can not necessarily agree, but at least speak truly of what they believe as they speak of Jesus and the Scriptures and the faith that we have received, and then hear the other person do the same and begin to at least understand each other".

"And this is the big test, to see whether it is possible to come to a deeper understanding together of Jesus," he said.

"So it's not been a case of everyone signing on a line: this is exactly what we believe. But there has been that common commitment."

The bishop reiterated this later when he said the LLF process was an opportunity to learn rather than to cut a "deal".

"One of the pressures I've felt all along in this is a lot of people have expressed a real frustration that we're just not finding where the deal is to be done and then on the basis of that deal work out how do we carve up the Church," he said.

"What this is trying to say is: let's just give ourselves a little bit more time, not to go on forever, but to make the best use of this investment in learning and opportunity to learn, to see whether things might just look different through it.

"So that's what I think our task has been in a sense, just to hold back 'the deal' and say that God has more than that for us."