The Church of England has shared feedback from people who have taken part in its Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process.
LLF resources were published in 2020 and given to Anglican churches to help members learn and pray together as part of discerning a way forward in relation to matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.
Around 6.400 people responded mostly with a questionnaire. Others submitted artwork and were invited to give their thoughts in a focus group discussions.
The 95-page report entitled Listening with Love and Faith is accompanied with a more detailed technical report and an essay entitled Friendship and the Body of Christ.
Listening with Love and Faith, full of numerous quotes and stories from respondents, said there was a strong desire for the Church to be more inclusive in regards to same-sex marriage.
It stated: "A persistent theme in the survey answers was same-sex marriage. Most of the comments on this theme expressed hope that the LLF Course might contribute to the ‘acceptance of same sex marriage’ or ‘blessing of same sex partnerships’. This came up in focus group discussions as well.”
Rev Canon Rosie Harper, a campaigner for LGBT issues in the Church and trustee of the Ozane Foundation, said the report stated nothing new for her and described the LLF process as “inherently abusive process”.
“On what planet do you think it's acceptable to spend five years talking about whether it's okay to be gay or not? It's just inherently abusive. So I feel bad about it from that point of view. And then the interesting thing is, it's come out sort of really vanilla. It confirms what we already know that there's a breadth of opinion, that there's a strong desire for change, that people are looking for some decisive leadership from the bishops”.
The report said that while many questionnaire respondents hope that the LLF process will help church members will gain greater openness to others’ views and that diversity of opinion in the church will be respectfully acknowledged, others expressed concern that the course will “lead people astray from the Bible.” Some spoke of their traditional “values [as] under threat”.
Rev Dr Ian Paul, a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council, told Premier the juxtaposition of views in the report is what intrigued him.
“On page 91 and 92… what you have there is a story about moving forward, honouring faithfulness and commitment, which says we must recognize and bless same sex relationships. And then immediate on the next page, a story about moving forward with confidence and compassion. And so there's somebody saying… if we're going to really care for people, we've got to actually take the biblical view the teaching of Jesus that marriage is between one man and one woman," he said.
“So there you have it, in two pages, two completely opposite views, one of which is primarily only driven by, I think, a concern to be welcoming and perception of the Church and a sense of felt affirmation.
“The other is really based on a consideration of what scripture teaches. Is his scripture good enough for the Church? And I think there you have the problem we've got in the Church of England. You've got two entirely different, and I would say, entirely irreconcilable ideas.”
The report showed a clear consensus for bishops to give clear leadership on the issues discussed.
The Church said on its website: “These and the LLF resources will support the bishops in their ongoing discernment process as they seek to discern what they believe God is saying to the Church of England today.”
The bishops’ reflections will be brought to the February 2023 sessions of General Synod for decision-making.