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LLF Working Groups - is it just the next step on the travelator?

The Church of England finally announced the membership of the three Working Groups that will continue the work of implementing the outcomes of Living in Love and Faith. The press release says that the role of the Working Groups is to:

"...feed into the Programme Board, helping to shape recommendations to be presented for consideration at the House and College of Bishops ahead of bringing an outline proposal to the July meeting of the General Synod."

In September 2023, Anglican Futures published a blog called "Oh, Mr Porter" describing the way that those 'behind the scenes' have been working for at least ten years to ensure that the majority of people in the Church of England compromise on questions of human sexuality.

As David Porter, Strategy Consultant to the Archbishop of Canterbury, told General Synod members in 2015,

“It is my job to reconcile. I hope that 80% of the Church of England can find a place of compromise. Fracture will happen.”

In February 2024, the Lead Bishop for Living in Love and Faith, the Rt Rev Martin Snow outlined further workstreams in GS 2346, including the need for:

"Policy development on other pastoral reassurance measures including exploring the minimum formal structural changes necessary to enable as many as possible to stay within the Church of England.

Little has changed in nine years - 80% has become as "many as possible" - but still there is an acceptance that compromise will lead to fracture.

The process by which David Porter sought to achieve this compromise was compared to a 'travelator' because "once you are on it, just like a travelator, there is no alternative route - getting off is difficult, potentially dangerous and comes with the threat of being deemed disloyal/ fractious– so most stay on.

What we know of the next stage of the LLF process and the composition of the new working groups suggests that, again, little has changed and the 'Travelator' is still trundling along.

"Oh, Mr Porter" set out five steps. This blog shows how each step applies to the new Working Groups.

Step 1: Set the parameters of the conversation.

There are three groups and each has been set a particular task:

The Pastoral Guidance Working Group are to "draft 'Part 3' of the Pastoral Guidance" - "which explores ministry, the life of clergy and lay ministers and the ministry of bishops". This includes the vexed question of whether clergy should be allowed to enter into same-sex civil marriages and whether such relationships can, or should, be presumed to be celibate.

The Prayers of Love and Faith Working Group are tasked with planning "the process by which standalone [services of ] Prayers of Love and Faith can be brought forward for authorisation or approval".

The Pastoral Provision Working Group are to "draft an outline proposal for the minimum structural provision that is both necessary and proportionate".

It is likely that further parameters will be announced as the Working Groups gather, but even in these brief statements it is worth recognising that the way that these Groups have been set up exclude the possibility of the orthodox position being heard in a coherent fashion.

This is particularly true in the second two groups.

The parameters mean that the introduction of 'standalone services' are no longer a question of principle and have instead become a question of realisation. In other words, the group are no longer asking 'Should such services happen at all?' but only, 'Given that they will take place, what is the best way of introducing them?'.

Thus, the orthodox are put on the back foot from the start. The danger is that anything they could usefully contribute to the debate (for example, the arguments made by Andrew Goddard about the link between ethics and doctrine) will be considered irrelevant. So, the orthodox will be forced to remain silent or facilitate a process that they don't believe should happen at all.

Similarly, before the debate has even begun, the parameters given to the third group require that any structural provision, or reassurance, should be the "minimum" "necessary" and must be "proportionate".

Minimum must, at the very least, rule out the idea of a Third Province.

As was seen above, it has already been said that 'necessary' is limited to that which enables, "as many as possible to stay". The expressed needs of any minority can therefore be ignored, as long as a few who describe themselves as orthodox accept the alternative.

Proportionality is also a weasel-word. The majority of General Synod and the Majority of those on the Working Groups, refuse to accept that blessing same-sex relationships is a matter on which some people cannot "agree to disagree", This in-built bias means it is hard to imagine how the majority will consider any provision that goes beyond an opt-out clause to be proportionate.

There is a real danger of salami-slicing tactics being used to dismiss any form of provision at all. Unless those representing 'The Alliance' are able to articulate precisely what the minimum requirements are, and all commit to leaving the Church of England if they are not provided.

Step 2: Define the relationships.

On announcing the Working Groups, the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, Lead Bishop for the LLF process, said: “I am hugely grateful on to all the members of the working groups for offering their time, energy and broad experience to supporting this process. I know that this comes at some cost for many people but I am confident that these groups will be fruitful both in terms of good relationships, and that they will enable us to make real progress in the LLF work.”

There is, therefore, an expectation that relationships within these groups will be "good" - which is really code for 'civilised' or 'uncontentious'. It would not be conducive to "good relationships" to cast doubt on whether another member of the group was seeking to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. Nor would it be appropriate to explain that when a church leaders steps away from the Apostolic teaching the correct response is to discipline them, rather than accomodate them.

The Travelator relies on the social pressure to conform - and a residential setting is an excellent way to increase that pressure and isolate, and even demean, anyone who does anything to spoil the clubbable atmosphere. The orthodox would be well advised to remember the words of J.C Ryle, the firts Bishop of Liverpool:

"If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue rather than a sin…He is the schismatic who causes the schism…Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing. It is not unity that pleases God."

Step 3: Control the flow of information.

Christopher Landau, who was a member of the previous Pastoral Guidance Implementation Group wrote on X this week, "I hope all those attending the LLF mini-break in Leicestershire have been given full, confidential access to the legal advice previously given to the House of Bishops. Without it, surely the groups' ability to 'feed in' to the Programme Board's work is significantly impaired." No answer has been forthcoming.

Similarly, the power of the 'experts' in the different groups cannot help but shape the conversation. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that both of those chosen to represent the Faith and Order Commission in the Pastoral Guidance Working Group believe that issues of human sexuality are adiaphora. Neither is it an accident that the bishops in the Prayers of Love and Faith Group signed a letter calling for, "the removal of all restrictions on clergy entering same-sex civil marriages".

Yet, it is what happens to the information after it has been shared in the room that proves the Travelator is in operation. These working groups are decidely not decision-making bodies - rather they have been set up to be more like 'focus groups'. One might even think that this is the quasi-Delphi method so loved of David Porter writ large.

The Press Release described how the Working Groups would "...feed into the Programme Board, helping to shape recommendations to be presented for consideration at the House and College of Bishops ahead of bringing an outline proposal to the July meeting of the General Synod."

This means that:

  • The carefully selected Working Groups are limited in what they can say and not say by externally set parameters.

  • The bishops in each group can then carefully select which elements of the conversation they choose to take from the Working Groups to feedback to the Programme Board.

  • The Programme Board can then put their own spin on that feedback before bringing their version to the Bishops.

  • The House and College of Bishops are then able to determine for themselves the final wording to sent to General Synod in July 2024.

  • And of course, should the laity or clergy seek to amend anything the House of Bishops bring to Synod, the House of Bishops can always vote them down.

It is hard to think of a less transparent process - and while the members of the working parties are, of course, accountable to God for what they say and what they agree to - they should not be blamed for what comes out at the end of this sausage machine. It is quite possible that certain views, however well expressed, will in the end be ignored.

Step 4: Control who is “in the room.”

The majority of those selected to be part of the Working Groups are members of General Synod, who applied to be part of the process. As such they represent those who both have sufficient faith in the system to believe it is worth taking part and that the Programme Board have sufficient faith in to encourage a "good" conversation.

To understand better who is represented, Anglican Futures analysed recent voting records. The results of nine indicative votes [1] are set out below. The number in brackets refers to the number of the vote on the order paper and the colour code is an indication of whether an individual voted with the 'progressive' (peach) or 'orthodox' (blue) majority. It goes without saying that such a binary approach is simplistic at best, and that unless the orthodox are all crystal clear about what is acceptable, and what is not, then the differences between them will be exploited to the full.

The 'balance' of those leaning towards a progressive view and those leaning towards an orthodox view, probably represents the balance in General Synod. This means that the orthodox are in the minority.

As, was suggested, many of the "usual suspects" have not been chosen to take part - for example - Anglican Futures will miss Professor Helen King's insights and her repeated call for a transparent process. It appears that only seven of the thirty-four people chosen this time were part of the 2023 Implementation Groups. All seven, however, hold progressive views, which could put the orthodox at a further disadvantage, because they will not be aware of previous discussions or be as familiar with the way the system works.


Step 5: Keep the ‘decision’ in the future – until it is in the past

One of the most difficult aspects of the Travelator is that it is always moving and those involved in the Working Groups are not in control of the process. Just as the question about standalone services has moved from one of principle to one of practical implementation - so it is possible that even during the lifetime of these groups - conversations that were presented as hypothetical may quickly become policy.

The Travelator will run its course. What is hardest to bear is that it will be almost impossible for good orthodox people to avoid being implicated in decisions, which they didn't know they were making; that they disagreed with; and that they cannot live with.

 

The Church of England Evangelical Council have called for a Day of Prayer on Sunday 12th May. It is much needed.

Pray for all involved in the Working Groups, Programme Board, College of Bishops and Synod, and pray too for all those whose Anglican future is in the balance.

Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.

 

To find out more about how Anglican Futures can provide you with practical and pastoral support as you consider the future please go to our website www.anglicanfutures.org


[1] Representative motions and amendments

  1. The final amended LLF 'motion' - see Annex A of this document for wording

  2. Amendment to "allow freedom of conscience for clergy and ordinands”

  3. Amendment asking for proposals for equal marriage in church to be brought to Synod in July 2023

  4. Amendment to endorsing the "intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”. Known as the Cornes amendment.

  5. Amendment which called on the bishops "not to commend the draft suite of prayers before this Synod has considered proposals for structural provision having the confidence of both those who do and those who do not seek change."

  6. Amendment asking bishops "to consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, perhaps on a trial basis."

  7. Amendment asking for bishops "to propose firm provision that provides a clear way of distinguishing differing views"

  8. Amendment asking Synod to "acknowledge that for many in the Church of England, including members of General Synod, some of the issues raised are not matters on which they can simply agree to disagree”.

  9. Amendment seeking “proposals for a set of commitments together with a settlement based on legally secure structural provision”




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Convidado:
11 de mai.

We need a Gideon's army to overcome the pagans who would take over the structures of the C of E. We can only hope to overcome with prayer what we have failed to overcome with human methods in working groups and Synod.

Curtir
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