Andrew Goddard writes: When serving on the Co-ordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) from 2017 to 2020 there were inevitably parallels drawn at various points between our work and the contemporaneous national Brexit debate. How was the way we were handling in the Church of the England the complex, seemingly irresolvable, and divisive issues with which we were wrestling both similar to and different from the ways Parliament, Government and the nation were wrestling with the complex, seemingly irresolvable, and divisive question of the future shape of our changed relationship with the European Union?
For me, one significant contrast was that we were not as a church rushing into a simple binary (“In/Out”) decision with limited understanding and no preparation for implementing an outcome that changed the status quo and with which many would be deeply dissatisfied. We were preparing resources to enable a serious, informed process of theological discernment by helping people to understand and engage well with those with whom they disagreed. Our remit was not to offer theological evaluation of the different views or recommendations as to the way forward. We decided not to set out either summaries of different theological positions to show their internal theological coherence or options as to possible practical ways forward for the church. Instead we concluded the book with edited transcripts of conversations which we had among ourselves about the issues we had worked together on over three years. These we hoped would draw out some of the key points and articulate them in a relational format which might help others have difficult but fruitful conversations. The downside was that this meant there remained quite a large gap to leap between the largely descriptive and educational work of LLF and the formulation and articulation of concrete answers to the contested theological and practical questions it explored.
What has happened?
A year ago, after thousands of Anglicans had engaged in such conversations, Listening with Love and Faith and a more detailed technical report appeared alongside a reflective essay, Friendship in the Body of Christ. Although some have claimed this revealed majority opinion in favour of change that must now be swiftly implemented as the mind of the church (much as people argued that the Brexit referendum revealed support for a particular form of Brexit that people must now accept and political leaders implement), as I have argued previously, this is a misrepresentation of the whole LLF learning exercise, the questionnaire participants completed, and these published materials.
The bishops then made the significant step from conversation and mutual learning to deliberation and decision-making. What has happened since then is more difficult to piece together because very little of the process and the work supporting it has been made public. However, the following appear to be key aspects of it and raise serious questions as to how fit for purpose the process has been in a number of key respects.
An already limited timeframe for reflection together was shortened by the death of Queen Elizabeth which led to the cancellation of the first 3-day residential discussions planned for September. It was therefore not until the end of October and the beginning of November that there was “the first opportunity that the bishops as a whole have had to come together and really to talk as a whole” in this discernment and decision-making phase of LLF (Bishop of Grantham in the video released after the residential). This meeting was quickly followed by the Bishop of Oxford publishing his case for same-sex marriage in Together in Love and Faith (responded to by Vaughan Roberts) and a number of other bishops developing a statement supporting the Church of England’s received doctrine of marriage (shared with bishops in late 2022 but not released publicly until early 2023).The post Prayers of Love and Faith: The C of E’s Brexit moment? first appeared on Psephizo.