“We have to hear the human story” – Bp. Jones, Diocese of Liverpool

The Rt. Rev. James Jones focused his Presidential address to the Synod of the Diocese of Liverpool on the debate on human sexuality. He says he believes the Anglican Communion can survive and should allow a range of ethical positions on homosexuality, and do so in Christian love as we grow together in discovery of God’s intent for us.

The bishop points out that despite differences of opinion his diocese has maintained relationships with an American diocese and a Nigerian diocese:

I believe the day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same gender love with the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation.

This is I believe the next chapter to be written in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It is the chapter that is already being written in our Partnership in Mission with the Diocese of Virginia and with the Diocese of Akure in Nigeria. At our last Synod we renewed and approved the continuation of our partnership with the Diocese of Akure. In the appendix of the report considered by the Synod was the exchange of letters between me and my brother Bishop Michael Ipinmoye of Akure. I will include them as an enclosure to this address and draw attention to the paragraph where I set out how I see the debate on sexual ethics in the Diocese of Liverpool.

“Furthermore, I was able to explain to you that I thought that the Diocese of Liverpool was on the way to achieving a position similar to the church’s attitude to pacifism in matters of homosexuality. In other words, there will be people of equal sincerity and equal conviction who believe and do not believe that homosexuality within a stable and faithful relationship is consistent with Christian discipleship. Again, I was encouraged that you seemed able to respect this likelihood even though I know that you were at pains to demonstrate to me that the Church of Nigeria could never countenance something which was against the law of the country.“

The point of significance in this is the response of Bishop Michael. He restates his own position and that of the Diocese of Akure and of the Church of Nigeria and calls on us to continue to reflect on the Biblical material. Having done this he reiterated what he said to me personally in our private meeting that he and the Diocese of Akure wish to continue the Partnership in Mission. This is a partnership between an African Diocese taking a traditional stance on gay relationships and a Church of England Diocese which is moving toward embracing a range of ethical convictions on this issue and which is also in partnership with a Diocese in the Episcopal Church of America.

Jones expresses his hope for the Anglican Communion:

This address has been about how we handle disagreements about ethical principles within the Body of Christ. It is also about how we promote a Christian humanism whereby we discover before God both how to flourish as human beings in Christ and how to treat each other humanely in the process of that discovery. It is my plea that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion must allow a variety of ethical views on the subject as in this Diocese we do….

He goes further than the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the rights of gays and lesbians:

In his most recent Presidential Address to the General Synod of the Church of England the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “The rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people are a matter of proper concern for all of us, and we assume with good reason, even, I should say, with good Christian reason, that the securing of these rights is obviously a mark of civilised and humane society. When those rights are threatened – as in the infamous legislation that was being discussed in Uganda – we quite rightly express repugnance.” If from a Christian point of view we can advocate this breadth of moral conviction for society at large I believe it is consistent theologically and ethically to allow the same diversity of moral conviction within the Church herself.

Moreover, he says homosexuality is not neither wrong nor right. It is a given. Like anything, one has to dig deeper:

Even though we live in a society tempted to reduce every decision to a box-ticking exercise that can be processed through a computer, when it comes to making moral judgements about a person’s behaviour we have to hear the human story and form a moral judgement with regard not only to the nature of the action but also to the intent and the consequences.

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