by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
It feels a long time ago, when the February Group of Sessions of the Church of England General Synod discussed a paper from the House of Bishops, which advocated a change in tone over how we speak about LGBT+ people but failed to convince many Synod members that it had itself adopted the new tone for which it called. Yet what the document failed to deliver, the Synod itself immediately began to put in place. Many of the speeches in the debate that rejected the paper exemplified what a new and distinctly more welcoming tone would sound like.
Last week in York, where Synod was gathered for its summer sessions, we saw that tone begin to impact on action. In two debates, over consecutive days, attention was turned first to the practice of “conversion therapy” and then to support for those who have transitioned. Both debates were characterised by the passion, courtesy and good humour that had been heard in February. Beyond this, Synod showed an overarching desire to hear the voices of LGBT+ people, whether expressed directly or through their stories being shared by their friends. And most important of all, we heard from a Synod that wanted decisive change and action now. Members listened to, but clearly rejected, demands that these matters required further study, be it theological or scientific, ahead of any decision.
My guess is that the painstaking work of the Shared Conversations is bearing fruit. In a number of dioceses, groups who first met as part of the Regional Conversations have continued to study, pray and get to know each other better. Meanwhile the vast majority of General Synod members took part in the Conversations of a year ago. We follow a God whose ultimate revelation of himself was not in words on a page, or in commandments inscribed on stone tablets, but in a fully human person. Our Lord met with people face to face, individually and in groups. He built relationships, around which he structured his own conversations, where those on the margins were repeatedly brought to the very centre. Our answers to crucial questions of belief and practice, both then and now, must be grounded in scripture and consistent with its overarching messages. But they cannot ultimately be determined purely by the choices we make of how to interpret a small number of specific texts. Rather they are informed by the relationships we have nurtured with Christians whose journeys have been very different from our own. We do our work relationally, building bridges across difference, because that is precisely how God himself chooses to deal with us.
Synod has set its new tone, and begun to speak compassionately and clearly in the voice it has found. I look forward to hearing what it says next.