A cairn on a mountain top

How did you celebrate the publication of the Pilling Report on sexual ethics in the Church of England?

As for me, I went to a Greek food shop and bought a jar of Lesbian honey. I’m sure Sappho would approve.

There have been heaps of immediate responses. The press release and tidy list of 18 recommendations made it easy, but I decided to follow Pilling’s advice and read the whole 200-odd pages. As a result I have written a commentary which is almost 5,000 words long.

Pilling’s recommendations are all of a piece: small steps in the direction of accepting same-sex partnerships, but highly qualified. I have described them as cairns on a mountain path.

The one which has attracted most attention is the one suggesting that clergy should be permitted to perform gay blessings, but only if they have the support of their Church Council, and there should be no formally approved order of service.

On the other hand the way these steps are justified makes all the difference. The magic paragraph is:

We believe that God’s grace is mediated, not solely through the institutional church, but by God’s presence before us in the world and his continuing activity in the Holy Spirit which is not confined to working through Christians. Part of our calling as disciples is to seek out this prevenient grace of God and celebrate his works (§340).

This needs to be shouted from the rooftops. The dominant voices have been telling us for decades that paying attention to public opinion is selling out to the spirit of the secular age – the kind of thing liberals do.

Well yes it is indeed the kind of thing liberals do. But it doesn’t mean we are selling out. It means what that paragraph says. According to Paul and Luke, Christianity began when Judaism got stuck in its inherited rules and the Spirit produced a new movement. In the same way Christianity sometimes gets stuck in its past and needs challenging.

When the spirit of the age has more moral credibility than the Church’s inherited teachings, let’s face the fact that we don’t have a monopoly on divine inspiration. And celebrate it.