Church of England doctrine on marriage should remain consistent with the Bible, but there should be “maximum freedom” for homosexual people within the Church, bishops have said in a new report on sexuality.
The bishops called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for homosexuals in church life.
However, the document, to be discussed at the upcoming General Synod, said there was “little support” among bishops for changing the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage.
Reform, a conservative group within the C of E, said: “In adopting a framework which seeks to take a middle path between biblical truth and cultural sensitivities, the bishops have ensured theological incoherence and hypocrisy will prevail for the foreseeable future.”
At a press conference announcing the report, the Bishop of Norwich Graham James said it was not the end of the process, but “somewhere in the middle of it” and called for further engagement.
He also stated that bishops believe there “should be more guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples”.
The report, from the House of Bishops, states: “We recognise that for many holding a conservative view of scripture the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises ‘first order’ questions in relation to the heart of the gospel.”
It goes on to add that there was agreement that the existing law and guidance should be interpreted to “permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church”.
But setting up further controversy, the document asks: “How important is it that all clergy are seen to be living in accordance with the Church of England’s teaching in this area”?
It is not clear whether those seeking ordination will continue to be asked questions about their sexual conduct. The Bishop of Norwich said: “The Church of England has always been suspicious of intrusive interrogation of its members, preferring to trust clergy and lay people in their Christian discipleship”.
Pro-gay campaigner Jayne Ozanne described the report as unacceptable, saying it does not go far enough.