Bishops have released hundreds of pages of resources to help guide the Church of England (CoE) towards making decisions on issues of identity, sexuality and marriage within two years.
Decisions on questions around same-sex relationships must be made “with some urgency”, according to a 480-page tome aimed at finding a way forward past deep divisions within the Church.
Churchgoers are being urged to “listen and learn together” by engaging with the Living In Love And Faith resources, which took three years to produce by around 40 people.
It is hoped discussions from now until late 2021 will help the CoE make “whatever decisions are needful for our common life regarding matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.
Potential scenarios following the period of engagement will be laid out, with a view to the House of Bishops putting any proposals before the General Synod in 2022.
The book, which is accompanied by podcasts, videos, a course and library of online resources, reads: “Some of those differences of view relate to the ethics and lifestyle of opposite sex relationships and some relate to questions around gender and pastoral provisions for transgender people.
“Most pressing among our differences are questions around same-sex relationships, and we recognise that here decisions in several interconnected areas need to be made with some urgency.”
The suite of resources is thought to be the most extensive work in this area by any faith group in the world.
Bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth, speaking at a briefing to launch the learning material, agreed that a question he wants people to discuss is whether the CoE could conduct same-sex marriages.
He said this is “only one question among many that we want people to engage with in a really serious way”.
During the briefing, bishops acknowledged the Church has not always been a safe place for LGBTI+ people.
In a foreword to the resources, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, recognised the “huge damage and hurt” that has been caused.
They write: “As soon as we begin to consider questions of sexual identity and behaviour, we need to acknowledge the huge damage and hurt that has been caused where talk of truth, holiness and discipleship has been wielded harshly and not ministered as a healing balm.
“Especially amongst LGBTI+ people, every word we use – quite possibly including these in this very foreword, despite all the care we exercise – may cause pain.”
The Church should be “deeply ashamed and repentant” for the hurt and “unnecessary suffering” caused, they add.
However, while many people may wish the church could “jump to a quick decision”, they write that discernment will require time.