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Letters released to the public this week express the different opinions of Church of England clergy in Oxford over the issue of sexuality.
Over 100 church leaders have written a response to four bishops in the diocese about their advice on welcoming LGBTI+ people and the bishops have written a joint response back.
The original document, 'Clothe Yourselves With Love' written in October 2018 by Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft (Oxford), Rt Rev Colin Fletcher (Dorchester), Rt Rev Dr Alan Wilson (Buckingham) and Rt Rev Andrew Proud (Reading) says: "we want to encourage, above all, an attitude of inclusion and respect for LGBTI+ people across the Diocese of Oxford" and acknowledges that many have different views on the matter.
It reads: "We are concerned to listen well to LGBTI+ people from a variety of perspectives including both those seeking change in the Church of England’s polity and those seeking to to live faithfully within it".
The response, called 'Letter from Concerned Anglicans in the Oxford Diocese' is signed by clergy such as Vaughan Roberts and Sam Alberry, who would say they experience same-sex attraction but remain celibate, as well as other ministers, lay people and retired clergy.
They said they have concerns with what they see as ambiguous language in the letter, such as whether 'inclusion' means welcoming people who act on an LGBT identity into leadership at every level and what it means in terms of the teaching of the Church of England.
They say: "We cannot see how it is right to accept as Christian leaders those who advocate lifestyles that are not consistent with New Testament teaching".
The 'concerned Anglicans' argue that the bishops go beyond advice and make theological statements, pointing out that there is no reference to the church's current teaching but "we read references to ‘attitudes changing’, respect for ‘different views’, and willingness to ‘listen to different streams in the debate’".
The letter also affirms where they concur, with the clergy saying "We wholeheartedly agree with the call to love one another as we seek to build a common life" and "We entirely endorse the view that nobody should be told that their sexual orientation makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church".
In reply to the clergy, the bishops replied saying: "We want to offer our own views therefore but not impose them as we do our best to love one another and be more a Christ like church together for the sake of God's world."
The bishops said it was intended as a pastoral letter and not a theological statement or contribution to the wider debate. They also said they have no intention of excluding those who differ on the issue and reference the ordination of women and marriage following divorce as times where the church took care to respect those "who held views in continuity with the past and to respect individual conscience".
Speaking to Premier about the bishops' joint response, Hugh Barne, assistant curate at St Mary's Church Wargrave with Knowl Hill - who signed the concerned Anglicans letter - said: "I certainly feel that a pastoral letter is a theological letter, you can't separate the two from each other. In the New Testament Paul writes pastoral letters to churches and he's writing theological letters that are pastoral".
He added: "There was lots in the letter I appreciated hearing...but some of the concerns we raised weren't really directly addressed.
"We need to submit to them as much as we can but we also have a role to play in making our concerns known to them".
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