Living in Love and Faith

What is Living in Love and Faith?

Living in Love and Faith bannerLiving in Love and Faith‘, often abbreviated to LLF, is an official project of the Church of England, intended to provide resources for Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. The Church’s website includes an extensive section on LLF.

The February 2017 General Synod voted not to ‘take note’ of a conservative document on sexuality issued by the House of Bishops. In response the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the need for “a radical new Christian inclusion”, and in June that year the Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced plans to produce a “major teaching document on marriage and sexuality”. That intention grew into the Living in Love and Faith project, involving study and discussion between people of a wide range of views and expertise. Some LGBTI+ Anglicans were invited to take part, though not all felt able to continue, finding the process lacking in respect.

Living in Love and Faith - book coverLLF was completed in November 2020 with the publication of a 480-page book also entitled Living in Love and Faith, available as a paperback from Church House Publishing (ISBN 9780715111673) and as an EPUB-format ebook, both costing £19.99. It can also be downloaded free as a PDF file from the Church of England website (here). Also available from their website is a digital library of other resources including videos, podcasts and a five-part video-based study course.

Claims and hopes for LLF

The book’s back-cover blurb summarizes what the LLF team claims to have provided and its hopes for how it and the other resources will be used:

Living in Love and Faith sets out to inspire people to think more deeply about what it means to be human and to live in love and faith with one another. It tackles the tough questions and the divisions among Christians about what it means to be holy in a society in which understandings and practices of gender, sexuality and marriage continue to change.

This book is one of the resources produced by the Living in Love and Faith project. Commissioned and led by the bishops of the Church of England, it has involved many people across the Church and beyond. They bring a great diversity and depth of expertise, conviction and experience to exploring these matters by studying what the Bible, theology, history and the social and biological sciences have to say.

The book takes readers on a journey that begins with reflections on God’s gifts of life, relationships, marriage and learning. A survey of what is happening in the world with regard to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage is followed by an exploration of how Christians are to understand and respond to these trends in the light of the good news of Jesus Christ. The book then examines the ways in which Christians seek to hear God and how it is that they draw different conclusions.

The book invites the whole church to use the Living in Love and Faith resources to learn together. It closes with an appeal from the bishops to join them in discerning a way forward for the church that is open to new vistas on our disagreements and new perspectives on our differences.

It is clear from this that Living in Love and Faith offers a survey of where the church and the world are currently at in terms of our diverse understandings of human sexuality and relationships, but it does not come to any specific conclusions about the way forward, and it was never its aim to do so. It hopes to have provided a solid basis on which the church can now debate and discern the way forward. Whether this will happen, and if so in what way it will happen, time will tell.

Reactions to LLF

Living in Love and Faith was published on 9 November 2020, and some responses came out immediately. To indicate the range of these, we have given summaries below of some differing reactions; these and others can be found in full in the Articles subsection.

  • The Church Times welcomed the book, heading its editorial “it’s out, it’s long, it’s good”. The concluding paragraph contained a call for change:
    “[Our] views make us naturally sympathetic to the attempt to widen and deepen the debate that we see in Living in Love and Faith. Yet our position makes us acutely aware, also, of the need to move swiftly towards more visible and more practical solutions. The Church cannot affect neutrality, either. It has chosen, partly consciously, partly by default, to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in church; it looks askance at clergy in same-sex partnerships; it is seldom a safe space for those struggling with issues of gender to seek support; it is seldom somewhere for those confident in their non-binary identity to find affirmation; nor is it somewhere where those who have opted for celibacy always feel honoured. These are not matters that can be left.”
  • The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) unsurprisingly took a very different line, quoting its president, the Bishop of Blackburn, in its press release:
    “For us, this is about following Christ by submitting to what Scripture says, just as He did. … To all those in the Church of England who are unsettled by suggestions that the Church might decide, in the future, to depart from historic orthodoxy, we say: ‘We are here for you. You are not alone’. We will resource you, support you and lead you. We will contend unflaggingly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We will uphold what Christians have always believed through history and what the overwhelming majority of Christians globally still believe. These are not matters on which we can simply agree to differ, for reasons the New Testament makes clear.”
    In other words, ‘Our anti-gay position is what the Bible says, so it’s true, orthodox and essential. We cannot and will not compromise on it.’ Their promised ‘engagement’ with the LLF process can therefore be only a negative one, and certainly not one that can be safe for LGBTI+ people.
  • Modern Church has published several responses to LLF by various authors of high academic standing, most of them fairly positive but with important criticisms and caveats. Here are summaries of two of them; these and others may be found on the Modern Church website.
    “There is much to like in Living in Love and Faith. … it takes as much time as it needs to provide not only argument but also empirical evidence, including the stories of those at the sharp end of debates about sexuality. It is a grown-up work, not taking refuge in platitude or ex cathedra pronouncements, but working through positions that people actually adopt, and presenting them fairly and in ways it’s hoped their proponents might recognize, without caricature or over-simplification. … Nothing quite like this has been seen before in the long and winding story of the Church of England’s discussions of human sexuality. It is a complicated set of issues, and this complicated document does it some justice in a way, I would judge, that previous documents have not. My concern in this reaction to LLF is the use it makes of the Bible. … if one starts from a largely biblicistic position, one is unlikely to produce a document more sensible, humane, and open-minded than LLF. It goes about as far as is conceivable, within the parameters of what is sayable in the modern Church of England, in making it possible for all voices to be heard and respected, and in offering a basis for reasoned discussion.”
    Professor Adrian Thatcher also starts positively:
    There is much that is positive about LLF. There is evidence of able people who have undertaken much work in producing it. The book is commendably readable, well-structured, and attractively produced. The chapters on ‘Society’, ‘Science’, and ‘Religion’, are particularly strong. The final text tries hard to maintain a balance when discussing the many difficult questions. It is even handed in its discussion of the usual passages thought to condemn something recently called ‘homosexuality’. … LLF is framed in such a way as to offer the possibility of, and hope for, greater agreement between the sharply divided factions within the Church of England, based on the six Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together.”
    But despite this, Professor Thatcher concludes that LLF is incapable of providing this outcome, owing to its major flaws in its treatment of the Bible, marriage, gender, sexual relationships, and its deliberate disconnect from the IICSA findings on the roots of sexual abuse within the Church of England. His criticisms are damning. Here are some extracts:
    “There is almost no evidence, anywhere, of biblical criticism, or of the positive contribution it can make to understanding LLF’s topics. Genesis 1–3 is read as if it really all happened. … The ‘all scripture’ of 2 Timothy 3:16, dubiously translated, is still supposed to apply to the whole Bible even though the Bible did not exist then.”
    “This confident, uncontested, superficial, and selective reading of the Bible distorts, rather than represents, biblical material about marriage. … It is not possible for the authors to consider Luke’s anti-marriage stance [Luke 20:34–5], because it would destroy the cosy (and plain wrong) assumption that ‘a clear biblical picture of marriage emerges when you consider Scripture as a whole, and in particular when you read it in the light of the teaching of Jesus on marriage’. Yes, the Bible is said to have a single ‘view of marriage’.”
    “IICSA was working on its latest report while LLF was being written. … Was it not astonishing that LLF (in a side-lining text box about IICSA) should say ‘…it is important the specific work of theological reflection on IICSA be carried out separately from the Living in Love and Faith project’? Unless the connexion is made between the culture that allows and covers up sexual abuse and the culture that tolerates homophobia, transphobia and gynophobia, there will be no peace in the church. Neither should there be. There are scary parallels between continuing attitudes to sexuality in parts of the church, and to sexual abuse, which can’t be conveniently separated. And why should they, when they have common roots?”

Next Steps

So, given this very mixed reaction, how can the Church of England move on from here? And who gets a say in what happens?

The House of Bishops has announced its plans.  According to the press release that announced the publication of the LLF resources on 9 November 2020, “It is anticipated that the period of church-wide learning and engagement would take place during 2021. The House of Bishops would then bring the discernment and decision-making to a timely conclusion in 2022 which would then be put before Synod.”

Given that the LLF process took three years to complete, this seems a very ambitious timescale for such a controversial and critically important next stage. The Campaign recognizes its urgency, but it must also be thorough or there will be no realistic chance of uniting the Church behind whatever ‘conclusion’ can be arrived at.

The House of Bishops has set up a Next Steps group to support and guide this process. The group consists of twelve bishops, led by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally; their names and titles are listed here (scroll up slightly).