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Sunday 13 July, 2003 , BBC Breakfast with Frost Interview with the Rt. Rev John Oliver, Lord Bishop of Hereford
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PETER SISSONS: Well let's now go over to York where the Church of England is holding its General Synod this weekend, and the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt. Rev John Oliver joins us from just outside York Minster.
Bishop, thank you for joining us, I gather the bells are making it a bit difficult for you to hear - by golly, they are making a noise - can I ask you the same question as I began with -
JOHN OLIVER: I'm afraid I didn't hear the interview.
PETER SISSONS: Can you hear me at all?
JOHN OLIVER: Just about.
PETER SISSONS: Can I ask you the same question as I began with to George Curry, what was your reaction to Peter Tatchell's hijacking of the Synod yesterday?
JOHN OLIVER: Well I wasn't there actually, I arrived late at the Synod - I arrived in the afternoon and I heard about it. I was rather relieved I hadn't been there and I think it was a great shame really that because there's been a lot of sadness and a lot of hurt on the part of the gay community and that action by Outrage was very provocative and simply made people feel these are ridiculous and unreasonable people. I mean I can understand why the ... but I think that was a very unwise demonstration. But I think they're trying to get back to a genuine debate, to some sort of debate which we need to have.
PETER SISSONS: Are there any signs at all that the two positions of liberals and traditionalists, the evangelicals, can be reconciled?
JOHN OLIVER: Yes I'm sure there are and we have actually lived for twelve years with Issues in Human Sexuality. There was a distinction made in that document between what was acceptable for lay people and what was acceptable for clergy and there are people who felt that that was a reasonable distinction in view of the public ministry of the clergy, their representative role and the difficulty some of them might have if they were known to be living in a homosexual partnership. But there were also people, and Cannon Jeffrey John was one of them, who felt that that was not a fair distinction to make and if that kind of relationship for some people was to be regarded as acceptable then it should be for clergy too.
Now that is the big debate which remains to be resolved. But I think last night there were signs of the beginning of healing, there were some fairly tough questions asked in the question session yesterday evening, the Bishop of Guildford answered the questions with - I thought - enormous wisdom and skill, which was greatly appreciated. I think the vast majority of people in the Church of England want this to be healed and want to do what they can to reopen a sensible and charitable dialogue about it.
PETER SISSONS: So what's going to - what is the key to it? What is the key development that will make it easier for both the liberal and the evangelical wing to live in peace?
JOHN OLIVER: Well, as you will have heard, that there is a very large document, a very substantial study guide to be published at the end of this year, which the bishops have been working on and we believe to be a helpful document and it sets out all the background material, the whole debate in much greater detail than was done 12 years ago and shows possible ways forward. That document is not a policy document but it should provide the foundations on which I believe a policy can be built.
There is a separate issue of course of the Anglican communion, where there are very sharp difficulties being experienced by some Christians, particularly in Nigeria, up against militant Islam where anything that smacks of liberalism, in particular over issues to do with sexuality is, is very hard to sustain and I can understand why Christians in those circumstances feel almost betrayed by a more liberal practice in America or Europe. But I think we just have to learn to recognise each other's context, the culture is different, the circumstances are different and I believe the practice and policy has to be able to be different.
It's a bit like the way in which Christians have lived with deeply divided views over pacifism and war. We managed to live together though we interpret scripture in different ways, and the gospels - even opposite directions seemingly. Now in the gospels there is nothing about this particular issue of sexuality and I think if we can learn from the way in which we've managed to hold together divergent views over ... we ought to be able to over this one too.
PETER SISSONS: Well evangelicals may not be easily satisfied by that sort of compromise when they've taken such a firm position on the scriptures. Could I put this to you, that across the Church, many churches, it's the evangelical wing that is growing. You mention the United States, experience there appears to show that core members often go elsewhere when liberals win. Perhaps the Catholics will be the principle beneficiaries of a split in the Anglican Church?
JOHN OLIVER: Well I'm not sure about that really. I think there are very many people who long to see a generous, inclusive church and would want to come to a congregation where that is the style and that is the ethos and where they felt welcome and where people were able to differ, to disagree, but to do so charitably.
There will always be people who want the kind of certainties which some evangelical congregations are able to offer, but that is not everybody by any means and I think the, the general sense of great sadness and disappointment about this particular episode reflects how many people in the country at large have a serious desire to see the Church open, inclusive and charitable.
PETER SISSONS: Is that the sort of message you expect Rowan Williams to put before the Synod when he speaks tomorrow?
JOHN OLIVER: Well I can't read his mind but I'm deeply sorry for the position he found himself in. I have a great admiration and respect for, and we shall listen with great attention to what he has to say.
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