Some Issues in Human Sexuality (Section 1.3) outlines the growth of the debate about the traditional teaching on homosexual activity from the 1950's onwards. In February 2004 the General Synod took note of this report and commended it to the Church for study and reflection.
In the 1950s the Church of England's Moral Welfare Council was one of the major influences that led to the setting up of the Wolfenden Commission, supporting its recommendation to abolish the law against male homosexual activity and to set the age of homosexual consent at 21, which became law in 1967.
Three reports on homosexuality were produced by the Church of England working parties between 1970 and 1989, each of them contributions to the debate. These were the unpublished report of a Board for Social Responsibility working party produced in 1970, the 1979 BSR report Homosexual Relations: A contribution to discussion and the unpublished 1989 'Osborne' report, which was commissioned by the BSR for the House of Bishops.
The mind of the Church has been expressed formally on two occasions. First, on 11 November 1987, the General Synod passed by 403 votes to 8 the following motion at the end of the debate initiated by the Revd Tony Higton:
'That this Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships in a response to, and expression of, God's love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:
- that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;
- that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
- that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
- that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality; and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.'
Secondly, in December 1991, the House of Bishops published a statement Issues in Human Sexuality (CHP 1991). This endorsed the traditional Christian belief that the teaching of the Bible is that heterosexual marriage is the proper context for sexual activity between two people. It went on to declare that what it called 'homophile' orientation and activity could not be endorsed by the Church as:
'... a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, Tradition and reasoned reflection on experience, even including the newly sympathetic and perceptive thinking of our own day, makes it impossible for the Church to come with integrity to any other conclusion. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.'
It also argued that the conscientious decision of those who enter into such relationships must be respected, and that the Church must 'not reject those who sincerely believe it is God's call to them'.
Nevertheless, because of the 'distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration', the clergy 'cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships' (Some Issues 1.3.19-20).
In July 1997 General Synod passed a private member's motion moved by the Archdeacon of Wandsworth to:
- commend for discussion in dioceses the House of Bishops' report Issues in Human Sexuality and acknowledge it is not the last word on the subject;
- in particular, urge deanery synods, clergy chapters and congregations to find time for prayerful study and reflection on the issues addressed by the report.
The 1987 Synod motion and Issues in Human Sexuality are the two authoritative Church of England statements on the issue of homosexuality.
As a member of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England also respects the teaching of Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference (the ten-yearly meeting of all bishops of the Communion) which expresses the declared mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole.