Unity is default option, Archbishop tells synod gripped by gay debate

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The Independent Online

The archbishop of Canterbury tried again yesterday to draw a line under the damaging rows that have rocked the Church of England by making a plea for a unity that went beyond an "appearance of meaningless unanimity".

Dr Rowan Williams made the call in a sermon at York Minster before the members of the General Synod as the Church was still feeling the effects of the row over the abandoned appointment of its first openly gay bishop. The Archbishop made no direct reference to the storm over the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading, which was only resolved when the canon agreed to withdraw his acceptance of the post.

Dr Williams said he wanted a unity in the Church of England that recognised the effort required to make it come about, in particular with regard to its "internal affairs" and its relations with the Methodist Church. He said: "To appeal or speak in the name of unity in the Church is very easily capable of slipping into the search for an appearance of meaningless unanimity.

"Unity has become a flaccid word, a default option, denial of pain and work and real difference. No one can speak against it, it is a motherhood and apple pie concept and this means that no one much wants to speak for it either." Later, the synod, the Church of England's parliament, passed a motion paving the way to greater co-operation with Methodists.

Despite rapidly growing congregations in the developing world, both churches are facing dwindling numbers in Britain, with Methodism losing 2 per cent of its membership every year. The motion will lead to both churches "growing together in worship, prayer, mission and service", but a Church of England spokesman denied it would mean the two churches sharing clergy or premises.

Despite the efforts of Dr Williams, the row over homosexuality showed little sign of disappearing at the synod, which was adjourned on Saturday after a sit-in protest by a group led by the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

A leaked report from a committee set up to look at issues of sexuality was seized on by liberals after it appeared to make a case for greater tolerance by saying beliefs on sexual matters or personal behaviour were not at the root of Christianity.

The report, called Some Issues in Human Sexuality, was written by a committee head by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Richard Harries, who nominated Dr John to the Reading post. It said: "What makes us Christians is our common relationship with Christ, which is rooted in repentance, faith, baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and not the correctness of our beliefs about matters of sexual conduct or the impeccability of our behaviour."

The Bishop of Hereford, John Oliver, suggested the position could lay down the basis for an agreement on the issue of homosexuality. He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "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."