Church Pastoral Aid Society under pressure over sexuality statement

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The Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) has been forced to reconsider its position on sexuality after a social media storm.

The mission agency, which is well known for its children’s summer Ventures and their patronage of hundreds of Church of England churches, had taken seriously the House of Bishops’ request that those with concerns about the new “Prayers of Love and Faith” should be transparent about their reasons.

In a public statement on Saturday, the Trustees of CPAS endorsed the position taken by the Evangelical Alliance, which describes itself as “an authentic, mainstream evangelical response to human sexuality in general and sexually active same-sex partnerships in particular”.

CPAS’s outworking of this position appears to have been carefully considered, balancing the desire to “affirm God’s love and concern for all human beings, whatever their sexuality, and so repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex”, with a commitment to “oppose moves within certain churches to accept and/or endorse sexually active same-sex partnerships as a legitimate form of Christian relationship and to permit the ordination to ministry of those in such sexual relationships”.

While many orthodox Anglicans were encouraged by their clarity, more progressive members of the Church of England disagreed and took to social media to drive their point home. One person on X, formerly Twitter, wrote, “CPAS has fallen into the hands of fanatics.” Others described the statement as “toxic”, and challenged CPAS’ right both to oppose same-sex blessings and maintain their responsibility for appointing vicars to parishes.

However, one section, which many might think promoted the prayerful support of consenting adults who experience same-sex attraction and wish to live chaste lives, is where the pressure has been applied: “We welcome and support the work of those individuals and organisations who responsibly seek to help Christians who experience same-sex attraction as in conflict with their commitment to live in accordance with biblical teaching. This help will involve counsel and pastoral support to live a chaste life and, as part of this process, some may seek and experience changes in the strength or direction of their same-sex attractions.”

It appears it was the accusation that CPAS was promoting ‘conversion therapy’, in conflict with a motion passed at General Synod in 2017, which led CPAS to withdraw their original statement on Monday and post this message on their website: “For the avoidance of any doubt, CPAS is opposed to any form of conversion therapy. In response to concerns, we have removed reference to the Evangelical Alliance document referred to as ‘Affirmations of human sexuality’ whilst we work further to express the CPAS position more clearly.”

It is not known whether the Trustees of CPAS felt that they had to withdraw their original statement purely because of the reaction on social media or whether pressure was brought to bear in more formal ways. The Archbishop of the Church in Wales stated on X that he planned to write to complain to the trustees of CPAS.

What is certain is that many orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England are now feeling very nervous. If a large organisation like CPAS can be silenced by a social media campaign, then the pressure on local clergy to acquiesce to public opinion or face similar complaints only increases.

In their recent Pastoral Guidance accompanying the prayers of Love and Faith, the Bishops wrote, “It is within [heterosexual] marriage that sexual intimacy finds its proper place.” Fine words, but meaningless, if the House of Bishops will not publicly support organisations such as CPAS, who wish to encourage the prayerful support of those, whether same-sex attracted or opposite-sex attracted, who seek help in their struggle to live chaste single lives or remain sexually faithful to their spouse.

Similarly, such words are meaningless if the Lords Spiritual allow Baroness Burt’s ‘Conversion Therapy Prohibition’ Bill to go through Parliament unamended.

The House of Bishops meets next week.

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