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CEEC Fails to Clarify Nature of Secret Conversations on Sexuality 

Following the revelation in our last issue of secret conversations between conservatives/evangelicals and progressives/liberals on human sexuality, the Church of England Evangelical Council has issued a statement. 

The English Churchman asked the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) to comment on claims made online about the nature of these conversations, and to clarify the extent of the Council’s involvement. CEEC declined to answer these queries, preferring to issue the following one-sentence statement: “For several years, evangelicals from CEEC and its constituent members have had a multiplicity of conversations with both those who share and do not share our views on human sexuality, some of which have happened as part of the St Hugh’s conversations.”

These secret meetings, the St Hugh’s Conversations, were inaugurated by Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford in 2017 with some leaders of large conservative evangelical churches in Oxford, the Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) and CEEC, and over time expanded to include others, including conservative and evangelical bishops.

Some of the (non-evangelical) participants now publicly acknowledge the existence of the Conversations and their involvement in it. To date, it does not appear that any evangelical leader is prepared to speak about their participation.

One party to the St Hugh’s Conversations, Simon Butler, a former Archbishops’ Council member, clarified their purpose, “The uniting spirit of the St Hugh’s Conversations is a desire to bring to a conclusion the battle over sexuality that has beset the Church since 1987. None of us – conservative, progressive, LGBT+ or those who prefer to identify themselves as same-sex attracted – want to see our fragile unity further fractured, or the harm we do to one another as Christians continue its toxic tone. We believe – at least tentatively – that now must be the time to find a settlement which will suit us all. I have come to agree with this position.”

In November, Bishop Croft produced his booklet Together in Love and Faith, after consultation with evangelical members of the St Hugh’s group. According to another participant, Helen King, “he based his booklet on drafts of things he’d written and shared with them during the time that St Hugh’s Conversation has been running. There are hints in his booklet that the group exists – for example, ‘Locally … I met separately with those opposed to any change’ (p.8) and ‘There has been a vigorous and courteous correspondence and dialogue with different groups, almost continually since [October 2017] . . .’

“This response [of Revd Vaughan Roberts, vicar of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, to Together in Love and Faith] came out almost immediately Bishop Steven’s booklet appeared, and both writers had shared drafts before publication.”

With such apparent co-operation between the Bishop and his evangelical respondent, there has been speculation that an agreement has been reached already on how to accommodate the two views and practices on same-sex marriages, ahead of any vote at General Synod. 

One incumbent in the Province of York told The English Churchman, “’It is shocking to think that whilst advising evangelical ministers how to respond, significant leaders didn’t disclose that they were negotiating the future away behind their backs. It wasn’t within their gift to give the impression that a compromise would be acceptable to any evangelicals by themselves.”

The brief and bland statement from CEEC has ensured that the St Hugh’s talks remain shrouded in secrecy, and has done little to quell evangelical disquiet within the Church of England.