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Queering the Pilling Report

Penelope Cowell Doe, PhD project. 

Supervisors: Professor Susannah Cornwall and Professor Louise Lawrence

The aim of this research is to interrogate the hermeneutics of the Pilling Report and to ask questions about its genesis, purpose, underlying preconceptions, and understanding of the authority and privilege possessed by the authors of the Report and the House of Bishops who commissioned it. It will ask why certain voices, modes of analysis, readings of texts, selection and privileging of evidence, and constructions of sex and gender binaries have been deemed normative. This will take place in conversation with earlier documents produced by the Church of England which analyse human sexuality, particularly the place of homosexuality in the life of the Church. These Reports deal only – or mainly – with gay and lesbian sexualities, and so the thesis will question why other sex and gender issues, such as bisexuality, transgender and intersex, have been ignored.

The thesis will also be in dialogue with the ‘afterlife’ of the Pilling Report, for it initiated a process in the Church of England which began with regional facilitated conversations (designated as ‘Shared Conversations’) which were emulated by members of General Synod in their July 2016 meeting in York. This was followed by a meeting of the House of Bishops and the setting up of a Bishops’ Reflection Group which published a Report in January 2017. This Report – which proposed a new teaching document on marriage and relationships – was the subject of a ‘Take Note’ debate in the February 2017 session of General Synod. Unlike earlier reports on sexuality commissioned by the House of Bishops, the Pilling Report and its afterlife have come under close scrutiny, and engendered much discussion, particularly on social media and in both ‘popular’ and ‘academic’ blogs. I will examine how and in what ways these contributions to the discussion construct privilege and authority, asking if they give voices to those who feel that they are silenced in official reports, or whether (and, perhaps, also) they erect parallel ecclesial authorities for those with an attended to – and hence privileged – voice.

The last part of this thesis will challenge the hermeneutics of Pilling and its afterlife by queering its methodologies, particularly in their approach to biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. This will be an experiment in disrupting the normative scriptural hermeneutics employed by the Pilling process and in queering/querying their position of privilege and authority in the Church. The wife of God/bride of Christ metaphor, which is routinely employed to support the normative position of ‘heterosexual’ marriage as a creation ordinance, will be reconstructed, both as analogically gay, and as a disturbing picture of normative marital fidelity and flourishing.