Terms of reference for the study

The Sea of Faith UK AGM, at its 2002 meeting, passed the following resolution:

The Sea of Faith UK AGM takes note of the recent resignation of Andrew Furlong as Dean of Clonmacnoise and expresses concern regarding the pressure to conform to traditional doctrinal beliefs that led to this resignation. At the same time, the AGM recognizes that a religious tradition, like any organisation, has a legitimate interest in defining its identity and that the appropriate balance between tradition and diversity within this identity is complex and subject to change over time.

The AGM therefore asks the Steering Committee to initiate a study on the allowability of doctrinal diversity within Christianity, in the context of religious faith as a human creation. The purposes of the study are to inform the Network's views on this subject and to assist the Network in defining its position regarding situations where a religious tradition formally questions the acceptability of the views of one of its members or representatives. The study should include both research and consultation with SoF members. The results of the study, along with proposed statements of policy, which may be adopted by the membership, should be presented to the 2003 AGM.

This paper defines the terms of reference for the study, which will be called "The Sea of Faith (UK) Enquiry into the Allowable Limits of Ecclesiastical Diversity in Matters of Christian Doctrine", or simply "The Diversity Study". The terms of reference define the purposes, responsibilities, tasks, available resources, and time lines relevant to the study.


The resolution calling for the study was a response to a number of stimuli: in particular, a member of SoF was forced to choose between resigning his post or being tried for heresy; at the same time, considerable debate was surfacing within SoF about what positions, if any, might be adopted by the Network as a whole, or by identifiable groups within the Network, in the fulfillment of our mission to explore and promote religious faith as a human creation. While a number of individual members within SoF were strongly sympathetic and supportive in the individual case at hand, it was unclear whether the Network as a whole could or should express an opinion. These particular events occurred against a broader background of the ongoing study by the Church of England, led by the Bishop of Birmingham, as to how questions about incompatible doctrine or belief should be handled; some SoF members have submitted comments to this study, and the media have shown an interest in interviewing SoF members on this subject. Depending on the results of this study, there may be further "heresy trials" in the future, and further media interest in SoF views on the general issue or on specific cases; in addition, SoF members as individuals have an interest in informing and developing their own views on the issue.

The purposes of this study are therefore:


The Steering Committee will establish a special Working Group to oversee the study, which will consist of at least one person from the Steering Committee and at least one person from the general membership. The Working Group will undertake the following tasks:

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