Changing Attitude England welcomes the statement and resolutions issued by the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church at their recent meeting. The response agreed by General Convention in 2006 to the requests made of The Episcopal Church in the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Dromantine Communiqué of 2005 was made at huge cost to their gay and lesbian members. We stand with our brothers and sisters in Integrity who have worked tirelessly for the removal of all discrimination against LGBT people at every level of the life of The Episcopal Church and for the authorisation of a rite of blessing for lesbian and gay relationships.
The bishops proclaimed the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church.
The Reverend Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, said:
“We are grateful to the bishops for making explicit their commitment to the Gospel of inclusion for all, irrespective of race, gender or sexuality.
“We value the attention the bishops give to the need for the Church always to hold basic human rights and the dignity of every human being as fundamental concerns in our witness for Christ. We agree with their criticism of the Communiqué issued by the Primates in Tanzania because it ignores the pressing issues of violence against gay and lesbian people around the world, and the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour in many nations of the world.”
“Davis Mac-Iyalla, the leader of our sister organisation in Nigeria has been subjected to intimidation and threats of violence and death because of his openness as a gay Anglican Nigerian. The Church of Nigeria continues to support a bill which will impose a prison sentence of 5 years on any bishop and any lesbian or gay person who meet to engage in the listening process to which the Communion is committed.”
“Many Provinces of the Anglican Communion are in countries where the penal code imposes life imprisonment or the death sentence for any person who engages in homosexual activity.”
“Every Province of the Anglican Communion should be actively engaged in working for the abolition of these penal codes. We challenge the Primates of the Communion to address this urgent issue of fundamental human rights and the dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at their next meeting.”
Church of England practice
Changing Attitude England continues to work for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England for an end to the hypocrisy at work here in the selection, ordination and appointment of LGBT people in the ministry of the Church.
The Windsor Report and the recent Primates’ meeting have focussed on the actions taken by The Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to work for the full inclusion of LGBT people.
The Episcopal Church has been targeted by the Primates because in 2003 the Diocese of New Hampshire elected Canon Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, to be their next bishop. At the same time in England, the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading was overturned and he was forced to resign. Canon John lives in a celibate gay relationship, conforming to the unofficial policy outlined in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’, a statement produced by the English House of Bishops to promote an educational process.
The Anglican Church of Canada has been targeted by the Primates because the Diocese of New Westminster, after a long process of education and preparation, agreed to authorise A Rite for the Blessing of Gay and Lesbian Covenants. In England, when Civil Partnerships were introduced in December 2005, the House of Bishops issued a Pastoral Statement. The Statement reiterated the expectations of Issues in Human Sexuality. Lay people who register their civil partnership ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship. Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into a partnership must expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality. Since 2005, many priests have registered their partnerships. Some of them spoke of their partnerships during the debate in General Synod on 27 February 2007. Many bishops refuse to ask them such an intrusive and inappropriate question.
England has a number of gay bishops, some partnered, and over 1,000 lesbian and gay priests, many living with their partners. Most of them live discretely, knowing that a witch hunt might take place were they to be more open about their relationship.
Several hundred lesbian and gay couples have had their relationship blessed in church by a priest over the past 20 years. In some parishes this is done publicly with the full approval of the Parochial Church Council and the knowledge of the Diocesan Bishop.
If The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are to be expelled from the Anglican Communion, then the Church of England will also eventually be expelled because our practice is exactly the same as theirs in all respects except openness and honesty.
Why is England not subject to the same attack and scrutiny? Could it be anti-Americanism in the case of The Episcopal Church? Some of the Primates have become obsessed with the two North American Churches and their active, practical commitment to justice and full inclusion. As a member group of Inclusive Church, Changing Attitude England is working to create a fully inclusive church in England.
If The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are expelled from the Communion, Changing Attitude will maintain communion with them. We will work to ensure that the Church of England remains partners with them in a global Communion. We will also be subject to censure by the Primates. We too ordain and bless LGBT people. We are not bound by the hostility to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998.
Being faithful in relationship
Following from our identification with the Anglican Churches of North America, Changing Attitude also believes that God calls us into faithful, covenanted relationships with one another and with our sisters churches in the Anglican Communion. With The Episcopal Church we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships, whatever differences of theology, Biblical interpretation or church polity we may have with one another.
The bishops of the American Episcopal Church have expressed a strong and unceasing desire to remain within the fellowship of the Anglican Communion and a part of the councils of the Communion. Without them we would be deeply impoverished and our own path to full inclusion would be put at risk. Our Anglican Communion partners in every part of the world are vital to our wholeness and integrity as Christians. We rejoice in the commitment of The Episcopal Church to live fully into, and deepen, their relationships with their brothers and sisters in the Communion
Divisive numbers small
The American bishops stated that the number of those who seek to divide their Church is small. The same is true in England. The membership of those groups who are actively seeking to split our church and the worldwide Communion are a very small and unrepresentative minority. They achieve a high profile through aggressive activity, but such publicity as they achieve does not mean the Church of England is divided, nor is it as homophobic as might be assumed. The recent debates and votes on motions relating to lesbian and gay people at General Synod revealed that a majority in Synod is opposed to further discrimination against LGBT people.
Changing Attitude wishes the Church of England had the courage of our American brothers and sisters, publicly and confidently to “fully include and honour lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as integral to the life and work of the whole Christian community“.
The House of Bishops report that the pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of Western culture, to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. They identify an ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel.
Changing Attitude has witnessed people and lobby groups at work, with an agenda which is trying to break relationships and destroy trust between other Christians in the Anglican Communion. We have also worked with many people who do not share our vision of the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church but who are committed under Christ to relationships which acknowledge our differences and maintain respect for one another in love and truth.
The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church identified their significant concern about what is an unprecedented shift of power toward the Primates and away from the balance of power embodied in the three other Instruments of Unity and in particular the Anglican Consultative Council, the only body which includes lay people. It is indeed a very serious regressive move which is in danger of sacrificing the voice of lay people for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. As the bishops said, it risks replacing the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates. This would be as serious and damaging a change for the Church of England as for The Episcopal Church.
Meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury
The House of Bishops has invited the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates’ Standing Committee to join them at the earliest possible opportunity for three days of prayer and conversation. Changing Attitude hopes the Archbishop will accept this invitation. We know from experience that meeting with those who hold different opinions from us changes attitudes and can restore relationships. Archbishop Rowan knows this well. There is now an urgent need for him to meet with the American Bishops, to enable a conversation which will help relationships in the Communion to move forward in a constructive and creative way.
Changing Attitude supports the decision of the American House of Bishops to urge the Executive Council decline to participate in the proposed Pastoral Scheme of the Dar Es Salaam Communiqué. It would indeed be injurious to The Episcopal Church and contains conditions that are impossible fore them to meet without calling a special meeting of their General Convention.
The Bishops wrote of the way in which their Church has already been violated. Other Anglican bishops including some Primates, have violated their provincial boundaries, caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to their difficulties.
At the same time, the House of Bishops has responded positively by pledging itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with their own polity and canons. We applaud their constructive commitment to the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The documents issued by the American House of Bishops represent the beginning of a longer process of response to the Windsor Report and Covenant process that will continue through the coming months.
The three years since the Windsor Report was published have seen a slow but steady change in attitudes and relationships across the Anglican Communion. We ask the Primates to be generous, giving time to enable the Anglican Communion to respond in depth and integrity to the call to listen to the experience of LGBT people. We LGBT Anglicans have waited patiently while our future in the church is being debated and argued over. We ask the Communion to exercise equal patience on our behalf.