Changing Attitude Sussex launched in Brighton on Monday 8th February

Monday evening seems a long time ago, but I took the train from London to Brighton to address the inaugural meeting of Changing Attitude Sussex (which effectively covers the Diocese of Chichester). Around 70 people attended the meeting which was held in the Chapel Royal in North Street, a really beautiful venue.

Both the organisers of the meeting and myself were amazed at the numbers who attended. The clergy persons amongst those present were, of course, a sub-set of gay clergy in the diocese. My hosts pointed out that an unusually large percentage of the 350 priests in the diocese are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. A significant number are members of Forward in Faith and the last place they wanted to be seen was in the Chapel Royal, which is an inclusive church, at a meeting advocating honesty and inclusion for all gay people in the Chichester Diocese.

I wasn’t sure where to pitch my address. Having introduced myself and the ethos of Changing Attitude I opened the floor for questions and an amazingly cathartic hour followed. It was refreshing to hear people speak openly and honestly about themselves as LGBT Christians, about Chichester’s attitudes to gay people, and the stance taken by the bishops.

Amongst the diocese’s bishops there appears to be little real understanding of gay people. There is deep prejudice which creates a climate of fear and mistrust and this makes the lives of gay clergy very difficult. I had hoped to meet John Hind at General Synod and talk with him about Monday evening’s launch, but our paths never crossed. He seems to live in denial of the reality over which he presides – a diocese with so many LGBT people, lay and ordained, whom he probably divides into sheep and goats – those who are anti-women bishops and those who are failing to conform to the church teaching he would want to impose. This is particularly the case in the east of the diocese where the are bishop is president of the Church of England Evangelical Council.

I hope the new Changing Attitude group will bring courage to those who want to change the diocesan culture and bring honesty and integrity to a diocese which, in attitudes towards LGBT and women, is sadly lacking.

The Sussex group will be campaigning to get a number of churches in Brighton to register officially with Changing Attitude as ‘Open and Welcoming Congregations’ to gay people. They also intend to compile a ‘Which Church?’ dossier for gay people dividing churches into four categories from ‘open and welcoming’ to ‘judgemental and rejecting’.

The provisional group convenor, Keith Sharpe, said in a press release:

‘as the British Social Attitudes Survey recently showed, attitudes to same sex relationships have become much more liberal. In the Church however things are getting worse not better. Church leaders increasingly make overt homophobic statements which foster hatred and bigotry and demonise gay people. It is very damaging for gay people’s mental health to find themselves in a judgemental and rejecting church, and we hope that our ‘Which Church?’ dossier will give them the information they need to make an informed choice. We also hope the publicity surrounding the dossier will encourage more churches to reconsider their position and become open and welcoming.’

For further information please contact keith@changingattitudesussex.com. or visit www.changingattitudesussex.com

Comments

  1. Stuart says

    I am after understanding rather than a row.

    Would it not be hypocritical of LGBT clergy to be members of Forward in Faith? I find it hard to understand their motivation, can you help me to understand?

    You always manage to create an impression of an Anglican clergy awash with closeted LGBT folk, is this true or are you over egging the case a little?

  2. Colin Coward says

    Stuart, the number of closeted lesbian, gay and bisexual deacons and priests in the Church of England is almost certainly something like ten times more than the numbers who are open and out. I speak from personal knowledge in the Dioceses of Southwark and London where the numbers known to me are but the tip of the iceberg. Friends in other dioceses such as Chichester and Manchester tell me the same thing.

    I agree that it is hypocritical of LGBT clergy to be members of Forward in Faith and to subscribe to an internalised homophobia and an organisation which campaigns against their reality and their emotional and spiritual health. There are leaders in Forward in Faith who are partnered gay priests but have denied being so to my face when I know perfectly well that they are gay and live with male lovers.

    They have learnt to live in an institution which rewards secrecy and hypocrisy and forms not healthy, holy Christians but people who are unhealthy and prejudiced. They are frightened of the world around them which they perceive to be hostile to their sexuality, not recognising that our culture has changed dramatically.

  3. Stuart says

    Thank you for your courteous response, especially given the fact that I have not afforded much in the way of courtesy myself in times past.

    I'm always intrigued with the question of why the LGBT community would wish to become ministers. From a negative stance, I sometimes consider the Scripture of "causing your brother to stumble".

    I have been interacting with "Unthinking Anglicans" and father Ackeroff very aptly highlights what I can only term as an obsession to harp on about all things sexual from certain quarters of the evangelical conservative Anglican world.

    This obsession is thoroughly off-putting and makes them look like they themselves are sexually obsessed / repressed. It strikes me that the true Gospel is more than sex 🙂

    If I view LGBT to be sinful and desired that all LGBT folk come to repentance, then it strikes me that to continually "bash" them is not the way forward anyway. This would be counter-productive and would only serve to alienate the very folk I was hoping to reach.

    I suppose I am asking; "where is the love"?

    Humans find it very difficult to walk a "middle path" and the problem is that we tend to polar views. The irony is that polar views have a tendency to have a very close symbiotic relationship, with one strengthening the other. i.e the BNP and radical Islam, or liberal and conservative etc.

    Christians should always bear in mind that we will be judged as we judge, therefore, not a good idea to always be judging others harshly.

    I know this is a bit of a ramble, but I am conscioulsy "sounding out" my thoughts.

  4. Colin Coward says

    Stuart, thanks for your rambling thoughts – in response to your rhetorical question Where is the Love? I suggest you might value the book 'Love is an Orientation' by Andrew Marin.

    You prime example is indeed a good example of the obsessive interest in extreme sexual activity indulged in by conservative evangelicals and their further obsessession with what is taught to children in schools. Anglican Mainstream likes to source news from the USA to support its belief that all gay sex is unhealthy.

    Anglican Mainstream doesn't just look 'sexually obsessed' – it IS sexually obsessed. The Changing Attitude blog has no need to deal with such issues – we are advocates of loving, intimate, faithful relationships for adults, and we trust mature adult Christians to decide for themselves how they express their love physically.

    Fisting and other more extreme sexual activitites, gay and straight, are clearly not an appropriate subject for primary schools but might be dealt with at a personal level in secondary schools where young people begin to question sexual practices.

    I was struck by your hope that you wish to 'reach' LGBT folk. We who are Christians have already been reached by God which begs the question, what do you hope to reach us with?

  5. Stuart says

    Thanks Colin.

    In terms of "reaching LGBT folk" I was being rhetorical more than anything, as frankly my focus is very much on those that have not yet been reached by God. Other Christians are accountable to God as I am.

    For the record, I do not view LGBT Christians as non-Christians.

    You raise an interesting point that has been on my mind recently and this relates to the integration between US based conservative evnagelicals and UK groups.

    It seems as though they are morphing. This is worrying as the US groups are very Dominionism focussed, which also raises issues of human "freedoms" and "rights".

    (I also noted some time back your piece relating to organisations such as CCFON and their US "backers", which started me down this line of thinking.)

    I'm an advocate of human freedom and abhor the desire of some Christians to impose their "regenerate" moraility on an "unregenerate" populace, through the mechanisms of privilige and the apparatus of law and politics etc.

    If I want to declare that I believe LGBT to be against the prescription of God and therefore unsuitable for church leadership, I should have the freedom to do so and chose my candidates accordingly. Equally if folks want to call me a narrow minded bigot, then they should also be free to do so. All of this without legislative interference.

    Can you help me clarify something for personal reasons. Do you know if FCA & Am etc all adhere to the "Jerusalem Declaration" and if so do you know where I can get to see a copy online as I seem to struggling.

    I wish to know if this document has any reference to sexual ethics and also its stance on the theology of zionism.

    Thanks Stuart

  6. Erika Baker says

    Stuart,

    "If I want to declare that I believe LGBT to be against the prescription of God and therefore unsuitable for church leadership, I should have the freedom to do so and chose my candidates accordingly."

    Why? And this is a genuine question, not a cheap snipe.

    Do you think there should also be a law that allows me to refuse to employ conservative Christians? Or black Christians? Or women? Or anyone I might believe fall below God's ideal for mankind?
    And could I have a law that stipulates that no conservative evangelical must ever serve in any role in my church? Or that I can freely remove any divorced person from my radius?

    If you don't believe that, then why should your opinion be protected by national law but not mine? After all, both our views are represented at all levels of the church, and theology exists to support either view.

    The other thing I noticed when I read your exchange with Colin was your question why lgbt people should be drawn to the ministry.

    Can I please point out that this question assumes that everyone knows that lgbt people are terribly sinful, that lgbt people know it too, but that they all falsely infiltrate a role that God has reserved for the righteous?

    And can I please also point out that, whatever your personal view of lgbts is, it would be very kind of you if you could at least accept that we genuinely don't believe that being gay is sinful and that those of us who are priests have followed a genuine calling from God?

    I don’t agree with your opinions but I believe you to be a person of integrity who holds his views with sincerity.
    Please do us the same favour.
    Otherwise we have no basis for any conversation.

  7. Stuart says

    Hold on Erika, I feel I have been taken a little out of context.

    My point in mentioning LGBT in ministry above, was a comment more on intrusive controlling legislation by an obsessive compulsive controlling government. We MUST all have the right to act and live according to our consciences without fear of prosecution, as long as we harm no one else.

    The government will never be able to legislate for offense or equality. It is a pipe dream, as some will always be more "equal" than others and the whole church must resist the temptation to employ secular means to impose its will on other Christians. It must be reconciled from within.

    Recently I have tended to a "libertarian" worldview politically, which advocates the rights of all without persistent legislation mania. A specific example would of course be the recent so called "equality bill" and I feel that recent comments by Jonathan Chaplin in the Guardian are very compelling.

    Jonathan Chaplin: At the beginning of the week Jonathan Bartley argued here – as he routinely does via his Christian think-tank Ekklesia – against recognising churches’ legal right to hire staff according to their own beliefs.

    As a result of the Libertarian worldview, I DO NOT believe that gay folk should be denied equal marriage status. If they wish to marry in a church and the ministers are happy with this, then so be it. However, if a minister does not agree with gay marriage in his/her church, then they must be free to refuse without legal consequences.

    In terms of LGBT folk being "terribly sinful" you are putting words in my mouth. 🙂

    My point was to simply point out the more negative association between practicing LGBT folk in ministry, knowing that their vocation may cause other Christians problems and perhaps cause problems for the church itself. Now this is an issue of personal conscience and not one I can answer for another person.

    In relation to your comment:-

    at least accept that we genuinely don't believe that being gay is sinful and that those of us who are priests have followed a genuine calling from God?,

    Many Christian folk do view being gay as sinful. The practice of being gay may well be sinful Biblically and given the Pauline writings, would this not preclude leadership ministry? I know that you may find this unpalatable. I will add however, that the tendency to single out Gays in relation to sexual sin is utterly wrong. If a person views practicing homosexuality a sin, then (in my opinion) they should not view this as any more grave, than a married man lusting for another woman in his heart.

    Thank you for your comments in regard to my integrity and sincerity.

    I have never denied anyone's "genuine call from God", who on earth am I to do such a thing? God forbid.

    We need to be nuanced in our approach to one another in order to strike up meaningful dialogue. I feel that you have read my posts with negative glasses and it is easy (I am also guilty) to tend toward knee-jerk reactions, however, as I pointed out earlier, polar positions have a strange sybiotic tendency to strengthen each other in an advesarial manner.

    I am debating openly and honestly on a blog much watched by all sides of the debate. I am not interested in widening the gaps further, as this is being performed aptly by others and is counter-productive.

    You and I both know how easy it is to just shoot one another 🙂

  8. Erika Baker says

    Stuart

    I apologise if I come across as adversarial.
    To an extent, you have a point. I do feel increasingly tired when people ask me to seriously take into account their view that I am a sinner who ought to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. I am tired of people who seem to assume that I have to answer all their searching questions while they never have to answer mine. And I am tired of people who act as enquirer, judge and jury of me and my life without according me an equal status in the conversation.

    I agree with you that we must all have the right to live and act according to our conscience as long as we harm no-one else.

    So why would you deny me that same right to the point of seeking the law to protect your right to discriminate against me?

    And why is it only lgbt people you seek legal protection from? Why not ask the Government to enshrine in law that adulterers must not become dinner ladies and that divorced people must never be caretakers in schools?
    What is it about lgbt people that it so important that we need a law to keep them out?
    And why is the harm done to us by discriminating against us in this matter not considered to be even worth mentioning?

    “Many Christian folk do view being gay as sinful. The practice of being gay may well be sinful Biblically and given the Pauline writings, would this not preclude leadership ministry? I know that you may find this unpalatable. I will add however, that the tendency to single out Gays in relation to sexual sin is utterly wrong. If a person views practicing homosexuality a sin, then (in my opinion) they should not view this as any more grave, than a married man lusting for another woman in his heart. “

    Here we get into really deep waters.
    Your comment assumes a priori that what we consider to be “homosexuality” is condemned in the bible. – many theologians would disagree with you, and although you are entitled to your view, I cannot make it the underlying premise of a debate. The underlying premise of a debate would have to be: given that some people believe homosexuality to be unbiblical, should we be allowed to discriminate against lgbt people/

    The same goes for Pauline teachings. They are not accepted as the non plus ultra by anyone. Indeed, apart from an increasingly smaller group of people, the teaching ministry of women is widely accepted in the church. Those who do not wish to have women priests do not have to have a women, but it is accepted that women are priests in many parts of the church.
    And no-one calls on the Government for legal protection against women in leadership roles.
    And so my premise for a conversation would have to be: given that Pauline teaching is given different weighting by different groups within the church, why is homosexuality to be treated differently from other conflicts?

    Finally, you are entitled to believe that practicing homosexuality is a sin. You are also entitled to believe that lusting for another woman is a sin.
    But let me ask you – do you also believe that a priest who is overcome by temptation, struggles with it and overcomes it is unworthy to be a priest?
    Do you believe that there should be a national law that ensures that such a person can be removed from the church?

    And finally, why should your view be normative for all parishes? There clearly are very liberal parishes in the CoE. Presumably, you would not wish for them to force their liberal views onto you, you would not want them to lobby the Government to enact a law that ensure proportional gay-straight representation in church.
    So why should those who believe that theology is on their side be restricted by your opinions?

  9. Stuart says

    Oh Erika, I just feel like we're not quite getting each other and you are so right in that we all know these theological / Biblical arguments like the back of our hand and are all weary of them. I'm with you on this believe me.

    It is funny you know, it was never my intention to get into a conversation like this.

    So why would you deny me that same right to the point of seeking the law to protect your right to discriminate against me?

    I'm just simply not advocating this but the contrary. I don't want / need legal prtection from anyone and I don't want laws forced on others either.

    Discrimiation against is you IS worth mentioning.

    No Laws

    But let me ask you – do you also believe that a priest who is overcome by temptation, struggles with it and overcomes it is unworthy to be a priest?

    Do you believe that there should be a national law that ensures that such a person can be removed from the church?

    No, no and no again.

    should your view be normative for all parishes?

    No, no and no again. I said that I believe that if a gay couple wish to marry in a church and a minister is willing to conduct the ceremony then so be it.

    Erika, I think you have waged war for so long, that you have got to the point where you can only perceive negativity in my comments and can't see any positive and I'm not blaming you.

    I engaged here for the personal reasons. I have become disillusioned with certain Anglican evangelical groups.

    We'll try again another time. Perhaps I will see you over at Unthinking Anglicans which has become one of my fav blogs and this could be more neutral ground for us.

  10. Erika Baker says

    Stuart
    Apologies if I misunderstood you.
    But please explain what you did mean to say.
    I am too used to people telling me that I have to appreciate what "many Christians" think, and they really are trying to find a polite way of telling me that this is what they think.

    And if I haven't answered your arguments, then I have answered what I perceived you to have been telling me about "many Christians".

    To be honest, ultimately, what other people think is their problem and I am increasingly unwilling to allow them to make it my problem too. That's the basis for all my arguments here.

    If I completely misunderstood you, please tell me in idiot form what you meant to say.

    As for Unthinking Anglicans – we must have met on there before, it's one of my regular reads too!

  11. Anonymous says

    Erica 15:02 16 FEB – Said
    "Finally, you are entitled to believe that practicing homosexuality is a sin. You are also entitled to believe that lusting for another woman is a sin.
    But let me ask you – do you also believe that a priest who is overcome by temptation, struggles with it and overcomes it is unworthy to be a priest?
    Do you believe that there should be a national law that ensures that such a person can be removed from the church?

    Great statement Erika with a "hidden context" when you say 'and overcomes it is unworthy to be a priest' – The word overcomes, if used in the homosexuality and lusting portions of your statement would totally exonerate the lgbt and lustiness minded from their sin, would it not?

    If the sinner turns from the sin and refuses to go back, and confesses and repents then he/she has received the forgiveness and should then be allowed into the ministry and or into the church as full members. Otherwise, keep out and leave God's Church to God's people who wish to follow His Laws and not the chosen thinking time bending mind bending rules of mankind that are used to fit his/her attitude of the 21st century.

  12. Erika Baker says

    Anonymous
    Keep out and leave God's church to people who wish to follow his laws?
    You know what – although it may displease you, I shall stay and leave the judgement on you and me to God himself.

  13. Susan says

    I've just read through this interesting exchange and it strikes me that Stuart made a genuine effort to dialogue.

    Erika, you simply responded with aggression and venom. You either didn't even bother to read Stuart's comments or you simply decided to misrepresent him so you could spoil for a fight. You read what you wanted to read and not what was said.

    If you are an example of your "joyous" God, then no thank you! If you are typical of your "movement" then no thank you.

    Stuart, let this be the lesson that you take away. You cannot dialogue here. These folk are everything that they judge in others and yet they cannot see their own plank and hide behind platitudes of "love" and "equality". ps love your blog.

  14. Erika Baker says

    Susan
    I may have misunderstood Stuart, and I believe I apologised for that.
    It would be a great shame if we could not make mistakes or have misunderstandings without you wanting to run away from the conversation.

    And whatever mistakes I may have made, Colin's conversation with Stuart was extremely friendly.
    Please don't judge all of us by your judgement of me, and please do not misrepresent what you call "the movement" because of your interpretation of what I have said.

  15. CanonLloydOSJV says

    Just because one might be LGBT does not necessarily mean that one has to be pro the Ordination of Women. Neither does it mean that one must necessarily be pro same gender "Marriage". Accepting one's own sexuality and being true to the received Apostolic Faith and Tradition of the Catholic Church, does not make one automatically a "hypocrite" or even an inverted homophobe or misogynist! Thus LGBT people may well be and are members of Forward in Faith.

    Re the particular aspects of some of FinF's resolutions concerning LGBT issues, suggesting that LGBT members should leave FinF would be rather like saying that LGBT people should leave the CofE or RC or any other denomination not totally sympathetic to LGBT issues. The problem with that is, that it is generally harder to change an organisation from without than from within. And anyway, why should committed LGBT Christians leave the Church of their birth or faith? That would be rather like suggesting that proponents of the Consecration of women Bishops should leave the CofE until women Bishops are consecrated?!

    The fact is that FinF broadly represents the views of people concerned for the CofE to maintain its claim to Apostolicity and Catholicity – the debate about the ordination/consecration of women is not actually one of "human rights" or equality for some people, it is actually a serious theological/doctrinal one. The same to some extent may be said of LGBT issues, however there has been so much "extreme" postulating on all sides that a reasonable debate is all but impossible.

  16. CanonLloydOSJV says

    Just because one might be LGBT does not necessarily mean that one has to be pro the Ordination of Women. Neither does it mean that one must necessarily be pro same gender "Marriage". Accepting one's own sexuality and being true to the received Apostolic Faith and Tradition of the Catholic Church, does not make one automatically a "hypocrite" or even an inverted homophobe or misogynist! Thus LGBT people may well be and are members of Forward in Faith.

    Re the particular aspects of some of FinF's resolutions concerning LGBT issues, suggesting that LGBT members should leave FinF would be rather like saying that LGBT people should leave the CofE or RC or any other denomination not totally sympathetic to LGBT issues. The problem with that is, that it is generally harder to change an organisation from without than from within. And anyway, why should committed LGBT Christians leave the Church of their birth or faith? That would be rather like suggesting that proponents of the Consecration of women Bishops should leave the CofE until women Bishops are consecrated?!

    The fact is that FinF broadly represents the views of people concerned for the CofE to maintain its claim to Apostolicity and Catholicity – the debate about the ordination/consecration of women is not actually one of "human rights" or equality for some people, it is actually a serious theological/doctrinal one. The same to some extent may be said of LGBT issues, however there has been so much "extreme" postulating on all sides that a reasonable debate is all but impossible.

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