Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield, in an article in the Church Times last Friday has come out in support of a renewed listening, real listening, to the voices of LGBT people in LGCM and Changing Attitude. He says the Church of God and not just the Church of England should take a lead in encouraging real listening which allows for the possibility of a change of heart if not, he says, our own moral outlook.
The article was received enthusiastically by the trustees of Changing Attitude who met over the weekend in Tadcaster and they wanted me to blog about it, post an article on the web site and write to Bishop Stephen and the Church Times – and I will do all those things, starting here.
Having re-read the article, I want to be more critical, especially since bishop Stephen wants the Church universal to take a lead in ‘real’ listening. My first message back to Bishop Stephen is that it’s a bit rich to ask the Church to take a lead in ‘real’ listening. The Church is so far behind secular society which having undertaken a process of ‘real listening’ has mostly dealt with the ethical, moral, emotional and legal dimensions of homophobia and has already transformed the landscape for LGBT people. It is primarily in the church, and in particular pockets of society, in football, in schools that homophobia continues.
Bishop Stephen says the Church is not unlike our culture in which there are a variety of views with both calls for equality and rampant homophobia. I do not meet rampant homophobia in society, but in the church I meet an all-persuasive prejudice which has a rampantly homophobic effect. Try getting appointed to a new post in the church if you are in a civil partnership or recommending to a lesbian, gay or transgender seeker a church in which you can confidently guarantee they are going to receive a prejudice–free welcome. Changing Attitude has just 30 churches out of 10,000 listed in our Welcoming and Open scheme.
Perhaps the Church serves a purpose as a place where all this can be discussed, says Bishop Stephen, though he admits it would need to bring people together to claim to be that place. ‘All this’ is discussed freely in pubs and bars and cafes, homes and offices across the country. It’s in the Church that people have the greatest difficulty discussing human sexuality freely and openly. In my own church, which in a comment on a previous post a member denies is homophobic, I am told that it’s better for me not to constantly talk about being gay but keep it quiet. It isn’t something I talk about or preach about, but simply being there with my partner is too much for some of the congregtion – that’s homophobia, Frances.
Bishop Stephen thinks stereotypes would break down if Christians simply sat down with gay people, whether active, single, in committed relationships or not. I’m not so sure. For starters, outside the Church it’s immaterial whether gay people are active, single or in a committed relationship. The Church agenda is not society’s agenda. The moral and ethical attitude of the Church to gay relationships is not relevant and won’t be until the Church overcomes it’s institutionalized homophobia. Then people might attend to what the Church has to say about the ethics of gay relationships.
Bishop Stephen wonders when most diocesan synods last sought a presentation from gay Christians about their life in Christ or dioceses last held day conferences on sexuality and faith. The trustees of Changing Attitude wondered whether there was any chance of the newly elected General Synod passing legislation which might change the two most pressing issues for LGBT Anglicans – equality in selection and training for ministry and in clergy appointments and the blessing of gay relationships in church.
We concluded that there is almost zero chance of this happening in the current quinquennium. When General Synod or the House of Bishops finally get around to a homophobic-free discussion and attitude it will be totally irrelevant to LGBT people whose place in society was transformed by the legislative changes introduced by the last government.
The trustees were taken by Bishop Stephen’s use of the phrase ‘human flourishing’ in his last paragraph. The gospel, he says, obliges us to build a healthy society which is both sensitive to all and responsible in deriving a moral code that promotes human flourishing, and that’s not how it feels at the moment for lesbian and gay people. Actually, for many it does feel as if that’s what our society promotes – it’s the Church that doesn’t.
Can we now expect Bishop Stephen himself to take a lead by persuading the House of Bishops to listen directly to the experience of LGBT people in an open way that allows for a real possibility of a change of heart, and will he consult the LGBT Anglican Coalition, which includes both LGCM and Changing Attitude, to hear our proposals for legislation which we would like General Synod to pass?