I’ve had a number of conversations today which have challenged me to think about the objective that is inspiring Changing Attitude’s campaign for the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church of England.
The conversations have invited me to focus on smaller details of the picture rather than the big picture. I’ve talked about the appropriateness or otherwise of outing anyone, the importance or otherwise of a gay person’s sexual identity being an issue when in the frame for appointment as a bishop, whether describing your sexuality as a grey area is true and accurate or a way of covering up and avoiding the truth.
The details may be important but they fail to see that underlying the detail is a deeper problem. The focus on detail means that we are oblivious to a deeper challenge – to see people for who they really are, without prejudice, separating our identity as male or female, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender, from the way in which we act towards other people – with respect and love or abuse and prejudice. The latter are the only things we are entitled to make judgements about.
None of the questions I’ve been engaged with would be relevant if the Church of England wasn’t hung up and conflicted about homosexuality. If a person’s sexual identity were a matter of total indifference to the Church we would have drawn close to the goal to which Changing Attitude aspires.
Being gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender, for those of us who are, is often only a problem for us because it’s a problem for the Church and for other people in society. The conservative groups challenging the appointment of bishops known to be or thought to be gay are driven by a prejudice against gay identity per se.
Speculation about which bishops might be gay is driven by the same prejudice – to be gay is itself unacceptable or shocking to some in the Church. And these people, who are so easily shocked, are driving the policy and teaching of the Church and reinforcing a culture of prejudice in which secrecy, guilt and fear become normative and in which no candidate for the episcopate is willingly going to reveal that they are gay.
This is becoming intolerable and reinforces the drift from the Church in our society. In the Church we become habituated to a culture which is prejudiced, insecure, anxious about the presence of gays, women (especially in senior roles), and sexuality. It is a culture in which abuse is widespread, evidenced at an extreme level in the Southwark CNC dynamic and in which people are diminished and disempowered by the system and by those who abuse power or are blithely unaware of their discriminatory attitude to other people.
None of this is acceptable in the Church, which should be aiming for the highest standards of love and generosity, truth and integrity, transparency and openness. The Church should be non-judgmental about who people are, and properly inquisitive about the way people behave and the dangers of inappropriate and abusive behaviour.
All the conservative lobby groups in the Church are reinforcing in one way or another the unhealthy, abusive culture of our Church, whether in their attitude to women, LGB&T people or any other category. The Church finds it almost impossible to reflect on this unhealthy, unchristian culture.
It’s hard for those of us who know we are being judged unfairly to maintain confidence in our vision of the Christian Church as a community of people following Our Lord who refuse to allow prejudices of our culture or community to infect our Christian practice.