The root of the problem affecting the Church of England in its conflicted views about homosexuality is the entrenched homophobia and prejudice held by a minority against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our Church and Communion. The prejudice is poisoning our Church and infecting it at every level. It poisoned the Crown Nomination Committee’s process in Southwark, as Colin Slee’s memorandum reveals and it has poisoned my life here in Devizes.
The poison will not go away until conservatives deal with their unexamined prejudice against homosexuals like me. Prejudice is the trap which prevents some bishops and many priests from being open about their sexuality. It creates deep anxiety and guilt in some. It also traps the 40 or so bishops who are to a greater or lesser degree supportive of LGBT people in the Church. All of them affirm their lesbian and gay lay people and priests and some knowingly approve the vocations of and appoint and license lesbian and gay people in civil partnerships or living in a committed relationship with a life partner.
The Church of England has allowed itself to become an enclave of prejudice against LGBT people in a society which now lives at ease with lesbian and gay people in their midst, affirms our relationships in a legal ceremony and continues to deal with prejudice in sport and schools.
The Church of England’s prejudice is reinforced by aggressively anti-gay rhetoric and behaviour elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Primates and bishops in Africa and other Provinces claim to speak on behalf of the majority in the Communion. They cannot claim to represent the majority because none of them has ever consulted their national church. Which of them has ever openly debated homosexuality in a safe environment or researched homosexuality as has the Church of England and the Episcopal Church among other Provinces and published the results? Which of them has commended The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality edited by Canon Phil Groves, the official Anglican Communion resource?
The Church of England lives with dishonesty about LGBT people, dishonesty about the significant proportion of LGBT clergy, a growing number of whom are in civil partnerships or living with a life partner. The dishonesty leaves lay people feeling vulnerable, less than welcome or accepted by the church. This affects not only we who are LGB&T but our friends and families, colleagues and members of our congregation. It is an insidious, poisonous drip.
On this morning’s Radio 4 interview, Canon Chris Sugden dripped the poison in a typically Anglican Mainstream way. Towards the end he linked homosexuality with promiscuity and adultery, as if these are characteristics typical of and peculiar to gay people rather than heterosexuals. This is a constant tactic of Anglican Mainstream. Lisa Nolland, Chris’s colleague, adds to his list bestiality, polyamoury and paedophilia. Both accuse LGBT people and by implication Changing Attitude, as campaigning for promiscuity, adultery, bestiality, polyamoury and paedophilia to be accepted as normal in the Church. WE ARE NOT. But no matter how many times I say this, Chris and Lisa continue to drip their poisonous innuendoes. This is one of the places from which the poison infecting our Church emanates.
It is time for Dr Philip Giddings, Chair of the General Synod’s House of Laity and member of the Archbishops’ Council, Convenor of Anglican Mainstream’s UK Steering Committee and trustee, to call Chris Sugden and Lisa Nolland to order. Does Philip have the courage to do so? He is a compassionate and intelligent man as I know from conversations with him, the last on a train between Slough and Reading, but he was one of those in Oxford Diocese who campaigned vociferously against Jeffrey John’s appointment to Reading.
This week I have seen with more clarity then before that the root of our Communion’s problem is not the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (who live with deep Christian faith and integrity in our Church). The root of the problem is the prejudice against us, even when it is dressed up, as Chris Sugden did this morning, to look as if it is a reasonable distinction between orientation and behaviour. Chris wants to split me in two. In the process he is destroying the integrity and integration of LGBT people and of our Church. My orientation and my behaviour are integrated, my orientation lies in my heart and soul, where love and desire also lie, the desire for communion with God and for intimacy with my soul mate whom I love.