LGBT Anglican Coalition writes to Archbishop of Canterbury about sexuality, celibacy and secrecy

The LGBT Anglican Coalition, a network of eight Anglican groups, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury following his interview in The Times. The Coalition has issued the following press release, and below is a copy of the letter sent to the Archbishop.

LGBT Anglican Coalition Press Release 11 October 2010
Time to accept gay bishops, says Anglican Coalition

In a recent interview with The Times the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was unclear whether celibate but partnered gay clergy are acceptable as bishops in the Church of England. The archbishop stated his unwillingness to consider partnered gay men and lesbians as bishops because of their ‘particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the Church has to say about that.’

The LGBT Anglican Coalition believes that acceptance should be extended beyond those who are celibate, but says:

‘Your statement has also left ambiguity regarding those in loving life-long but celibate relationships. Such people would appear to be complying fully with the requirements of “Issues in Human Sexuality” and yet still seem to be excluded simply on the grounds of some other people’s disapproval. If this is not your intention, we ask you to clarify what you meant. Given that you said that you “have no problem” with gay bishops who are celibate, we would ask you to make clear your position on the acceptability for higher office of celibate gay clergy who are in civil partnerships.’

In a letter sent to the Archbishop, the Coalition criticizes the Archbishop’s remarks as ‘hurtful and undermining to the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who have been called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy’. The Coalition calls the Church of England to a renewed study of sexuality in the light of modern scientific and theological understanding.

The letter is also highly critical of the culture of secrecy, fear and dishonesty around human sexuality which is blighting the Church of England, and damaging our witness to society, and which urgently needs to be dispelled. It says that, ‘in numerous Church of England parishes, worshippers fully accept LGBT people, whether single or partnered, and believe that all forms of ministry should be open to God’s children regardless of sexual orientation.’

ENDS

Full Text of Letter to the Archbishop

Dear Archbishop Rowan

We are deeply dismayed that, in an interview with The Times, you stated your unwillingness to consider partnered gay men and lesbians as bishops because of their ‘particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the Church has to say about that.’ This is not only hurtful and undermining to the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who have been called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy – a valued but rare vocation among people of any sexual orientation – but also to the life and witness of the Church of England.

Your statement has also left ambiguity regarding those in loving life-long but celibate relationships. Such people would appear to be complying fully with the requirements of ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and yet still seem to be excluded simply on the grounds of some other people’s disapproval. If this is not your intention, we ask you to clarify what you meant. Given that you said that you ‘have no problem’ with gay bishops who are celibate, we would ask you to make clear your position on the acceptability for higher office of celibate gay clergy who are in civil partnerships.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, we expect you to encourage the Church of England to continue to strive thoughtfully and prayerfully to discern God’s will on human sexuality, taking account of the findings of theologians and scientists and in conversation with other Anglicans and the wider church. It is regrettable that some bishops elsewhere in the Anglican Communion remain unwilling to enter into dialogue with those in their own dioceses who are lesbian or gay, or to take note of the diligent work of scholars through which Christians can develop an ever-richer understanding of God’s creation, our place within it and where the Holy Spirit is leading us. However this must not deter us from acting justly and lovingly in the context of our own mission and ministry.

Increasingly, eminent theologians have come to accept that Christians who are neither heterosexual nor called to celibacy may acceptably enter into committed relationships with members of the same sex, in which they can grow more responsive to God’s love and be more faithful in following Christ. Likewise, in numerous Church of England parishes, worshippers fully accept LGBT people, whether single or partnered, and believe that all forms of ministry should be open to God’s children regardless of sexual orientation. Meanwhile, social and natural scientists have helped to throw fresh light on the complexity and diversity of life on earth and the role of same-sex as well as opposite-sex attraction.

As Sister Rosemary CHN, representing Religious Communities, explained in a debate in General Synod in 2004:

‘For those of us under religious vows, who treasure celibacy as call and gift, the idea of forced celibacy is as abhorrent as the idea of forced marriage…

‘Some gay clergy have reluctantly accepted celibacy as an imposed discipline. Some of these, I feel sure, have found that through their struggles they have been given grace… For others, however, misery remains just misery, and they are exposed to the danger of a kind of withering of the heart, which makes them less able to love anybody.

‘Christians who are happily married can bear witness to the way in which a partner’s love can be both a means of grace and a school of the Lord’s service: a channel of God’s love to them and through them. Gay Christians in committed relationships say that it is the same for them. When I observe the quality of their lives, and feel warmed and healed by their friendship, I know that it is true.’

We regret that any senior clergy in the Church of England should seem to be moving in the opposite direction from ordinary members in order to placate the small minority among us who are fiercely opposed to greater inclusion and even some in other churches who also object. It is important that they, like the rest of us, be challenged to understand that the church is not the possession of one faction and that theological diversity is part of our inheritance as Anglicans. There is a culture of secrecy, fear and dishonesty around human sexuality which is blighting the Church of England, and damaging our witness to society, and which urgently needs to be dispelled.

We urge you to acknowledge the contribution of so many LGBT people, often partnered, to the ministry of the church, and to promote rigorous and prayerful study of the issues involved in the light of present knowledge.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Timm, Changing Attitude

On behalf of the LGBT Anglican Coalition

Accepting Evangelicals www.acceptingevangelicals.org

Changing Attitude www.changingattitude.org.uk

The Clergy Consultation www.clergyconsultation.org

Courage www.courage.org.uk

The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians www.eflgc.org.uk

Inclusive Church www.inclusivechurch2.net

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement www.lgcm.org.uk

The Sibyls www.sibyls.co.uk

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Wickens says

    An earlier blog stated “ +Rowan is a Christian leader of immense dignity, emotional and intellectual maturity, wisdom, grace, tenderness and love and has endured unbearable pain and anguish for most of the eight years he has been Archbishop.” This is so true and probably the main reason why this desperately painful issue is dragging on. But in his spirit of deep pastoral sensitivity, wanting to meet the needs and wishes of all, +Rowan is in fact procrastinating and prolonging his own agony.
    I am put in mind of a situation in a parish church I once attended – nothing to do with gender or sexuality – but it demonstrated how a vicar’s ‘no nonsense’ management skills resolved disagreement among his congregation. When the new Communion rites (A and B) were introduced in the distant days of the ASB, there was much arguing over which to use. In the end it was a compromise: they would alternate them. This of course led to much confusion, stumbling over words, and a weekly cacophony of unintentionally hybrid prayers. A new vicar arrived. He knew what had to be done, took the bull by the horns and did it: from now on Rite A only. There may have been a few complaints, but church life quickly seemed to settle down again very harmoniously.
    This may be a simplistic and naïve analogy, but my point is that if +Rowan were to take a few risks in the practice of ‘tough love’, after the inevitable initial fallout, life in the Anglican Communion might well settle down again more quickly than expected. Unlike the Pope, +Rowan does not claim infallibility, but although ‘primus inter pares’ among other bishops, he is still our leader, and I personally accept his authority to follow his conscience and God’s will as he discerns it. Moreover, I believe that if Jeffrey John had not been advised to withdraw from the Reading appointment in 2002, we would be a lot further on than we are at the moment.

  2. Trevor Thurston-Smith says

    I agree with Elizabeth's comments, but I fear that if ++Rowan moves in the direction of "tough love" it will once again be the LGBT community that gets the dirty end of the stick. The simple fact is that Rowan, lovely, holy and thoughtful man though he is, is at heart a coward and is far more afraid of the "sabre rattlers" in the Anglican Communion than of those of us who belong to the LGBT Christian community. This is why he has acted contrary to his own past words and writings, having either changed his mind on the subject or having abandoned truth and integrity in the interests of placating those who threaten him most. He has signed up to what Richard Holloway succintly described as "The Caiphactic principle" and it is hard to imagine him changing course now. LGBT Christians have been betrayed in the interests of a superficial church unity. For Rowan, sacrificing us is the lesser of two evils, and I don't think we can ever expect much from him now.

  3. Anonymous says

    Sister Rosemary for Archbishop of Canterbury? She sounds like an extraordinarily sensible person.

    I don't quite get ABC's logic: if he sees himself as an even handed listener in these debates, why does he feel able to put his 'thumbs on the scales' in favour of women bishops, but not so on gay equality? It doesn't add up.

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