I’ve come to Synod with a number of questions I wanted to ask of members of the House of Bishops following the announcement that they are going to take two years preparing to issue a consultation about the listening process, same-sex relationships and the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church.
Changing Attitude has been told several times by bishops in recent weeks that the House is divided, confused and dysfunctional. A bishop I talked with yesterday described the House as the most dysfunctional group he has ever belonged to. Another bishop today questioned that and said he could name several other that were far more dysfunctional and others felt it wasn’t that dysfunctional – a mixed picture.
One bishop thought of three reasons why the House might in truth be dysfunctional. It’s composed of Alpha males who are all jealous of their own territory; neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor of York are very good chairs; and the House is completely overwhelmed by the agenda that confronts it. Another bishop said Rowan is a good chair, but meetings had different characters, varying from functional to challenging dependent on it being all 114 bishops, or the 44 diocesans, or the House of Bishops alone (the least functional).
I was asked why I was curious about the workings of the House. Because I care deeply about the effectiveness of Christian witness and mission inspired by the infinite and intimate love of God, and I’m curious as to how, if the House is dysfunctional, the two years allocated to preparing the consultation are going to result in an outcome positive for Changing Attitude supporters.
My fifth conversation brought me into the presence of the first bishop who admitted that he was aware that there were gay bishops present in the House. Others, very gay aware and gay friendly, seemed unaware. I said to each bishop that in other contexts in our society, people would be astonished at the virtual impossibility of honesty about a person’s sexuality in the House of Bishops. My concern is that the outcome of the conversations they now plan to have are going to be disastrously impoverished and ultimately lead to a dysfunctional outcome if they have a conversation about LGBT people in our absence, and in ignorance of the presence of gay bishops in the conversation. Only one bishop seemed aware of the implications of this dynamic on the process they have committed themselves to.
One possible course of action is for us to write to each bishop individually and suggest that this time, they invite LGBT groups to participate in the conversation with them.