I’ve now had more conversations with bishops about the way the House is dealing and is going to deal with their recognition that it now has to take the initiative and address the radically different landscape we live in compared with 1991 when Issues in Human Sexuality was published.
I’m more hopeful now that I was before arriving at Synod that something worthwhile is going to happen in the next two years. I feared that the bishops were going to engage in a closed process amongst themselves. I feared that the outcome would take us no further forward because of the difficulty they have of overcoming their dysfunctional process and allowing themselves to be inhibited by conservative bishops and organisations in the UK and the hostile campaign being waged against LGBT people in the Communion.
I feared the next two years would be chaotic, with three different bishops managing three separate initiatives – bishops in civil partnerships, civil partnerships in general, and reviewing Church of England teaching and practice. I’m confident the two bishops already involved, Peter Price of Bath and Wells and Graham James of Norwich, will work together and integrate the three.
I have been reassured that the process will be open, not closed, and Changing Attitude and the LGBT Anglican Coalition will be involved. Some bishops are proposing that a conference should be held at which representatives of LGBT experience and bishops can meet face to face, which for me is one of the most important changes I would like to see.
I think the next two years can lead to an outcome of much greater realism and honesty about LGBT experience in church and society and a far more helpful policy in the church – that’s my optimistic view, and I and Changing Attitude will work pro-actively in the next two years to support those bishops who want to change attitudes in a creative and realistic way.
My conversations have reinforced the great trust and respect which is accorded Changing Attitude by many bishops. I’ve been able to talk more openly to bishops about the reality on the ground than I ever have before – of bishops approving candidates in civil partnerships for training and ordination, licensing clergy in civil partnerships and actively encouraging partnered clergy to enter a civil partnership.
It has been very difficult to get an accurate picture of life inside the House of Bishops. One thought that a gay bishop was open about his sexuality in the House, but no other bishops confirmed this, and most were unaware that there were any gay bishops. I’ve learnt things that I’m not going to make public, but reinforce the danger to human lives, wives, children and partners when the conservative lobby groups in the church force people to hide their true selves and deny their sexuality, with the result that they act out in inappropriate and abusive ways.
I’ve thought a lot about what has happened in the Murdoch empire and the revelations about the News of the World. There are some dark corners in the Church of England where activity, unhealthy in terms of human wholeness and flourishing, takes place. When people are not able to bring their full selves into the presence of other people (and into the divine presence), as happens in the House of Bishops, the fruits of their labours are going to be less creative and less inclined to human flourishing.