I’ve spent Saturday at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby at a meeting of Changing Attitude trustees where we spent much of the time discussing our campaign to persuade the Church of England to allow civil partnerships in church.
The trustees are committed to a campaign to persuade General Synod (the only body with the authority to make the decision) to approve civil partnerships in church (and by extension, the blessing of gay relationships). The strategy developed by William Fittall, the Secretary General of the General Synod is to block any possibility of this happening by not allowing any debate to take place. Mr Fittall is employed as a servant of the Church and of General Synod and we believe the General Synod should take authority to itself and claim the right to discuss and vote on a proposal to allow CPs in church.
We plan to ensure that questions are asked at the next meeting of Synod in February. We will also seek to persuade a number of diocesan synods to pass a motion asking General Synod to debate a motion requesting the Church of England to give permission for civil partnerships to be celebrated in Church of England buildings. Diocesan motions have to be debated by Synod.
Peter Tatchell has called on clergy to ignore the ban and urged individual priests and congregations to defy William Fittall’s ruling, going ahead with same-sex civil partnerships if they want to. I entirely agree with Peter’s challenge but legally, no clergy person is free to ignore the ban and would have to persuade the local registrar to register the church building and register the ceremony themselves. A ceremony in any other circumstances would not be legal.
It’s crazy that the first stage of our campaign is to persuade Mr Fittall and the House of Bishops to allow the General Synod even to debate the issue. What kind of infantile, abusive and over-controlled Church are we, LGB&T and supporters, part of? I suspect that stories which are likely to enter the public domain in the coming weeks will show that we are members of a Church where bishops abuse their authority and power, are divided among themselves and are infected by an intolerance of their LGB&T clergy and laity which is shocking.
The Church allows its policy to be determined by a minority of conservative evangelicals and catholics who may believe their theological and biblical position to be one of integrity but who infect the Church with a prejudice which is not Christian and certainly not inspired by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
A second story is running today – news of the effect the vote on the anti same gender marriage bill in Nigeria is having on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Nigerians. I have been in regular contact with Uche Sam, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, and other LGB&T Nigerians. They are fearful for their safety and their lives. It is driving them further back into the closet. Lynchings of people suspected of being gay are predicted.
Is the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) opposed to a bill which threatens the lives and safety of some 700,000 members of the Church? No, the Church of Nigeria campaigned in support of a bill which directly contravenes Anglican policy.
Have Church of England bishops and archbishops spoken out this week to denounce the bill and criticise the Church of Nigeria for supporting it in opposition to Anglican policy? No.
So, in both Nigeria (and other parts of Africa) and in England, the Anglican Church is deeply compromised, taking a stance in relation to the Nigerian bill which further criminalizes lesbian and gay people, and in England, opposing the yearning felt by many, straight and gay, that the Church should minister to, welcome and celebrate the lives and relationships of her LGB&T members and their friends and families.
Archbishops, bishops (especially those who are patrons of Changing Attitude or who tell me how supportive of LGB&T people they are), what are you doing to demonstrate your support in practical ways? Many of you support and licence clergy in civil partnerships. ALL of you have partnered clergy in your diocese, clergy in Civil Partnerships, most of whom live in fear of being ‘outed’. I wish the 14 gay bishops and the majority of bishops who affirm and licence their partnered lesbian and gay clergy, lived in fear of being outed. Changing Attitude doesn’t out people. But we are highlighting the disgusting dishonesty and abusive pastoral behaviour which characterises too many of our bishops.
It’s time for the majority in the House of Bishops to stand up to the conservative minority and refuse to collude in a church culture which employs and licences a thousand LGB&T people in ministry – and then denies us the freedom to live and minister openly and honestly.