There are three Changing trustees present at Synod this week, one of them, Sister Rosemary, a member of Synod, plus me. There are also members of Inclusive Church.
The Changing Attitude petition hit the 1,000 mark Synod yesterday evening. Even if 10,000 signed, I can tell from conversations here yesterday afternoon that it would take more than that to persuade the church that LGB&T Anglicans crave an urgent change in Christian attitudes towards us. We live in a society where the presence of LGB&T people at work, on TV, living in relationships that are seen to be equivalent to marriage, is seen as normal and unexceptional.
But inside Church House, in the context of General Synod, things look significantly different, as several conversations yesterday reminded me. This week, women in the episcopate is the prime issue in the Synod chamber. It isn’t a forgone conclusion that the measure will pass at Synod in July. This is not because a majority couldn’t be achieved, but because is the Manchester motion to be debated tomorrow is passed, women might well pull the plug rather than accept such a compromise to the authority of women diocesan bishops. Several women reminded me of the 20 plus years it has taken to reach this point – how long for gays?
General Synod has lesbian and gay members and many supportive bishops, priests and lay people. It also has people who are against any change in church teaching and practice, who argue from tradition, law and the authority of scripture. They have a much greater influence in a negative way on the potential to progress towards change than the pro-gay constituency. The mood has a salutary and depressing influence.
The stance of synod is in marked contrast to the views of Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome, who in an interview in The Independent, declares his support for the Government’s proposal to legalise gay marriage.
I would have thought Tim Montgomerie was a natural ally of Synod conservatives, Chris Sugden, Andrea Minichiello Williams and others, but in the interview he says church leaders should support gay marriage because it would save the institution, not destroy it. “Marriage is probably the most important Conservative institution and excluding people from it is therefore excluding people from Conservativism to a significant extent,” he said.
The Independent describes him as having broken ranks with his allies on the “religious right” by declaring his support for the Government’s controversial plans to legalise gay marriage.
He dismissed criticism that extending equal rights to gays and lesbians would weaken marriage and criticised Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, for warning David Cameron that he would be acting like a “dictator” if he allowed same-sex couples to wed.
Mr Montgomerie’s founded the influential Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF) in 1990 with David Burrowes, the Tory MP who now leads the campaign against gay marriage. Mr Montgomerie continued:
“Conservatives should want as many people as possible to live in institutions and social norms that promote stability, faithfulness and compassion. Marriage is an institution at the centre of society. It is because I value it so much that I want it to be extended. This is not about equal rights. It is about extending an incredibly important social institution.”
“Marriage is civilising, stabilising, a hugely important institution for bringing people together. But if marriage is fossilised and exclusive, that has only limited reach. [David Cameron’s] attempt to enlarge and modernise the institution should not be seen as a threat to marriage but as its saviour.”
“My great hope is for gay rights alongside religious liberty. It’s not an easy balance to strike.”
In Synod conversations, CA trustees report encountering a complacent, white, middle-class, comfortable, heterosexual male mentality amongst some bishops. For them, the freedom to enjoy sex in marriage is taken as give. But it’s not allowed for gay people, and when challenged about God’s unconditional love for all, they introduce defensive arguments about AIDS, gay promiscuity, and some gay people not want marriage because it’s a heterosexual model.
Today, I fear we have a long journey to travel before Synod has a Tim Montogmerie moment and welcomes civil partnerships in church, agrees that gay relationships can be blessed, and approves gay marriage.