The Rt Rev Richard Harries, patron of Changing Attitude, has a letter published in today’s Guardian responding to the Archbishop of York’s statement on Marriage and Civil Partnerships. Richard Harries says “… the great flaw in his argument is that he does not urge the church to bless such partnerships. This would do more than anything to obtain that greater public understanding he says he wants.” A retired bishop has now said what the Bishop of Salisbury has also said publicly, a position many bishops support in private – the Church of England should celebrate lesbian and gay relationships.
The Archbishop of York fails to mention two things in his statement that are of fundamental importance to Changing Attitude.
- The freedom to contract civil partnerships in church and to receive a blessing on lesbian and gay relationships
- To be welcomed unconditionally by the church, affirming our sexuality and acknowledging the ministry of LGB&T people as equally valued, lay and ordained.
We will continue to campaign for these goals until the Church of England changes its teaching and practice and welcomes and affirms us unconditionally. The Church is unchristian, discriminating against LGB&T people and reinforcing prejudice. The need for change in the church is desperately urgent.
The two House of Bishops review groups now shoulder a huge responsibility. If they lack the courage to support equality in ministry and relationships for LGB&T people, they will reinforce society’s view of the church as morally bankrupt, obsessed with gay sex, secretive in its dealings with gay clergy, hostage to archaic biblical injunctions and so-called traditional teaching.
Last Monday the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) issued a St Matthias Day Statement prior to the Archbishop of York’s response on marriage and civil partnerships. Both are intended to be serious contributions to the Church of England’s engagement with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Both are trying to reposition themselves as being more open and understanding and less intolerant. Both fail miserably.
Sadly, both the Archbishop’s and the CEEC statements are fundamentally prejudiced against LGB&T people. Their theological and biblical foundations are antithetical to the health and well-being of people who do not conform to their heterosexual paradigm. Starting from a biblically conservative position they can never, and I mean NEVER, speak to LGB&T people in a way which opens our hearts and lives to the infinite love of God in creation.
Conservative evangelical Christian teaching habitually places original sin centre-stage, wanting people to acknowledge their guilt and sinfulness before allowing them to celebrate their capacity for love, creativity and goodness. The Church prefers to start with Genesis 3, the forbidden fruit, the seductive serpent, the nakedness of the man and the woman, their shame and the judgement of God rather than with Genesis 1, God’s creation of man and woman in God’s own image and the original blessing with which God delights in creation.
The St Matthias Day Statement says the Church must, like Christ, welcome, love and respect all, particularly those who feel excluded and marginalised such as those who identify as sexual minorities. It must also, like Christ, bear witness to God’s good purposes for humanity and call for repentance, assisting a return to God’s will whenever we depart from these purposes.
The CEEC needs to repent for its failure to fully welcome, love and respect LGB&T people. It is not possible to find an accommodation between teaching based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and the evolution of gay identity and the expectations of same-sex loving Christians.
Changing Attitude’s prime loyalty is not to these formularies and this inheritance of faith but to the deeply personal call of God to us in faith and love. We test our inheritance against the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Where there is conflict, and of course there is conflict aplenty, we opt to follow Jesus.
The St Matthias Day Statement talks about God in the past tense as giving us forms of relationship in which we learn what it means to give and receive love. God reveals to LGB&T people, today, in the here and now, what it means to love and to be drawn into a God-given relationship. Today if you will hear his voice, members of the CEEC, you may find that God is moving way beyond your dependence on old formularies and traditions.
The CEEC says the authority of the Church to decide its own actions is limited by the word of God in Holy Scripture. We believe the word of God in Holy Scripture inspires and releases people in freedom and love to live fully into the Kingdom of God. God is infinite love, not a limiting or rejecting presence in creation.
The CEEC restates its historical view of the creation by God of marriage in Genesis 3 as a created institution which benefits all in society. They want to define marriage in a way with which we simply disagree. Marriage does not always benefit all in society. Excluding lesbian and gay people from marriage, from being blessed, and from any form of sexual activity most certainly does not benefit us. You may call us to repentance but we see no need to repent of love and we reject the call. We prefer to live loving, creative lives freed from the guilt, anxiety, neurosis and fear resulting from allegiance to a punitive God.
The St Matthias Statement is offered “… in the hope that we may be led together into the way of peace and holiness as we seek to bear faithful witness to the grace and truth of Christ in society and the wider church.” Changing Attitude shares that hope but from a more dynamic, lived experience of faith in God. We are guided and nourished by Scripture and tradition, yes, but also by the God who sets our hearts on fire with love and passion, flames of fire dancing metaphorically above our heads as at the first Pentecost.
Neither John Sentamu nor the CEEC have spoken to the experience of love and the pastoral expectations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans.
There is no good news for LGB&T people in the current teaching of the Church of England and its policies which refuse to bless same-sex relationships, hold civil partnerships in church, appoint clergy in civil partnerships as bishops and in general, unconditionally authorise the ministry of LGB&T people, lay and ordained. House of Bishops, its time for dramatic change. You need to nurture the feelings of love, welcome, acceptance and deep trust in the goodness of creation, including our creation as same-sex loving people, which we celebrate in spite of your inability to open your hearts and souls to our faithful lives in Christ.