Thinking Outside the Box

Meg was just six weeks old when she came to live with us in September 1993. Two months later (not that the events were connected in anyway) the legislation approving the ordination of women to the priesthood received the Royal Assent. As I said at the time, Meg, a beautiful Border Terrier puppy, was joining a household that had hitherto only had male dogs to celebrate this momentous development in the Church of England. Amazingly, Meg has only just died, on the 30th April 2012, the year in which the Women Bishop’s legislation, now amended by the House of Bishops, will be put to the vote at the General Synod to be held next month in York.

Meg was 18 years and 8 months old when she died, which shows how long it has taken for the Church of England to reach this point. We have lived through a joyful process of reception and then another, more arduous process, in the committees of General Synod, where every alternative was explored, and compromises made, until a way forward was finally reached. The draft legislation has been debated in General Synod at least twice, as well as in Diocesan and Deanery Synods, and seemed likely to win general approval … and then the House of Bishops, having been urged not to do so, amended it in two places.

There has been a huge outcry from proponents, including the Revd Jean Mayland, formerly a Trustee of Changing Attitude, England, because one of these changes, while it might appear small and insignificant, seems set to enshrine in law discrimination against women:

What has fascinated me, reading some of the blogs and commentary on this decision written by women is that their frustration with the House of Bishops is very like our own in the struggle for LGB&T equality in the Church. But there seems to be a definite pecking order in the Church of England: first the Men, then the Women, and then LGB&T people. The campaign for Women Bishops appears to have ‘priority’ over our campaign in Changing Attitude, England: it is ‘on the agenda’ (of General Synod) in a way that ours is not, albeit the House of Bishops has recently formed a working party on sexuality which has been receiving submissions. But as Phyll Opoku-Gyimah observed at the Kaleidoscope Trust event, ‘Women’s Perspectives on LGBT Campaigning’, which was held in the Houses of Parliament back in March: ‘there is no hierarchy of rights’.

That is definitely our belief in Changing Attitude, England, and is the reason why Colin will not be attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States which will meet in Indianapolis this July as General Synod is meeting in York. Having lobbied for LGB&T people at successive meetings of the General Synod for a decade and more, Colin does not wish to give the impression that our issue is somehow more important to him than the women’s cause and so he will be attending General Synod at this crucial time to express his solidarity. Never having been a General Synod lobbyist myself I will be representing Changing Attitude, England at General Convention 2012, not least so that I can continue the networking with TransEpiscopal that began at the Lambeth Conference 2008.

I’m looking forward to witnessing at first hand the relatively open structures at General Convention – compared to the tightly managed processes of General Synod – which three years ago enabled TransEpiscopal’s concerns to be heard by the leadership of their Church. We desperately need a similar openness in the Church of England so that the listening process can be seen to be happening, not just on the ground, but among those responsible for leading us into a more just future. Parliamentary models often seem to dominate in the Church of England, not surprisingly in an established church, but surely there is room for thinking outside the box.

Such thinking was certainly evident at the ‘Women’s Perspective on LGBT Campaigning’ event where we heard from South African human rights lawyer Sibongile Ndashe, who recommended a fresh strategy for the global south rather than transplanting one from the global north; Quaker Clare B. Dimyon MBE, who has used humour and a quirky historical perspective to  advance the rights of LGBT people in Central & Eastern Europe; Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, co-founder of UK Black Pride, because she found some gay pride events in the UK hard to relate to; and music teacher Elly Barnes, who in 2005 eradicated homophobia in her school in Hackney, and was delighted to report that OFSTED itself had taken up the best practice pioneered by Schools Out – you can listen to Elly on the video on its site:

What a fantastic panel, ably chaired by Ulele Burnham!

‘Out of the box’ is also the title of the latest video in the Voices of Witness series produced by Integrity USA.

Its subject is transgender people of faith who tell their moving, and, ultimately, inspiring stories. One of the participants was on the Trans panel with me at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and I hope to meet some of the others at General Convention in Indianapolis next month where I’m sure I’ll be encouraged to do some blue sky thinking. Indeed, in a grey, wet, English June any bit of blue sky would be most welcome!


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