For some time I’ve been receiving reports from people attending churches where the Coalition for Marriage (c4m) petition has been circulated. They report having to make up excuses to avoid signing, such was the pressure being brought to almost force people to sign. Some escaped after church, others lied and said they signed online. I found it hard to believe that Anglican congregations were behaving in this way, and that others have been so intimidated – I can be quite naive sometimes!
Yesterday a lesbian described their experience in the church they have been attending for eight years. The petition turned up at her church and people literally chased her around the building trying to get her to sign it and called her immoral when she refused.
In the 8 years she had been a member she had experienced loads of problems. She had been refused communion, had been kicked out of the church band and wasn’t allowed to be involved in young people’s work because they didn’t want the youngsters to have a positive gay role model.
She left and started attending a church in another village but within 6 weeks the petition appeared there too. The Sunday it arrived they had amazing church service on the theme of God’s love and then at the end of the service the vast majority turned round and queued at the back of the church to sign the petition. That was the moment she decided she couldn’t endure that level of prejudice any more so she left.
Are conservative Christians who hold to so-called ‘biblical principles’ and label themselves orthodox and traditional really that determined to defeat any developments in the church to extend love, welcome and equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – we who are already committed, worshipping members of their congregations?
I’ve never worshipped in that kind of church. I don’t understand why conservative orthodox Christians need to bully and manipulate people into signing a petition to defend marriage on the one hand, and to protect the church from lesbian and gay couples who want their relationship affirmed on the other.
It shows an extraordinary lack of faith and a shocking proclivity to abuse. I don’t recognise the behaviour of many in the conservative wings of the Church as being characterised by the marks of Christian charism. They have a tendency to abuse, bully and manipulate in order to dominate and exclude other Christians from the life of the Church.
I’m still receiving very angry reactions to yesterday’s Church of England statement accompanying the submission to the Government’s Equal Marriage Consultation. The statement still looks to be extraordinarily stupid. I can’t quite believe the House of Bishops signed this off nor that the two Archbishops allowed it to be sent under their names.
It’s said that the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs Division at Church House, was responsible for drafting the submission. Malcolm was interviewed on Channel 4 news yesterday evening with Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s Waterloo and Chair of Inclusive Church. Both spoke well in a recognisably Anglican way.
Malcolm is presenting a view of marriage which I know is his own view as well as the official position adopted by the Church in its statement and submission. In doing so, he argues for a version of Christian marriage as fixed for all time whereas anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the Bible and the history of marriage knows that the institution has changed dramatically, not only from Old Testament to New Testament times, but continues to evolve as society reconfigures marriage in each generation.
Among the many questions the Church stance raises for me is the link between the manipulative, bullying tactics which have been adopted by conservative groups and churches in gaining the 577,000 votes for the c4m petition and the submission which claims to the Church of England’s position on equal marriage.
It’s the position of those at the centre, the guardians of the tradition and the historic formularies. Not all bishops agree with the position adopted, and some bishops had already made public statements which radically differ with the submission. More worrying, if not frightening, is that some of the bishops and tradition-guardians at Church House are also advocates of the c4m petition and allied with the bullies.
I fear that the Church of England is being bullied by the abusive, manipulative conservative wing into adopting anti-gay policies and nothing bishops say to the contrary will convince those who have been abused and are leaving the Church that this isn’t true.