I’m keenly anticipating Changing Attitude’s hour with the House of Bishops’ Review Group on Thursday to present our ‘evidence’, but with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
I put ‘evidence’ in inverted commas because I’m not sure what the nature of Changing Attitude’s ‘evidence’ is. Well, I am sure in my heart, actually – it’s the evidence of ourselves, our souls and bodies, of four men and women with sexuality and gender identities which do not conform to present Church of England teaching and discipline.
We represent a body of Christians who are judged and made unwelcome by other Christians. We represent people who have lost their jobs in the Church and endured conflict with the hierarchy and humiliation at the hands of bishops. We represent people who have left and sought employment outside parish ministry, others who have abandoned their faith, and others who have accommodated and make themselves acceptable to the Church by hiding facets of their true selves.
We are the ‘evidence’, our presence at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians, lay and ordained, who in our rigorously explored self-understanding and awareness, are holy people, members of the Body of Christ, created by God and called into faithful relationship with God.
End of story, I want to say. What more ‘evidence’ do you need? Some of us have been witnessing to the Church in our souls and bodies for 20 or 30 or more years. What more ‘evidence’ does the Church need if it has not yet seen in us evidence of God’s work in creation?
Oh, of course I know perfectly well there are other sorts of evidence – the Bible with its clobber texts, and Christian tradition and history, and Christian reason. But Christian attitudes towards sexuality and gender are now seen to be unreasonable by the majority of the UK population.
The Review Group’s task is to help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document in 2013 offering proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process.
Changing Attitude is acutely aware that in other countries and cultures creating safe spaces in which listening to LGB&T testimonies is critically important, and at the moment, it’s often only the very first, tentative steps that are being taken.
Is there really a need in the Church of England to set up special encounters where people can listen to the testimony of LGB&T people? Surely every Anglican in England has the opportunity to listen if they really want to – even in villages and rural communities where LGB&T also live and move and have their being.
The problem for the Church is that it wants to listen conditionally, in the context of present Anglican teaching and practice, according to understandings defined by Issues in Human Sexuality, Some Issues in Human Sexuality and Lambeth 1.10.
The means ‘evidence’ has to be taken equally from individuals and groups representing this teaching who thing that to be gay is in some way deviant and a corruption of ‘God’s plan for human beings’ as well as from those arguing urgently for change in recognition of the unexceptional presence in God’s creation of LGB&T people.
I am unwilling to present ‘evidence’ on Thursday in the context of the listening process as if my sexuality is something the Church can take a decision about as a result of hearing ‘evidence’ from ‘experts on both sides’.
Having written that paragraph, I realise why I feel ill at ease about Thursday. How would those of you who are straight feel if your were being asked to present evidence about yourself as a result of which the Church of England might produce a consultation document with recommendations about how the Church might explore your treatment?