Changing Attitude presents ‘evidence’ to the House of Bishops Working Group

This morning four of us arrived at Church House to present our ‘evidence’ to the House of Bishops Working Group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling. We were asked to introduce ourselves and then to present our ‘evidence’, based on our submission to the group. We over-ran our allotted 20 minutes, unfortunately.

Joe Pilling then talked about his experience in the senior echelons of the civil service when he was advising government ministers to be persuasive when they spoke, tailoring their remarks with the intention of persuading hearers to their point of view. He accused Changing Attitude and the groups who had presented ‘evidence’ on Wednesday of being incompetent because we had made so little effort to be persuasive.

He thought CA was tactically inept because in our submission we accuse our opponents (and all conservative ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’ groups, he implied) of being homophobic.

I don’t think our submission does this, and it wasn’t our intention, but no matter, that’s what Sir Joe thinks – why? Sir Joe seems to have taken our submission personally, as if we were accusing him of being homophobic.

He asked me to comment. I said I thought he was transposing his model and his experience of working in the civil service into the Church of England context without examining whether it was appropriate to the culture of the Church of England. I could have said more but I refrained. I have learnt that the culture of the Church of England at the centre, in Church House, the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops, is very peculiar. It is of course, heavily male-dominated. It is also exempt from critical parts of equality legislation, unlike the civil service.

What do I understand from this opening exchange? That groups such as Reform and Anglican Mainstream, which are opposed to the full, open, equal and transparent inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church of England are not to be understood as prejudiced, anti-gay or homophobic but as living in accordance with the orthodox, Biblical, historical position which until now the Church has always held in relation to homosexuality.

Changing Attitude calls this a prejudiced reading of the texts and misreading of history which results in homophobia and a negative attitude towards a group of people because of their sexuality, a group which has to be listened to in a specialised way, apparently.

There is one other moment in the hour we spent with the group that I want to highlight, something that exemplifies to me the unexamined homophobia or prejudice within the group. The Bishop of Gloucester (who is gay friendly) said that one of the groups they had met the day before, a group which argues against our position (so it’s Reform) had submitted as part of their evidence a document produced by Changing Attitude.

The document in question proved to be the Sexual Ethics report produced by the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation published for them by Changing Attitude and available on our web site because we think it is an important contribution to the Church’s thinking about sexual ethics. It was produced 9 years ago and it does not represent Changing Attitude’s considered 2012 position.

The passage quoted by Bishop Michael was the one repeatedly used by Lisa Nolland of Anglican Mainstream to attack Changing Attitude’s ethical position.

I think what Reform has done in submitting a document from a pro-gay organisation as part of their submission is unethical and unchristian. Actually, I think it stinks – of homophobia.

Changing Attitude’s submission presented our position. It did not attack others and it never crossed our minds to used documents produced by conservative groups as a means of attacking them.

What Reform has done exemplifies what is so totally wrong with the Church of England and with the process being followed by Sir Joe in the House of Bishops Working Group. They were set on a false track even before they stated by those who selected the members of the group and formed its working model – ‘evidence’ based.

All the group members had received a copy of the Reform submission, with the Sexual Ethics Report assumed to have been produce by Changing Attitude. Why did none of them question the use of the Report in this way by Reform? It’s the apparent inability of the group to be aware of such obvious abuse and the basic questions it raises that left me feeling despondent after our presentation.

Dr Robert Song asked a good question about the Listening Process which we had little time to answer. But the listening process was 1998 and Church and society have moved so far beyond where we were then that Changing Attitude has little motivation to re-engage now.

The Bishop of Gloucester asked what two practical suggestions might they make which would make a real difference to us. My answer – to give approval to praying with faithfully committed lesbian and gay Christian couples and giving thanks for civil partnerships in Church, with joyful celebration and affirmation.

Today’s email from WATCH thanking people for signing their petition and asking for prayers that the bishops and all those who will be taking part in General Synod will hear the voices of the many thousands who are quietly despairing of the national church.

Friend in WATCH, you are not alone. Quietly despairing is how those trustees and supporters of Changing Attitude are feeling this evening on the evidence of today’s hearing in Church House.

Comments

  1. Kate says

    There is some similarity between the House of Bishops and the Civil Service: both have still a sense of being unassailable mandarins, with a strong internal culture of what’s U and non-U and with high penalties for perceived treachery. The difference is that while few of us can leave the country, and therefore have to engage, at some level, with the way the business of government is done, no-one’s obliged to stay in the Church of England.

    We know that people under 50 in particular are ‘not staying’ in their droves. There’s an end of Empire feel to all of this: we know that the Church sticking with its current position will simply kill it off in a society where already the majority disagrees with it, and an overwhelming majority of the under 40s. That can’t be countered by just accusing people who no longer agree with the official church line of impoliteness. In any case theological objections to homosexuality and loudly voiced disdain for gay acts are so often found together that it’s completely disingenuous to pretend there’s no connection. (and Anglican Mainstream have honed this to the point of comedy).

    Yesterday there was more politics going on, down at Westminster where liberal faith groups (including C of E representatives) met a bunch of 40-something politicians and plainly spent the day fiercely agreeing with each other (e.g http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/07/04/shadow-home-secretary-meets-with-liberal-faith-groups-on-equal-marriage/) And the church’s squeaks of impotence as this progresses have only made it ridiculous. If the human sexuality group has real political savvy beyond its own immediate comfort zone, it will see this.

    If there’s a lesson from the very long campaigns for women and gay people in the church, it’s that playing the establishment politeness game has only allowed things to be endlessly spun out: we shouldn’t fall for “if only you were more like us, then we could come to a gentleman’s agreement”.

  2. Richard Ashby says

    It’s none of Mr Pilling’s business to opine on your tactics or indeed your evidence. Unfortunately your report does nothing to persuade me that the ‘Listening’ of this committee to the ‘results’ of the listening process is going to produce anything but a few fair words and bugger all else.

    As for ‘Reform’, the are beneath contempt.

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