‘The Church of England’ (which I use as shorthand for everyone at Church House, members of the House of Bishops and College of Bishops, the Archbishops’ Council, everyone at Lambeth Palace and everyone on General Synod) but not including everyone else – the majority – all lay people and clergy), so, ‘The Church of England’ does not understand what LGB&T members of the Church expect of the Church, does not understand how we model our lives, and is as a result getting its public pronouncements more and more disastrously wrong.
There has been a more intense reaction to the publication yesterday of the briefing note to MPs and more anger at its contents than I have ever experienced before.
LGB&T Anglicans are integral to the life and worship of the Church of England at every level, laity, readers, deacons, priests, bishops (archbishops sometimes), and on all of the bodies I have mentioned above.
We have come to the point where we expect to be treated as mature adults with the same respect as every other member of the Church of England. Yesterday’s briefing note did not accord us that respect. That is why I described it as a scandal.
We also expect to model our lives on the pattern of Jesus Christ and the moral, ethical, theological and spiritual values and qualities of Christianity in the same way as everyone else.
These are the two things the Church doesn’t yet understand. The bodies that together make up ‘The Church of England’ are concerned with the rules as they have been laid down in the Bible, in 2,000 years of history and tradition and in more recent statements about human sexuality and homosexuality.
We understand that this is the background to the current official teaching of the Church of England about LGB&T people and the relationships we form. The official teaching position of the Church of England no longer describes the Christian experience of LGB&T people, our families, friends and colleagues and the majority of people in the congregations where we are present and open.
We do not conform to hetero-normative expectations because we are not straight. We have the same range of desires and appropriate needs as straight people. UK society began to recognise this six decades ago and in the last decade and a half has enacted legislative reforms to grant us equality in society. The majority of UK citizens recognise these reforms as just and appropriate.
The Church of England is still trapped by the demands and expectations of lobby groups representing primarily a conservative evangelical approach. I regret that the word evangelical has to be used to describe this reactionary set because I believe to be evangelical in our faith is something we should all aspire to. A subset of evangelicals has co-opted the word and redefined it to mean something loaded with prejudice and ignorance. LGB&T people do not find our experience and lives described in Church of England pronouncements about us.
I am not going to stop writing about this until the Church of England announces radical changes in its attitude to and teaching about LGB&T people. At a minimum Changing Attitude expects the Church to recognise our full equality as members of the body of Christ and the integrity of our relationships and accord them an official blessing.
You, ‘The Church of England’, need to explain:
- how redefining marriage in gender-neutral terms will result in uncertain and unforeseen consequences for wider society and the common good;
- when the Church announced a new appreciation of the need for and value of faithful and committed lifelong relationships recognised by civil partnerships;
- when the Church decided to address past inequalities faced by LGBT people and accepted civil partnerships as proving themselves an important way to redress this;
- how the Church will acknowledge the benefit faithfully partnered lesbian and gay couples bring to society, by promoting mutuality and fidelity, that includes, for some couples, the possibility of children;
- when the Church accepted that Civil partnerships already provide a framework within which same sex couples can celebrate and embody the crucial social virtues of mutuality and fidelity;
- in what ways heterosexual and homosexual relationships are not socially identical;
- how you will ensure religious freedom for those Christians who believe marriage can be between same-sex couples;
- what the detrimental societal impact will be of equal marriage;
- how equal marriage will potentially have a significant impact in the ability of the Church of England to serve the people of the nation;
- when the Church of England supported from the start and with positive enthusiasm various legal changes in recent years to remove unjustified discrimination and create greater legal rights for same sex couples;
- when the Church of England welcomed the fact that previous legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships had now been satisfactorily addressed;
- how extending marriage to same-sex couples will cause many people inside and outside religious organizations to struggle to recognize ‘a new statutory concept’ as amounting to marriage at all.
Supporters of Changing Attitude would like ‘The Church of England’ to provide an answer to every one of these twelve questions. We think some of the claims made demean LGB&T people and demonstrate that contrary to the claims made in some of the statements, ‘The Church of England’ hasn’t begun to revise its deep-seated antipathy to the presence our presence in Church and society.
I’m wondering what has gone so wrong in the minds of the people responsible for writing this briefing note and other documents. If the Church of England continues to so misunderstand the loving, faithful, spiritual experience of LGB&T Anglicans, the crisis into which the Church is sinking can only intensify.
When did the Church of England engage in depth and with an open heart and mind with a wide range of LGB&T people to form an accurate, unprejudiced awareness of our lives and relationships and faith? I don’t remember such an exercise having been undertaken. Changing Attitude has been one of a number of organisations called to give evidence to Review Groups. That’s not the same kind of exercise at all.
‘The Church of England’ still hasn’t found a way to listen to us and take on board our reality. It listens to us with prejudiced ears and looks at us through prejudiced eyes.
Here’s what a partnered gay friend has just written to me:
“The Church seems to be digging deeper and deeper holes for itself – or at least those who are supposedly allowed to speak on these matters are! The silent collegiality of the House of Bishops (with a few notable exceptions) seems to be creating a vacuum which church ‘officials’ seem to be filling – but at whose request? Rather than being episcopally led, synodically governed, it feels as though we are Church House led.
“The haphazard manner of releasing info from Church House and the flip flop over CP’s is making us look even more foolish as well as being out of touch with society. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Church and public react after the vote in parliament, especially as latest opinion polls seem to suggest even more support for equal marriage.
“Truth and love will win out in the end. It’s a shame that so much damage is being caused en route!”