Revolution in the air – bishops develop new narrative about LGB&T people

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s dramatically evolving stance towards LGB&T people revealed in his comments at the Evangelical Alliance’s headquarters last week have been reinforced by the bishops of Gloucester, Worcester and Dudley (soon to be Manchester).

Changing Attitude believes this is an organised re-framing of thinking by the bishops with the full encouragement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby was genuinely deeply shocked by the attitudes towards the Church he encountered in the Lord’s debate on equal marriage. He realised then that radical change was required. I’m told that he supports the Bishop of Salisbury’s advocacy of equal marriage  which Nicholas Holtam expressed in his Times interview with Ruth Gledhill in February 2012 (see below).

Change is absolutely under way now. Although bishops are still worried about the effect their comments might have on a range of anti-gay elements in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has given a strong steer to the need for a radical overhaul of Anglican attitudes to LGB&T people and same-sex relationships.

It would be remarkable if this doesn’t translate into a positive report from Sir Joe Pilling’s review group and decisions taken after the House of Bishops meeting in December and the College of Bishops meeting on 27 January 2014 which will lead to radical changes in church practice and teaching.

Here’s what the Archbishop and bishops have been saying:

Canterbury

In his presidential address to General Synod on 5 July with the theme ‘Living in a time of revolution’ the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

The opposition to the Same Sex Marriage Bill was utterly overwhelmed. There was noticeable hostility to the view of the churches. Ninety seven per cent of gay teenagers in this country report homophobic bullying. In the USA suicide as a result of such bullying is the principle cause of death of gay adolescents. One cannot sit and listen to that sort of reality without being appalled. There is a revolution in the area of sexuality and we have not fully heard it. Sometimes people look at us and see what they don’t like. In that debate I heard it, and I could not walk away from it. We all know that it is utterly horrifying.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the opening of the new headquarters of the Evangelical Alliance:

  • the [Church] must “repent” over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past
  • the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice
  • you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic
  • the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia
  • at times, [we have] as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported [homophobia]
  • we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong

Gloucester

The Bishop of Gloucester said the Church of England’s stance on equal marriage is not sustainable. He thinks it is time for the Church of England to apologise for its treatment of the gay community. It is moving slowly towards acceptance. We should all celebrate committed, faithful and loving relationships.

Worcester

The Bishop of Worcester said the church should reflect deeply on the fact that many youngsters believe its attitude to homosexuality is wicked. For the first time in many generations, our traditional teaching is being seen by large numbers of people as being on the wrong side of the moral argument. It’s important that we recognise this and do some soul searching, recognising that God doesn’t only speak through the Church of England.

Dudley

The Bishop of Dudley said society recognises that those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender have been treated badly in the past. If they want the right to marry, for instance, then they should be able to. I think the Archbishop is spot on.

Salisbury

In a Times interview published in February 2012 the Bishop of Salisbury said he had changed his mind and now supports gay marriage. He believes there is no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual unions. He is no longer convinced that marriage can only be between heterosexual people. You can no longer say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children.

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