Changing Attitude supporters respond to the Pilling Report

Changing Attitude supporters were invited to react to the Pilling Report soon after it was published. We are really grateful to everyone who responded, some at length and with great care, others with disappointment, frustration and despair. I’m going to post the comments over the next three or four days.

Reading the report a second time, more carefully, I notice more forcefully how unbalanced it is. One comment notes with curiosity that two contributions from the Bishop of Birkenhead are included, one in the body of the Report even though he refused to sign it.

The Report gives the impression that I and others who identify as LGB&T are a small minority, balanced in numbers by those who identify as same-sex attracted, ex-gay or post-gay. Another comment was written after Tom Daley announced his relationship with a man. Tom Daley represents a group of people in society whose identity is understood and who are present in numbers that have to be recognized. The Report tells me that the Church of England really doesn’t understand this.

How do we get the message across? Well, these responses are one way of saying to the Church, you are getting your response to LGB&T Christians very, very wrong. And more, this is not just about us, it’s about everyone who has a gay brother, lesbian aunt, bisexual cousin, transgender nephew – in other words, it’s about every family in the country – we are all related to people whose gender or sexuality is different from the binary heterosexual majority – and ALL of us belong to families and to God.

The responses have been anonymised.

A first reaction

• it is disappointing- it is conservative
• it is naive in its use of Scripture
• it is miles behind where the population is and where many of us have been for years
• it again tells us all TO LISTEN – have we not been supposed to do this for years?
• it shows how long and hard the struggle will be so the sooner we can get Women Bishops and concentrate on this the better
• it is based on where the Church is and not on our failure to attract and serve people
• The reasons why so few people now have any time for the church is that we continue to live in the wrong kind of ‘other worldliness’
• young people think we are completely out of date and have no time for us – except for the very evangelical ones
• who will be left by the time we have finished listening?!!!!
• we will never get all to agree – what we want is freedom to ACT and mutual respect which does NOT mean we have to wait for ever

Just one other thing,

In one sense we need to be patient – one step at a time – blessing and eventually marriage but we cannot let the process take too long. When I was first elected to Church Assembly I was invited to a meeting at Lambeth Palace to share in a discussion about whether the Church should support ‘no fault’ divorce i.e. agree that a couple need not leave suit cases in a hotel to feign adultery. We agreed and Ramsey pushed for this in the Lords. When I left 25 years later the Church still had not agreed to marry divorced people – although some clergy did so and claimed their right as Registrars. Nearly as soon as the Church decided we could, the great public more or less told us to get stuffed as they much preferred to get married in a hotel where they were made really welcome. The Church has lost out on huge pastoral opportunities. If we wait too long for church Gay Marriage we may find something similar.


We must press on

Disappointing ambivalent tolerance

Overall very positive given the situation and context. However it doesn’t go much further (if I read rightly) than saying that what already happens is appropriate and pastoral – that is that individual priests may offer blessings. I think it steers away from anything that would smack of an OFFICIAL SANCTIONING of same sex relationships. That to me is disappointing but little more than I expect really given the situation/wider context. It does show more honesty, or at least less hypocrisy than some other reports/positions on this matter, but I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that gay relationships, ones which are committed, faithful, permanent and stable and also sanctioned and given legitimacy by the state, will still only be half recognised (if that) by the Church. The message really is that Pilling recommends the Church tolerates those who pastorally support same sex relationships but keeps them (and the same sex relationships of LGBT people) on the sidelines.

Thoughts of a woolly liberal

Fascinating stuff, especially the process, and the evidence gathered by listening to gay voices. But the findings are sadly far too conservative and do precious little to rehabilitate the C of E in its stance on homosexuality.

I particularly like:

“the debate about sexuality is not abstract or theoretical, but about real people facing real situations.”

“The group as a whole felt that the exercise of listening that they had engaged in was one that they wanted to recommend strongly to the Church as a whole.”

“we needed to name fear for what it was and commit to personal engagement and encounter in a place of difference.”

“Anyone who listened, as I did, to much of the Same Sex Marriage Bill Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords could not fail to be struck by the overwhelming change of cultural hinterland. Predictable attitudes were no longer there. The opposition to the Bill … was utterly overwhelmed” (Abp Justin Welby)

From skim reading, the conclusions look far too conservative and limited to do anything for fair treatment or to make the church at all defensible, or something one can be proud of. “Like a mighty tortoise” again.

The dissenting statement is a disgrace not only to the Church of England but also to humanity. I am not happy that some of the money that I give to the church goes to pay this man’s salary or to fit him out in purple robes.

I suppose the fundamentally encouraging part of the report was this:

“As we shared our experiences of the listening process within our working group, the most significant and telling points were the following: Opposition to gay and lesbian relationships was a generational matter. It simply was not an issue for most young people. …”

Maybe in a few decades time, though I really hoped much sooner, C of E policies will liberalise, if only due to the inability to find anyone still alive to oppose them. But the damage to the C of E in the meantime would be phenomenal if not terminal.

“The Church of England’s current teaching and practice were deeply off-putting to those outside the Church and therefore a serious impediment to mission.”

I think if it really does take decades it will not only be an impediment to “mission” but also to retaining existing members.

Bruised and unenthused – addictions rooted in fear

Well, I’ve ploughed through the lot and feel bruised and unenthused.

There’s a shift in tone but the prevailing language is still us and them: ‘the Church should listen to homosexual people’ instead of ‘heterosexual and homosexual people within and outside the church should listen to one another.’ They have tried, but it keeps slipping unconsciously in, and it is that very unconsciousness that excludes.

I am heterosexual, blessed to have been married for more than 20 years. I am pro youth and anti today’s consumerist, commodifying culture of fake intimacy and built-in obsolescence. Both the hopeless addiction to commercially-led unsatisfiable desire AND the fundamentalism that needs a single, authoritarian answer from one particular interpretation of scripture have their roots in fear: in needs not met by selfish society and incapable parenting, in psychological inability to regulate self or trust others.

The fact that debate is more polarised and harder to find common ground now only reveals this fear more clearly. I know they mean well, and seek to deploy the sort of love that casts out fear rather than casting out God’s other children, but there seems to be no joy or confidence, no celebration of one another. No wonder the Institution has so little appeal.

If we could sum up the report as ‘we’re not sure who’s right, but we’re sure we love one another,’ or even ‘we do not need to be right, we need to be more loving’ it might heal some of that appalling media image and dismissal by the young, but that is precisely the division revealed by its lack of unanimity.

If the church were better at providing a loving, safe, extended family to all there would be less addiction to consumerism, porn or anything else that so damages both hetero and homosexual relationships. Then the fear of the Other might be replaced by respect, trust and celebration.

But then I am probably a woolly liberal who believes all society should take much more care of our children, so what do I know?

An Uppity Poof criticizes institutional homophobia

I am starting to read some bits of this. In describing the things they learnt from the conversations they had with LGBT people the report says this:

Pilling Para 30
“Gay and lesbian clergy still found some difficulty in securing appointments and this compared unfavourably with the positive support for diversity among secular organizations. The Church authorities were prevented from doing more in this area because of the views of conservative groups and congregation members.”

“Church authorities were prevented…”? What? No they weren’t! How utterly spineless to slide into the passive voice to excuse positive action or leadership by those who are diocesan leaders. Some diocesans have chosen to do nothing, some to block, some to fudge, and some to open up appointments. But it is all subterranean, because no one wants to lead and shape a new future. So two years of facilitated conversations will do what, precisely?

I still think that the analogy with the Met after Steven Lawrence holds – that just as the Met had to come to terms with its institutional racism, the C of E has to come to terms with its institutional homophobia. It condemns its LGBT members to seats at the back of the bus, and makes possible some kind of vague blessing for people entering civil partnerships, but they won’t be liturgy, and they won’t imply any change in the church’s teaching. So we are still as bad as ever – officially. The present leadership doesn’t want to make changes, and hopes we will be grateful and won’t be all uppity.

Well, guess which poof round here is feeling more uppity than ever.

Apart from Para 16 there is little here which was not in the report from the Human Sexuality section at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which the Conference accepted, although it then went on to harden the Resolution with the effect which we all know. All the arguments have already been rehearsed in Issues, and then More Issues. And at each step there has been a call for more conversation and consultation, although with limited take-up.

So one might say, on the positive side, that Para 16 is a radical change from Lambeth 1:10, and there is now the opportunity for real consultation. More practically we know, as with Women Bishops, where the Western Church is going, and this is one small step in getting there.

Or, more negatively, one could say that we have yet again refused to come clean, with the result that while there will be little actual change we are giving those opposed, especially in GAFCON etc., a weapon with which they can do real damage.


Recommendation 5 from the report says that:

Homophobia – that is, hostility to homosexual people – is still as serious a matter as it was and the Church should repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and should stand firmly against it whenever and wherever it is to be found.

Fulcrum has agreed with this, indeed paraphrasing it in stronger terms by saying: Hostility to homosexual people is a serious sin requiring repentance and resistance (Recommendation 5).

This statement needs to be extended beyond just hostility to cover: ostracising LGBT people, treating LGBT people less favourably and spreading rumours about LGBT people (or “spreading false reports” to use the words of Exodus 23).

Most homophobes would claim that they are not hostile so the current wording is unlikely to prompt any actual change in behaviour.

Time to leave the Church

I’ve been waiting for this report for some time…..I think it’s time for me to leave the Church of England…the report offends me and I can’t see how I can continue to “pretend” for the comfort of my “friends” in church…..this means changing my job as I am a full time Christian worker…it’s all a bit sad….I look forward to your comments.

Disappointing let-down

What a disappointing let-down! more of the old “don’t ask, don’t tell”, both for couples seeking blessings & partnered clergy. Gives with one hand but takes away with the other.

Post-gay, scientific and mental health imbalance

The report seems to give undue weight to certain groups. For example:

1. There is a paragraph about “post-gay” people. Are there in fact any “post-gay” people other than Peter Ould? Is it right to give this one person’s (or small number of people’s) reported experience equal weight to the experience of millions of people who find their sexuality to be unchanging?

2. The report seems to give equal credence on matters of human sexuality to the views of the Core Issues Trust as to those of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Many years of training are required to be a psychiatrist. What reason is there to regard the CIT as in any way authoritative?

The report also suggests that the reason for the higher incidence of mental health problems among LGBT people may be discrimination or may equally be something intrinsic to being LGBT. This is silly. I thought it was well established that belonging to a minority leads to greater mental health problems due to the (negative) way in which minorities are often treated. For example, people who have migrated from the Caribbean to live in the UK tend to have poorer mental health than the average Brit, but people who live in the Caribbean and don’t migrate do not have elevated levels of mental illness. It is not intrinsic.

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