Changing Attitude England participated in the LGB&T Anglican Coalition conversation last Saturday which agreed to write to William Fittall and others about the College of Bishops meeting on 27 January to discuss the Pilling Report.
The email said that members were unanimous in expecting that openly LGB&T people should be present at all future meetings taking forward the Pilling process, including the College of Bishops meeting planned for January 27. Our presence in the process is important if it is to be given full legitimacy by the wider Church and society.
Mr Fittall replied promptly to say that apart from Sir Joseph Pilling the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops is not inviting anyone to the meeting on 27 January who does not normally attend such meeting. He added that he would draw our note to the attention of Standing Committee members so that they are aware of the general point we make about how the process should now be carried forward.
This reply isn’t unexpected – we know we are asking for a radical change of practice.
The House of Bishops has already changed its standing orders to enable eight senior female clergy to be elected to participate in its meetings until such time as there are six female members of the house, following the admission of women to the episcopate.
It is no longer acceptable in British society that the place of women or ethnic minorities or black people or disabled people or any particular group would be discussed, let alone decisions made about their place in society, without them being fully included in any consultation or decision making process.
The Church has great difficulty in translating this expectation into the practice of the Church of England. The House of Bishops has a particular problem because there are already gay male members of the House, but they are not open and therefore not able to speak directly about their personal experience at the meeting on 27 January. The House of Bishops needs to include not only gay men, but lesbian, bisexual and transgender people when they discuss LGB&T matters. Until the eight women were elected, there was no possibility of lesbians, bisexual women or M to F transgender people being included in any discussion.
Changing Attitude accepts that the meeting on 27 January will take place and discuss the House of Bishops Report about human sexuality with the likelihood that no person present will speak directly about their experience as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
We have no power to change the practice of the Church and the House of Bishops but we do have power to urge change. Both Archbishops know that the public perception of the Church is profoundly affected by the Church’s attitude to women and sexual and gender diversity.
I hope it is slowly dawning in the minds of Archbishops and bishops that if the evangelism is to be more effective and if British society is to be convinced that God is genuinely infinite and unconditional love, and the place of LGB&T people in the Church is to be radically changed, then that change has to begin by ensuring that we can participate fully in every stage of the processes begun by the Pilling Report.