Changing Attitude England Report to the College of Bishops meeting 27 January 2014

Changing Attitude England posted a Report today to every member of the College of Bishops and the 8 senior women in advance of their meeting 27 January 2014. A paper about the inclusion of LGB&T people in all conversations affecting our place in the Church has already been sent to the members of the College of Bishops in the papers for the meeting and that is reproduced at the end of our Report.

Changing Attitude England’s Report to the College of Bishops

Changing Attitude’s goals

Changing Attitude has three core goals, the achievement of which would mark a radical transformation in the experience of LGB&T Christians, and we believe, for the church as a whole. The goals are:

  • Celebrating the loving, permanent, faithful, stable of lesbian and gay relationships, lay and ordained
  • Equality in lay and ordained ministry in the selection, training and appointment process and the end of hypocrisy and secrecy – the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture.
  • Identify and eradicate prejudice against LGB&T people and the systemic homophobia which corrupts Christian attitudes and teaching.

1.  Changing Attitude’s submission to the Review Group

In our submission to the Review Group we said the need for a radical change in Christian attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) people is now urgent. We asked whether the review group is going to advocate that the Church of England recognises the reality of the presence of LGB&T people in the Church or whether they are going to maintain the present culture of secrecy, denial of reality, suppression of identity and the unhealthy attitudes in which many LGB&T Christians remain trapped.

The report does not herald radical change and does not therefore fulfil the expectations of Changing Attitude. There are no practical proposals which will begin to dismantle the present culture of secrecy, denial of reality, suppression of identity and the maintenance of unhealthy attitudes. The group has met people and listened and the unhealthy attitudes remain unchanged.

The Review Group explored a lot of the ground which is fundamental to the dilemmas faced by the church as it continues to think about human sexuality. The report explores many of the issues which must be reviewed if the Church of England is ever to speak truthfully and lovingly to those whose sexuality and gender are variants on the heterosexual, patriarchal norm of Christian theology, teaching and practice.

2.  Is Sexuality or Scripture the prime issue?

Paragraph 57 of the Report reveals a crucial admission:

It is worth, at this stage, setting out the nub of the disagreement – the sticking point, as we understand it, which has prevented us from coming closer as a result of our deliberations. It turns, as has the Church’s ongoing disagreement on questions of sexuality, on the meaning and authority of Scripture.’

Whether homosexuality is a discrete issue, or merely a ‘presenting problem’, related to the wider question of biblical interpretation, has been debated for some time. The Pilling Report suggests that it is the latter.  The logical response would be to try to resolve the underlying matter of Biblical authority. If this is indeed the fundamental issue, it is unfair to lesbian and gay people to ask us to bear the pain of this unresolved tension at the heart of the Church’s life.

Paragraph 59 confirms that this is what is going on:

To endorse the idea that the Church’s understanding of the meaning of Scripture might change, seems, to some in the Church and on our Working Group, to be tantamount to denying that Scripture is authoritative to the Church and to open the door to relativistic readings of all scriptures.’

Yet the Church’s understanding of the meaning of Scripture has changed – again and again: on cosmology, on the nature of faith, the person and work of Christ, slavery, the place of women. Such changes have been commonplace throughout the history of the Christian Church. They may well have undermined certain literalistic readings of Scripture, but have usually served to reinforce the Bible’s authority. It is inaccurate and unfair to suggest that they have led inevitably to relativism.

According to paragraph 62:

A belief that the Spirit is calling the Church to change is not, in itself, a reason to change if the mind of the Church is divided.’

But the Church is frequently divided. It rarely demonstrates unanimity on any issue. Change often happens though, whether we are ready for it or not, if the Spirit is leading.

The Report states that Christian leaders, especially bishops, have the duty of teaching and resolving disputed interpretations of Scripture, but then shies away from that lest it ‘divide the Church irrevocably.’ (63) This is very troubling: as if truth were to be avoided lest we all fall out. At this point the Report becomes self-referential, as if the main issue of the forthcoming conversations were that of reconciling polarized theologies rather than addressing the place of LGB&T people in the Church.

3.  Welcoming gay and lesbian people

The Report recognises that ‘there is widespread experience of homosexual people not being accepted and welcomed into church unconditionally (370). It admits that ‘The pastoral and missiological pressure to find ways of communicating good news to people in same sex relationships is becoming acute, although all of us recognise that sharing the good news is not always the same as meeting demand within the Church’ (386). Many LGB&T people, including many who are Anglican, find the message and culture of the Church toxic.

The first item in the summary on p149 claims to be the foundation of the report. It says: We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.

The report itself doesn’t say that. Paragraphs 72-74 are hesitant and ambiguous. The group admits that many hear their unanimous desire for the Church to welcome gay and lesbian people as inadequate. The report, far from reassuring us, goes so far out of its way to balance the needs of conservatives that it reinforces the lack of welcome for lesbian and gay people.

The Working Party remains trapped within a particular world view of human sexuality held by the church as an organisation. As a result, LGB&T people may find a welcome at the local level in congregations that are open, inclusive and loving of all, but the Pilling Report maintains the Church of England’s unwelcome stance. It is shockingly inadequate.

4.  Transgender and intersex people

Changing Attitude is disappointed that the Report deals so superficially with transgender (198) and intersex people (197) despite having received a submission from the Sibyls. Changing Attitude England and other LGB&T Christian organizations identified the need to address transgender and intersex experience and expectations in our submissions. Sexuality cannot be treated in isolation from questions about gender and the reality of transgender and intersex experience is directly relevant to the question asked in paragraphs 195/6 – ‘are human beings sexually dimorphic?’, and in paragraphs 199/200 – ‘is sexual attraction fixed and immutable?’

We are concerned that transgender and intersex people appear to be excluded from the welcome offered by the Report. The numbers of people affected may be relatively small – in fact, the statistics for intersex are higher than most people realise – but their issues are also important and should be addressed within the two year period recommended by the Report. It is our experience, along with other LGB&T Christian organisations, that transgender people have valuable insights to offer and the conversation would be impoverished without them. We are also in touch with the United Kingdom Intersex Association (UKIA) which we know has put questions to the House of Bishops that still await a reply. The facilitated conversations present a unique opportunity to address these and are unlikely to occur again.

Recommendation:
We recommend that transgender and intersex people are included in the facilitated conversations.

5.  Celebrating and blessing relationships

The report believes ‘that there can be circumstances where a priest, with the agreement of the relevant PCC, should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service but should be under no obligation to do so.’ (490.16) This would be in the nature of a ‘pastoral accommodation’. This goes some way to fulfilling Changing Attitude’s first goal.

Some members of the group ‘believe there is scope to consider less formal approaches to recognising and praying for same sex couples after they have registered a civil partnership or entered into a same sex marriage.’ (387)

But the group is not prepared to recommend a formal liturgy, episcopally and Synodically approved, because this would have important doctrinal implications, dependent on the Church of England agreeing to some modification of its current teaching on committed, permanent and faithful relationships between two men or two women.

Blessings already occur in churches and many bishops know this perfectly well. The Worshipful Nigel Seed Q.C., Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Diocese of London, in 2008 issued advice about church services after a civil partnership for the Clergy of the London Diocese.

He said: “…the position is clear. Unless and until one of the relevant authorities listed in canon B5.2 provides a form service under canon B2, beneficed clergy (or other clergy authorised by them) may use a form of service they consider suitable in respect of a civil partnership providing that service does not amount to a “service of blessing” and is reverent and seemly and is not contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.”

6.  Equality in ministry

The second of Changing Attitude’s goals is equality in ministry, lay and ordained. The section of the report dealing with ministry – The Church’s Practice – is inadequate, dealing with those in ordained but not in lay ministry. It reviews the questions asked of candidates and the advice given to DDOs. It believes that all candidates for ministry should be treated in the same way regarding their sexual conduct. They ‘believe that care should be taken to ensure that questions do not require a homosexual candidate to go into more intimate detail about their life than would be required of a heterosexual candidate.’ They leave resolution of the question as to whether laity and clergy should be expected to observe different disciplines to the facilitated conversations.

Intrusive questions will only end when the guidelines are clear and when conservative DDOs and bishops understand that such questions are predicated on prejudice and are intolerable.

7.  Reader ministry

For three years Changing Attitude has been asking questions about the rules as they apply to Reader ministry and other lay ministries. We gave evidence to the Working Party chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man and had expectations that the group’s report would address this. Their full report was not published and we understood that its work on Reader ministry had been subsumed into the Pilling Working Party. Reader Ministry is not addressed in the report. When and how is the House of Bishops going to address our questions about the disparity of practice between dioceses in approving partnered lesbian and gay people in Reader ministry?

Recommendation
We recommend that the House of Bishops appoints a Group to look in detail at how equality will be achieved in practice between heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender laity and clergy. This includes those laity and clergy now in civil partnerships and those who will convert to marriage. Equality cannot be achieved until the Church of England accepts that same sex couples will legally marry from March 29 onwards.

8.  Homophobia

The most serious failings of the report are to be found here.

The report deals with homophobia at some length. It acknowledges that the problem of prejudice against lesbian and gay people is still with us and is serious. It addresses institutional and internalised homophobia (179). It defends an open and reasoned discussion of human sexuality and the place of sexuality in public ethics (187).

If the report was serious that the problem of homophobia has no place in the Church of England it would have identified the prejudice enshrined in existing documents and teaching and made proposals to eradicate all such prejudice.

The report doesn’t understand that orthodox, traditional teaching, whether literalist or fundamentalist, is intrinsically homophobic, using proof texts as evidence of God’s judgement against homosexuality. This approach is the source of prejudice against LGB&T people and of personal and systemic homophobia in the Church.

Changing Attitude is shocked that the Report grants equivalence to the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and that from Core Issues Trust, an organisation that exemplifies homophobia. The Report tries to balance theologies and attitudes that create homophobia and prejudice with those that identify homophobia and discrimination and how to deal with it effectively (206, 207).

There should be no place for prejudice and homophobia in the Church. Members of the House and College of Bishops and members of the General Synod need help in understanding how homophobia works and what constitutes homophobic attitudes.

The Report wants the Church to ‘repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and should stand firmly against it whenever and wherever it is found.’ How can the Church repent when it doesn’t recognise the presence of homophobia? How can it repent when homophobic attitudes are presented in the Report? How is the Church of England going to repent and demonstrate contrition?

The Church of England is systemically homophobic. The Report accepts the idea that those who oppose the full inclusion of LGB&T people on Biblical grounds are to be respected and have an equal right to their opinion as those of us who think this is a root cause of homophobia. The report underestimates the church’s and Christianity’s role as one of the main originators of homophobia in British society. This has to be confronted. The legal exemptions the church possesses enshrine a discriminatory attitude to LGBT people. They build in an understanding of LGBT people as different and less worthy, implying that being LGB or T is somehow shameful.

Changing Attitude is willing to work with the Bishops and General Synod to help people understand how, in the context of Scripture and Tradition, homophobia has a pernicious effect on individual LGB&T people and on the whole people of God, on families and congregations in every parish and diocese in England and every Province of the Anglican Communion.

The review group asked to meet ‘ordinary’ LGB&T people. One of those ‘listened to’ said it was remarkable that the meetings were cloaked in total secrecy, so that participants were not even to male known that they had taken part in a conversation. He felt as if what he represented was so dangerous and shameful that it had to be filtered through a wall of silence.

The report’s comments about what the group learnt from these meetings imply that they had quite an impact; but there are no quotations, no detail of how listening helped change thinking and attitudes. The way it was managed contained the potentially explosive impact of the work and neutralised it. It allowed the section on homophobia to be written without using any real lived examples of homophobic behaviour by senior church leaders. Personal evidence and experience was been erased.

Recommendation
The Church of England must to work to eradicate homophobia and the prejudiced attitudes which result from ignorance about the nature of sexual and gender diversity in creation and a misreading of the Biblical texts.

9.  Facilitated conversations

The report proposes that the subject of sexuality would be best addressed by consultation, reflection, attentive listening and facilitated conversations, or something similar, to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level (68). It suggests that a period of two years might be appropriate for the process (83).

Two years? Have people not already been relating to and listening to their LGB&T colleagues, friends, family and congregation members? Don’t bishops listen to their children and LGB&T friends? Not sufficiently, clearly, to register that a far more courageous and radical report was required.

Changing Attitude is ‘listened-out’. Many of us have been involved in conversations for over 20 years, beginning with Issues in Human Sexuality. Nevertheless, we are prepared to assist the Church of England with this task

However, we have some basic minimum expectations about any new process, expectations reinforced by the change of practice by the College and House of Bishops in responding to the equally appropriate expectations of women in the church.

We suspect the Review Group members have no idea how difficult it is for LGB&T people to be open in such circumstances and what a challenge there may be to find people willing to participate in facilitated conversations. The anti-gay rhetoric of conservatives has intimidated people to stay in the closet or climb back in, because so-called Biblical teaching about homosexuality is experienced as hostile and judgmental. We can still be intimidated by the strength of prejudice and homophobia that deliberately or unconsciously is systemically present in the Church.

The House of Bishops has to work out how to achieve a safe, non-abusive environment for these conversations. It will not be easy. LGB&T people are still treated as if we are not fully worthy of respect. We are frequently referred to as if we are not present in language that is hostile and judgmental.

Recommendation
Every conversation has to include openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In future there can be no conversations about us without us being visibly present participants. From now on we expect LGB&T people to be present at every national and diocesan conversation and to be part of the initial planning process.

10.  Is homosexuality harmful or is harm the result of social prejudice?

This is the title of a section of the report, a section (205-219) which gives equal weight to a submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a submission by Core Issues Trust.

Core Issues Trust represents the fundamentalist extreme of people who don’t believe gay and lesbian identity has any reality. They do not believe people are born gay. They think people can be healed from their sexuality or can contain sexual attraction and desire in conformity with the will of God as specified in the Bible. They support ex-gay ministries and believe in efforts to change sexual orientation. The report devotes several paragraphs to this (214-218).

This section of the report produced outrage amongst supporters of Changing Attitude.

Our Christian conviction is clear – homosexuality is not harmful. Christian homophobia and prejudice is deeply harmful and results in anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide, violence and murder, the result of social prejudice based on false Christian teaching.

Changing Attitude England
20 January 2014

An email from Changing Attitude about the inclusion of LGB&T people in all future conversations was added to the material sent to the members of the College of Bishops in preparation for the meeting of the College on Monday 27 January 2014. The email, with minor edits, is reproduced below.

Paper sent to the College of Bishops

The expectation of Changing Attitude and other members of the LGB&T Anglican Coalition is that LGB&T people should be present and open to participation at every meeting at which matters affecting us are discussed.

You would not, we hope, discuss the role and ministry of women, ethnic minorities, black people or disabled people in the Church without direct input from them.

It is only possible to consider discussing the place of LGB&T people in the Church without us being present because bishops and Church leaders hold unexamined prejudices against LGB&T people. These prejudices are maintained by reliance on Biblical interpretation and traditional teaching which have been the subject of re-examination for over sixty years.

Parallels with women

We think there is a parallel with the participation of women at House and College of Bishops meetings.

Including LGB&T people in any discussions is not directly equivalent to the decision to include 8 senior women in the House and College of Bishops.

Women have never been members of the College or House, whereas there have always been gay members of both. The significant difference is that they have not been openly gay and have therefore not contributed their personal experience to any discussion. If gay bishops were open about their sexuality there would be no need to invite LGB&T people to join the House.

The women are senior women, elected by other senior women to represent those who believe the episcopate should be open to them.

It is accepted that the Church of England already has majority support for women in the episcopate. Diocesan Synods voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops. The approval of General Synod is expected within a reasonably short time scale. The women have been elected despite the opposition of a significant minority in the Church towards women in ordained ministry and the episcopate.

Electing LGB&T people

If LGB&T people were to be elected, who would the electoral constituency be and who would be eligible? The elected women do not represent a spectrum of opinion for and against women bishops. We question whether elected LGB&T people should represent a spectrum of identities from those who are fully open to those who are out but celibate, those who are arguing against any concessions and those from places where such a change would lead to their persecution should also be present.

Persecution

LGB&T people are already widely persecuted, abused, imprisoned and murdered. It’s true that if pro-LGB&T people were to be included in further Church of England discussions, this might lead to the further persecution of LGB&T people in other Provinces by Anglican Christians.

Contrary to the absolute commitment of the Dromantine Statement, Anglican leaders in Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere are actively supporting Bills which further criminalise LGB&T people and increase public persecution and hostility against them.

Any move in the Church of England to fully include LGB&T people might lead to the persecution of Christians in other Provinces by those who are deeply prejudiced and homophobic. That is a cause for concern. The solution is not to back away from seeking justice and equality for LGB&T people but to work to eradicate prejudice and discrimination.

Celibate and anti-gay groups

We do not accept that celibate and anti-gay groups should necessarily be included. What parameters might be used to determine who would legitimately be invited from the wide spectrum of opinion from radical pro- to radical anti-gay? Celibate groups represent a stance which conforms with existing Anglican teaching. Beyond this group, who else might be included?

There are on General Synod and in the Church groups and individuals, bishops, staff and tutors at theological colleges and courses, DDOs and Archdeacons, who articulate extreme views about LGB&T people which fall outside the teachings of the Church of England as set out in the gay-affirming sections of Lambeth 1.10 and the very clear teaching of Dromantine. Many would claim to represent a traditional, orthodox Christian teaching. Are they to be included?

Archbishops and bishops in Uganda and Kenya who preached in support of the anti-gay bills and organisations such as GAFCON and FOCA hold views which are contrary to Anglican teaching. Should they be included were the House or College of Bishops to invite a variety of people to express views about homosexuality?

There are numerous organisations, some with extremely negative, hostile attitudes, which campaign against the full inclusion of LGB&T people. We would include Reform, Anglican Mainstream, Christian Concern, Forward in Faith and Fulcrum in this set, groups that think reparative therapy and other treatments are appropriate.

The Coalition

The LGB&T Anglican Coalition groups represent a wide spectrum of the Church, from catholic and liberal to evangelical and charismatic. We understand the current teaching of the Church as set out in the 1987 Higton Motion, Lambeth 1.10, Issues in Human Sexuality, etc. We are committed, faithful, baptised and ordained members of the Church and we reject the negative aspects of this teaching.

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