Six members of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition who represent the spectrum of sexual and gender identities of the Coalition member organizations are attending a meeting at Lambeth Palace this afternoon to talk about the facilitated conversations. The conversations are a core element of the recommendations made in the ‘Pilling Report’ of the House of Bishops Working Group on human sexuality. I am one of the six people who will be participating in the meeting.
The development of the process for the facilitated conversations is in its early days. Other organizations and individuals have already been or will expect to be consulted, some opposed to the full and unrestricted inclusion of LGBTI people, both in the conversations and in the Church. It is right that the full spectrum of Christian opinion should be included in the conversations.
The conversations will not be and cannot be legitimate unless they include the full spectrum of gender and sexual identities. The reality of God’s creation, whatever interpretation people put on the Bible (I believe the ‘plain truth of Scripture’ to be a fallacy) and whatever claims people make to what identities are ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, is that people are born with complex and diverse sexual attractions and gender identities and these are an integral part of God’s creation.
The conversations are expected to take place in each of the 42 dioceses of the Church of England, an ambitious aim.
This presents every diocese with a major challenge. How are they to organise the conversations in a way that includes the diversity of sexual and gender identities in a way that guarantees the safety of the LGBTI participants?
This is a major question for the member groups of the Coalition. How are individuals to be protected from abuse by other participants in the conversations – those who believe the Bible legitimates their anti-gay stance and rhetoric?
LGBTI participants also need to know they will be safe from action by those who hold authority over them, and who are empowered to discipline those deemed to have broken canon law because they are living inappropriately. Both licensed lay people and clergy in sexually intimate civil partnerships and marriages will put themselves at risk if they disclose this reality – but the conversations cannot be effective unless people can talk about the truth of their own lives and experience.
Events here and elsewhere in the Communion have conspired to ensure that the facilitated conversations are taking place at a moment of high tension for the Anglican Communion.
- In less than a month the first equal marriages will take place and lay and ordained lesbian and gay Anglicans have declared their intention to marry.
- The Pilling Report was published in November, warmly welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained (and broadly ignoring the presence of intersex and transgender people).
- In February the House of Bishops published Pastoral Guidelines dealing with equal marriage, guidelines which have been derided by the groups in the LGBTI Anglican Coalition and by many others.
- The anti-homosexuality act has been signed into law in Uganda and the anti-gay marriage act into law in Nigeria.
- Both acts have been supported by Anglican priests, bishops and Primates in Uganda and Nigeria and surrounding countries in contravention of Lambeth 1.10 and the Dromantine Statement.
If the hyperbole of conservative groups is to be believed, the net is now rent, torn irrevocably. The division in the Communion is no longer between North American churches that ordain lesbian and gay priests and bishops and bless same-sex relationships and the rest of the Communion. England and other Provinces have joined our North American cousins in being castigated by the GAFCON axis.
Some Provinces believe the practice of homosexuality is one of the greatest evils known to God. Those who practice homosexuality must be identified and pursued, expelled from the Church, arrested and imprisoned. In Uganda and Nigeria, family members, priests and friends of homosexuals must report those known to be or suspected of being homosexual. The penalty for not doing so is imprisonment. A witch hunt driven by conservative Christians is under way.
Those of us in the LGBTI Anglican Coalition believe this demonization of LGBTI people is the greatest evil. It is responsible for the abuse, incarceration and murder of people, whether or not there is proof of their variant sexual or gender identity.
The facilitated conversations will take place in this dramatic context.
Some believe the greatest risk is to the authority of the Bible, the unchallengeable Word of God. They believe that to describe human beings as male and female made in the image of God means that only recognized patterns of male and female are made in the image of God.
Others believe the greatest risk is the challenge to the sanctity of human life and our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A heteronormative, male-and-female binary sex system as a divinized totality held to be all encompassing is false and must be exposed as an idol.
The integrity and truth of the Christian Way embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit through all creation is at extreme risk. It will ultimately flourish because it is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life – the Truth of Love which is woven through and is transforming creation, Love which knows no boundaries or divisions.