Press Release: Changing Attitude England writes to the College of Bishops

A week ago the Trustees of Changing Attitude England wrote to every bishop and elected senior woman in advance of the meeting of the College of Bishops from September 15-17 when they will start the process of Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission.

The change in attitude and practice which the shared conversations are designed to explore has already taken place. The change is not universally acknowledged and has not been formally approved by the House of Bishops or the General Synod. Lesbian and gay clergy have married and are intending to marry. Many lesbian and gay lay couples have already married. Their families and friends and congregations welcome them and celebrate their marriages.

The attitude and practice of many bishops has already changed. Many already affirm that the Church of England is a Church which should include LGBTI people equally in ministry and relationship. Some bishops give their blessing and approval to civil partnered lesbian and gay couples without asking whether the relationship is sexually intimate.

The Reverend Colin Coward MBE, Director of Changing Attitude England, said:

“The internal divisions in the House of Bishops over the Pastoral Guidance and the policy about same-sex marriage are all too obvious. The Pastoral Guidance issued in February never had sufficient support from the whole House and was unworkable from the start.

“The change is not sudden or superficial. It has been evolving for decades as the secular movements for justice for LGBTI people and the Christian campaigns for equality have developed and matured.

“There is a noticeable increase in despair and depression among LGBTI clergy. Partnered clergy are unwilling to marry and those in civil partnership are reluctant to convert their CP to marriage fearing hostile action from their bishop. LGBTI clergy conclude that they will never be able to move to a new post if they marry and that there is effectively no future for them in the Church of England. Potential ordinands are dissuaded from pursuing a vocation.

“People are angry at what they perceive to be the hypocrisy in the incoherent practice of the House of Bishops and the failure to honour lesbian and gay clergy who marry, are in a civil partnership, known to be living with a partner or in a relationship. The teaching of the House of Bishops is now effectively that lesbian and gay clergy couples should live in an unmarried state rather than committing themselves publicly to one another in fidelity and love. Men and women in ministry no longer want to work in an environment which is deceitful and dishonest.”

Changing Attitude England urges a change of policy and practice on the House of Bishops in response to the high levels of anxiety and insecurity being felt LGBTI clergy, licensed lay ministers, and ordinands and the anger and frustration being felt by gay and straight Anglicans.

We urge the House of Bishops to review the Pastoral Guidance document:

  • There are strong theological arguments for accepting and celebrating same-sex partnerships, including marriage.
  • Clergy and congregations should be free to conduct services of thanksgiving and blessing for married same-sex couples.
  • The threat of sanctions against clergy who marry should be removed to enable LGBTI clergy and lay ministers to participate in the mutual conversations.

END

Contact:

Revd Colin Coward
+44 (0)1380 724908
+44 (0)7770 844302
colin@changingattitude.org.uk

Web site: www.changingattitude.org.uk

The text of the letter:

To the College of Bishops and elected senior women

We are writing to every bishop and elected senior woman in advance of the meeting of the College of Bishops from September 15-17. We urge a change of policy and practice on the College and House. The current situation is creating high levels of anxiety and insecurity for LGBTI clergy, ordinands and those exploring a vocation, and to some extent, licensed lay ministers as well.

The change in attitude and practice which the mutual conversations are designed to explore has already taken place. The change is not universally acknowledged and has not been formally approved by the House of Bishops or the General Synod but a change in Church practice has already happened.

Lesbian and gay clergy have married and are intending to marry. Many lesbian and gay lay couples have already married. Their families and friends and congregations welcome them and celebrate their marriages. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Christians allow themselves the freedom to marry and to construct their faith and their ethics and morality according to their reading of Scripture, their inheritance in the faith, prayerfully and after deep reflection and encounter with the living God.

The attitude and practice of many bishops has already changed. Some of you give your blessing and approval to civil partnered lesbian and gay couples without asking whether the relationship is sexually intimate.

The change is not sudden or superficial. It has been evolving for decades as the secular movements for justice for LGBTI people and the Christian campaigns for equality have developed and matured.

Whatever fruits the mutual conversations bear following their conclusion in November 2016, many of you in the College of Bishops and many members of General Synod already affirm that the Church of England is a Church which should include LGBTI people equally in ministry and relationship. This is already the practice of many in our Church.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton

We are writing now because of the refusal of Richard Inwood, acting bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, to grant Canon Jeremy Pemberton a licence because of his marriage to Laurence Cunnington. As a result, Jeremy’s appointment as Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services Manager at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was withdrawn.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton’s case has attracted a lot of media attention. The media and the majority of people don’t understand what the Church is doing and are confused by the attitude of bishops. This is having a very negative effect on people’s impression of the Church, on the integrity of Christianity in England and on mission and evangelism, reinforcing people’s perception of the Church as systemically prejudiced.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Anglicans, lay and ordained, our families, friends and congregations, have reacted strongly. People are angry for a number of reasons. Many of you will understand why.

People are angry because of the effect this has had on Jeremy and in particular the loss of the new post to which he had been appointed. The way Jeremy has been treated is leading to increased despair and depression among LGBTI clergy.

Division in the House of Bishops

The internal divisions in the House of Bishops are becoming more obvious as a result of the difference in the treatment of Jeremy Pemberton by the acting bishop of Southwell and Nottingham compared with his treatment by the Bishop of Lincoln and by Andrew Foreshew-Cain’s treatment by the Bishop of Edmonton.

We know from conversations with a number of bishops that some will either take no action against gay priests who marry or will impose the lightest of penalties following the example of +Lincoln and +Edmonton.

Other bishops will impose a harsh penalty by refusing to grant or withdrawing a license or PTO.

The Pastoral Guidance issued in February never had sufficient support from the whole House and was unworkable from the start.

People see a House of Bishops in which the divisions over the Pastoral Guidance and the policy about same-sex marriage are all too obvious.

The effect on LGBTI Anglicans

People in Changing Attitude England’s networks are deeply disappointed by the failure of the bishops known to be supportive of lesbian and gay clergy and relationships to express their support more clearly and strongly.

The divergence of practice has several effects:

  • It is frightening clergy who live with a partner into deciding not to marry and for those in a civil partnership, into deciding not to risk converting their CP to marriage.
  • It is intimidating clergy to conclude that they will never be able to move to a new post if they marry and that there is effectively no future for them in the Church of England.
  • It is dissuading potential ordinands from pursuing a vocation because they do not want to limit their future options by submitting to enforced celibacy.
  • It is making people depressed and fearful.

There are other reasons for the anger people feel:

  • Clergy are angry at what they perceive to be the hypocrisy of the House of Bishops in the incoherent practice now adopted and the failure to honour lesbian and gay clergy who are married, in a civil partnership or known to be living with a partner or in a relationship.
  • The teaching of the House of Bishops is now effectively that you prefer lesbian and gay clergy couples to live in an unmarried state (living in sin as you would describe a heterosexual couple) rather than marrying, thereby committing themselves publicly to one another in fidelity and love and providing legal protection for their relationship.
  • The current ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is now unworkable. Adult men and women in ministry no longer want to collude with bishops, working in an environment which is deceitful and dishonest, being made responsible for the collusion which hides the secret.

Despite what has been said above, more lesbian and gay clergy are planning to marry or to convert their civil partnership to marriage from December onwards.

The Future

The House of Bishops need to review the Pastoral Guidance document urgently to achieve justice and coherence.

  • We urge a proper via media which acknowledges that there are strong theological arguments for accepting and celebrating same-sex partnerships, including marriage.
  • We urge you to give clergy and congregations the freedom to use their discretion in conducting services of thanksgiving and blessing for married same-sex couples.
  • We urge you to remove the threat of potential sanctions against clergy who marry (made real for Jeremy and Andrew). It is impossible for LGBTI clergy and lay ministers to participate in the mutual conversations while this threat hangs over us.

You need to respond to the anger and frustration being felt by LGBTI laity and clergy. The temperature is rising and people are calling for urgent action. We are not prepared to wait for the conclusion of the mutual conversations for the changes which have already occurred to be approved by the House of Bishops.

Yours sincerely,

The Reverend Colin Coward MBE
and the Trustees of Changing Attitude England

Comments

  1. Eddie Ozols says

    Perhaps you should also urge the Bishops to change the Bible to fit into modern and changing attitudes. Why not appeal to the Bible rather than changing attitudes in society.

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