Grace and Disagreement guide to conversations lacks personal experience

Letter to the Church Times and Church of England Newspaper
6 March 2015

Sir, There is a fundamental ingredient that is entirely missing from the Grace and Disagreement handbook and reader for the shared conversations. It is the witness and experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people who are already integral to and fully involved in the life of the Church of England as bishops, priests, lay leaders and members of congregations.

This is a shocking omission which would rightly be condemned, were the experience of women, ethnic minorities or those with disabilities omitted from conversations addressing the ways in which they experience themselves as not being fully included in the church.

The trustees and Director of Changing Attitude England have raised questions about the input of LGBTI people to the resource material and conversation process for 12 months. We were never included in the process of designing the conversations, or contributing to the resource material, with the result that the resources lack that most essential ingredient – the personal experience of LGBTI people. The conversations are thus being organised as if it is entirely legitimate for the straight majority to determine whether equal status in the church should be granted to LGBTI people.

The presence of LGBTI participants is not going to fill the gap because confidentiality and safety cannot be guaranteed. Changing Attitude hopes participants in the conversations will be as open and honest as possible but because of the risk to LGBTI participants who hold a bishop’s licence or PTO, we advise great caution as to how much personal experience they should disclose.

The reader contains four essays which present the challenge of fully including LGBTI people in the church as a disagreement between two strongly held but polarised and conflicting interpretations of the bible. The majority of Anglicans have already moved well beyond these polarised arguments. For most it is an issue of Christian integrity, truth and justice.

British society has undergone the most comprehensive period of change in the way LGBTI people are viewed and members of the C of E are already part of this radical change. In local congregations, people have been changing their minds and attitudes in tune with wider society because they experience their LGBTI brothers and sisters, family members, friends and colleagues as integral to life and equal in God’s sight. This dramatic change is, of course, also happening with surprising rapidity among evangelicals.

The institutional homophobia which characterises the teaching and practice of the Church of England is present in the conversations despite the best intentions of those responsible for organising the process.

Changing Attitude hopes for the best possible outcome from the considerable investment in listening to the variety of theologies, biblical interpretations and, hopefully, the personal stories which will be heard over the next 16 months up to and including General Synod at York in 2016. We pray that having genuinely listened with open hearts and minds, a deep transformation of attitudes will allow the many varieties of experience to live together in faith and hope. We long for the Church of England to proclaim the gospel with love and integrity in a society which may have a better grasp of God’s grace.

Colin Coward, Director

Clive Larsen, Bryony Morrison, Jane Newsham, Godwyns Onwuchekwa, Jeremy Timm, Lucy Gorman, Trustees

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