The place of LGBTI people in church and society continues to be transformed at what feels like an ever-increasing and unstoppable pace.
On Monday last week Baptist minister Tony Campolo, one of the most influential evangelical Christians in the US, called for full inclusion of gay couples into the life of the Church. Once a spiritual advisor to former president Bill Clinton, he has until now spoken out against gay marriage. But now, in a post on his own website, he has reversed this position and is urging full acceptance. It is time to include gay couples fully into the Church, he says. The “exclusion and disapproval” they receive from the Christian community must now end. He warns that the Church is in danger of repeating the same kinds of mistakes it made when it supported slavery and opposed the ministry of women.
On Wednesday the Greek Justice Ministry published a civil-partnership bill recognising the union of two adults, regardless of their gender. Some LGBT groups want more. Kostis Papaioannou, the Justice Ministry’s secretary general of transparency and human rights has asked for comments with a view to incorporating suggestions into the bill. A vote is expected in July.
The Ugandan National Academy of Sciences has endorsed a report entitled Diversity in Human Sexuality: Implications for Policy in Africa published by the Academy of Sciences of South Africa. The report says homosexuality and gender and sexual diversity are natural phenomena, contradicting President Yoweri Museveni’s stance that homosexuality is abnormal and should be outlawed.
Also last week, the fourth of the regional Church of England Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality took place in the North East covering the dioceses of Blackburn, Carlisle, Durham, and Newcastle. In a fortnight the West Midlands group covering Birmingham, Coventry, Hereford, Lichfield, and Worcester meet. The final Conversations happen in March 2016.
Many supporters of CA continue to be unaware that Conversations local to them are taking place. Relying on the Church Times or CEN for information isn’t adequate. Both for LGBTI people and for the national Church, the Conversations are one of the most important exercises the Church has ever implemented. For me, it’s the most important exercise in seven decades of life.
While rapid progress towards equality is being made in many parts of the world, and Conversations towards possible change in the Church of England continue, a case which, whatever the outcome, will shine a spotlight on the Church’s enshrined discrimination against lesbian and gay relationships began yesterday at Nottingham Justice Centre where Canon Jeremy Pemberton’s discrimination case against the Church of England before an employment tribunal is being heard.
Jeremy’s licence to work as a hospital chaplain at King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield was refused by the then acting bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood. who argued that the marriage was against the Church of England’s teachings. As a result, the job was withdrawn.
At the tribunal, the Church will argue that its doctrine and pastoral guidance make clear that those in holy orders cannot enter into a same-sex marriage, as the Church still sees marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Jeremy’s team will argue that the bishop unlawfully discriminated against him under the Equality Act in refusing the licence, and will also question whether the Church’s view on same-sex marriage is a matter of doctrine.
We know what outcome we pray for, both from the Shared Conversations and from Jeremy’s employment tribunal. Changing Attitude’s responsibility is to campaign and advocate for full equality and leave the management of living with difference to others. In two years’ time the Church of England may catch up with progress being made by Pastors such as Tony Campolo calling for full inclusion in the life of the Church, with Greece and the many other countries legislating for equality in relationship, and with the academies in South Africa and Uganda condemning discrimination and persecution of any sexuality that does not adhere to the heteronormative standards of a particular society. The employment tribunal will, if it finds in favour of the Church, demonstrate the entrenched discrimination against LGBTI people in the Church of England, justified by a prejudiced reading of Scripture and an image of a God whose love is conditional and judgmental.