Time for the Church to appoint an adviser and create a Committee for LGBTI Concerns
Everyone Counts is a diversity audit based in a congregational survey carried out in autumn 2014 in a sample of Church of England parishes. There was a particular focus on ethnicity, disability and locality but not on sexual orientation.
In response to questions in correspondence and on social media over the choice of questions included in (and the exclusion of sexual orientation from) the “Everybody Counts” survey, Dr. Bev Botting, Head of Research and Statistics at the Archbishops Council issued a statement. She said the Diversity Audit originated from formal requests from members of CMEAC (The Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns) for a statistical picture of dioceses on ethnic diversity. The starting point of the latest survey was to replicate the 2007 data which did not include a question on sexual orientation. However, the national disability adviser for the Church had recognised that we did not have any information on people with disabilities which was why that added question appeared. The Church does not have an adviser for LGBTI concerns, of course, who might have recognised that the Church does not have information about sexuality and sexual diversity in the Church.
Dr. Bev Botting said she was sorry for the hurt and disappointment raised by members of our congregations who feel that the lack of a question on sexual orientation meant that they are not a valued part of our church.
In a comment posted by Mark Hart on Thinking Anglicans, he said he asked his diocese why sexuality was not included. He received a reply from Sarah Barter-Godfrey, project officer for Everyone Matters at Church House, Westminster which he published with her permission. Her reply was personal and not a formal response from Archbishops’ Council.
“Yes, sexuality was omitted in this survey. There are several cumulative issues:
1. The original aim and remit of the “diversity audit” programme was to monitor ethnicity, as a long term response to reports coming out of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, institutional racism and cultural inclusion. It has expanded a little to include age and gender, and this year to also include health and disability. These clearly intersect with each other and socio-economic status and raise similar challenges for inclusion and equality.
2. There is a wider diversity agenda that does need to be considered, including sexuality. To explore this in a congregation survey there needs to be a similar remit – the administrators cannot simply add in questions, it needs to come from the top-down. I encourage clergy to raise these points with their Bishops or other leadership within their diocese, to extend the conversation on diversity.
3. There have been serious concerns raised that introducing sexuality in a congregational survey prior to carrying out an equivalent clergy or institutional survey is problematic. In context of the threats of ‘outing’, there are concerns that reporting even aggregate sexuality questions could lead to people/churches being targeted or pressured into disclosing their sexuality. More groundwork would need to be done to make sure that the process was carried out respectfully and appropriately and with adequate leadership.
4. The other questions have baseline community figures from Census or other government data, or can correspond to Statistics for Mission, for comparison and adjustment. There is no similar source of information for sexuality at a parish level. Whilst this is not a complete barrier, particularly if good quality groundwork is carried out, it does raise further limitations of what could possibly be done with any data collected beyond raw proportions of respondents.
All of these points are open to debate and counter-point, of course, but put together it means that sexuality is not part of the diversity survey at this time. I’ll pass on any comment to the steering group, so if anyone wants to discuss this further they are welcome to contact me directly too.”
What Sarah perhaps unwittingly but very helpfully identifies is that the Church of England is perceived by many LGBTI people to be an unsafe place in which to be ‘outed’ is a danger and where people might be targeted or pressured into disclosing their sexuality.
Those of us who have been working within the Church of England campaigning for LGBTI equality know the Church has become more unsafe, abusive, and hostile to LGBTI people in recent years. I know bishops, archbishops and others will deny this to be true and maintain that LGBTI people are welcomed and valued, but the reality is that LGBTI people, lay and ordained, open or in the closet, experience life in the Church of England as unsafe, uncertain and at times, hostile and actively unwelcoming. This is a scandal that is, even to us, under-recognised. We should be taking every opportunity to publicise the reality of experience in the Church. There are many welcoming and open people and congregations in the Church of England but their welcome is negated by the weakness of support in the hierarchy (at best) and the active hostility and prejudice which infects parts of the Church from grass roots to the hierarchy. LGBTI people are not safe in the Church of England. The church is too homophobic for many people to risk being honest about their sexuality, and for many who do not identify as LGBTI to reveal their support.
In another comment on Thinking Anglicans Canon Jeremy Pemberton wrote that: “What the C of E does not have working alongside its statisticians is someone whose job is Head of Equality and Diversity for the Church of England, and who can advise on ways of collecting statistics and information that can help with the development of policy in ways that are truly inclusive. But then, if the church did that, the cat would be out of the bag.”
For as long as the Church of England teaches that homosexuality is a sin, the Church will be an unsafe place for LGBTI people and prejudice, abuse and homophobia will characterise the attitudes of a minority and infect Church theology and practice.
The Facilitated Conversations are not designed, nor intended, to address the continuing systemic prejudice against LGBTI people which infects the Church of England.
On Changing Attitude’s Facebook group, people have asked how we can more effectively campaign for the change we seek. It is clearly not safely left in the hands of the Archbishops, Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops, Church House or General Synod.
Among other initiatives, we need to argue publicly and directly for an adviser for LGBTI Concerns and a Committee for LGBTI Concerns to be formed ASAP.
There is a danger in making a new appointment or forming a committee that both can be used to delay progress and avoid making substantive changes. Changing Attitude must continue to campaign for real, practical change now for LGBTI members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, to achieve equality of practice in ministry and relationships.