Submission to the House of Bishops review group 2012

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Changing Attitude England is a group founded in 1995 to work for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Church of England. Changing Attitude groups are now active in Australia, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria and Scotland and our campaign extends to full inclusion in the Anglican Communion.

Synopsis

  • The need for a radical change in Christian attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is urgent.
  • The Church of England already incorporates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at every level of church life, single, celibate, in relationship and in civil partnerships.
  • We are all born with healthy spiritual and sexual potential. We ingest messages about wrongness, and cut off or repress part of ourselves because of the shame these messages cause us, becoming less whole and less holy.
  • LGB&T people are now effectively fully integrated in society – with the exception of some faith communities.
  • Equality law, employment legislation, immigration rules and civil partnerships have dramatically changed the status of LGB&T people in British society.
  • Hostility to the full inclusion of LGB&T people from parts of the Anglican Communion have made it impossible for the Church of England to respond in a thoughtful and appropriate way to the changed landscape of British society.
  • Failure to produce a report which moves beyond Osborne in responding to the dramatic changes in society and the experience of LGB&T Christians would be a disaster for us and for society’s perception of the Church of England.
  • We reject the idea that anyone who is gay needs treatment. Ex-gay ministries present dangers to the spiritual and emotional health and well-being of LGB&T people.
  • Services of thanksgiving and blessing should be allowed in church and an authorised liturgy developed for the blessing of civil partnerships.
  • Traditional Biblical attitudes to homosexuality are deeply damaging to the emotional and spiritual health and well-being of LGB&T people. The prevailing understanding of the Biblical view about homosexuality is unsustainable.
  • Same-sex relationships, whether contracted civil partnerships or a covenanted relationship, can demonstrate creativity in relationship, further couple’s health and growth towards maturity, values found in the marriage bond.
  • Public perception of the Church of England is that it is characterised by a prejudiced obsession with homosexuality.
  • LGB&T Anglicans have low expectation that the Church will speak truthfully to us or about us. We experience it as incapable of formulating adult, appropriate pastoral relationships with us.

Introduction

The need for a radical change in Christian attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) people is now urgent. Are you, members of the review group, going to advocate that the Church of England recognises the reality of the presence of LGB&T people in the Church or are you going to maintain the present culture of secrecy, denial of reality, suppression of identity and the unhealthy attitudes in which many LGB&T Christians remain trapped?

The Church of England already incorporates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at every level of church life, single, celibate, in relationship and in civil partnerships. We are members of congregations, lay ministers, readers, ordinands, deacons, priests and bishops, staff members in diocesan offices and at Church House. It is time for the Church formally to acknowledge and welcome our existence.

We, the Director and trustees of Changing Attitude England, hold to our identity with deep, passionate, intellectual conviction. In the core of our being, the depths of our hearts and the prayerfulness of our souls, we, together with tens of thousands of LGB&T Christians and the hundreds of thousands who are our friends, know the truth of our identity in Christ. We know that we are deeply, intimately and infinitely loved by God as LGB&T people, because God has created this way.

Foundation experiences and texts

At present, the Church takes a view that sexuality is something to be regulated, the only acceptable channels being celibacy or exclusive heterosexual marriage.

Changing Attitude takes a different view. We understand ourselves and everyone to develop a sexuality, which includes but is not limited to sexual orientation, in the same way that we develop a spirituality: there are differences between people in approaches. Our individual spiritualities and sexualities are best understood as loving God and loving people, in the way that makes sense in the context of each of us as a whole person.

Distortion of our sexuality occurs when we learn from external influences – such as the family, society or the Church – that who we are as sexual beings is wrong. We ingest messages about wrongness, and cut off or repress part of ourselves because of the shame these messages cause us, becoming less whole and less holy. This is the real scandal of sexuality.

Families and society in general have discarded outdated interpretations of sexual mores, and accept their non-heterosexual children, siblings and spouses, in their entirety. It is time for the Church to do the same.

Like the Church, we accept the Old and New Testaments as foundational texts. Where we differ from some sections of the Church is that we understand these texts as documents to be interpreted.

For example, the Genesis creation stories in Chapters 1 and 2 are myths. The first myth speaks of gender, and the second of mutuality and attachment. Chapter 2 is viewed as a foundation text for those who believe marriage is ordained by God and the only relationship in which sexual relationship can be allowed. Yet the second myth is not a scientific or exhaustive account of how human beings or the human institution of marriage or the procreation of male and female children from two sons was achieved: it is a narrative of which we must make sense in our lives as a whole.

Changing Attitude believes that our foundation texts are read in the context of our foundation experiences. Those of us who experience ourselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, or have LGB&T children, must make sense of the mythical Genesis texts in the context of our real lives. In our faith, we are primarily inspired by the teachings and example of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and by the other New Testament writings. We take the love, openness, healing energy and compassion of Jesus as our guiding principle.

The Review Group Brief

The brief given to the Review Group:

  • To draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality.
  • To offer proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process.
  • To help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document

The brief given to the group restricts the scope of your work to a very narrow focus.

You are allowed to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England. Changing Attitude is critical of the failure of the Church to implement the listening process mandated by Lambeth 1.10 in a way that has enabled the Church to listen to the voices and experience of LGB&T people, with a few honourable exceptions. No-one has collated the results of the listening that has occurred.

You are to offer proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England might best be shaped. As one of the groups representing not only LGB&T people and experience in the Church of England, but also the views of the families and friends, gay and straight, and congregations   of LGB&T people, we have moved beyond the need for continued discussion of our sexual identities.

The UK Government has legislated to grant equality on a sweeping scale to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in British society. Areas where discrimination continues to be experienced are being tidied up, but we are now effectively fully integrated in society – with the exception of some faith communities.

The Church of England’s systemic prejudice against LGB&T people sustains a culture of secrecy, shame and invisibility. People hide themselves in the closet, fearful of the judgmental and prejudiced attitudes held against LGB&T people by the Church.

More listening will not change this situation. Only the removal of prejudice will change the situation now.

You are to help the House produce a consultation document. For the reasons stated above about the listening process, for us the time for a period of further consultation following the completion of your report is also past. In Changing Attitude group meetings and conferences, intense frustration is felt and anger expressed at the failure of the Church to acknowledge the injustice being perpetrated against LGB&T people in general and Christians in particular. The frustration is intensified because we live in a society which has overcome prejudice against homosexuality and in a Church in which many bishops, clergy and parishes disregard the homophobic attitudes expressed in teaching and policy documents.

Because the brief restricts your area of exploration in ways which we believe prevent you from properly considering the urgent need for changed attitudes in the Church of England, we are going to broaden our submission beyond the Listening Process to cover areas, based on the unpublished Osborne Report, which we believe must be taken into consideration now.

Background

The Church of England web site reports that working parties produced three reports on homosexuality between 1970 and 1989, each of them contributions to the debate. These were the unpublished report of a Board for Social Responsibility working party produced in 1970, the 1979 BSR report Homosexual Relations: A contribution to discussion and the unpublished Osborne Report. Since two reports were unpublished, only the 1979 BSR report can have contributed to the debate.

The Lambeth Conference passed resolutions in 1978 and 1988 commending ‘the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality’ (1978) and ‘the continuing need in the next decade for “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality”’ (1988).

The Standing Committee of the House of Bishops of the Church of England asked the Board of Social Responsibility to set up a working party to advise the House on questions concerning homosexuality and lesbianism in 1986 chaired by June Osborne. The working party report, submitted in 1988, was suppressed.

The Osborne Report fulfilled the commitment made at Lambeth 1978 and 1988 to engage in deep and dispassionate study. In suppressing the Report the House of Bishops failed to implement the commitment made at Lambeth and failed to make the results available for consideration by the whole Church.

In 1987, the General Synod passed a motion proposed by Revd Tony Higton by 403 votes to 8. The motion said that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship and that homosexual genital acts fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. The Higton motion stood as a public expression of Church thinking when the Osborne Report was withheld.

Instead of publishing the Osborne report the House of Bishops produced a statement in 1991, Issues in Human Sexuality, the work of a small group chaired by the Bishop of Salisbury, John Austin Baker. The preface describes it as in part a response to the 1988 Lambeth call to undertake in the next decade a ‘deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality’. The purpose was ‘to promote an educational process as a result of which Christians may become … more informed about and understanding of certain human realities…’ It was not intended to be the last word on the subject but became, de facto, the policy of the House of Bishops.

It was followed in November 2003 by Some issues in human sexuality: A guide to the debate, intended to be a discussion document. The timing of the report was unfortunate, being published in the aftermath of the forced resignation of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading earlier in 2003, the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, USA and the authorisation of a public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships by the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada. It was immediately preceded by an emergency meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Lambeth Palace on 15 and 16 October 2003.

According to the Primates these actions were perceived to threaten the unity of the Communion. They polarised Christian opinion and happened in the context of a world already confused in areas of sexuality. The actions in the USA and Canada were regretted and were said to have short-circuited the process of listening to the experience of homosexual persons emphasised at the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

We rehearse this history in brief because we perceive that the Church of England’s history of engaging with human sexuality in general and LGB&T people in particular has been characterised by a failure of courage to publish reports and by the intervention of events at critical moments.

The failure to publish earlier reports, and especially the Osborne Report, and the critical hiatus in 2003 following the events in New Hampshire and New Westminster, the Primates Meeting and the publication of the Windsor report in 2004 have affected the context in which listening process in England has been attempted.

If the listening process is the starting point and basis of your work, then it is a very inadequate base on which to build. We know, because we have been involved in various ‘listening process’ initiatives and because we have often been consulted about the listening process for examples of good practice and advice on how to go about it. The listening process has not been conducted in accordance with an appropriate model or in a comprehensive way in English dioceses. Some dioceses have done nothing. Some have done nothing since producing study guides and documents following the publication of Issues in Human Sexuality in 1991. Some bishops have appointed advisory groups but have not extended listening to the wider diocese. Some dioceses are only now beginning to think about initiating a listening process. A minority of dioceses (York in particular provides the best example) have initiated a process which has involved the production of resources (a DVD in the case of York) which has been sent to every deanery and parish and resulted in real listening to the experience of LGB&T people.

Our fundamental criticism of the listening process is that it hasn’t happened in an effective way even now, 14 years since Lambeth 1998, and has rarely involved listening directly to the experience of LGB&T Christians. It is impossible to have effectively conducted a listening process if the voices and experiences of those about whom the process is being conducted have not been heard.

The challenge for the Church of England and the House of Bishops is to hear directly from people whose reality is denied by sections of the Church (those who claim gay identity doesn’t exist) and who are subjected to Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation which consigns us to a diminished place in Christian life. How can we talk of our experience and be heard without prejudice if there is a presumption against our integrity, identity and faith?

Changes in UK society since 1997

The election of the Labour Government in 1997 initiated a review of the legal status of LGB&T people in the UK which has transformed our lives. Equality law, employment legislation, immigration rules and civil partnerships have dramatically changed the status of LGB&T people in British society.

LGB&T people have stepped out of the closet in increasing numbers and are now visible in every profession, in parliament, the armed forces, the media, business and industry to a degree that wasn’t possible prior to 1997. LGB&T people have always had a degree of visibility in the arts and creative professions, as artists, actors, writers, architects and performers.

We are present in the Church as a higher percentage than the generally accepted level of 4 or 5 per cent of the total population. The more than 1,500 LGB&T clergy in the Church of England represent over 10% of the total.

In the 15 years since 1997 progress in changing Christian attitudes towards LGB&T people has been inhibited by the effects of the Anglican Communion’s disputes about homosexuality. Extreme positions have been adopted. Some Provinces have supported legislation which would further criminalise homosexuality in countries where 14 or 16 years imprisonment for homosexual activity is already the norm. In Nigeria, a bill outlawing same-sex marriage is proposed, in a country where same-sex marriage has never been considered. In Uganda, a bill proposing the death penalty and life imprisonment for certain offences by homosexual people is under consideration.

Support for such extreme legislation from parts of the Anglican Communion have made it impossible for the Church of England to respond in a thoughtful and appropriate way to the changed landscape of British society.

The Review Group is undertaking its work in relation to the listening process to which the Anglican Communion is in theory committed by Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998 when since 1997, the UK has radically reoriented itself in relation to the legal and social status of LGB&T people.

Changing Attitude England believes the recommendations of the group will inevitably be an inadequate response to the context of the Church of England in UK society if the context of your work is limited to the listening process, itself the result of a deeply-flawed resolution, rather than the context of UK society in 2012. We believe the prophetic Spirit of God can be at work in secular, social and political contexts as much as, and sometimes more than, in the context of Church meetings, reports and resolutions.

Although the Osborne Report was written 24 years ago and there are areas of the report that have been overtaken by events and parts that need updating, there is much in the report that is as valid now as then. Osborne’s working party included 5 men and 2 women, one bishop and at least one gay man. The recently announced working party of 5 includes no women, 4 bishops, and no known LGB&T people. The BSR appointed a far more representative group in 1986.

We have based the remainder of our submission on the Osborne report for a number of reasons:

  • It is a more insightful analysis and reflection of the Church of England’s attitudes towards and experience of human sexuality than Issues in Human Sexuality
  • It addresses a range of topics which we believe are still relevant and need to be incorporated in your current work.
  • It arrives at conclusions which would have been of immense value to the Church and her LGB&T people were it to have been published twenty four years ago.
  • Failure to produce a report which is as radical as the Osborne report and moves beyond it in responding to the dramatic changes in society and the experience of LGB&T Christians would be a disaster for us and for society’s perception of the Church of England

Tradition and Experience

Osborne accepted that there are two distinctive poles to any serious Christian discussion of the issue. Tradition and experience both have to be treated in their own right with depth and seriousness. This meant for them using both poles as starting points for approaching the other, though they unashamedly started with Scripture and moved towards the experience. The difficulty of the task, they recognised, was in the apparent distance between the poles.

We now live with far more confidence in our human identity as gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender people of faith and our experience has assumed a greater authority since Osborne was published and generally in human affairs.

This conflict has become even more extreme and more unacceptable for LGB&T Christians living in 2012. We are still on the receiving end of a negative use of tradition, but we are in no doubt (compared with some of those members of the Osborne group) that our identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a given, a reality as authentic as it is for the majority who are heterosexual. Osborne believed, optimistically in 1988, that the Church may be able to make the same journey in its own way. The group did not, however, believe that there was any escape in serious work on the issues from allowing both the tradition to speak in its own right and the experience of homosexual people similarly to speak for itself. It continues to be difficult for the experience of LGB&T people to be articulated and heard. We are a minority and we live in a Christian context in which strong prejudices are held against us.

Scripture and Tradition

Para. 4 of the Osborne report said:

[T]hose who have sought to comment on the texts in a careful and dispassionate manner would seem to be agreed on four things. First, the subject of homosexuality is touched on in the Bible infrequently. It is not a major concern of the biblical authors. Second, with the possible exception of the legal provisions in Leviticus 18 and 20, wherever the subject is raised it is not the main subject of the passage. The topic is more illustrative of other more fundamental concerns. Thirdly, great care needs to be taken in the exegetical task not to attribute to the text opinions which are not there. Fourthly, there is no escape from the interpretative task. We cannot jump straight from the text to the answers to our questions. Understanding the text is only the beginning of the Church’s work on the subject.

Osborne views Romans 1 as the most important text In the New Testament relating to homosexuality (Para. 13). The report says that even if the generally accepted view is that although Paul’s comments are an unambiguous indictment of homosexual behaviour as contrary to what God intends for people in the created order, some commentators go on to suggest that this is where the task begins rather than ends. We still have to decide how to interpret what Paul said in the context of our own discussion today. We cannot rely on proof-texts as settling the issue.

Experience

Osborne noted the radical shift in public attitudes and public policy in matters affecting personal relationships which occurred in the late 50s and the 1960s. Homosexual law reform in 1967, reform of the law on abortion and divorce all resulted from this shift in public opinion.

Changes in society, the way it is organised in terms of its power structure, class structure, economic and political experience, all affect attitudes and the development of social policy. These are bound to affect the Church, says Osborne, because all its members are themselves influenced by such forces. Society has continued to evolve and change since 1988, dramatically so, and the changes have continued to affect those who are Christians and active members of our churches. A new gap has opened up around attitudes towards homosexuality. The majority of church members live in families and work in environments where the traditional Christian teaching and attitudes towards homosexuality which the Osborne group were coming to terms with are now rejected by the majority.

It is no longer possible to close our society off from global experience. Since 1988, mobile phones, the Internet and social networking have transformed global communication in a way unimaginable 24 years ago. People’s awareness of attitudes held by other cultures and by those with a different mind set and the variety of ways in which we construct social and personal identity have been transformed. As Osborne rightly commented,

[t]he driving motor in these forces for social change is very powerful and will continue to operate irrespective of whether Christian theology and pastoral organisation show a willingness to respond or not.

The aetiologies of homosexualities

Paragraph 53 of the Osborne Report acknowledges that there are aetiologies, plural, of homosexuality, and homosexualities, also in the plural. We might add that there are also in the plural, aetiologies of heterosexualities. There is not a single heterosexual identity any more than there is a single homosexual identity.

Osborne identified four possible ‘causes’, physical, emotional, spiritual and social, for homosexuality. Osborne links the emotional and spiritual causes with the work of Elizabeth Moberley who saw the root of the ‘problem’ in the relationship of the person to the parent of the same sex. Proponents of this theory see homosexuality, at one extreme, as a pathological condition needing treatment. Changing Attitude utterly rejects this idea. We identify any pathology arising in the life of an individual as being the result of the cultural, familial, social and faith communities’ influence on a person’s sexual identity.

Osborne then turns to look at ‘treatment’ for the homosexual condition, something still advocated by some Christian groups. We reject the idea that anyone who is gay needs treatment. Conservative Christian proponents of ‘Ex-gay’ ministries and of claims to ‘cure’ people of ‘unwanted’ homosexuality are totally discredited by the medical profession. ‘Distant father’ and other theories have been abandoned.

Twenty two years ago the World Health Assembly removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders when it approved a new version of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).

A position statement issued on 17 May this year by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said services that purport to “cure” people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people. The statement calls on governments, academic institutions, professional associations and the media to expose these practices and to promote respect for diversity.

The Director of PAHO, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago said: “Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure. There is no medical indication for changing sexual orientation. Practices known as “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy” represent “a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people.”

Courage, an organisation once committed to helping Christians leave the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ abandoned this position some years ago. Jeremy Marks, the Director of Courage, admitted that not a single person who had been through their programme had been changed as a result. On the contrary, many had been subjected to acute depression and guilt, and others had survived by rejecting the programme and accepting themselves as lesbian or gay. Ex-gay ministries present dangers to the spiritual and emotional health and well-being of LGB&T people. They also present a false understanding of human sexuality to the Church, prioritising one interpretation of the few Biblical references to homosexuality over the experience of LGB&T Christians and the wisdom of the medical profession.

Society in general and therapists and other professionals in particular, now see the world through the eyes of lesbian and gay people. The Church still has a problem with seeing LGB&T people as integral members of church and society, created and loved by God. The danger identified by Osborne twenty four years ago still remains – that if what the Church stands for makes no connection with the real dilemmas, questions and life experienced by LGB&T people it is in danger of failing in the basic pastoral task. The Church of England, as exemplified by its perceived stance on homosexuality, is failing not only LGB&T people in Britain, but our families, friends, colleagues, class mates, and children. The headlines made by the Church are frequently disastrous, communicating a Church which is deeply prejudiced about homosexuality.

You will not be surprised to know that Changing Attitude categorically rejects the idea that homosexuality is a disorder or handicap. We do not experience ourselves as in any way disordered. If we are handicapped, it is by Church teaching, Christian tradition and the negative attitude of some Christians towards us.

Coming out

Every person whose sexual identity differs from the heterosexual majority has to face the challenge of ‘coming out’, to themselves when they become conscious that they are different (often in adolescence), and coming out to other people, family, friends, school colleagues, when the moment arrives and you need to explain who you are inside. The process of ‘coming out’ never ends, because there are no visible marks of identification if you are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

It can be hard for a heterosexual person to understand the sometimes acute challenge involved for a lesbian or gay person who reaches the moment of ‘coming out’. In the context of the Church, it can be a moment fraught with anxiety, not knowing how your priest or congregation, family or friends will react to the news. As a result, some people still live with depression in a secret world, hiding their true selves from those closest to them, and from their Christian brothers and sisters who should be among their closest companions. This is an intolerable situation and the need for change is desperately urgent.

It is worth quoting paragraph 72 of the Osborne Report in full, because until the Church learns this lesson and understands how it has constructed a gospel of homophobia in place of the gospel of love and truth, the Church will continue to be a body infected by sin and prejudice.

It is important for the Church to listen to homosexual people and hear the painful story on its own terms. Too often it seems the Church has decided its theology and its pastoral practice in the absence of and without the help of those to whom it is directed. To believe that we can resolve the dilemmas without a process of listening, engagement and response is a denial of our own methodology. Anglicanism has always held that it arrives at its theology and practice by a careful process of engagement with scripture, tradition and reason. Part of the material of reason is the actual experience of human life in the world of which we are a part. One of the reasons why the Church is a long way off resolving the dilemmas over these issues is that it has not yet done the necessary work of engagement with the stories of homosexual people in its membership. For these reasons we must move on to a more direct encounter with the choices made and dilemmas faced by homosexual people.

That was written 24 years ago and never published. Instead, Issues in Human Sexuality was published by a House of Bishops unwilling to face the truths presented by the Osborne Report. The intervening years haven’t been entirely devoid of listening to LGB&T voices in the Church, but the Church has singularly failed to confidently engage with our experience and undergo the radical change which is necessary before we can know ourselves as “full members of the Body of Christ”, to quote the pious words of Lambeth 1.10.

Being a member of a church remains a powerful reason for concealing sexuality – this alone shows that the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ model is rhetoric, not reality.

Civil Partnerships and Equal Marriage

In 1988 gay people were emerging from the shadows and role models of couples living in a committed relationship were becoming increasingly visible. Changing Attitude counts among our supporters couples who have been together for 30, 40 and in some cases, over 50 years.

Osborne acknowledged that some couples asked the Church to bless their relationships and some thought of their relationships as gay ‘marriages’. Some priests were privately providing services of blessing. The report said:

“What is clear is the need for the Church to affirm the value and richness of same sex friendships, and to consider ways in which support and structures can be provided to enable friendships to flourish.”

The landscape has changed dramatically.

  • Civil Partnerships were introduced at the end of 2005 allowing lesbian and gay couples to make a legal contract.
  • Services of thanksgiving and blessing have been created on an individual basis by couples and ministers.
  • Liturgies for the blessing of civil partnerships have been published, most notably by Revd Jim Cotter in The Service of my Love, published by Cairns Publications in 2009.
  • Some parishes have formally adopted PCC resolutions approving the practice of celebrating or blessing gay and lesbian relationships in parallel with heterosexual marriage. Among the most notable of these are St Luke’s, Charlton in the Diocese of Southwark (published in Unheard Voices by Rev Jeffrey Heskins) and St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Diocese of London.

The crucial point to make, said Osborne, is the inescapable duty of all who would engage in serious moral and pastoral reflection to encounter and respond to the realities of the wider experience of homosexual people within the Church and within the wider society of which we are all part.

Homophobia

The Osborne Report expressed particular concern about the strength of homophobic forces in personal attitudes, in culture and the Church (para.142ff). There is a social aspect to homophobia in which negative attitudes towards homosexuality are embedded into the culture and lead into various forces of social discrimination against homosexual people. Osborne said we need to recognise how powerful these personal and social forces are and how damaging they are to homosexual people.

Osborne, 24 years ago, recognised that the Church has been much heard urging on homosexual people the need for repentance and the forgiveness of Christ with little acknowledgement that its own history, practice and attitudes of hostility are part of the problem.

In the years since 1988, the charge of being homophobic has been laid against conservative ‘orthodox’ individual Christians, groups campaigning for Christian orthodoxy, and against the Church corporately when it has made statements perceived to be hostile to the dignity of LGB&T people. People accused of being homophobic defend themselves by claiming they are simply stating the Church’s traditional teaching.

We argue that conservative Christians ignore the changes that have taken place in social attitudes, changes parallel to the changed attitudes to race, women and contraception.

The Bible

Church teaching about homosexuality based on the use of the familiar ‘clobber’ passages is now perceived to be homophobic.

These passages are used to maintain prejudice against LGB&T people and to deny that we are created in the image of God and are called to love in the pattern of Jesus Christ, in exactly the same way as the majority heterosexual population. We know the Church finds this difficult to acknowledge.

We state our position with directness – we believe traditional Biblical attitudes to homosexuality are deeply damaging to our emotional and spiritual health and well-being. We could argue about the translation of the key verses and passage and the hermeneutics and context of each text. The texts are written from a prejudiced stance and in the case of Leviticus advocate violence towards us. There is no escape from recognising that as with other Biblical teachings, the Biblical view about homosexuality is unsustainable.

The world-wide Church has changed its mind about Christian teachings previously held with conviction based on the Bible. These include teaching about slavery, divorce and contraception. Both Jesus and Paul were ambivalent in their attitude towards marriage and family.

In the twenty-second Eric Symes Abbott Memorial Lecture delivered at Westminster Abbey on Thursday 10 May 2007, Being Biblical? Slavery, sexuality, and the inclusive community, the Reverend Dr Richard A Burridge, Dean of King’s College, University of London argued that to be truly Biblical, we have to imitate Jesus’ teaching and his example, his deeds as well as his words.

Jesus’ teaching must be earthed in his practical example, both of calling people to repentance and discipleship – but also his open acceptance of sinners, with whom he spent his life and for whom he died. The movement for the abolition of the slave trade could only discuss what the Bible really said about slavery once slaves and former slave traders were present and their experiences were heard. Only such an open and inclusive community which includes LGB&T people and listens to our experience can really grapple with what the Biblical teaching is.

The Body and Incarnation

Osborne identified something which is fundamental to Christian teaching but is often avoided in reality – Christians lay great stress on the importance of the body – incarnation. Christ became fully human through the incarnation, sharing our human existence. In the beginning God saw what he had made and called it good. That goodness of life includes the pleasure of our bodies. We are not therefore, said Osborne, to think about our persons in ways which deny pleasure or denigrate our bodily life (Osborne para.149).

Our physical and bodily life is inescapably sexual. We express what it means to be a human person through our bodies and the way we respond to one another as sexual beings. This is particularly so in the feelings and fantasies we have about one another and in our physical encounters including sexual intercourse (Osborne para.150).

The current teaching of the Church of England is reluctant to accept that lesbian and gay people have the same human embodiment and the same emotional and sexual desires as heterosexuals. Issues begins with a set of assumptions against which it judges homosexuality:

  • Heterosexuality is assumed to be ‘normal’, homosexuality to be ‘abnormal’.
  • Genesis 1.27, ‘God created human beings in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ continues to be read as defining human identity when a minority of people do not conform to the binary human sexuality and gender identities which the Church takes as a given norm from this verse.
  • Issues lacks imagination about the ways in which couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, can give sexual, physical, emotional pleasure and satisfaction to one another in so many ways in addition to sexual intercourse.
  • Issues, written by heterosexual men, makes a prior assumption that same-sex sexuality and bodily intimacy is a problem and barrier to pleasure.

If they had listened to lesbian and gay couples then, and if you listen to lesbian and gay couples now, you will learn that such an assumption is unfounded.

Transgender

Changing Attitude has three transgender trustees, two trans women (MTF) and one trans man (FTM). Gender identity is a different issue from sexuality. They are connected because human gender and sexuality are aspects of our identity which challenge Church teaching and theology. We also have heterosexual trustees. We endeavour to be fully inclusive, modelling our experience of God and our expectation of a Kingdom-oriented Church. The overcoming of prejudice and recognition of those who remain outside the Kingdom is something that has to be worked at deliberately and consciously. Changing Attitude’s submission is not going to address transgender issues further because the Sibyls are submitting their own report.

Intersex

Human life is inseparably physical and bodily, says Osborne, and in common with the pattern of creation is male and female. Individual human beings are either male or female. There are a small minority of people whose physical sexual identity is ambiguous but their experience does not require us to question the fundamental male/female shape of human life (para 150).

We think Osborne is wrong. People born with an intersex condition challenge the binary assumptions made by the Church about human sexual identity. This challenges Church teaching that we are born male and female because that’s what Genesis says and that’s the orthodoxy of Church belief and practice. This unchallenged assumption relates to the easy assumption by some that God doesn’t make mistakes that deviate from heteronormative assumptions. People born with an intersex condition undermine this assumption.

Marriage

We express human creativity firstly in the relational, says Osborne, and: “we start from the knowledge that our basic physical characteristic is male or female.”

Osborne recognised that creativity in relationship is not confined to the marriage bond or even to male/female relationships, with many homosexual partnerships being fine examples of ‘creative’ relationships. The Report struggled to find a way of understanding and expressing the way in which ‘the encounter between two people of different genders is different in kind from that of two people of the same gender’.

Part of the value of a committed sexual relationship is seen in its capacity to further the health, and growth towards maturity, of the other. For such growth an environment of commitment, trust and reliability is needed (Para 164). Osborne says that is to be found in the marriage bond.

Changing Attitude argues that same-sex relationships, whether contracted civil partnerships or a covenanted relationship, can demonstrate those values which Osborne placed uniquely in marriage.

Celibacy

Osborne (Para 169) refers to those who affirm the joy of chastity in celibacy, finding their sexual needs met in warm and affectionate friendships, sublimating their eros into agape. Celibacy for them is not a denial of sexuality, but another mode of sexual expression. For others the experience of an unchosen celibacy is a heavy burden which feels at times like a denial of important parts of their humanity. For such people, the Christian tradition seems like an oppressive weight, not a liberty.

Sexual Identity – made that way

Changing Attitude represents those who believe that it is time the Church positively recognised that human sexuality is a spectrum of experience and should be seen as part of the kaleidoscope of God’s creation.

The supporters of Changing Attitude would affirm that God has made them this way, whether that is heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex. This self-awareness may be hard fought for if we have strongly internalised negative Christian or social attitudes to our sexual identity, or if we experience ourselves as being assigned the wrong gender or having a body which is at odds with how we feel internally.

Even to be referring to the belief some Christians have that homosexuality is viewed as a disorder or handicap or something that is capable of being healed, is extraordinary to us, and demonstrates the gulf between some Christian attitudes towards sexual diversity and the widespread attitude now formed in British society.

We do not accept that marriage and celibacy are the only permissible options for Christians, lay and ordained, priests and bishops. To deny lesbian and gay Christians the possibility of forming creative, loving, faithful, intimate relationships, legalised in a civil partnership, recognised and blessed by the Church, is to deny us the freedom to respond to God and to model our lives with the full range of human emotions and resources with which God has endowed us. The call to holiness is the call to become wholly the person God has created us to be.

Gay couples often parent children, whether surrogate or adopted, and enjoy the same capacity for mutuality. Complementarity between two people and exploration of the mystery of the other as different are qualities found in same-sex relationships as much as in heterosexual relationships.

Many Christians believe that some of those opposed to homosexuality are obsessed with genitality We still hear the same objections raised by conservative Christians 24 years after Osborne. If we didn’t, we would have ignored the “anatomical parts don’t fit” argument. Those who believe that heterosexuals only use their body parts in one particular way intended by the designer need to expand their level of sexual awareness.

The Church remains one of the places where a significant proportion of LGB&T people maintain a false identity. In both Anglo-catholic and conservative evangelical circles, gay people develop an identity which enables them to pass as straight.

The Church’s role in protecting civil rights

Osborne said the Church “has a critical role in the public realm of bearing witness to the Gospel by seeking to defend the civil rights of homosexual people against those who would discriminate against them. We do not need to share other people’s convictions and lifestyles in order to defend their human dignity as members of a particular society. We believe that it is both possible and essential for people of all theological and moral persuasions on this issue to unite in opposing the forces of homophobia on society and all attempts at denying homosexual people their basic civil rights.” (Para 351)

Public perception of the Church of England is that it is characterised by an obsession with homosexuality towards which it’s stance is prejudiced and naive. Exemptions from Equality legislation and statements about homosexuality from conservative Christian lobby groups have been disastrous for the Church of England’s ability to communicate Jesus’ gospel message of God’s infinite love for creation and a compassionate, joyous welcome for all.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu recently failed to communicate a clear and positive welcome for LGB&T people in his response on Marriage and Civil Partnerships. In the related Telegraph interview he said: “We [the bishops in the House of Lords] supported civil partnerships, because we believe that friendships are good for everybody.”

The Archbishop’s claim is untrue. One bishop supported civil partnerships in the debate but five conservative bishops spoke against and bishops’ voted 6/1 against the bill.

In a letter to the Guardian, Bishop Richard Harries said:

“The archbishop of York wants to keep marriage as a separate category but regards civil partnerships as an honourable expression of a committed relationship; that marriage and civil partnerships are in fact complementary, equal but different. The great flaw in his argument is that he does not urge the church to bless such partnerships. This would do more than anything to obtain that greater public understanding he says he wants.”

LGB&T Anglicans have little expectation that the Church will speak truthfully to us or about us and experiences it as incapable of formulation an adult, appropriate pastoral relationship with us.

Conclusion

The Church of England’s support for homosexual law reform in the 1950s helped lay the foundation for a transformation of life for LGB&T people in British society when the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed. Since then, Church of England action has been characterised by a lack of prophetic courage and truth.

Legal reforms since 1997 have given LGB&T people equality in society enhancing our dignity and confidence. The Church of England, inhibited by conservative forces both national and international has been unable to affirm the progress made for us in society. The Church is now seen by society to be obsessed with an unhealthy attitude to homosexuality.

The Church is divided between the grass roots, where the majority of people in congregations welcome LGB&T people and the institutions of the Church where secrecy and collusion characterise attitudes.

LGB&T Anglicans, our families, friends and congregations, are welcoming and open towards us, at ease with the spectrum of gender and sexual identity which is normal in God’s creation.

We have waited with growing impatience for the listening process in England to move towards resolution, affirming the reality that God has always called those created lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to faith and ministry in the Church.

Appendix

Old Testament foundation texts

Genesis 1 is a foundational text for us.

  • God looked at creation and saw that it was good (Genesis 1.25 and 1.31)
  • We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26 and 27)
  • We are made male and female – we are gendered. Masculine and feminine are aspects of God and of all human beings. Neither God nor human beings are locked into a rigid gender binary state (Genesis 1.27)

Genesis 2 is of course a separate creation narrative. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone (2.18) and made a partner suited for him by taking a rib and building it into a woman, bone from his bones and flesh from his flesh. Genesis 2.24 explains that this is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife and the two become one.

Both Genesis creation stories are myths. The first myth speaks of gender, the second of mutuality and attachment. The second is a foundation text for those who believe marriage is ordained by God and the only relationship in which sexual relationship can be allowed. The second myth is not a scientific or exhaustive account of how human beings or the human institution of marriage or the procreation of male and female children from two sons was achieved. Our foundation texts are read in the context of our foundation experiences. Those of us who experience ourselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or have LGB&T children have been faced with the challenge of making sense of the mythical Genesis texts in the context of our real lives.

New Testament foundation texts

  • Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22.39-39)
  • Those who love their neighbour have met every requirement of the law (Romans 13.8)
  • For the Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God’s own nature. Who knows what a human being is but the human spirit with him? In the same way, only the Spirit of God knows what God is (1 Corinthians 2.10.11)
  • For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation: the old order has gone; a new order has already begun (2 Corinthians 5.17)
  • May you, in company with all God’s people, be strong to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and to know it, though it is beyond knowledge. So may you be filled with the very fullness of God (Ephesians 3.18,19)
  • There is no question here of Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and is in all (Colossians 3.9-11)

In our faith, we are primarily inspired by the teachings and example of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and by the other New Testament writings. The love, openness, healing energy and compassion of Jesus are primary.

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