The vote in the House of Clergy at the February 2017 Synod against taking note of GS 2055 – the House of Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations – focused the anger of LGBTI+ people in the Church of England about the utterly inadequate response to the Pilling Report and the Shared Conversations the report represented. People assumed that the vote sent the bishops back to the drawing board to think again. If we allow the present, complex, in-house work by the House of Bishops on the Teaching Document to continue unchallenged, the level of anger when it is published in 2020 will be even more intense than in 2017 and the rejection of Episcopal authority will be more determined. Is that the outcome you want, bishops of the Church of England?
I am writing the same article over and over again because the Church of England establishment doesn’t see just how homophobic the church is. By ‘The Church of England establishment’ I mean the House and College of Bishops, the staff at Church House, Lambeth Palace and Bishopsthorpe, the Archbishops’ Council, and the courtiers appointed by or working under the jurisdiction of these bodies. By a systemically homophobic culture I mean one that is unaware of the abusive effect the hierarchy and the teaching and practice of the church has on LGBTI bishops, clergy and laity, friends and families, congregations, and on those who observe the church from the outside.
Is the House of Bishops ready to make evolutionary and revolutionary choices about the direction in which the Church of England’s teachings about gender and sexuality will evolve? The key question about the Teaching Document for LGBTI+ members of the Church of England is: will this report achieve the radical change we now urgently need, both we who identify as LGBTI and the majority in the church for whom current teaching and practice is no longer adequate or believable?
Jayne Ozanne has written a powerful blog drawing on her own experience of mental anguish and trauma, suicidal thoughts and feelings of self-hate that she and so many other LGBTI people suffer as a result of Christian teaching that claims to be orthodox, traditional and biblically-based. Jayne identifies this Christian teaching and theology as the cause of a safeguarding issue of immediate importance. The House of Bishops cannot wait until 2020 when their complex Teaching Document is due to be published. They must take action now to end the teachings that fuel homophobia.
A year ago the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a paper, Next Steps on Human Sexuality, GS Misc 1158. As the work continues to research and write the House of Bishops’ Teaching Document, the bishops need to know that they and the church they lead have already lost their authority as far as LGBTI people are concerned. Many are no longer committed to the church but lead a Christian life, exploring their spirituality along other paths. The bishops are already too late to influence the moral and ethical choices LGBTI people are making.
There is a powerful connection between President Trump’s dangerous, shocking abuse of the Bible to justify his incarceration and abuse of children and families and Mark Wallinger’s monument to the Magna Carta, the founding document of British culture and values that underpins what survives of genuine Christian values in our political realm. Wallinger, in his supposedly secular monument to a potent political document, has created a deliberately spiritual experience of immense truth and authenticity. I want to visit. I am drawn to visit. I anticipate finding there deeper presence and truth than I experience in many official religious buildings in our contemporary culture. Our society urgently needs more places offering unconscious depth, stillness, crafted authenticity and truth.
I have written a letter to Graham Tilby, the National Safeguarding Adviser, asking the Safeguarding Team to investigate the Bishop of Maidstone, Reform, the Church Society, and Christian Concern as key instigators of abusive and homophobic teaching and practice in the Church of England. Spiritual abuse is now recognised as one of the most serious manifestations of homophobia and prejudice against LGBTI people. The letter is copied to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of Newcastle (Pastoral Advisory Group) and Bath and Wells (the lead bishop for safeguarding).
The Archbishop of York has replied to my letter about the Bishop of Maidstone’s response to the Bishop of Lichfield. My letter is being referred to the Pastoral Advisory Group for advice. The views and practices directly advocated by the Bishop of Maidstone to his clergy could, if acted upon, endanger the physical or mental well-being of adults who may well be vulnerable in their faith and sexuality. I believe the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are the people responsible for taking action in this matter. It is a safeguarding issue affecting the practice advocated by a bishop.
We have learnt this week, thanks to the open letter sent by the Bishop of Maidstone to the Bishop of Lichfield, that the Church of England also unwittingly created a bishop to enshrine prejudice against LGBTI people in the Church of England. Writing about Bishop Thomas requires the use of words that have been taboo when used in the context of equality for women in the church: prejudice and discrimination. The prejudice enshrined in the authority and teaching of the Bishop of Maidstone raises great concerns about the lengthy, complex process now being undertaken to produce what the House of Bishops clearly intend to be a new, definitive Teaching Document.