Conversations with many people involved with the church in different parts of the country, from lay people young and old to ordinands, priests and bishops show me that the mindset of the Church of England at local, parish level is almost certainly open to the presence of LGBTI+ people and probably thinks that we would feel welcome and comfortable in their congregation, whether or not they were signed up as an Inclusive Church. The number of parishes aligned with Forward in Faith, GAFCON, Reform, AMiE and the bishop of Maidstone is 726. The total number of parishes in the Church of England is 12,600; 11,874 are not affiliated with either conservative catholic or evangelical networks.
The Christian Church hasn’t begun to come to terms with the nature of myth as the most powerful expression of sacred, holy truth about the divine. As a result, we live with false myths: the myth of a male God, the myth of male superiority, the myth of God Incarnate, and the myth of God is dead. It’s the male anthropomorphic God that is dead.
In heteronormative, white, male-dominated societies, it has been and is assumed that Jesus was heterosexual and had to be male because he was both fully human and fully divine and God was a male figure. If Jesus, the image of God, can only be identified as male, heterosexual, and until recently, a white Caucasian, in what ways are other identities and constructs able to relate to and fully identify with Jesus – women, black and brown people, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people?
Bishop Peter Ball is gay, closeted, repressed sexuality, secretive, spiritual, and sexually, emotionally, and relationally deeply damaged, damaged, I will argue, by his Christian environment, as the IICSA Hearings laid bare.
Vicky Beeching has been and is being damaged by Christians in her environment as recounted in Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole and living free from shame. Her body system and health have been acutely damaged, emotionally and physically. So were many of the victims of Peter Ball.
Lizzie Lowe committed suicide aged 14 in September 2014. She thought she may be a lesbian, was scared of telling her parents and had struggled to reconcile her feelings with the family's strong Christian faith.
What is the first cause of the damage which so deeply affected Peter Ball, Vicky Beeching, and Lizzie Lowe? It is misguided Christian teaching and practice; abusive use of the Bible, of authority, and a seriously inadequate understanding of Jesus and his teaching.
The evidence of the effects of Christian teaching that is hostile to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the life and ministry of the Church of England is mounting. The evidence reveals a toxic environment in the Church of England leading to examples of extreme prejudice, abuse and homophobia. The evidence can be found in the tragic suicide of Lizzie Lowe, Jayne Ozanne’s and Vikky Beeching’s memoirs, the IICSA hearings into the Diocese of Chichester and the recent IICSA hearings into the way church leaders, most notably Archbishop George Carey, dealt with the survivors of abuse by Bishop Peter Ball. With one or two exceptions the bishops of the Church of England still do not get how shocking is the level of abuse against LGBTI people in church.
The hierarchy of the Church of England is currently engaged in a three year process to write an Episcopal Teaching document, recently renamed Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage. This document is not being written in response to the goals pursued by LGBTI+ Christians. It continues the attempt to resolve the conflict between ‘orthodox’ and ‘revisionist’ tribes in the church. The conviction, passion, identity and experience of LGBTI+ Christians is submerged under the needs of the institution to pursue a less than radical Christian synthesis. The establishment needs to be educated by us into what a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church means in reality, based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships and a 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
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.