Three wasted, humiliating years

. . . or why LGBTI Anglicans so angry about the report from the House of Bishops: Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.

Yesterday I revisited the Pilling Report and the notes I made when the proposed Conversations were being developed.

One comment in particular made by someone involved in the development of Pilling’s work struck me:

The Pilling group was an ill-conceived exercise in the first place, ill-conceived in part because formulated by a male only group initially. It was marked by a lack of coherence and incompetence in the Church.

If that was a considered assessment of the value of the Pilling group prior to the Shared Conversations, we should not be surprised that the final outcome has the marks of ill-conceived incompetence. The anger felt by LGBGTI Anglicans about the latest report should come as no surprise. The latest report comes from the same stable of bishops.

The Pilling Report recommendations

I looked at Pilling’s findings and recommendations, paragraph 490 on pages 149-152. My memory of detail isn’t good. I was shocked to discover that the new House of Bishops’ report, Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations, replicates the Pilling’s findings and recommendations, expanding on them, but covering exactly the same territory and using the same ideas and phrases.

The foundation of Pilling’s recommendations: “We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.” The bishops, in preparing the new report, have woken to the reality that gay and lesbian (and bisexual, transgender and intersex) people do not feel welcomed by the Church, and the bishops are desperate to find a way to prove to us that we are.

Joe Pilling’s very first paragraph in his report refers to “deeply personal accounts of Christian live lived with same sex attraction. Lesbian and gay people do NOT live with same sex attraction. We identify in various ways, of which that is not one. The phrase occurs in the latest report and is one of the reasons why we are so dismissive of it. The bishops have been so influenced by conservative evangelical group think that they fail totally to write in a way that reflects majority Christian LGBTI experience and reality.

The three years during which we were asked to be patient and risk ourselves in disclosing our lives and experience to others have resulted in report in which the bishops show that nothing has changed from the Pilling Report.

There should be no surprise about this. The report is based on no new research evidence, quantitative or qualitative. Little has been learnt from the conversations beyond personal, anecdotal evidence, because there was no report back or feed-back from or assessment of the conversations. Those who participated may understand different perspectives better, but for the majority who didn’t participate, the exercise seems to have been futile, since the new report shows no advance in understanding by the House of Bishops, apart from the difficulty of the task still facing them.

So on what basis is the latest report founded? It’s founded on the experience and opinions of the ten members of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality and the members of College and House of Bishops.

The members of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality were selected to represent a spectrum of opinion within the church. What they reflect is the spectrum of current Anglican opinion about gay people overshadowed by other, more pressing concerns, informed by a selective theology, limited experience (no openly gay wisdom because all gay bishops are in the closet anyway) and limited expertise on gender and sexuality, as those commenting on the Changing Attitude Facebook Group have repeatedly highlighted.

Estimates of the number of LGBTI priests in the Church of England are guestimates, but figures quoted vary from 15% to 20%. The percentage is falling. Thirteen percent of the College of Bishops are reckoned to be gay or lesbian. This percentage isn’t falling. They are voiceless because to speak out would be to come out and that would mean exposing themselves to a group not corporately trusted. They would need supreme confidence within themselves about their sexuality and gender. I’ve heard one gay bishop spiritualise away his homosexuality as if it doesn’t exist.

How can the bishops possibly come to a reasonable, informed opinion about the Christian lives of LGBTI people in the church when their own lesbian and gay members are inhibited from coming out and they have taken no direct personal, experiential note of Christian LGBTI wisdom?

Everything they have discussed has been interpreted through the mind and attitude and preconceptions of each bishop. They will claim this is all based on Jesus and the Bible and Christian theology, teaching and tradition.

These claims have been made to support (or revise) Christian teaching about slavery, contraception, divorce, marriage (yes, marriage teaching changes), remarriage, and the role of women in Christian ministry.

Angry LGBTI reaction

Around me, LGBTI and straight allies are yelling angrily that the House and College of bishops are dramatically wrong in their understanding of our sexuality and our lives, shamefully wrong because many of them know better and as I know from personal conversations.

I include the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James and the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, chair and vice-chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality and the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker who spoke on the R4 Sunday programme, and the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Baynes, who wrote a blog for ViaMedia News. 

The bishops have not produced a report about same sex relationships or sexuality

They have published a defence of marriage and a defence of the priority of Christian unity.

They have responded to the requirements of conservative evangelicals by using the descriptor of choice, same sex attraction for those who believe homosexuality is contrary to God’s will.

They have omitted any consideration of bisexual, transgender and intersex experience.

They have failed to offer anything different from what was given in the Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality published in 2013 (the Pilling Report).