The dark shadow over the Church of England

Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote to every primate in the Anglican Communion in advance of the next Primates’ Meeting, which takes place in Canterbury in October. The letter reveals the mindset of the Lambeth Palace team, determined to maintain the unequal status of LGBTI people in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The letter’s primary purpose (note - primary purpose is the phrase used) is to give the Primates details of Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations, the report by the Church of England’s House of Bishops on human sexuality (the Norwich report, as we might call it for short).

The Archbishop has chosen to communicate with the Primates of the Communion “to unpack the declaration on human sexuality” before the report has been presented to the General Synod. I find it astonishing that he has done this. Why such impatience?

Key recommendation – no equal marriage

Archbishop Justin describes as a “key outcome” the recommendation that the Church of England’s teaching on marriage should remain unchanged, meaning there can be no same-sex weddings in the Church of England.

Note – he uses the phrase same-sex weddings, showing that he has no ability to recognise the discrimination implicit in the phrase.

Archbishop Justin adds that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples needs clarification and notes the Bishops’ acknowledgment that the Church needs to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke.

The Church of England is structurally infected with systemic homophobia, an infection that, of course, it is unable to see in itself. Did the bishops engage with the LGBTI groups and organisations in the preparation of the latest report, seeking to gain understanding of the homophobic attitudes in the church and learn how it might repent of them and overcome them? No they didn’t.

The letter gives extensive space to the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon who also welcomes the report. Archbishop Justin has felt the need to recruit Bishop Josiah to reinforce the message of his letter.

Bishop Josiah writes:

“The issue of same-sex marriage is highly emotive within the church. I understand the depth of passion on each side of the debate and I understand that any decision will leave some feeling disappointed and wounded by the outcome. 
 “But it is right that we acknowledge that some of our brothers and sisters do have same-sex attraction and I support the move for a ‘fresh tone’ in the way the issues are debated. Anglicans are called to love all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation. We are committed to welcoming and loving people with same-sex attraction. More than that, we need to fight against homophobia and anything that criminalises LGBTQ people.” 

The inclusion of Bishop Josiah’s thoughts and the prime purpose of the letter itself, to tell the Primates about the Norwich report, further inflames an already incendiary situation. There is now fury among the Church of England’s LGBTI networks about the content of the report, the way bishops have presented it and the use that is now being made of it. Writing to the Primates is presumably intended to give the report additional power and status, with the intention of persuading General Synod to make affirming noises in the take note debate next week. The Archbishop has now ensured LGBTI people and our supporters will approach the debate in a hostile mood.

We are furious about the continued use of “same-sex attraction” to describe us. We are furious that the Archbishop and bishops think a “fresh tone” is all that is needed to satisfy us. “Feeling disappointed and wounded” comes nowhere near describing the hurt and rage that people are feeling.

The Archbishop pours further boiling oil onto our wounds by concluding the letter with a reference to the communiqué agreed at the 2016 Primates’ gathering “which set out consequences for the US-based Episcopal Church (TEC) following its decision to change its canon on same-sex marriage.” Archbishop Justin then lists the practical consequences of this for TEC.

In his mind this may be designed to convince the Primates of his determination to satisfy their need to block any change in attitude to the status of LGBTI people in the Church of England. To me, it comes across as an additional reinforcement of the decision of the Norwich report to block any progress towards a transformation of the place of LGBTI people in the church.

The abuse continues.