The law will not change
David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, was one of the people interviewed on BBC Radio 4s Sunday programme last weekend. In his opening sentence, Bishop David repeated six times variants of “the law will not change.” So there we have it from one of the bishops who in the past has been very LGBTI friendly and affirming – “we’re not at the point where we can change the law because there’s no point in trying to change the law of we don’t think we can achieve it.” That’s what the bishops have learnt from the three years of conversations – “we will not get a two-thirds majority to make a change.”
Bishop David opened by “disagreeing passionately” with the interviewer who said the bishops’ report was offering LGBTI people nothing. Later, David said he believes that if we work together: “LGBT Christians will work with the rest of the church, we can make that maximum freedom what it ought to be.” But there will not and cannot be maximum freedom until the bishops accept marriage equality.
Will the LGBTI Christian community decide to secede?
In responding to this question, Bishop David said he’d worked with LGBTI Christians over a good number of years “who are deeply loyal to the church. They hurt when they perceive the church is not fully accepting them and celebrating their lives in the way they would wish but they are deeply loyal and faithful to the church.”
I would like to think I am far more deeply loyal to the teaching and wisdom of Jesus than I am to the church. If I once was, I am no longer deeply loyal and faithful to the church and nor are many of my friends and ex-colleagues. The House of Bishops is stretching the patience and commitment not only of LGBTI Christians, but of our families, friends and congregations if they think our loyalty is not being tested in the extreme, now.
Bishop David relied heavily on what Rachel Mann had said in an earlier interview, claiming that an individual might cease to be part of their local church but that the majority will remain faithful within the frame of the law, what Synod would approve, and how we can better celebrate the lives of our LGBT members.
As a gay priest, I have always seen church rules and canon law as elastic entities, to be stretched as necessary to accommodate proper pastoral care and effective mission and ministry when things don’t fit. I’ve been encouraged to this by the elasticity taken for granted by conservative evangelicals and anglo-catholics.
Willesden and Buckingham disagree
Bishops Pete Broadbent and Alan Wilson had an illuminating exchange in a Facebook conversation initiated by a priest being taken to task by Bishop Pete for failing to adhere to the Canons on marriage law. Pete Broadbent pointed to Canon B30, and suggested that the CofE teaching on the matter hasn't changed.
Alan Wilson responded by saying Canon B30 “is a paradigm not a definition. If it were a definition it would be possible to use it to work out who is married and who isn't. It is actually a canon. All that is necessary is to apply it to everyone alike in the same way, gay or straight divorcee.”
Pete Broadbent responded with “It is of course entirely spurious to suggest that canon law is paradigmatic. It's quite the opposite, which is why we have to change it if we want it to bear a different meaning. Hence all the lawless evangelicals who don't vest are seeking to become canonically obedient by changing the canon.”
To which Alan Wilson replied “So, Pete, if that particular view is correct, what is to stop lawless evangelicals who believe in same sex marriage blessings seeking to become canonically obedient by changing the canon? [A]ll that has to happen is [Canon B30] needs to be applied to everyone equally in the same way, instead of in a discriminatory way towards one particular group of people.
Same-sex marriage doesn't exist
Pete Broadbent replied: “It's incumbent on those who want a change in the definition of marriage to change canon law, not to engage in reinterpretation. And it's not discriminatory - discrimination involves preventing people from having access to something that others have. But since for the CofE, there is no such thing as same sex marriage, nobody is being prevented from having access to something that doesn't exist.
I agree with Bishop Pete that same-sex marriage doesn’t exist. What Pete doesn’t understand is that same-sex marriage isn’t what lesbian and gay people are arguing for. We are arguing for equal marriage. As with the use of “same-sex attracted in the Norwich report, a phrase that is meaningless to LGBTI people, so with “same-sex marriage.” This is not a phrase we recognise and not what we are asking for.
Alan Wilson then asked Pete if it is “discriminatory to apply a law in different ways to different groups of people on the grounds of a protected characteristic?”
Pete Broadbent replied: “The whole point about ‘protected characteristics’ is that they exist in order to exempt groups (in this case, religions) from being guilty of discrimination. So, no, you're wrong.
Alan Wilson responded: “All protected characteristics relate to human rights which are applied proportionately and in relationship to one another.
So there you have it. Bishop Pete Broadbent, a member of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality that produced the report Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations thinks the point of ‘protected characteristics’ is to protect exempt religious groups from the unwelcome demands of LGBTI campaigners.
I feel vindicated that I argued from the beginning that we shouldn’t allow the bishops to take control of our agenda. Others disagreed and I was sent into the wilderness. I take no pleasure in noting just how totally the bishops have failed to do anything that has moved the church towards granting LGBTI people full equality in ministry and relationships.