Whenever I write about systemic homophobia in the Church of England, there tend to be two contrasting reactions.
One set of commentators want to affirm what is good and what has already been achieved, convinced that progress is being made and that eventually justice and equality will prevail. I’m with them there - I have no doubt that justice and equality will prevail – eventually – such is the nature of the Kingdom of God.
The optimism of this group is justified by reference to the significant achievement at the February session of General Synod in securing a vote that defeated the House of Bishops’ take note motion. I celebrate that achievement with them. In particular I celebrate the quality of the debate in which those who spoke were directly challenging the bishops and unprecedentedly open about their sexuality and convictions – straight, black, disabled, as well as LGBTI members of Synod. It was powerful. But defeat of the motion was achieved by the use of Synod procedures which require a vote by Houses when enough people stand in support. It was defeated because a majority in the House of Clergy voted against.
There are other reasons for justifying the idea that progress is being made. On the OneBodyOneFaith Facebook group, people report positive experiences of change locally in the parish church or cathedral. Some of us experience a genuine welcome and note the appointment of people who voice support for LGBTI equality and inclusion. This too is real and good.
In contrast to these very positive experiences, other people witness to the experiences of prejudice and homophobia that hurt and wound. Often this happens when remarks not intended for public consumption are accidentally overheard. In this way, the otherwise unheard presence of prejudice is made known.
I would remind people that at the same time s the House of Bishops were defeated in Synod and individuals were feeling welcomed and safe in the local church or cathedral, key campaigners, exemplars and voices have been withdrawing from public campaigning, or more truthfully, are subtly (or not so subtly) being pushed out of the Church of England. I’m thinking of Andrew, Jeremy, Clive, John, Jeremy and myself. There are many others, less visible and less public, who have simply gone quietly. I note that all those I am aware of are gay men. I’m sure women are affected as well. Why do I not know their names?
Seeing systemic homophobia
My point in yesterday’s blog and today’s post is that the Church of England, despite the positive, optimistic changes that bring hope, is still deeply, systemically homophobic, and changing this culture requires us to be honest and identify repeatedly what homophobia looks like and how it manifests and affects people in the church. We need to be really focused on this because often WE can’t see it for what it is. And if we can’t see it, those holding positions of authority and power in the church have the very greatest difficulty in seeing it.
Homophobia in action
Despite our frequent calls for no more conversations about us without us the House of Bishops is still in total control of the process and has met without us to establish a group to produce a Teaching Document and to set up a Pastoral Advisory Group.
This is the systemic homophobia of the Church of England in action. We should be publicly naming and shaming the House of Bishops. They should not be allowed to get away with developing a new church strategy for LGBTI people without our direct involvement in the process.
THIS, this failure in 2017 to include us in the process effects of which we are likely to be unaware. It has a negative effect on our integrity, freedom and dignity when we are excluded from the process. Of course, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it!) that it will have a negative effect on the outcome, on the quality of reports and process. It has a negative effect i the House of Bishops, on those members who are closet gays, on those members who are supportive of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and on the conservative bishops who insist on the maintenance of prejudice. This is systemic homophobia in action and the bishops continue to talk in ignorance of the urgency with which systemic homophobia needs to be confronted.
If we are insiders, involved somewhere within the system, it is inevitably more difficult for us to identify with confidence the culture of homophobia that is normative, that we live within, endure, and are directly affected by. Some of us are deeply wounded by its pernicious effect. There are many, many people who continue to hide their sexuality, some of them in long term relationships, who fear what would happen to them and their life and ministry in the church were they to come out. One person witnessed on Tuesday in the OneBodyOneFaith Facebook group to the experience of a young lady, not Anglican but Baptist/Evangelical, who was sacked from her post at a Christian charity when they learnt that she was gay. Her church then banned her from all youth work and social events (even pouring tea) and from the worship band. It happens in Anglican churches too.
This is the insidious effect of homophobia that corrupts the Church of England. I don’t want to single out LGBTI people for special treatment. All prejudice is corrupting, abhorrent and un-Christian, whether against race, colour, gender, disability or anything else. It is subtly present everywhere, maintained by those who believe discrimination is justified. Justified by who or what?
These powerful, archetypal figures and images and object of faith are hard to contest. Who dares challenge the plain meaning of scripture or the Word of God? Many do, of course, but introducing God or Jesus into the argument introduces an external authority whose absolute power is difficult to challenge.
This decades-long conflict over human identity and sexuality and authority of God and Scripture is corrupting the church spiritually and compromises our awareness of God’s unconditional, infinite, intimate love in and for creation.
We have work to do on ourselves – work to become more conscious of ourselves and the homophobic environment of the Church of England, more conscious of the need for transparency, and the courage to describe where and how systemic homophobia works.
I’ll end with Fr Andrew Foreshew-Cain’s rallying cry: