The Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook forum “stands for complete equality and the full integration of lgbti+ people into the life and ministry of Christian churches. We stand for Equal Marriage and for an end to all religious exemptions from equality legislation. We stand for an end to Christian discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.” Originally created as the Changing Attitude England group the forum’s membership, now totalling 4,400, has always had an ecumenical and international dimension.
Changing Attitude, now integrated with LGCM in OBOF, actively campaigned for full equality for LGBTI+ people in ministry and relationships in the Anglican Church, pursuing a strategy that did more than “standing for equality.’” We wanted to achieve equality. How do we convert standing for into achievement?
The Episcopal Teaching Document
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, akin to Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, 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 preserve an idealised, less than radical Christian synthesis.
This is not the outcome expected following the four year process that produced the Pilling Report and the three years devoted to the Shared Conversations.’ LGBTI+ Christians expected far more than ‘good disagreement’ at the end of this seven year process. They most certainly did not expect a further three year delay while the bishops engaged in a complex process to write an authoritative teaching document that is clearly going to be a restatement of existing church teaching.
Anger and frustration simmers in the various LGBTI+ Christian communities. When the Teaching document is finally published, judged by current progress, many more will abandon the church and those who remain will renew once again a campaign for complete equality and full integration.
This isn’t what the majority want. We will not achieve what we long and pray for unless we convert what the Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook forum ‘stands for’ into an active campaign to achieve our goals.
I have been publishing blogs revisiting the history of the Church of England’s repeated attempts to deal with LGBTI+ people to show that the current process will not achieve our goals. I have been writing open letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of Newcastle, and the National Safeguarding Group. The Archbishop of York alone has acknowledged my letters.
What action can we take?
Members of the forum have been asking what they might do to actively pursue our goals now, without waiting for a report in 2020 that will disappoint us yet again.
- A conversation has been taking place among a number of people and this blog is the outcome.
- We are clear that the Teaching Document will not achieve any real progress towards full LGBTI+ equality and inclusion.
- We are clear about the goals that will achieve full equality and justice for LGBTI+ people.
- We are clear that at parish level, many clergy and congregations embody as best possible a radical welcome and teaching.
- It is time to channel people’s anger and frustration into an active engagement with the church.
LGBTI+ agenda for change
- Approval for the blessing of same sex relationships in church
- Approval of a liturgy for the blessing of same sex relationships
- Acceptance that many lesbian and gay clergy live in (if we have to use the phrase) a sexually active, permanent, stable, faithful relationships with their partner
- Removal of the quadruple lock preventing the Church of England from solemnising same sex marriages and revision of the marriage canons to allow clergy to solemnise and equal marriage to take place in Church of England churches.
- Confront the misuse of the Bible that underpins teaching and practice towards LGBTI people justifying prejudice and resulting extreme examples of abuse.
- Pay attention to the acceptance of more fluid sexual and gender identities among the under 30s.
LGBTI+ strategy for change
Our expectation is for change now, not in 2020 when the Living in Love and Faith teaching document is published, let alone in the years following publication when a further period of reception is proposed.
The new title of the Teaching Document includes learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage. The bishops have a lot of learning to do before they can write an appropriate teaching document. The current signs are that those responsible for the Teaching Document process are defensive and less than willing to be open to our offers to educate. We need to educate the church establishment (House and College of Bishops, Archbishops’ Council, Church House secretariat, General Synod) about the expectations of LGBTI+ people. We should hold the Archbishops’ to be implement the commitments they made: that no person is a problem or an issue, that people are made in the image of God, all of us, without exception, and are loved and called in Christ, and there are no ‘problems’, there are simply people called to redeemed humanity in Christ celebrating common humanity without exception, without exclusion.
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.
We LGBTI+ people and networks need to be alert to the challenges we face. We too can be seduced by false hope offered by the establishment and corrupted by anxiety about and addiction to the institution.