The evidence of the effects of Christian teaching that is hostile to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the life and ministry of the Church of England is mounting. By full inclusion, I mean granting equality in ministry and relationships to LGBTI people. Essentially, that means equal marriage.
The mounting evidence reveals a toxic environment in the Church of England leading to examples of extreme prejudice, abuse and homophobia. The evidence can be found in the tragic suicide of Lizzie Lowe, a member of the congregation at St James and Emmanuel, Didsbury, Jayne Ozanne’s memoir Just Love and Vikky Beeching’s memoir Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole, and living free from shame, the IICSA hearings into the Diocese of Chichester and the recent IICSA hearings into the way church leaders, most notably Archbishop George Carey, dealt with the survivors of abuse by Bishop Peter Ball and with the bishop himself.
With one or two exceptions the bishops of the Church of England still do not get how shocking is the level of abuse against LGBTI people in church. The statement issued by the Bishop of Oxford last Friday evening is but one example demonstrating the bishops’ lack of understanding and awareness. What will it take to wake them up? - more suicides, more depression, more personal testimonies, the third session of IICSA hearings? If they don’t get it now, I fear they may never get it.
LGBTI Anglicans ourselves – I include myself in this comment – have been slow to wake up to the reality that we inhabit a church that is prejudiced and abusive towards us, so habituated are we to teachings and practice that have become normative.
The foundation of abusive and prejudiced teaching and practice lie in scripture, in the interpretation and abuse of scripture, in the culture of the institution, hierarchy and the establishment. It is located in conservative evangelical tribes, in those who are self-proclaimed Bible-believing, orthodox, traditional Christians. They are the most vocal advocates of homophobia but the prejudice is systemic within the Church of England. It is the reason why only one of the thirteen or more lesbian, gay and bisexual bishops is open (and that with great reluctance) about his sexuality, despite being in a relationship when appointed as a bishop.
The evidence of shockingly prejudiced attitudes to LGBTI+ people in the church continues to mount.
Where is the fearless examination of Christian teaching and practice that is responsible for this toxic, abusive, prejudiced, homophobic culture?
Where is a rigorous interrogation taking place of the institution’s mind set, the deeply embedded cultural norms and addictions, the abuse of authority – biblical and Episcopal – because it is so hard for people to see the root causes of abuse?
Where are the advocates of the unconditional love that is at the heart of God and the teaching of Jesus, love infinite and intimate?
Where are the advocates for urgent, radical change in Christian ideas, teaching and practice about human sexuality and gender – heterosexual as well as LGBTI+?
Answers to all these questions are most unlikely to be found in the six groups comprising the Living in Love and Faith process, let alone in the Teaching Document to be written by the House of Bishops and published in 2020.
Michael Sadgrove, retired Dean of Durham, recently blogged about Vikky Beeching’s book. Michael noted that:
- Vicky is doing more than bearing witness to the importance of personal integrity in human life.
- The book is a plea to all Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, to revisit their attitudes to LGBTQ+ people.
- Visceral hatred ought to have no place in any community of faith that wants to live according to New Testament principles.
- Discrimination is always a sin against the image of God in humanity. The book bears witness to necessity of honouring that truth in the church.
- How damaging it can be for LGBTQ+ people to suppress their identity for fear of what others will think of them.
- How urgent it now is for the churches to affirm same-sex relationships publicly and embrace equal marriage.
- His hunch that there is now a majority among the active membership of the C of E who want to press for change.
One person can’t wake the Church of England up to its scandalous lack of awareness about how it systemically abuses LGBTI+ people.
A Coalition of leading LGBTI+ groups and individuals, were it to shout and stomp loudly enough, might begin to wake the bishops up, and a group is actively engaged in creating such a potent voice.
But as for the bishops; the lesbian, gay and bisexual bishops; the pro-LGBTI ‘I am with you and praying for you bishops’; the bishops appointed to the Living in Faith and Love Coordinating Group, Thematic Working Groups and Pastoral Advisory Group – what can be done?
Shout, scream and stomp – force every bishop to read Vikky’s and Jayne’s books, read and react to the IICSA testimonies – and prepare them for a hostile reaction and more aggressive dissent when they publish the Teaching Document.
Meanwhile, I will continue to blog, screaming and shouting metaphorically as loudly as I can - WAKE UP, FOR GOD’S SAKE AND FOR THE PEOPLE’S SAKE!