I repeat: The Church of England is systemically abusive

The blog I posted on Friday, “Bishops and conservatives meet in secret to reinforce the abuse of LGTI people” has been reposted by pro-LGBTI campaigners as a helpful contribution and criticised, particularly by members of the establishment, as being unhelpful and inaccurate. Contrary to the experience of people like Tina Beardsley and Sara Gillingham that the process is abusive, others say that my statement that the LLF process is abusive and the Church of England is systemically abusive is wrong. Criticism has been expressed on the Thinking Anglicans website and the TranschristianUK Facebook group. People have defended the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process, denying that it is abusive and have defended the culture of the Church of England and the General Synod.

Transgender and Intersex friends of mine and the wider Transgender and Intersex networks to which they belong are angry at the way they feel the LLF process abused them. It is not possible to tell people “you are wrong to feel angry and abused.” They are victims of the process. How are victims to be believed if members of the Church of England establishment (General Synod, House of Bishops, members of LLF, senior members of staff) don’t believe peoples’ feelings?

The serious concerns reported repeatedly by Sara Gillingham have not been taken onboard. There was open hostility by other members of LLF at her involvement and information written about “Intersex” people was withheld. Where “bullying” or “patronising attitudes” were apparent, LLF leaders merely expressed guilt that they wished it had been a better experience for the person subjected to the behaviour. The unhealthy nature of the culture is blatantly obvious, Sara says.

The IICSA hearings and other investigations into historic abuse in the Church of England show that repeatedly victims of abuse have not been believed. The denial of abuse was believed because the accused were members of the establishment. Collusion and denial characterise the response of the CofE hierarchy. The same pattern of disbelief and collusion is happening now in LLF.

Transgender and Intersex (T and I) are later additions to the initial single category of Homosexual or Gay when in the post-war years activism developed. LGCM was initially the Gay Christian Movement. Lesbian and Bisexual were added later. T and I have been added more recently to groups campaigning for the full inclusion of LGBTI+ people.

I note that lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the Living in Love and Faith process have been silent about their experience. I know that some are equally concerned about the abusive nature of the process. Their silence is unhelpful, leaving transgender and intersex people to take responsibility for publicly naming the truth. I fear that LGB as well as cisgender people are colluding with and by their silence protecting the institution.

I am being criticised in public for voicing the transgender and intersex experience of abuse in the LLF process. I have been told that my model has changed from engagement to attack; that I have become almost entirely antagonistic; that I falsely project ideas onto people; that I just want to criticise; that unless we stick with LLF we will only have ourselves to blame should the conservatives determine the outcome.

The person appointed to replace Tina Beardsley after she resigned from LLF and wrote about her experience has written that “LLF is trying to present a way forward that is radically inclusive of LGBT+ people, but is constantly meeting barriers because the very communities that we are trying to help are working against us.” He is the first person to claim that LLF is trying to present a radically inclusive way forward for LGBTI+ people. It is in total opposition to Tina and Sara’s experience. He also accuses the LGBTI networks and communities of working against LLF when LLF is trying to help them. The problem is that the LGBTI+ networks have heard about the LLF process directly from those who have encountered it and worked within it.

Systemic abuse

I have for months been saying that abuse is systemic in the Church of England. The IICSA hearings have begun to uncover the extent of historic abuse. Current experience shows that LLF is an abusive process. People active in the Church of England in different dioceses and elements of the institution report personal experience of abuse that distress them and shock me. I am being told about abusive practice in training institutions, in diocesan structures from the diocesan bishop down, by clergy in parishes, in the CDM process and in safeguarding practice. Yes, the safeguarding process is itself abusive in some dioceses.

I feel deeply angry about what people are experiencing. I cannot be the only person to whom people talk about being abused (though many are understandably reluctant to risk their PTO or licence by naming and confronting people). The hierarchy seems incapable of registering that abusive actions are taking place nor of recognising their own abusive patterns. Some fail to see the abusive culture in their safeguarding and CDM processes. As the IICSA hearings have shown, it is extremely difficult for many in the hierarchy to identify abuse and face up to the reality of abusive behaviour.

Abuse of LGBTI+ people

In the twenty years of campaigning activity I participated in as Director of Changing Attitude I was confronted with abusive activity all the time. The passive/active abuse of lesbian, gay and bisexual clergy and lay people continues with the prohibition on marriage equality and the blessing of relationships. Clergy are prohibited from marrying the person they love, often someone they have been in a committed relationship with for decades. This is abusive.

The assumption seems to have been made that the conservatives who organised the petition urging the bishops to “revise, postpone or withdraw” their transgender guidance have the best interests of LGBTI+ people at heart. Only one person has posted a comment suggesting tentatively that a large part of the conservative objection to the guidance is a fundamental dislike of anything which normalises or validates transition. Their strategy is to block by any means possible the granting of equality to transgender people in particular and the whole LGBTI+ community in general.

LGBTI+ people are going to be the victims at the end of the LLF process because it has no commitment to pursue the truth and justice in which the unconditional love of God is made manifest in creation.

LGBTI+ members of General Synod collude in this abusive exercise. The leadership of some Christian LGBTI+ organisations collude in this abusive exercise. Only two organisations with a very public profile have found an edge, a courageous voice to name the vision and challenge the institution – the Ozanne Foundation and the Campaign for Equal Marriage.

From my liminal place in relation to the Church of England my perspective is clearly at odds with those who are committed to the protection and preservation of the institution. I do not see best practice or the highest interests of LGBTI+ people being upheld.

My vision for LGBTI+ and all people is the creation of an open society and an open church in which human gender and sexual identities are unconditionally recognised and valued, free from prejudice and from a Christian construction that judges, condemns and marginalises people. My vision is clearly too radical for many. I am writing a second blog and making a noise because for me and many people who contact me, the current situation is intolerable.