Three weeks ago a minor anniversary passed. On 20 January 2012 the Church Times finally published the Osborne Report on its web site. The report was written in 1989 but suppressed by the House of Bishops. Here are a few excerpts from the Osborne Report which are still apposite, interwoven with some comments on and comparisons with the report from the House of Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality, Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations. Osborne noted in 1989 the “considerable contrast between the attitudes which prevailed” in their youth sixty years ago compared with younger clergy. That considerable contrast has grown into a chasm, a chasm between generations and between tribes in the Church of England.
Conservative evangelicals are most afraid of people making a connection between their theology and John Smyth’s beating of the children in his care. Yet the connection is obvious – and at the very core of the evangelical story: that God the father violently punishes his son for the salvation of the human race. The bkishops are never going to achieve” a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” until they confront the dogmatic requirements of the conservative evangelical lobby and rid themselves of the abusive ideas they want to impose on the church.
All of us are born into a culture – the culture of our parents and of our mother in particular. We are born into an extended family culture, a social culture, and as we grow, we are influenced by other cultures – schools and organisations, and church or mosque or synagogue or for some, a culture hostile to religion and the spirit. Because we are shaped by the culture we are born into and that human societies have created, that makes it difficult to see our culture for what it is and in what ways we may need to release ourselves from it and transcended it. Creator and created, the divine and the human, should be living in a co-inspiring dynamic. We need to be living into spiritual teaching and practice that, as did Jesus, helps us integrate the intelligence of our heart with the intellect of our head. This is only going to happen when the church has the wisdom and courage to let go of the mythical and ‘religious’ projections surrounding Jesus.
Yesterday, Andrew Watson, the bishop of Guildford, issued a statement stating that he is one of the survivors of John Smyth’s appalling activities in the late 1970s and early 80s. He said this has placed him in a unique and challenging position when it comes to the events of the past few days. He said that survivors of the alleged beatings should not be “used as pawns in some political or religious game. But Christian teaching is responsible for unhealthy constructs of Christianity which directly leads to the abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
The media has reported allegations of abuse by evangelical Christian leader John Smyth who is accused of violent sado-masochistic beatings of teenage boys and young men. The Iwerne camps with which he was involved in the late 70s were designed to bring a Christian influence to this country, a very specific brand of conservative evangelical influence exemplified by Holy Trinity Brompton and marking the impact of Archbishop Justin on the changing culture of the Church of England. Ingredients of this unhealthy and abusive culture are to be found in the present House of Bishops. The “wholesome muscular Christianity” ethos in part explains the addictive conservative evangelical fascination with homosexuality.
David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, interviewed on BBC Radio 4s Sunday programme last weekend, repeated six times variants of “the law will not change.” 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. On Facebook, Bishops Pete Broadbent and Alan Wilson had an illuminating exchange about the Canons on marriage law. Bishop Pete claimed that 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.
Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote to every primate in the Anglican Communion in advance of the next Primates’ Meeting, which takes place in Canterbury in October. The letter reveals the mindset of the Lambeth Palace team, determined to maintain the unequal status of LGBTI people in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. The letter inflames an already incendiary situation. There is now fury among the Church of England’s LGBTI networks about the content of the report, the way bishops have presented it and the use that is now being made of it. The Archbishop has now ensured LGBTI people and our supporters will approach next week’s Synod debate in a hostile mood.
Why are LGBTI Anglicans so angry about the report from the House of Bishops: Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations? A comment made four years ago by someone involved in the development of Pilling’s work struck me. “The Pilling group was an ill-conceived exercise in the first place, ill-conceived in part because formulated by a male only group initially. It was marked by a lack of coherence and incompetence in the Church.” If that was a considered assessment of the value of the Pilling group prior to the Shared Conversations, we should not be surprised that the final outcome has the marks of ill-conceived incompetence. The anger felt by LGBGTI Anglicans about the latest report should come as no surprise. The report comes from the same stable of bishops.
The House of Bishops report, Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations is in serious danger of drawing us back into the unhealthy, addictive world of conservative evangelicals, the HTB-modelled, Renewal and Reform packaged, ignorant-of-the-God-of-unconditional-love mentality now embedded in the minds of the hierarchy. We HAVE to live from a healthier, more holistic, integrated, holy, deeply authentic place of love, justice, creativity, imagination, depth and truth, in our selves, our hearts and souls and bodies, our relationships, our spirituality, our praying - and our engagement with the church.
A group of nine people is meeting from lunchtime today for three days at Sarum College in Salisbury. They are all people who are exploring life and faith in radical, unconventional ways. I hope that over the course of the three days, a conversation will develop, woven from our own experience of the holy and our dreams of the divine. We urgently need a new, truthful, healthy, re-imagining of God. I imagine the church as a prophetic agent of transformation for people, revealing how life and creation are infused with love and goodness despite our wounds and the losses and pains that are integral to contingent lives lived with free will. The love is infinitely present, and we are immersed in it, and can become aware that we are infused with love.