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. The 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, Jayne Ozanne’s and Vikky Beeching’s memoirs, 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. 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 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 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 pursue a less than radical Christian synthesis. 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.
The vote in the House of Clergy at the February 2017 Synod against taking note of GS 2055 – the House of Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations – focused the anger of LGBTI+ people in the Church of England about the utterly inadequate response to the Pilling Report and the Shared Conversations the report represented. People assumed that the vote sent the bishops back to the drawing board to think again. If we allow the present, complex, in-house work by the House of Bishops on the Teaching Document to continue unchallenged, the level of anger when it is published in 2020 will be even more intense than in 2017 and the rejection of Episcopal authority will be more determined. Is that the outcome you want, bishops of the Church of England?
Is the House of Bishops ready to make evolutionary and revolutionary choices about the direction in which the Church of England’s teachings about gender and sexuality will evolve? The key question about the Teaching Document for LGBTI+ members of the Church of England is: will this report achieve the radical change we now urgently need, both we who identify as LGBTI and the majority in the church for whom current teaching and practice is no longer adequate or believable?
Jayne Ozanne has written a powerful blog drawing on her own experience of mental anguish and trauma, suicidal thoughts and feelings of self-hate that she and so many other LGBTI people suffer as a result of Christian teaching that claims to be orthodox, traditional and biblically-based. Jayne identifies this Christian teaching and theology as the cause of a safeguarding issue of immediate importance. The House of Bishops cannot wait until 2020 when their complex Teaching Document is due to be published. They must take action now to end the teachings that fuel homophobia.