In his latest newsletter, James Alison, the well-known gay Catholic theologian, describes what he has learnt through the process of becoming a source of information for Frédéric Martel, the author of In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. The Church of England has similarities and dissimilarities with the Catholic Church. We do not have a celibate priesthood. We do not describe homosexuality as intrinsically disordered. We do have a problem with systemic abuse. All but one of our lesbian and gay bishops live in the closet. We are having difficulty in processing the place of LGBTI+ people in the Church.
Bishop Peter Ball is gay, closeted, repressed sexuality, secretive, spiritual, and sexually, emotionally, and relationally deeply damaged, damaged, I will argue, by his Christian environment, as the IICSA Hearings laid bare.
Vicky Beeching has been and is being damaged by Christians in her environment as recounted in Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole and living free from shame. Her body system and health have been acutely damaged, emotionally and physically. So were many of the victims of Peter Ball.
Lizzie Lowe committed suicide aged 14 in September 2014. She thought she may be a lesbian, was scared of telling her parents and had struggled to reconcile her feelings with the family's strong Christian faith.
What is the first cause of the damage which so deeply affected Peter Ball, Vicky Beeching, and Lizzie Lowe? It is misguided Christian teaching and practice; abusive use of the Bible, of authority, and a seriously inadequate understanding of Jesus and his teaching.
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.
A year ago the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a paper, Next Steps on Human Sexuality, GS Misc 1158. As the work continues to research and write the House of Bishops’ Teaching Document, the bishops need to know that they and the church they lead have already lost their authority as far as LGBTI people are concerned. Many are no longer committed to the church but lead a Christian life, exploring their spirituality along other paths. The bishops are already too late to influence the moral and ethical choices LGBTI people are making.
We have learnt this week, thanks to the open letter sent by the Bishop of Maidstone to the Bishop of Lichfield, that the Church of England also unwittingly created a bishop to enshrine prejudice against LGBTI people in the Church of England. Writing about Bishop Thomas requires the use of words that have been taboo when used in the context of equality for women in the church: prejudice and discrimination. The prejudice enshrined in the authority and teaching of the Bishop of Maidstone raises great concerns about the lengthy, complex process now being undertaken to produce what the House of Bishops clearly intend to be a new, definitive Teaching Document.
The House of Bishops effectively hold total control over any attempt in the General Synod to overturn the quadruple lock, revise the marriage canons and change Church of England practice to allow truly equal marriage in church and society. I’ve spent today wondering how comfortable the bishops are with the love that dare not speak its name. They have passed the buck for the moment by setting up a complex, time-consuming process to enable the bishops to write a new teaching document. I want to see change now, ASAP. I don’t want to wait another decade before anything changes. We need to organise now to bring the bishops up to speed by giving them an intensive therapeutic course in recognising prejudice, dealing with anxiety and overcoming internalised homophobia.
The Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri wrote an article for Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper about citizenship, arguing that the failure of a nation begins with the abdication of responsibility to political leaders. Citizenship, he says, is one of the most vexed issues in the human story. Okri is writing about the citizen as a member of the state but he provoked me to turn my thoughts to the intense anger and resentment that erupted following the House of Bishops utterly inadequate response to the debate and vote at the July Synod requesting them to produce a liturgy specifically for trans people.
A recent book review opened my mind to the possibility that the current state of the Church of England might viewed as decadent. By decadent, I mean subject to decay, characterised by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decay or appealing to self-indulgence. The trauma affecting the Church of England, holding it captive to the past, a trauma continues to have a deep psychological hold over the church, is homosexuality. By examining the period of over sixty years from when the Church of England first began to deal with homosexuality, I want to show how the disagreements that were visible from the start are the same as those now being tackled by the House of Bishops’ process to formulate a new teaching document.