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.
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.
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.
I question the truth about ‘God’ being proclaimed in the church today. The image of God is based on an uncritical reliance on Scripture and Tradition, a simplistic reading of the Gospels, and a proclamation of the teaching and practice of Jesus which is in many ways profoundly in error. What theology, what image of God, is held by the bishops of the Church of England and the Primates of the Anglican Communion? Is it the toxic version of God and Jesus that supports discrimination and the abuse of LGBTI people or the radical, prophetic version that melts prejudice, confronts abuse, and transforms lives through living and loving unconditionally?
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.
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.
There are many reasons why living in the closet is not an okay place. The fifteen reasons listed here are drawn from my memory of life before I came out fully to my congregation in Wandsworth in 1995. Coming out, of course, is something that we don’t do just once. It’s something I’ve had to do many times over, calculating each time what kind of reaction I might receive. There are still occasions when I hesitate before saying “I’m gay”. It’s now rare to receive anything less than a very positive response – bishops, please note. The problem for you is that the church is one of the few remaining places in Western society where homophobia and the abuse of LGBTI people is still acceptable.