The question I heard the Church asking long ago in my youth and that I internalised and that continues to haunt me because people are still posing the question, is: “Am I allowed to be who I am, feel what I feel and think what I think?” Am I allowed to be gay, am I allowed to love who I love, am I allowed to feel desire for whom I choose, am I allowed to think outside what still seems to be a narrow, dogmatic, Church-think box?
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?
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.
Fifty years ago, in September 1967, the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church of England set up a Working Party on Homosexuality “to review the situation of both male and female homosexuality”. This was the first time the Church of England had formally set up a group to address homosexuality. Nearly fifty years later the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a letter in February outlining their proposals for continuing to address questions concerning human sexuality. The Archbishops committed themselves and the House of Bishops to . . . the development of a substantial Teaching Document on the subject. If the Teaching Document can’t articulate a belief in the absolute equality of all permanent, faithful, stable, loving, marital relationships, then the Group will have wasted three more years and fifty years on from the non-publication of the first report, we will not have achieved the goal to which Changing Attitude campaigned for twenty-two years.
The ‘war’ that is being fought in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality, Biblical teaching, fundamentalism and the place of LGBTI people in God’s economy is having the opposite effect to that intended by Anglican Mainstream, GAFCON and the other conservative fundamentalist pressure groups. It is having the unintended effect of making people far more interested in one another and is spreading awareness of the presence of homosexuality in the human community. The continuing development of global communications and of a common understanding of the basics of what it is to be human and living in a global community will overcome the present divisions in Christianity around homosexuality. Meanwhile, we have plenty of challenging work to do to speed the coming of that day.