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.
I am writing the same article over and over again because the Church of England establishment doesn’t see just how homophobic the church is. By ‘The Church of England establishment’ I mean the House and College of Bishops, the staff at Church House, Lambeth Palace and Bishopsthorpe, the Archbishops’ Council, and the courtiers appointed by or working under the jurisdiction of these bodies. By a systemically homophobic culture I mean one that is unaware of the abusive effect the hierarchy and the teaching and practice of the church has on LGBTI bishops, clergy and laity, friends and families, congregations, and on those who observe the church from the outside.
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.
The Church of England, despite the positive, optimistic changes that bring hope, is still deeply, systemically homophobic, and changing this culture requires us to be honest and identify repeatedly what homophobia looks like and how it manifests and affects people in the church. We need to be really focused on this because often WE can’t see it for what it is. And if we can’t see it, those holding positions of authority and power in the church have the very greatest difficulty in seeing it.
The Church of England is failing to provide an appropriate and professional service to lay and ordained lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Those alert to inappropriate systemic practice will be able to identity multiple examples of “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and homophobic stereotyping which disadvantage LGBTI people.” It is routine because those in senior positions are compromised in their understanding by the culture they inhabit and by the theology, teaching and practice which is normative in the Church of England.