Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Bishop of Liverpool’s address at the launch of the Ozanne Foundation

Bishop pledges his support as a member of “Team Ozanne” to change the church’s teachings on human sexuality

Ozanne Foundation Launch Event: Chair of Trustees’ Speech

The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, April 9th 2018, Westminster

Friends, thank you for coming this evening and for accompanying us as we formally begin this venture together.

Communities of faith have made huge contributions to the well-being of the world. It’s in our nature to have a deep respect for our history and tradition, and often this is a good thing, as when we stand against the commodification of people, or stand for community or for strong personal relationships, or when we seek to help the poor.

But there have been other times in the history of communities of faith when people have found it difficult to accept change, and sometimes difficult to see God’s hand in it. A classic example is the struggle for the abolition of slavery, and the ceaseless advocacy that was needed on the part of Christians to persuade their friends that God’s love for all human beings had social consequences which demanded justice.

And we believe we’re in such a situation today, as we look at the complicated messages that the faith communities send to LGBTI+ people. Looking at my own community I say with pain and regret that many in the Christian churches have not offered the love of Christ as freely as our Lord himself asked us to do. 

We are always clear in our public statements that we oppose homophobia in all its forms, and that we want to welcome all; and I believe that we mean it. Yet at the same time we know that many LGBTI+ people have suffered pain and rejection from Christians, personally and institutionally, to the extent that many have left the churches or in some cases have felt compelled to self-harm or even to take their own lives. And this goes on today. We need to do better. 

We need to welcome people properly, and to love our friends as God loves them – in short to love people as God made them. We are called radically to affirm and honour all our friends, including of course all our LGBTI+ friends, as beloved children of God. And that will have implications for our policies and stances as churches. If we are to do better, we need to change.

We need then to look intelligently together at what change might look like in the practice of the churches, for example in our approach to those who ask us for recognition and affirmation of their relationship, or in the advice we give to the churches on welcoming and fully including LGBTI+ people in their lives.

If things are to change then there need to be advocates, and this Foundation proudly advocates for a greater inclusion and equality. We aim to do so courteously and to engage with those who disagree. It is not the purpose of the Ozanne Foundation to destroy anything or to break anything. But we want communities of faith seriously to recognise the need for change in this area of LGBTI+ inclusion and welcome. And we’ll advocate for that consistently and without apology. It’s work which demands patience, but which also calls for a holy impatience

In the Church we seek to move together, which is why we often move so glacially slowly. But the aims of this Foundation are clear, and we bring them before our friends in the churches with a sense of real urgency. Because while we are talking, people are suffering. And so we feel called to advocate for inclusion and equality now, and for still greater inclusion and equality in the near future. 

Our aims are clearly expressed. We aim to establish constructive encounters with those of different views, to educate people on the social and scientific and theological landscape, and to empower people to act as advocates for change if they believe that change should come. 

This evening we are honoured by the presence of representatives of other advocacy organisations and networks, and we want to stand with these friends and to complement their work with our own particular emphasis and style.

The trustees of this Foundation are part of Team Ozanne – supporting and helping our director, Jayne Ozanne, in her tireless work of advocacy and conversation and networking. Jayne is a difference-maker and we aim to honour the difference she is making and to support her in her work.

We need your support to see that work done. You’ve offered a huge amount in use encouragement simply by turning up tonight. If you’re in a position to help us financially, we badly need that. If you’re a person of faith yourself and you pray, we need your prayers and your love. And as conversations continue, and light and heat all jumble together in the rough-and-tumble of those conversations, we need your wisdom and your care. 

Thank you for indicating, by coming tonight, that we stand together in our desire to keep talking, to advocate for the things we care about, to see justice done, and as Jesus said, so simply but so challengingly, to love one another. Thank you.

© +Paul Liverpool 2018

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