Call to pro-gay bishops to express public support for full LGBTIQ+ equality in the Church of England.

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An inclusive pro-LGBTIQ+ group including gay and straight members has written to thirty four bishops known to be supporters of LGBTIQ+ people, sending a copy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London.

Our initiative was motivated by the videos posted, one by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and another by Christian Concern supported by Anglican Mainstream. The videos, one threatening schism and the other scandalously abusing people who appeared in videos integral to the LLF process, have fatally compromised the ambitions of those who have dedicated three years to create a book and a significant online resource.

I warned three years ago, after the bishops proposals were defeated in Synod, that despite their commitment to reflect on the implications of the vote nothing would change. They would prevaricate and delay any decision, and so it has been proved. They are still planning to avoid any outcome in 2022 that grants us equality.

The LLF book and online resources are the most ambitious and complex attempt devised by the bishops to comprehensively engage with issues of human sexuality and gender. There is much of value here. The final chapter of the LLF book is an appeal from the bishops of the Church of England (p.420). They appeal to the wider church to join them in a period of discernment. Their strongest hope is that people and communities all around the country will engage with the book and resources, doing so as far as possible with those who have different perspectives and lived experiences, facing our differences, divisions and disagreements honestly. The CEEC and Christian concern videos have rendered this strongest hope impossible to fulfil. The videos show that LGBTIQ+ people will risk encountering abuse and homophobia at any meeting or event held as part of the LLF process. They have made it impossible for us to participate safely, and the bishops have no way of ensuring that such meetings will be safe for us.

We are offering the bishops a plan B. We have written to these thirty four bishops because we need to know whether a core of bishops is able to express public support for the full equality of LGBTIQ+ people in ministry and relationship in the Church of England. This includes permitting those going forward to selection for ministry and for licensed Readers and clergy to marry same-sex partners and to conduct same-sex marriages in church and bless marriages and civil partnerships, within the same parameters as apply to opposite sex marriages.

Unless this is clarified before any next steps process begins we advise the bishops that LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England will be unable to be involved with or support their original plan for the LLF process. We are here for the duration of the process. We are evolving a strategy and we are committed to continue our engagement with the bishops.

LETTER SENT TO THE FOLLOWING BISHOPS

+Aston; +Barking; +Bradwell; +Buckingham; +Chichester; +Crediton; +Croydon; +Dover; +Ely; +Exeter; +Gloucester; +Grantham; +Hull; +Huntingdon; +Leeds; +Bradford area, Leeds; +Liverpool;
+Loughborough; +Manchester; +Newcastle; +Norwich; +Oxford; +Portsmouth; +Reading; +Ripon;
+Salisbury; +St Albans; +St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; +Sherborne; +Southwark; +Thetford; +Worcester; ++York

CC: ++Canterbury; +London

We are writing to you as a group of bishops, each of you known to us to be strongly supportive of LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England.

We ask you, either as individuals or jointly, to speak publicly about your personal support for the Living in Love and Faith process and your hope that it will lead the Church of England to a resolution of over sixty years of reports and conversations that will grant LGBTIQ+ people an equal space in the Church.

Following publication of the LLF book and resources, members of the Christian LGBTI Facebook group, originally created by Changing Attitude England and now totalling over 6,700 people, reacted strongly. The majority expressed their fear about participating in the process because of the appeal by the bishops (p.420) that as far as possible, people will engage with those who have different perspectives and lived experiences, facing our differences, divisions and disagreements. These fears have been multiplied by the videos subsequently posted by the Church of England Evangelical Council and Christian Concern despite the bishops’ expressed hope that together we stand against homophobia, transphobia and all other unacceptable forms of behaviour.

Many of us, signatories of this letter, share the concern of the Facebook group members. Some of us participated in the Shared Conversations where we met with abuse and homophobic attitudes. Some met similarly homophobic attitudes and ignorance within the LLF process itself. You will know that Tina Beardsley, a member of the Co-ordinating Group, and Sara Gillingham who contributed to the process, both withdrew after experiencing the LLF process as abusive. Both wrote articles about their experience published by the Church Times. Marcus Green has also recounted similar experiences.

The Church of England Evangelical Council’s film, The Beautiful Story, includes three bishops, +Lancaster, Jill Duff, +Blackburn, Julian Henderson and +Maidstone, Rod Thomas. Jason Roach who presents the video was a member of the Co-ordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith. The CEEC film, clearly in preparation well beforehand, was launched at the same time as the LLF report. The CEEC was unwilling to wait until the report and teaching materials were published, let alone engage with them.

The film has heightened our concern and the fears of members of the Facebook group. The film is homophobic. It issues a challenge and a threat – if the outcome of the LLF process isn’t agreement to conform to their Biblical position that same-sex activity is contrary to God’s will and unchanging Word, they will reconsider their allegiance and campaign for a third or fourth Province in the Church of England. Vaughan Roberts claims that they teach the real Jesus, implying that everyone who supports the creation of a safer Church for LGBTI+ people are not teaching the real Jesus.

People’s fears turned to horror on Monday prior to the opening of General Synod, when Christian Concern posted a video on YouTube. The video uses clips from the official Living in Love and Faith Introductory video, pausing after each clip to allow the presenter to comment, attacking trans and intersex people with the most abusive, disgusting language. The video is also being promoted by Anglican Mainstream.

We were already seriously concerned about participation in the LLF project, not least because of the complete lack of awareness within the House of Bishops of the institutionalised homophobia and transphobia within the Church. The Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, the Ven. Peter Leonard, a partnered gay man, has said that he feels extraordinarily anxious about the whole of the process and the necessity of robust safeguarding for LGBTIQ+ people. If that is the case for an archdeacon in a Church of England diocese it is certainly even more true for every member of our community. The LLF Pastoral Principles are excellent but currently there is no mechanism to ensure that they are followed. If any process follows, you will need to provide absolute assurance of proper safeguarding for LGBTIQ+ people who may wish to participate.

A few weeks after the General Synod declined to take note of the House of Bishops report (GS 2055) in February 2017 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said in a joint letter ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper twenty-first century understanding of being human and being sexual’. We are asking you as individuals or as a group to state publicly your support for a new, radical inclusion of LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England based on a twenty-first century understanding. What the Archbishops meant is disputed. Our understanding is irreconcilably different from the CEEC, Christian Concern and Anglican Mainstream understanding.

In their Preface to the Living in Love and Faith book the Archbishops acknowledge we are treading amongst people’s deepest hopes and dreams, where they experience profound consolation and desolation. In the next paragraph they admit that “we need to acknowledge the huge damage and hurt that has been caused where talk of truth, holiness and discipleship has been wielded harshly and not ministered as a healing balm. Especially amongst LGBTI+ people, every word we use … may cause pain.”

The LLF book has been published and a wide range of materials is available online. We can see the hope and potential within the LLF process. No previous report has engaged in such depth with questions of human identity. We don’t see how the process of engagement across difference can now work. The CEEC film and Christian Concern video have sabotaged the hopes and trust of LGBTIQ+ Anglicans. Without absolute reassurance from you that it will be different from now on we cannot encourage LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England to participate in LLF. We are unwilling, ourselves, to risk exposure to emotional and psychological abuse.

Our question to you is:

“How can the LLF process be re-imagined in conjunction with the existing LGBTQI+ networks to enable a process that is safe and constructive for us to pave the way to a resolution to be brought to Synod in 2022?”

We are willing to commit ourselves to ‘a’ process. We are no longer willing to leave the process solely in control of the House of Bishops. We need to know that the wisdom expressed by the Archbishops is genuine and that everyone will be held to account for their words and actions. We need to know whether you are able to express public support for the full equality of LGBTIQ+ people in ministry and relationship in the Church of England. This includes permitting those going forward to selection for ministry and for licensed Readers and clergy to marry same-sex partners and to conduct same-sex marriages in church and bless marriages and civil partnerships with the same parameters applying to opposite sex marriages. Unless this is clarified before any next steps process begins we will be unable to be involved with it or support it. We need you to provide this clarity as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Timm, former chair Changing Attitude England on behalf of:

The Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, Former member LLF Co-ordinating Group
The Revd Colin Coward, MBE, Founder and first Director Changing Attitude England
The Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain, Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England and Chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall Oxford
The Revd Brenda Wallace, Member of General Synod
Nic Tall, Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England
Richard Ashby, former chair of Chichester cathedral community committee and member of the Cathedral
Council
The Revd Fr Dan Barnes-Davies, Trustee of Inclusive Church & Assistant Curate
The Revd Dr Charles Clapham, Vicar of St Peter’s Hammersmith
Penelope Cowell Doe, Diocese of Exeter
Phil Gardener, Diocese of Leeds
The Revd Mark Kenny, St Gabriel’s, Aldersbrook, Assistant Priest.
Professor Helen King, LLF History Working Group Member
Graham Holmes, retired Lay Pastoral Minister, Diocese of Leeds
Revd Pat Holmes, retired Clergy, Diocese of Leeds
Godwyns Onwuchekwa, Former trustee of Changing Attitude England
The Revd David Page, Former Trustee of Changing Attitude England
The Revd Jeremy Pemberton, Former Trustee of Changing Attitude England
Rev. Canon Jane Richards, Vicar – St Andrew’s with Holy Cross, Basildon; Area Dean – Basildon Deanery
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham
The Revd Phil Searle, Diocese of Lichfield
The Revd Robert Thompson, Vicar of St James West Hampstead and St Mary w All Souls Kilburn
The Revd Trevor Thurston-Smith, Rector of the Wigston Benefice, Leicester