What should the Church of England teaching document on sexuality encompass?

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced in February that the Church of England needed a teaching document about sexuality to lead the church towards a radical new inclusion of LGBTI+ people in the church. This will replace Issues in Human Sexuality and associated documents which are a generation old. The archbishops wrote:

To deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.

We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.

The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.

Leading academic theologians, scientists and other experts have written a paper identifying questions and themes which they believe the Church of England group that will write that new teaching document will need to address. Their work has been co-ordinated by Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, sponsored by the LGBTI Mission and supported by the Human Sexuality Group of General Synod, OneBodyOneFaith and Inclusive Church.

The paper which can be found here is titled A Teaching Document on Sexuality and Marriage from the Bishops of the Church of England: Some Initial Suggestions as to Questions and Themes.

LGBTI Mission Chair, Simon Sarmiento said, “We are not telling the group what to write. But we are saying that if the Teaching Document is to serve the Archbishops’ purpose and have credibility in the Church of England and beyond, then it must address the questions and themes these scholars have identified”.

The Chair of the Human Sexuality Group of General Synod, Canon Giles Goddard, added, “The Teaching Document is a significant part of the Archbishops’ plan for the way forward for our church. It is vital that the Document covers the breadth and depth of the questions raised in this preparatory paper if it is to command the support of General Synod”.

Tracey Byrne, the CEO of OneBodyOneFaith, commented, “People in the Church of England, both LGBTI+ people and their friends, families and allies, are looking to our bishops and General Synod for a better way forward than the paper rejected by General Synod in February. We know this Teaching Document is coming, and we are grateful to the academics who have done this work on identifying the important and pressing matters that must be considered by those writing it.”

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Diverse Church+ is launched

Diverse Church is proud to announce the launch of Diverse Church+. So far the group has already welcomed a founding community of people aged from 30s to 60s and beyond.

Speaking about the launch of Diverse Church+, the Rev Sally Hitchiner said
“Three years ago we launched Diverse Church building local and national christian community for LGBT people aged 18-30. Two years ago we launched Diverse Church Parents as a way to do this for the Christian Parents of LGBT people. We are proud today to be launching Diverse Church Plus: building community that is fully Christian and fully LGBT, who are LGBT, Christian and over 30 years old. Like all our DC communities it is social media based but has regular local and annual national meet ups. We welcome all LGBT Christians whatever their theology about sexuality and gender and whatever their denomination or christian tradition. If you would like to join or to find out more email them on DiverseChurchPlus@gmail.com and their welcome team would be more than happy to answer any questions. Here is a short message from some of the founding community. “

OneBodyOneFaith writes about Dean Jeffrey John and the Bishops of the Church in Wales

Dean Jeffrey John and the Bishops of the Church in Wales

As an ecumenical organisation OneBodyOneFaith surveys the actions of all the churches in the UK in relation to their policies and practices with regards to LGBTI people. The Church in Wales is engaged in the process of replacing the Bishop of Llandaff, following the retirement of the previous bishop, Barry Morgan. The election process failed to produce a clear result, no candidate achieving a two-thirds majority of the electoral college in the time set. This means that the process now becomes an appointment process without a specified time scale, in the hands of the bishops of that church, in consultation with other designated representatives from the diocese in question and the other dioceses.

What has happened is that one of the members of the Electoral College broke the confidentiality of the meeting and let it be known that the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John, who is in a civil partnership, had attracted over half of the Electoral College vote, but failed to meet the two-thirds majority required by, it is alleged, only two votes. The electors from the diocese in question, Llandaff, had unanimously backed Jeffrey John.

OneBodyOneFaith commends the individual who had the courage to break confidence on this occasion, and Dean John in publishing his letter. Far from showing a lack of integrity or faith in the process, what they have exposed is just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to ‘rank and file’ LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of ‘confidentiality’. Such behaviour – lack of accountability and transparency – is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.

There has only ever been one other occasion on which an Electoral College has failed to make a choice. This was in 2004 when Tony Crockett failed to receive a two-thirds majority for his election as Bishop of Bangor. He was a divorced and remarried man, and notwithstanding the controversy that this provoked, the bishops went ahead and appointed him almost immediately. He proved to be a faithful, popular and successful bishop, sadly dying in post only four years later.

It now appears that the bishops of the Church in Wales have decided to omit Jeffrey John from the short-list for the appointment process, notwithstanding the precedent set in 2004 and his popularity in the diocese. In the published notice about the appointment process there is no mention at all that previous candidates for election will be excluded from further consideration. Jeffrey John has now published his response to a letter from the Chair of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies. Bishop Davies’s original letter has also now been published on the internet.

In his letter, Jeffrey John accuses the bishops of anti-gay discrimination. Despite declaring that being gay and in a civil partnership is no bar to appointment, he claims that they have decided to bar his candidature on precisely and specifically those grounds, in contravention of their own rules.

It appears that they told him that they were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with the problems that they believed his appointment would cause. There is no evidence of any problems being caused by his candidature, and no reason to think that it would cause any particular problems as Jeffrey’s personal relationship falls within the permitted guidelines. A divorced and remarried man they appointed immediately, a gay man in a relationship they exclude.

The bishops’ behaviour is a very clear example of the instability and inconsistency of the institutional practices of this Anglican church in the way it treats LGBTQ+ people. The open integrity of Jeffrey John causes them more psychological disturbance than gay clergy who are closeted or semi-closeted, certainly far more than a heterosexual man who was divorced and remarried, and they have been unable to act with professional and pastoral integrity themselves. Despite their own published codes relating to this matter, they cannot manage the stress. The consequence is unjust and discriminatory behaviour. It is the kind of tension and response that is well-described in a recent article in Theology, Ledbetter, Charles, Sexuality and informal authority in the Church of England, Theology 2017. Vol. 120(2) 112-121.
OneBodyOneFaith makes an urgent call to the Bishops of the Church in Wales to think again. It is vital for the good health of their church that they re-establish confidence in their leadership and the credibility of the election/appointment process. With this in mind, we ask them:

* To undertake a full enquiry into all the processes in this case before proceeding any further with an appointment
* Not to exclude any previous candidates from further consideration, as they gave no notice of this
* To follow the precedent of their church established in 2004 in appointing a bishop after a failed election, having regard to the support a particular candidate attracted in the diocese in question
* To abide by their own guidelines regarding candidates who are gay and in civil partnerships
* To apologise publicly to Jeffrey John for homophobic remarks and attitudes, and
* To listen to the voices of the people of the diocese of Llandaff and the Church in Wales

Jeremy Pemberton
For the Board of
OneBodyOneFaith

Monday 20th March 2017

An open letter to the Bishops of Guildford and Dorking from the Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

Dear Bishops Andrew and Jo,

Last night on the diocesan website you published a blog by Hugh Bryant entitled “Shared Conversations concerning Sexuality – a Suggested Solution”.  The content of the blog substantially appears in a sermon preached by Mr Bryant which he has published on his website here .

While we understand that Mr Bryant intends to make helpful suggestions, I have to tell you that his blog has caused very great offence to many LGBTI+ people.  It is not the proposed solution that he offers that is the principal problem, though I do not think it is a particularly helpful or practicable proposal.  It is two other things.

The first and most important is this: he presumes to tell us how our relationships are ordered.

He writes:
“Even though, physiologically, they may both be male or female, as between themselves, one is treated as male and the other is treated as female.”

Apart from the fact that this is nonsense and is not supported by any evidence, this is grossly insulting to us.  We will speak for ourselves and we do not need heterosexual people, however well-meaning, telling us about the nature of the relationships that we have. It is presumptuous, erroneous and patronising to think that the internal dynamics of anyone’s relationships are susceptible to simple explanation in the way that he attempts.  There is at the heart of the gift of loving relationship a mystery, known only to the couple concerned and God.  This is holy ground, and it will not do to allow people to trample on it in this way.

Secondly, if the Shared Conversations have taught us anything, it is that we are well past the time when others can speak for the Christian LGBTI+ community.  Mr Bryant owes it to himself and everyone else in the body of Christ not to presume to speak for others in this kind of a way.  We are just about arriving at the point where the Church of England is realising that it has problematised LGBTI+ people of faith in an unjust and unjustifiable manner.  But only just arriving.  And to publish a piece like this, which stereotypes, silences and problematises us once again, is entirely unacceptable and a very retrograde step.

We are disciples of Christ like everyone else, and we have a properly adult Christian responsibility to
“work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:12b-13
Removing the responsibility from us by silencing us and stereotyping us is, frankly, spiritually abusive.

I am very surprised that your diocesan website saw fit to publish this blog, though of course I recognise that it does not represent the official views of the diocese. I spoke this morning to someone in Communications, who told me that “the last thing we want to do is to cause offence”.  I have to tell you that your communications team have just managed to do the last thing they intended to do.  I am grateful that they have taken this piece down, but I think it would be both helpful and appropriate if you could direct them to put up an explanation and/or an apology.  I think it would reassure people that Guildford diocese is a place where the voices and lives of LGBTI+ faithful are taken seriously and treated with the respect and dignity that we all owe to one another.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Pemberton
Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

Press release: Archbishops’ bold proposal for radical inclusion

OneBodyOneFaith welcomes the Church of England Archbishops’ bold proposal for a new and inclusive process following defeat of GS2055

In response to the joint letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York released today, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith said, “The joint letter from both Archbishops to Church of England synod members is a bold and welcome response to address the disjunction between the House of Bishops and Houses of Clergy and Laity in their understanding of and response to human sexuality. We applaud the tone set by Archbishop Justin as he seeks ‘a radical new Christian inclusion’ and his affirmation that, ‘no person is a problem or an issue [because] people are made in the image of God.’ In this we find echoed our own vision, longing for Christ’s body to be one, finding unity in a diversity which includes all whom Christ has called, that they might participate in God’s mission, leading to transformation for our world.”

“For Bishops to consult with local synod representatives in how to establish a way forward on human sexuality that is ‘about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity’ will indeed be a significant change. We note with satisfaction the intention that the Pastoral Oversight group and the group that work on the large scale teaching document that will provide for ‘good, healthy flourishing relationships’ reflecting a ‘21st Century understanding of being human and being sexual’ will be ‘fully inclusive’. We take ‘fully inclusive’ in this context to mean that in both groups will be represented those who would affirm OneBodyOneFaith’s statement of conviction:

‘that human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity in all their richness are gifts of God gladly to be accepted, enjoyed and honoured as a way of both expressing and growing in love, in accordance with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.’

And that:

‘it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship; We believe that expressing our gender and sexuality with integrity is important as a way to grow in love and discipleship.’”

The Archbishops have set an ambitious task for members of the Church of England; they are right to recognise its urgency. A process involving lay, presbyteral and episcopal members of synod will be far more representative. OneBodyOneFaith reminds the Archbishops that the homophobia long present in the Church of England has skewed its population and that this needs to be taken into account in Diocesan consultations, in the development of pastoral practices, and in formulating the wide ranging and inclusive new teaching document on human sexuality.

Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of OneBodyOneFaith explained, “Care needs to be taken that a process which focusses on synod members will represent and reflect the interests of the whole of the Church of England and is mindful of the needs of the nation. To that end, this process needs to involve Anglicans who are not part of synod. The process needs to allow each participant to speak without fear for their own safety or fear of recrimination. OneBodyOneFaith stands ready to resource the Church of England as it embarks on this process of embodying more deeply the radical and transforming love shown by God in Christ which is for all.”

Thursday 16 February 2017

General Synod declined to Take Note

The report from the House of Bishops to the General Synod, Marriage and Same Sex Partnerships after the Shared Conversations was debated on Wednesday 15 February. The Synod declined to Take Note of the report.

Subsequently, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York jointly issued a letter to all synod members:

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Following the vote in General Synod not to take note of the paper on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations (GS 2055) we are writing to set out the way forward in the next few months.

First, we want to be clear about some underlying principles. In these discussions no person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people called to redeemed humanity in Christ.

How we deal with the real and profound disagreement – put so passionately and so clearly by many at the debate – is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.

To deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.

We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.

The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.

Nevertheless while the principles are straightforward, putting them into practice, as we all know, is not, given the deep disagreements among us.

We are therefore asking first for every Diocesan Bishop to meet with their General Synod members for an extended conversation in order to establish clearly the desires of every member of Synod for the way forward. 

As Archbishops we will be establishing a Pastoral Oversight group led by the Bishop of Newcastle, with the task of supporting and advising Dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexuality. The group will be inclusive, and will seek to discern the development of pastoral practices, within current arrangements.

Secondly, we, with others, will be formulating proposals for the May House of Bishops for a large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality. In an episcopal church a principal responsibility of Bishops is the teaching ministry of the church, and the guarding of the deposit of faith that we have all inherited. The teaching document must thus ultimately come from the Bishops. However, all episcopal ministry must be exercised with all the people of God, lay and ordained, and thus our proposals will ensure a wide ranging and fully inclusive approach, both in subject matter and in those who work on it.

We will also be suggesting to the Business Committee a debate in general terms on the issues of marriage and human sexuality. We wish to give the General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm.

In the meantime, we commend to your prayers our common concern for every member of this church, of all views, and most especially our concern for the mission of God to which we are called by the Father,  for which we are made ready by the Son, and in which we are equipped by the Holy Spirit.

+ Justin Cantuar:                                             +Sentamu Eboracensis 

LGCM writes to all General Synod members

MEMO: TO ALL MEMBERS OF GENERAL SYNOD
DATE: 31 January 2017

LGCM recommends that in the debate on 15 February at General Synod, members should refuse to take note of ‘Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops’, and further, should not take part in groupwork designed to gain approval of the document

  • The Lesbian and Gay Movement’s statement of conviction affirms that, “human sexuality in all its richness is a gift of God gladly to be accepted, enjoyed and honoured as a way of both expressing and growing in love, in accordance with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.” It follows that it is our “conviction that it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship.”
  • LGCM identifies with the published priorities of the LGBTI Mission as providing the basis of a safer, more just and equitable church in which all can flourish
  • We are not demanding that everyone sees things from our perspective, but that there should now be decisive moves towards a ‘mixed economy’ in the established Church of England in which we all have an interest
  • The very least we were looking for from the Bishop’s report to General Synod was action to assure the safety and well-being of LGBTI+ people both within the Church of England and beyond it. Medical research shows that LGBTI+ people carry a higher burden of mental health problems corresponding with social isolation and stigma; these are heightened in a community that pathologises LGBTI+ identities
  • The Report was a betrayal of the trust vested in the House of Bishops during the Shared Conversations process, and opens the way to a single, very conservative interpretation of these matters being introduced
  • In the absence of any action being recommended by the bishops to move to greater inclusion of LGBTI+ people in the life of the Church of England through liturgical, theological or doctrinal change, we have no confidence that the change of ‘tone’ and desire for ‘maximal freedom’ will be seen
  • The report itself has been a retrograde first step in that direction, with the vice chair of reflection group, Bishop Pete Broadbent, acknowledging that ‘it is a pretty conservative document’ to his clergy
  • Our understanding is that the majority of members of synod were looking to the College and House of Bishops, when they took the initiative to respond to the Shared Conversations process, to lay a path for a process of change, perhaps setting a programme of activity to realise some of the priorities articulated by the LGBTI Mission
  • We have no confidence that their stated intention to revise the Church of England’s document ‘Issues in human sexuality’ or the pastoral advice that clergy have for their engagement with LGBTI+ persons will lead to development in the safety provided for LGBTI+ people within the church, let alone lead to progress in affirmative pastoral support
  • We believe that progress to these can only be made when the Church of England formally recognises and affirms the theological diversity that is already present within its members
  • Our analysis is that contribution of the Bishops’ reflection group has not led to a report that reflects the mind or expectations of the Church of England’s synod, that at least minimal change take place; to this end, we ask members of synod to refuse to take note of the Report, indicating their dissatisfaction with its recommendations
  • Further, we understand that Synod members are to be asked to take part in group conversations before the debate to prepare the ground for an acceptance of what the bishops are proposing. LGBT synod members and their supporters have already participated in the Shared Conversations process at last summer’s Synod sessions, and for many also at a regional level. They have made themselves vulnerable for questionable outcome. To ask them to submit to any kind of further examination of the issues is both pointless and insulting and we urge all Synod members to refuse to take part in such group work
  • We ask members of synod use the ‘take note’ debate to ask the bishops to respond to the priorities of the LGBTI Mission.
  • In particular, we ask for a guarantee that acceptance and approval of theological diversity amongst members of the Church of England in these matters will be formally recognised
  • To enable this small move forwards we ask, not for further reports, but that the House of Bishops devise a commended liturgy which recognises and affirms LGBT partnerships as a blessing and gift of God

Tracey Byrne, CEO, LGCM
Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of the Board, LGCM
31 January 2017