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LGBTI Mission – the time for change is now

The LGBTI Mission is campaigning for the full acceptance and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people within the Church of England. Despite the teachings of our faith to love our neighbours, and that God is love, this is not the experience of many LGBTI people within the church. Full inclusion has been sought and debated for decades but many LGBTI people and their families still do not feel welcome. We believe the time has come for decisive change.

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Why now?

In recent years, there have been significant developments, both within and outside the Church of England, that make this the optimal time to campaign for change and equality.

One of the most significant issues in the Church of England of late has been gender equality; specifically to achieve full parity for women clergy and enabling them to become bishops. This journey began in 1992, when legislation enabling women to become priests was finally passed by the General Synod, and, after a failed attempt in 2012, was finally won in 2014.

The arrival of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in 2013, was a major factor in the change of pace on women bishops, combined with external pressures on the church from public opinion and from Parliament. His arrival coincided with the election of Pope Francis, who has breathed new life into the Roman Catholic Church and beyond.

This is just one of a range of initiatives that Archbishop Justin Welby has endorsed designed to effect major changes inside the Church of England, under the title Renewal and Reform.

Significantly, the Archbishop endorsed the main recommendation of the Pilling report (published November 2013) that there should be a two-year series of “facilitated conversations” (since renamed “shared conversations”) about Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality. This has put sexuality firmly on the agenda for the Church of England in a way that simply hasn’t happened in the past. The LGBTI Mission’s campaign is designed to help the church move forward once the shared conversations have concluded.

Also helping to drive forward this change in the church is the significant shift in public opinion and public support for issues of LGBTI equality. This resulted in legislation for civil partnerships in 2005 and subsequently, same-sex marriage in 2013. In Parliament, Conservative Party endorsement of the latter caught the Church of England seriously off-guard, as seen in the House of Lords debate on the legislation (opposed by many bishops even though it contained extensive further exemptions for the church). It also triggered a volte-face by the bishops on civil partnerships which had been strongly opposed for many years by many church leaders prior to the advent of same-sex marriage.

Current public opinion

The latest YouGov survey published in January 2016 shows very clearly how far general public opinion has shifted since 2013, even on the controversial issue of same-sex marriage:

General public 2016 General public 2013 Self-identifying Anglicans 2016 Self-identifying Anglicans 2013
Yes 56% 46% 43% 38%
No 37% 37% 35% 47%

Taken together these shifts have created the right environment for change, and have enabled most people in the Church of England to recognise the need to transform the way that LGBTI people (including clergy) are treated. On 15 January 2016, Archbishop Welby said:

“I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, that the church has caused and the love that we at times completely failed to show, and still do, in many parts of the world including in this country.”

LGBTI campaign groups have existed for many years within the Church of England. However, their effectiveness has been limited. In particular, there are several organisations that work on LGBTI issues in the Church of England who share their work through the LGBTI Anglican Coalition. This is an alliance of the various church-based LGBTI campaign organisations that work within the Church of England, including:

View the full list of LGBTI Anglican Coalition members

During 2014 it became clear to the leaders of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition that the situation in the Church of England had changed and that a more pro-active approach was needed. So the LGBTI Mission was initiated, as a joint task force comprising members from Coalition organisations and others. The question is now not whether the situation should change, but how far and how fast changes can be realised.