Are We an Institutionally Homophobic Church?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News

Jayne Ozanne (3)

In my experience people rarely set out to offend.  However, it is often sadly what people leave unsaid or undone (what I call “Sins of Omission”) which unwittingly cause the greatest offense.  If we’re honest, this is normally due to a deep ingrained prejudice that goes unchecked and un-noticed.

I believe that this is precisely why, during the enquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence , Lord Macpherson chose to define institutional racism as:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.”

Unwitting prejudice, ignorance and thoughtlessness.

Institutional homophobia can and should be defined exactly the same way:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their sexuality.  It can be detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and stereotyping”.

This is why during “Questions” at General Synod last February I asked the Chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality, the Rt Revd Graham James: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that led to no co-opted LGBT member on the bishops’ working party?”

Indeed, I believe one could also now ask the Welsh Bench of Bishops: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that left unchecked the reported homophobic comments of the perceived negative impact of appointing Jeffrey John as the next Bishop of Llandaff?”

Bishops and archbishops alike have been quick to publicly state that the Church of England has a “zero tolerance” towards homophobia in all its forms.  Similarly, the Presiding Bishop of the Church in Wales has also been keen to point out that he made it clear that “neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate either nominated or elected”.  But verbal assurances are one thing, and actively ensuring their implementation is another.

I wonder, do those in positions of power within the Church truly understand what “institutional homophobia” really is?  Are they aware of their own “Sins of Omission” when it comes to being “thoughtless” or “ignorant” of how they are treating LGBTI people?  Put another way, are they able to be aware when they “have done those things that they ought not to have been done”, and more importantly “left undone those things that ought to have been done” – such as reprimanding people for inappropriate comments, or brushing off concerns by LGBTI people that their voice is not being adequately heard or represented?

My fear is that we are so utterly submerged in the impenetrable “bubble”called “Church” that we fail to see what is so plain to those who live outside it – that our practices, our thinking, our ways of working are absolutely riddled with institutional homophobia.

You see, institutional homophobia is not just about an “irrational fear, dislike or prejudice against LGBT people” as some would like to think.  It is far more serious than that.  It is the naïve and unintentional thoughtlessness in the way that we are talked about.  For instance, using pronouns “them” instead of “us”.  It is an ignorance of the offense that is so often and needlessly caused by stereotyping “what ‘they’ believe”.  Typical examples are “they just want to pander to the culture” or “they don’t take the bible seriously”.

So let me be crystal clear – any teaching that undermines the intrinsic equal worth of LGBTI people is homophobic.  Any theology that teaches that LGBTI couples in committed same-sex relationships are immoral is homophobic.  Any practice that bars LGBTI Christians from serving in their church is homophobic.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has been both bold and brave in recently asserting in his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod:

“As I have said before, I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.”

We have indeed been judged and found wanting by a nation who do not understand or believe our nuanced differentials between having a conservative view on theology and asserting this is different to homophobia.   They – the people we seek to serve and witness to – just see a Church that is homophobic, which fails to treat LGBTI Christians as equals.  No amount of window dressing will get them to perceive this differently.

Notably, Bishop Stephen Cottrell then immediately went on to say:

“And though I am proud to confirm that all of us, whatever our views on this matter, are united in our condemnation of homophobia, we must also acknowledge that it is of little comfort to young gay or lesbian members of our Church to know that while prejudice against them is abhorred, any committed faithful sexual expression of their love for another is forbidden. In fact it is worse than this, our ambivalence and opposition to faithful and permanent same sex relationships can legitimise homophobia in others. None of us are content with this situation.”

It is true – we may be “united in our condemnation of homophobia” but at the same time I would assert we mete it out with alarming ease.  Our processes, our thinking, our decision making are all so steeped in prejudice that we are completely blind to it.

Until the Church starts to openly recognise and formally repent of its institutional homophobia, then no amount of “assurances” or public condemnations will carry any truck with those who have been so maligned, or with their family and friends who smart on their behalf.

Our nation has been shouting to us that “the emperor has no clothes” for years.  They can see the truth plain as day – we are homophobic, and have been for centuries.  We on the other hand continue to pretend that the emperor is wearing beautifully fine clothes with our constant statements that hope to assure people we are not homophobic.

It is time to speak out and tell the truth – and repent.  We need to put in safeguards so that our “Sins of Omission” no longer go unnoticed and our untruthful stereotyping no longer go unchecked.  To do otherwise would be to continue as a national laughing stock where we have little credibility as we are seen as lacking any truth or honesty on this matter.


Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 8 Comments

Learning From our Disagreements

by the Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

Charlotte BP

I would like to thank Bishop Stephen Cottrell  for his Presidential Address to the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod on 11th March 2017.

It was beautifully written, considered and a very clear working out of his current position in regards to LGBTI inclusion within the Church of England.  Its timing couldn’t have been better as we look to move forward from General Synod’s reflection of the House of Bishop’s report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships following the Shared Conversations (GS 2055).

What I found interesting in this address was that he also referred to the situation surrounding the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt. Rev. Philip North’s appointment to the See of Sheffield.

They are of course very different theological and pastoral topics but they do share two common factors. First, the need to learn how to carry out “good disagreement”, which in the case of Philip North means how we regard and uphold the “5 Guiding Principles”.   Second, that further work needs to be done by the Bishops to explain the impact of these issues on the life of the Church of England and its ministry.   For instance how, in practical terms, would those who hold very different understandings of Anglicanism truly be able to “mutually flourish” under such principles? What would that actually look like when played out, on the ground, in our churches and ministry.

So, on the one hand the Church is trying to work out how it can treasure and preserve the traditionally catholic position on the historic apostolic succession so that those who value it can have confidence of sacramental assurance. And on the other we have the difficult and potentially deeply divisive issue of LGBTI inclusion, where one is looking at how the Church of England might take (as Bishop Stephen Cottrell recently declared) “small steps forward”.

In these two different issues there are two different aims: one is the preservation of the old, the other is the forging of the new.

With regards to LGBTI inclusion many have embarked on enormous amounts of research, theological reflection, reading and prayer to understand why, like the Bishop of Chelmsford, we believe it is time now for the Church of England to consider the creation of (at minimum) a service of Prayers of Thanksgiving for same sex partners.  Whilst we understand that a change to the Canons on marriage  is not possible at this stage,  many of us would support the careful introduction of a pastoral liturgy for blessing of gay couples in committed partnerships. Through careful deliberation of scripture, tradition and reason on issues of human sexuality we might then begin to truly honour Archbishop Justin Welby’s call for a theology of “radical new Christian inclusion”.

However, in relation to the second issue I must admit that as a woman priest the appointment of Bishop North came as somewhat of a surprise. The key issue for me was his transition from a Suffragan to a Diocesan Bishop, and what that then meant for my understanding of the legitimacy of the priesthood of women in Sheffield.

Let us be clear that all personal negative comments about him as a priest must be condemned.  Whilst I have not met Bishop North, it is obvious from all the letters of support –  as well as from the testimony of his colleagues from Sunderland, Hartlepool, London and Burnley – that he is a remarkable minster and Bishop, with dynamic leadership qualities and a great advocacy for the poor and marginalised.

The reason for my concern comes from the fact that my understanding of the role of a Diocesan Bishop is that they represent a “focus of unity” and act as a “Father of God” to all clergy who take a vow of canonical obedience to them. The Bishop is therefore surely the person through whom the sharing in the apostolic ministry of Christ is continued and the guarantee that the Church in this time and place is in continuity and communion with the Church in every time and place.

I deeply admire Bishop Cottrell and I was delighted to hear that he was on the Crown Nominating Committee for Bishop North, and have no doubt what so ever that hours of prayer, consideration and reflection on exactly this issue went into that nomination consideration. But when one reads the “Statement of Policy and Pastoral Guidance” by the Council of The Bishop of The Society, of which Bishop North is a member, it does become somewhat confusing. I quote:

As bishops of The Society, it is our duty to offer those committed to our charge such sacramental assurance and, where the sacraments are concerned, always to follow the safest course. We can therefore only commend the sacramental ministry of male priests who have been ordained by a male bishop who stands in the historic apostolic succession of bishops at whose episcopal ordination a male bishop presided”.

While I am delighted to read that in (2.6) the bishops of the Society “reject any so-called ‘theology of taint’ whereby a bishop who ordains women to the episcopate or the priesthood thereby invalidates his own orders and renders invalid the orders of those whom he subsequently ordains”, I did find this following statement difficult to understand in light of Bishop North’s appointment. The bishops of The Society say that “to be unable to affirm the sacramental validity of the orders of some who are ordained in the Church of England is not necessarily to deny the efficacy of their ministry”.

So, if Bishop Cottrell supported the nomination of Bishop North to the See of Sheffield he must have a much greater understanding than I of how Bishop North can on the one hand not affirm the sacramental validity of women priests while on the other not deny the efficacy of their ministry either.

Jeremy Pemberton in his recent blog “On infidelity, broken promises and hounding: why Elaine Storkey is wrong” puts this very well:

“They (members of the Society) do not have confidence that a woman’s blessing is a blessing, or that a woman’s absolution is an absolution, that a Eucharist presided over by a woman is a Eucharist, and that a person ordained by a woman is truly ordained to the order of priest or bishop….. How can he (then) sponsor people for ordination training to a ministry which, however much he might like and affirm the individuals, he does not actually think is ordination to a ministry of sacrament?”

Given this clear dichotomy I believe that the impact of North’s theological position – its actual working-out in churches – should have been clearly addressed ahead of the announcement of his nomination,  so that all  women priests who were at risk of feeling that their ministry was going be regarded as redundant could instead have understood how they might also flourish and be fully acknowledged. Maybe then we could have avoided the outcome of this terrible episode which has been deeply unfortunate and very sad for all. Then and only then can we understand the true concept of ‘mutual flourishing’ and move forward on these issues – finding ways of living together with our “good disagreements” and not letting them drive us apart.

The recent moving letter from the retiring Bishop of Bradwell regarding LGBTI inclusion challenges us directly on this:

There are very differing views on this within the Church of England and across the Anglican Communion, but there is much more we hold in common. Unity in Christ is a fact, a command, a promise; not simply something we can opt in and out of as we pick and choose. We need to live with our differences, not simply listening to those who see differently but offering true attentiveness. That was the value of the Shared Conversations, but not clearly reflected in the Report from the House of Bishops as reflected in the Synod Vote.”

The issues of sacramental assurance and the provision for those priests who in good conscience wish to acknowledge same-sex partnerships are two totally different doctrinal and theological concerns. However, how the Church should move forward on them is the same.  We must use the language of clarity, honesty, graciousness and consideration that reflects our priestly roles as Christ’s advocates on earth. Furthermore, we cannot move forward as a Church without considering how we deal with these internal debates that impact directly on our image, voice and mission potential in the wider world.




Posted in Charlotte Bannister-Parker, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 1 Comment

A Tale of Two Shared Conversations

by the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

Martin Seeley

I am very glad I participated as a diocesan representative in our regional Shared Conversations. I came away inspired by the honesty and trust we were able to share. I was also left discouraged by the gulf between the positions some people hold.

St Edmundsbury and Ipswich were teamed up with Norwich and Ely, and the representatives met together for Shared Conversations just over a year ago.

Along with all the other diocesan groups, ours was a mixture of lay and ordained, men and women, homosexual and heterosexual.

We made sure the group had a good range of theological perspectives too, from the “liberal” to the “conservative,” tempered just a little by Suffolk modesty.

The experience was immensely rich for each one of us, while it was also challenging.  The sessions where participants shared their own stories, of how we came to think and believe the way we did, were particularly valuable.  It is unusual to be able to say what you think and believe, and why, without being interrupted or argued with.

Our group has met three times since then, over dinner, the last time being a week after the recent General Synod.  The last two occasions the diocese’s General Synod members have joined the group.

It seems for us the General Synod members’ and the Shared Conversation members’ respective experiences of the process have been qualitatively different. The General Synod experience seems to have been less effective compared with the regional Shared Conversation experience.

Trust and honesty has quickly developed across the combined group of fourteen, enabling some tough conversations to take place.  We slip up from time to time, but we have been able to start to say things to each other about what we think and believe without fear that it will lead to irreparable damage.

These meetings have given us a profound experience of the grace and mercy of Christ among us, and has encouraged us to want to share this experience more widely in the Diocese.

But as we have reflected on this process we have come to believe that the Shared Conversations did not help us in one particular area. The outstanding issue that we believe it is vital we listen to each other about is our different positions on the handling of Scripture.   We want now to work at this ourselves, and at the same time learn sufficient facilitation skills to assist others around the Diocese to have shared conversations about Scripture too.

I remain puzzled that we seem so unable to have this conversation as a Church, and I have been trying to understand why that may be so.

In part, I think, it is that the more conservative perspective has become more clearly and strongly articulated, while those of a more liberal perspective have not found a way of expressing their understanding of the authority of scripture accessibly and concisely.

And part of the difficulty is that we use words like “conservative” and “liberal” in ways that are freighted with political and theological presumptions and perhaps without being clear what we mean by them.

We often use them to describe the position different from our own, and do so not necessarily with love and regard. We tend to speak in parody of views or understandings we do not hold ourselves.

I wonder how helpful labels like conservative, liberal, contextual, and literal are in fact, whether we use them of others or of ourselves.

And part of the difficulty is that I am not sure any of us is hermeneutically consistent.

We may say we hold to a literal interpretation of Scripture, but do we interpret all Scripture literally?  If we hold a literal interpretation of the first creation account, for example, do we also believe in the real presence?

Or we may espouse a contextual interpretation but actually handle a great deal of Scripture literally.  Otherwise how might some people who approach Scripture with a contextual perspective also believe in the real presence?

Can we listen to those of different viewpoints and understand how it is that each is working with a version of the authority of Scripture, and can we accept the validity of each other’s versions?

We each approach Scripture with beliefs about God that are in an interrogative relationship with our reading of Scripture.  Are we sufficiently aware of those beliefs?

And are we able to be clear and honest about our interpretative positions?  All of us come to Scripture with a mixture of experience and rationality that shapes how we engage with Scripture.  The roots of our approach may go a long way back in our own history.  Can we unravel that and work out what the influences are on our understanding?

Do we have insight into currents of thought, much stemming from the Enlightenment, that shape our approach, and the extent to which whatever interpretative position we hold, we have been shaped to some extent by the culture and philosophical environment we have inherited?

There is a good deal to share in these shared conversations. The challenge seems to me to develop self-awareness, honesty and trust so that can we listen to one another about how we engage with Scripture, and listen respectfully and without judgement.

Our diocesan group has experienced Christ’s grace and blessing in our time together so far.  We pray for this gift now, the gift of the Spirit moving among us, leading us together into truth.

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Martin Seeley | 2 Comments

Reflecting on “That” Report and Debate

by Anthony Archer, a Member of General Synod for the Diocese of St Albans


Anthony Archer has written the following as part of his “report back” to his diocese on the recent General Synod Group of Sessions.  He inevitably focused on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops (GS 2055). 

Following the conclusion of the Shared Conversations in the summer, which General Synod engaged with in a broadly similar way to those in the dioceses who participated in the Regional Shared Conversations, the focus turned to the House of Bishops and how they proposed to take matters forward.  They had heard all the views, in particular those of LGBT Christians, many of whom had made themselves very vulnerable in sharing their story about their experience of the Church.  GS 2055 was published on 27 January and was a shock to many.

I recall occasions at school when teachers tried to offer some praise for a piece of work, but had to point out that I had answered the wrong question.  However you looked at it, few marks, if any, could be given.  It is instructive to explain what a ‘take note debate’ is.  It is a common procedure on Synod whereby a body, in this case the House of Bishops, brings a report for debate.  Usually it is part of a process.  It is, in effect, seeking approval to the general direction of travel of a proposed legislative or policy change, or updating Synod on any matter.  It is a neutral motion which allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in a report without committing the Synod to the formal acceptance of any matter.  Normally Synod votes to take note of reports of this kind, but on an issue as contested as same sex relationships it was always likely that some Synod members would want to vote not to take note, as being the only way to register their dissent at this stage.

What does GS 2055 say?  In its comparatively short 15 pages, it acknowledged that the bishops’ views covered a very wide spectrum.  No position or approach commanded complete unanimity.  First there was little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage as expressed by Canon B30.  Second there was a strong sense that existing resources, guidance and tone needed to be revisited.  No proposals were made to make available a form of pastoral service in the context of same sex relationships, even though a commended form of service could be offered without Synodical approval.

There were in effect four recommendations, although these were not put to Synod in a separate following motion.  These are: (i) establishing a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people; (ii) the issuance of a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships; (iii) guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples; and (iv) new guidance about the nature of questions put to ordinands and clergy about their lifestyle.

In essence, this timid package of measures amounts to a restatement of the status quo and continues to regard lesbian and gay people as a ‘problem.’  One slightly extraordinary concept introduced into the report was that of ‘maximum freedom’, defined as ‘interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church.’  The conservative evangelicals seized on this.

At one and the same time, the House of Bishops affirm that same sex relationships can ‘embody crucial social virtues’ of fidelity and mutuality (in a previous episcopal comment, ‘relationships of stunning quality’) while also stating that moral questions remain.  The House of Bishops seem naively to believe that they can continue to navigate this conundrum, while maintaining the current doctrine of the Church of England.

How was GS 2055 developed?  Of course we don’t know, although it seems clear there was an earlier draft that was rejected.  The House of Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality would have had some key input.  What seems to have happened (having spoken to a good number of bishops from across the dioceses) is that the House of Bishops (and the wider College of Bishops) were so surprised perhaps that they could unite around a single document (or at least exercise collective responsibility for it) that no-one asked how it might be received.

I need to remind readers of this report that I am a LGBT ally and have been actively campaigning for change on this issue.  However, there is no pressure that I am aware of to change Canon B30, hence my pejorative comment that the bishops answered the wrong exam question.  I attended a private meeting on 30 January and a group of us set about deciding how best to confront the bishops for what we believed to be a seriously defective report.

While I expressed the personal view that I thought Synod might ‘take note’, it was clear from an early stage that it would be close and that if anything it would be better for Synod not to ‘take note’ rather than vote narrowly in favour.  As Synod approached the views of members and the wider press and social media comment led us to believe that, on a vote by houses, the clergy were likely to vote the report down.  We proceeded on that basis and actively campaigned for both clergy and laity seriously to consider voting not to take note.

As to the tactics for the debate itself, I agreed to put down what is termed a ‘following motion’.  This would appear on the agenda, but would only get debated if Synod voted to take note and if time allowed.  In case Synod did not take note, I also put down for possible debate at a later Group of Sessions a Private Member’s Motion (PMM) in almost identical terms.  The motion was:

‘That this Synod,

request the House of Bishops to bring for debate by July 2018 a set of forward looking proposals on same-sex relationships (such proposals to be developed by a broadly-based group representing the diversity of views on Synod and in the wider Church) that will command confidence by, 

  1. affirming the positive contribution that LGBTI Christians make in the life of the Church; and
  2. reflecting the differing interpretations of scripture, as demonstrated by the Shared Conversations.’

The PMM quickly attracted support and had received 111 signatures by the close of Synod.  It was a useful device to persuade the Synod business managers to agree that the following motion could be debated on the final morning, but as we now know all following motions (there was another one expressing the traditional view) lapsed.

And so to the debate itself.  Firstly more time was allocated to it.  It had been scheduled to be a 90 minute debate; wholly inadequate.  It was subsequently given 2¼ hours.  160 Synod members put in requests to speak.  In the event 33 spoke.  The debate was of the highest quality.  Members were persuasive and spoke with passion, pastoral sensitivity and, in the most part, with concern for LGBT Christians, both those who are Synod members and those in the wider Church.

One of the most moving speeches was the first one, by Nikki Groarke, Archdeacon of Dudley, and it is reproduced here:

I am grateful to the bishops for this report, which though flawed, captures the complexity of the journey we are still on. And I will take note.  I was, however, surprised it stopped short of recommending we consider a commended form of pastoral service for blessing gay and lesbian couples in committed partnerships.  And I was disappointed.  Not with the bishops.  With myself.  For I fear my silence may have contributed to their reticence to test the voice of synod on this aspect of our emerging understanding.

I am an evangelical, spiritually formed in a tradition which takes the Bible seriously, and nurtured in churches which had clear views about the only context for sexual intimacy being in a hetero-sexual marriage.  More recently, in my last parish in Islington, and in my current role, I have had the privilege of ministering alongside men and women, lay and ordained, in long term, committed gay relationships.  Gay Christians serving God faithfully and being used by Him powerfully.  This challenged me to wrestle with Scripture and understand certain passages differently in the light of the whole.  My understanding has changed.  The Shared Conversations in July crystallized for me that whilst I cannot at this stage support a change to the canons on marriage, I would support the careful introduction of a pastoral liturgy for blessing of gay couples in committed partnerships. But I have said nothing. And I am sorry.  It felt difficult.  I serve people of all traditions in my role as archdeacon, and life is simpler when you remain vague on controversial issues.  So I stayed in the silent middle.

I am now beginning to understand how much more difficult this issue is for those we spend so much time talking about as ‘a problem to be solved’.  By our actions, or inaction, we are continually undermining their identity, questioning their character and godliness, condemning them as somehow more sinful, limiting and restricting their flourishing, sometimes with tragic consequences.  Pastorally and missionally we are doing untold damage to individuals, and to the church. We are all responsible.

Amidst the many, many words on social media since the report was published, one comment by a gay member of synod particularly struck me. She wrote:

“I’m happy to ‘walk together’ to coin the phrase, but at the moment the way it’s swinging it’s the LGBT members that feel unwelcome.  A lot of us are happy to meet in the middle, and we’re stood here waiting, but many of the ‘other side’ won’t even start walking towards us.”

 I have walked towards those who I used to classify as ‘the other side’, and as I stand in the silent middle, I see many of my open evangelical friends similarly inhabiting this central space.  The problem is, that it has remained the silent middle.  Whilst privately I have assured my gay friends and colleagues that I have listened, will continue to listen, and have let this listening inform and change my theology, publically I have been silent, and that was wrong.  I lacked the courage of my convictions, and I apologise.

At this stage of the process, it is time for the silent middle to become vocal, and to be clear where we stand.  It is time to be clear that many of us who are still evangelicals, still seeking to be biblically orthodox, are now humbly acknowledging our previous reading of scripture was flawed.  Those of us in the silent middle must dare to vocalise our changed understanding, must take the risk of speaking out in support of blessing, and must work with those tasked with taking this process forward, ensuring all voices are heard, and we make changes so that all people are valued, welcomed, affirmed and freed to minister effectively in God’s church.[1]

It was a hugely important speech.  How many other ‘Groarkes’ are there out there, especially those who identify as evangelical?  Some bishops were of course called to speak, with starkly different perspectives.  The Bishop of Blackburn defended the criticism that the bishops had not listened.  The purpose of the report was not to please everyone.  Listening should not be conflated with agreement.  The Bishop of Liverpool honoured the anger and frustration of the LGBT community.  He focused on the concept of ‘maximum freedom’ for his diocese, saying ‘it will happen anyway.’  The Bishop of Gloucester took her share of responsibility for the report. It was not an end of the process.  She would have wanted to have gone further.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in making the final speech (which clearly he had prepared for the eventuality that the report would have a rough ride through Synod) said ‘we will have to try to do better whether we take note or not.  This needs to be about love, joy, celebration of belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s a good basis – it’s a road map.  We will move on.  We need to find a radical new inclusion, not careless of theology, not ignorant of the world around us.  Humans are made in the image of God.’  It set the themes for the statement that the two Archbishops made shortly after the end of the debate.

As to the voting, the House of Bishops voted 44 in favour and none against (one bishop accidentally voted against so the official record is different) and one, the Bishop of Southwark, abstained, but did not register his abstention formally.  The clergy voted 93 in favour, 100 against, with two abstentions (hence the vote being lost in the House of Clergy); and the laity voted 106 in favour, 83 against, with four abstentions.  The St Albans’ representatives (five clergy and five laity) voted collectively three in favour, six against and with one abstention.

So what happens next and what does all this imply for an issue that has been around Synod for more than 30 years, and on which the Church has made almost no discernible progress, unlike the secular State?  Something happened on 15 February, 2017.  It may have been a kairos moment.  The tone suddenly changed.  Synod members, for the first time, ‘got it.’  They more than glimpsed the pain and frustration of LGBT Christians being fed up with being ‘talked about.’  Comments have raged across social media.  ‘The toothpaste will not be going back in the tube!’  ‘Some of the fear which is in all of us will start to lift.’  The Daily Telegraph rather got ahead of itself in a headline, which it later retracted, ‘Synod takes first step towards gay marriage.’  But there is a direction of travel, and it is not backwards.  Those like me who have been arguing for a while now that the ‘status quo is not an option’ have a sense that these are no longer mere words.  ‘Good Disagreement’ that was buried by GS 2055 is back on the table.

[1] © Nikki Groarke, Archdeacon of Dudley (Diocese of Worcester website)

Posted in Anthony Archer, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 1 Comment

Being Radical about Radical Inclusion

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester


Being a member of what the media persists in referring to as the “C of E’s parliament” has brought some difficult and demanding moments, especially in the years when we were struggling to shape legislation on the ordination of women as bishops. Recently Synod has again had to contend with another subject on which feelings run high, same sex relationships. It could have been dreadful, but in fact it was one of the best debates I have attended in nearly twelve years as a Synod member.

I think it helped that members had time and space to prepare themselves for the debate rather than rushing into it straight from other business. Many of us took part in small groups where we were able to look both at examples of situations where conflict over matters of sexuality arises in parishes and also to reflect on what we felt about the House of Bishops’ Report. Others, who did not feel it appropriate to participate in the groups, met in a nearby parish conference centre, where the Archbishop of Canterbury spent time with them. We were also helped by a variety of fringe meetings over the previous forty-eight hours.

Then, for something over two hours, and with around forty members speaking, Synod was passionate but courteous. Divergent views were listened to and speakers applauded. A sketch writer, released from his normal duties because Parliament was in recess, commented on how much higher was the standard of behaviour on the church side of Abingdon Street. Above all, the Synod managed to correct what had been so badly lacking in the report that I and my colleagues in the House of Bishops had laid before them. The debate set a new and positive tone and provided a much needed momentum for the task of revisiting the ways in which the Church affirms and celebrates the lives, loves and ministries of those among it who identify as LGBT+. Voting not to “take note” of the bishops’ document may be a somewhat arcane piece of procedure, but for many it served the task of projecting that desire for a new start beyond our Westminster debating chamber and into the world outside.

So how might we go forward from last week’s debate? I suspect that the clue lies in the term “radical inclusion” that was used so powerfully by Archbishop Justin in the final speech of the debate. But that on its own will not be enough. Alongside it we need a Church that is prepared to be “purposefully paradoxical”.

Few, if any, present at last week’s Synod expect that body to be voting through a change in the Church of England’s canon on marriage by two thirds majorities in all three houses any time soon. But what can be challenged without further delay is the argument that begins from that premise and then extrapolates it almost to infinity.  Such an argument asserts that until the law and the canons change, wider teaching is fixed. Once that is conceded the argument then runs that until teaching changes, the discipline cannot be modified. Accept that and we are pressed to agree that as long as the discipline remains untouched, the prayers of the church cannot change very much either. It may be a logical argument but it is the logic of logjam.

Times of change are by their nature times of paradox. To be purposefully paradoxical is to recognise that whilst consistency may be a feature of the endpoints of a journey it is rarely present all along the way. What nineteenth century physics found to be true for the trajectories of photons passing through a pair of narrow slits, twenty-first century theology must allow to be the case for a church traversing through a time of challenge and change. Some aspects of change will get ahead of others. Some parts of the church may move faster, further, or at a different angle than their neighbours. Messy Church won’t just describe a brand of work with children. In many ways we will be more like the pluriform Church of the New Testament, marvelously malleable under the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Such an embracing of paradox with a purpose provides the context for an exploration of the Archbishop’s radical inclusion that is much, much more than the maximum freedom which one Synod member tellingly remarked may mean little beyond “the prisoner being allowed to walk around their entire cell”. It opens up the possibility of exploring our prayers, our discipline, our outreach, our ministry and our teaching, and doing so with the expectation that things are going to look significantly different afterwards. Moreover, radical inclusion requires that we should no longer be reflecting about sexuality issues without LGBT+ members being present, nor doing so in a context where they feel marginalised or unsafe. “Talking about us, without us” must never again be a charge that can justifiably be levelled against us.

We are, after Synod, very much at the beginning of a journey, but it is both a better journey than we might have expected and a journey with God. That is what matters the most.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 10 Comments

The Anti-Testimony (on reading the House of Bishops’ Report)

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Convocation of Canterbury


We tell stories in church – they’re called testimonies – we tell stories of those who in dark times turn to God. And we rejoice.

But this story is an anti-testimony. A testimony of being pushed away. Of losing faith if not (quite) my faith.

I cannot pray at the moment. I’m struggling to believe.

It’s anger. It’s being wounded. It’s feeling betrayed. By my church (well by our bishops at least and, therefore, in some cases by my friends). Again.

Why do others – often armed and so well-defended with doctrines and bibles, canons and lawyers – call into question who I am in Christ and how I follow him? “Your deepest identity is in Christ,” they cry, wagging their fingers, as then they happily describe themselves as “Husband, Wife, Parent, Child, Teacher, Minister, Leader, Bishop”, all with Capital Letters. God, do they realise how exhausting it is to hear this again and again?

And what of God? Have I been betrayed by God too? Was this call that the church gave me a deception? If so, whose?  Mine?? God’s? Was that enthusiastic encouragement which I heard as God’s call, was that a mistake? Did I hear correctly? Did the church somewhere change its mind about me? Could I do more good in some other walk of life (I could certainly be happier, it would certainly be easier)? That will take some working out.

I’ve never quite felt  this way before. I don’t know what it means. I recall Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ from my studies. That you need the basics of life before you get to anything more.  Well spiritually, right now, I’m back down needing just the basics. Just God in Jesus. Nothing else thank you very much. And just now, I don’t know if I can find this God in the Church of England. I really don’t. (Strangely, my superego wants to reject this statement. “Don’t write it,” it screams, “what will people think of you? God, you’re so self-indulgent!” But then I calm down and realise that’s the point. When you’re looking for the basics, all you can think about is yourself. Unless you’re a saint. And I’m so not.)

And I do know I cannot pray.

People have naturally asked me about prayer many times in the past. It’s never been my most comfortable ground if I’m honest. One beggar telling another and all that stuff…Being more at home in the Bible than in prayer I’ve always told people that when they can’t pray to remember that the church prays and that the Spirit prays within. Well I hope the church and the Spirit are both praying now. It’s time to take my own advice. Physician, heal thyself!

But if I could pray, this is the sort of prayer I would pray. So, if you can, will you pray it for me?  And for the many others in the Church of England at this time who feel like me? Not just LGBTI people (we’re not that self-indulgent). It’s bigger than that. The victims of John Smyth. The victims of cover-ups and abuse of all kinds. The victims of the dissembling culture that confuses “keeping the show on the road” with “unity”? The screw-ups, the misfits, including some wearing purple, and the ones we’ve always said were at the heart of our gospel: “The Last, the Least and the Lost.” And the many people who love the Church of England but who are wondering if it can ever truly be home for them again. Of your charity, pray for us.

All power, honour, glory be to you!

You…sometimes hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.

We are so privileged that we seldom sense you

            Hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.

But we know people who do,

            We think of places where you do not appear.

We imagine you defeated,


            Held captive.

And we wait a day,

            Two days,

            Until the third day.

And then, most often then,

            Quite reliably then,

            You appear then in your full glory.

This day we pray against your absence, silence, and hiddenness.

Come with full power into deathly places,

            And we will praise you deep and full. Amen.

Walter Brueggemann “On Reading I Samuel 5” from “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching”. Louisville: John Knox, 1990


Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Simon Butler | 20 Comments

Elders of the Tribe

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool


“The weak bishops.” “The lying bishops.” “The bastard bishops.” “I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can spit.” “The only way they’ll give a straight-line response is if you ask them to design a corkscrew.”

A few months ago on this site I wrote a piece which spoke of the need for people to express their anger if they were angry. I have seen all the phrases above on social media in the past few days, and I am glad of them, though I am not a masochist and I do not enjoy them. I am particularly grateful to the people who have contacted me directly to express their emotion and to make their points about the recent bishops’ statement.

For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the Church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?

Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, the same year that “Issues in Human Sexuality” was published, my friend and mentor Bishop Peter Selby wrote a book called “BeLonging” [1]. Its subtitle was “Challenge to a Tribal Church”. In this book Peter spoke of the kind of community the Church is called to be, and contrasted it with the Church as it is. It is a prophetic and an angry book. It locates its anger in three areas; race and racism, gender and sexism, and the treatment of LGBT people. Peter in writing about this last subject drew on his experience of the 1987 Synod debate on the motion proposed by Tony Higton.

And then in the book there comes a chapter called “The Elders of the Tribe”[2]. It speaks about bishops. It reflects that, when the ordination of women was discussed, “the report of the House of Bishops on the issue shows strong signs of having been diverted into accepting the agenda of those opposed to the change.” Peter went on to ask, “Do these responses reflect something of the demands and pressures on leadership when tribal responses are rife?”

This is a very good question. It speaks crisply and clearly over the intervening years.

Peter went on to speak of the risks and dangers inherent in the idea that the bishop is called to be a focus of unity in the Church. He said, “At the heart of that perception lies one of the most profoundly Christian of instincts, that we are called to bring together and not to divide, to seek and not to lose”. But beautiful and profoundly Christian as it is, Peter said, it is only a half-truth.

His point was that collegiality, the act of standing together and speaking as one, can endanger and indeed exclude the possibility of prophetic dissent. I believe that it is this point that lies behind the anger of the angry today. People believe that the bishops, the bastard bishops, have preferred unity to truth: “We asked for bread and they have given a stone”.

It is not my intention in this post to defend anyone or anything, least of all myself. In clear awareness of Peter Selby’s analysis, I nonetheless stand by the bishops’ report. I have chosen to act in this matter wholeheartedly as a member of the episcopal College. I have done so in good faith, because I believe that the suggestions in the report, insufficient as they are, are nonetheless necessary; that they will help LGBT people in the church, will make a church less toxic than the one we have now. But all that is, of course, debatable.

My own experience, since I began speaking out for the beginnings of change in the Church, is that I am profoundly suspected by many who disagree with me and that indeed some of them cannot in conscience remain in the same room as me, or work with me. This has not made me change my mind, but it does help me to understand still further what it is to be a bishop, a bastard bishop, in the Church today.

In October 1986, almost thirty years ago, Peter Selby wrote this in a newspaper:

Bishops do focus the Church, but what they focus is the Church as it is. Being a focus of disunity is not therefore in itself a sign of pastoral failure.[3]

I believe that this is so; but since I first read this a quarter of a century ago, long before I became a bishop, I have been most profoundly challenged by the response to Peter’s words from another Peter, Peter Walker, then Bishop of Ely, who said this:

It surely is not a sign of failure, but on one condition; that the disunity which is focused in the bishop is held in a Godward reference. We here touch the mystery, but the central and to a degree the public mystery, of a bishop’s prayers…[4]

The recent statement of the House of Bishops is offered to the Synod in the hope of prayer – not as a finished work but as a resource for dialogue, for further conversation in a context of sharing before God. And in a couple of weeks we shall see what the other Houses of the Synod make of it, what “the clergy” and “the laity” make of “the bishops”. And then the road will go on, and no one’s voice will be silenced, as I do not believe mine has been silenced, or will be. And we will continue to learn together what it is to listen, and to dissent, and to pray.

And in this season my prayers will include in particular my LGBT sisters and brothers, inside and outside the Church, whose real-life love has been marginal to our conversation as bishops and whose explicit voice so far has been absent there. And I will pray too for all the Church, and all the bishops, the other bastard bishops like me. And I will continue to seek the right way to be a bishop, in this season on this matter when those who disagree with me outnumber me. I will struggle for a church where the love of the loving will be honoured, whomever they love. I will reach for and advocate for and enable the maximum freedom now, and I’ll pray and work and hope for still greater freedom later.

But I would ask one thing of my sisters and brothers in the Church. I am one of “the bishops”, and on many matters I know before God how much I am a bastard bishop. But I also have a name; my name is Paul. Every bishop has a name. If across the Church we are to break the spirit of fear and conformity of which Peter Selby spoke, we must say our names to one another, in the room, in English, looking on the ones to whom we speak. In the Diocese of Liverpool I expect this of the people who share their being in Christ with me; that they will call me by my name and speak the truth to me, and will listen to me as I call their names and speak to them. And each one reading this has a bishop or bishops, each one with a name. I encourage you to learn that name and to use it in a conversation shared. It is in this way that the anger of which I wrote some months ago, the anger I welcome even though it is excoriating to me, will be tempered and used by God to change the world.

Paul Bayes is Bishop of Liverpool

January 2017


[1] Peter Selby, “BeLonging: Challenge to a Tribal Church”, SPCK 1991

[2] BeLonging, pp 54-63

[3]Quoted in “BeLonging”, p.63

[4] Peter Walker, “Rediscovering the Middle Way”, Mowbray 1988, p.110

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 42 Comments