Remembering, Reliving & Dealing with the Church’s Abuse

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

So much remembering. We’ve had some very moving events. Poetry and music evoking the darkest moments of WW1. In Great Missenden, the village where I work, there were 39 men killed. Many of them lived in Church Street and went to our school. We all stood round our newly restored memorial at 11000 on the 11th our heads bowed in respectful silence. Then we processed into Church and one sort of remembering morphed into another. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’

As a human and as a Christian community it’s what we do. We remember.

Memories are a crucial component of our identity. If illness erodes your ability to access your memory, it leaves you and the people around you in a difficult and scary place. Every bit of scientific progress that helps tackle such illness is crucial, and I’m sure we are all hoping or praying for a real medical breakthrough.

In the light of the recent #MeToo revelations I was thinking about another dynamic of remembering. It’s to do with the difference between remembering and re-living.

We all sometimes think about painful things that have happened. It is healthy to do that.

Like most churches we have a special service for those who have been recently bereaved. It’s called Remembering with Love, and just for an hour we deliberately step into that space of recollection. The love and the pain are still there, but as time passes we distil the memory so that we remember without having to re-live.

If we haven’t dealt with it however, remembering becomes agony. Many of the women who were abused by Harvey Weinstein suppressed the painful memory so effectively that it is only now that they truly access their feelings about what happened. They are not so much remembering as re-living those events.

I have heard people recently saying: ‘for heaven’s sake, it was 25 years ago!’. Well, I would urge compassion. Facebook has been full of people saying that the recent Judge Kavanaugh allegations have triggered memories for them, and it feels ‘like yesterday.’ These are events in their lives that have not been processed or resolved. This is why it is so important to take historic disclosures seriously. Until that happens the person is never able to be free of the pain.

It’s interesting that remembering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Knowing that he was about to be killed Jesus said ‘remember me’ and gave his friends a symbolic way of doing that which has lasted to this day. Over 2,000 years it has no longer got any overtone of grief. There is no re-living in the Eucharist. The remembering is all about love and thankfulness. We have probably now reached this place with WW1. It’s not raw grief, we weren’t there. But the gratitude, respect and hopefully commitment to peace, that is worth the ceremony.

So our Eucharistic heart should make church a good, safe, and healing place to do all sorts of remembering.

Sadly this isn’t always the case. We are only just beginning to uncover the extent of abuse that has happened in a church context. With extraordinary courage there are people who are telling their stories and considerable resource is being put into making it less likely that this can happen in the future.

It will of course, human beings do unspeakable things. But we are trying hard. Safeguarding training is now obligatory and there are more robust new protocols in place.

It’s the remembering part that hasn’t gone well. For most people who make a disclosure the speaking out and telling the story is like re-living it.

When men returned from the war most of them didn’t tell their stories. Articulating the memories would have taken them right back there. It was a self-protection strategy, but a very costly one. A whole generation of men were emotionally unavailable. Women and children lived with people who couldn’t show affection. I hear this again and again as I sit with families to prepare funeral tributes.

When someone speaks out about their abuse in the church they become a ‘case’ to be managed, dealt with.  It’s as if the person who listens to their story is being asked to face the real church rather than the fantasy one, and that is too hard.

The significant thing is that their remembering is also ours.

None of us were at the battle of the Somme. Half my family didn’t even live in this country during the war. They were Swiss. Yet standing silent for two minutes at the memorial the memories become all our memories. Remembering becomes community.

This is the step the church needs to take. As someone courageously speaks out about their abuse we need to embrace that story, painful though it will be, and allow the truth to dawn. When things do go tragically wrong we all have to take responsibility and understand that ‘their’ story is really also ‘our’ story. Then we can share the pain and share the healing.

This is work that we all need to do, and it is urgent. I cannot begin to say how urgent.

The National Catholic Reporter printed a letter on 9 November 2018. This was the headline: Open letter to US Catholic Bishops: It’s over.

It’s over?!

People wonder why I push and push about equal rights and moral responses to survivors. Well -it’s because I do care about the C of E, and every time I step outside the protected (shrinking) bubble I am told that we have lost our way.

The test of a civilized society is the way it treats its weakest members. The same applies to the Church. Look at the way we treat the weakest and most vulnerable and the news is bad.  People who have been ‘othered’ and left outside, show to the world that we don’t act out what we say we believe.

This week-end Churches were full. There is a wonderful residual good will toward the Church of England, but for too long we have been spending the capital. It is such a simple message and one which most decent folk in this country take as given. Treat everyone equally and let people remember their abuse and respond with love and care and generosity. End of.

 

 

 

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Posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Sexual abuse | 2 Comments

Is an Armistice Needed for Divided Nations & Churches?

by Colin Blakely, Editor of the Church of England Newspaper and Co-Editor of ViaMedia.News

Colin Blakely

This weekend churches up and down the country will mark the centenary of the Armistice that brought peace after the Great War. However, that peace was to be sadly short-lived as the 20th Century proved to be one of the bloodiest in history.

Two decades later war was to break out again, leading to the demise of fascism in 1945. This was then followed four decades later by  the fall of the Berlin Wall, with which we arguably saw the demise of Communism. What followed was perhaps an uneasy peace but a rise in the liberal consensus. Was this a “via media” in world politics?

If this was a Golden Era, it has faded somewhat in recent years. In its place we have witnessed the rise in populism and nationalism, not least across Europe but wider afield too.

This in turn has led to a rise in division, and resulted in Nancy Pelosi declaring after the recent US midterm elections that her party was ‘seeking solutions that will bring us together’ because ‘we have all had enough of divisions’.

But perhaps the first of those divisions that have to be dealt with is the religious divide.

Indeed, the first anaylsis of those US midterm election results highlighted the stark divisions, both between religious believers and those who do not follow a faith.

FT_18.11.07_howFaithfulVoted_white-evangelical-Christians

The figures show that white evangelical or born-again Christians backed Republican candidates for the US House of Representatives at about the same rate they did in 2014. In contrast, religiously unaffiliated voters (also known as religious “nones”) and Jewish voters once again backed Democratic candidates by large margins.  The figures, from the National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll data, are on par with the figures from the midterm elections in 2014.

So we not only have divided nations, but also divisions within nations themselves. And in particular, divisions between religious believers.

‘Seeking solutions’ seems to be an obvious route to take, but there are immense problems in trying to do that as we well know.

If we turn to the churches, a new survey on religious views in New Zealand gives fresh insights into the scale of divisions. Although it concerns churches from the other side of the world, one suspects that similar findings would be reported across Europe. And the divisions reported in the ‘Faith and Belief in New Zealand’ survey occur across the age ranges.

Respondents were classified in five groups:

Generation Z (18-23 year-olds);

Generation Y (24-38-year-olds);

Generation X (39-53-year-olds);

Baby Boomers (54-72-year-olds);

Builders (those aged over 73).

Those in Generations Z and Y both said that spirituality is extremely or very important to mental health (52 per cent), and that it is important to overall well-being (51 per cent and 50 per cent respectively). In contrast, for Builders the figures for mental health and well-being were only 41 per cent and 38 per cent.  But the majority of Generations X Y and Z questioned said they did not identify with any religion or spiritual belief (39 per cent, 39 per cent and 43 per cent respectively). Only 26 per cent of Builders took that stance, with most (59 per cent) identifying as Christian.

So there is an openness to spirituality among the younger generations, but also some significant blockers.

For Generations X, Y and Z the number one issue is the churchs stance and teaching on homosexuality, followed by gender inequality in the church and how a good God could allow so much evil and pain. Only that last one figured as an issue for Builders, who were more concerned about how a loving God could allow people to go to hell and questions about miracles, angels, demons and resurrection.

New Zealand

This is a stark division, and a problematic one for church leaders. The majority of stakeholders in churches are of course the Builder generation (aged over 73), but the key issues for the younger generations hardly concern them at all.  If they wish to reach a younger generation they will require building some major bridges, and quickly.

For non-Christians the survey reveals a need for the church to rebuild trust, particularly in the wake of abuse scandals.

Showing love rather than fear is perhaps the biggest challenge facing our world, both secular and religious as we look to our future.

 

 

 

Posted in Colin Blakely, Human Sexuality, Social Justice | Leave a comment

We Will Remember Them…..All!

by the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Sudbury

As the centenary looms of the armistice that saw the end of hostilities on the Western Front, inevitably public attention will turn increasingly once again to those whom we remember and to why we remember them as we do.  There will be commemorations in churches, in civic squares, and in other public spaces.

The two minute silence, which not all that long ago had fallen into disuse (except in remembrance services), is being kept again.  Indeed, there has been a striking return of remembrance just in the last twenty years or so.  When I was growing up in the sixties and seventies, along with many of my friends I assumed that, over time, our willingness to mark Remembrance Sunday would simply fade away, as the veterans themselves of both world wars died out.  My younger self would have been amazed at the return of remembrance.

In the summer I took my son to Belgium to see some of the First World War battlefields and sights.  We went to Talbot House (Toc H) at Poperinghe, and also to the extraordinarily moving place there, just off the market square, where British deserters – now publicly pardoned – were incarcerated and then executed by firing squad.  We went to the outstanding ‘In Flanders Field’ museum in the rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres, to a number of other museums and just some of the innumerable cemeteries that litter the landscape.  And we also went to the ceremony of the last post at the Menin Gate.  It’s an extraordinary testimony to the people of Ypres that at 8pm every night they sound the last post there, in memory of the dead.  I didn’t expect to be moved as much as I was.  It was raining, but hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects.

But what really struck me at the Menin Gate was the question of scale – over 35,000 names of those of the Commonwealth dead in Flanders whose bodies were never found, listed by regiment or unit.  The number is overwhelming.  The names cover practically every surface of that enormous monument – every name a life, an identity, the centre of a family’s relationships and hopes, a possibility that cannot now ever come to fruition, every name a parable of hope, loss and grief.  And it may be tempting to think that this was a narrow demographic, nearly all the names young white men from the British Isles; that remains the abiding image so many of us continue to hold.  But of course they’re names from an imperial, or alternatively international, army – there are not only English, Welsh, Scots and Irish names, but Indian, Nepalese, Caribbean, Canadian, African, Australian and New Zealand too.

That set me thinking, in the rain.  We can expand this idea of who is commemorated there, or rather what kind of people they were, much further.  We know, of course, that they were from all classes and professions.  Some were titled, privately educated, privileged to their chinstraps; others were from the poorest and most disadvantaged groups.  There are Christians of practically all denominations, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews, commemorated there.  There are many nations, but also different racial or ethnic identities.  There would have been many we would now say suffered from learning disabilities or other then-undiagnosed ailments.  The sheerly terrified, and the admired and courageous.  Married and single, fathers and sons.  Conservatives, Liberals, Labour.  Straight, and gay – not that that term was used in that way, and not that being gay in the early twentieth-century was an easy or acceptable or openly-acknowledged thing to be.

It’s sometimes said that the First World War was a founding trauma of modern British experience, even, some say, a sort of ‘holocaust’ for this nation, though I doubt that that term can really be used here without some risk of misunderstanding.  What stands out, nonetheless, is how indiscriminate the loss inflicted by war really was.

And that’s the point.  Because if we’re commemorating the sacrifice of all of those who died in the war, without exception, then all of the characteristics I’ve listed above, and perhaps many others, somehow have to be included, as we include the people they marked in our commemoration.  We can’t leave out anyone.

And that ought to make us pause, when we also remember the divisive arguments running through our society about immigration, race, and culture, about human sexuality, about different lifestyle choices, and about values and aspirations.   It ought to make us pause, especially when we think that even within the community of the Church, where surely all ought to feel welcome and loved, these same divisions run more or less openly.  When we look at the symbols of loss and sacrifice that will feature again on Remembrance Sunday, we should remind ourselves that the people we remember were not just projections of our younger selves or idealised figures from a rose-tinted Downton Abbey-esque past, but real human beings who reflected pretty well all the varieties and possibilities of the human condition.

And that reflection is only reinforced by the thought that we can push the circle even further.  We will not only commemorate combatants on 11 November.  Over 500 British citizens were killed and another 1300 injured in German ‘zeppelin’ raids on British towns and cities.  They included, naturally, women as well as men, the young as well as the elderly.  Thousands of civilians died as a result of the conflict between German and British colonial forces in Africa.  Thousands more died in the sinking of allied ships by German u-boats.

Of course we could go even wider still, and include the dead of all nations.  As Christians we should and will remember them too.  But even if, perhaps inevitably, the focus of national and local memorials here in Britain will be on the British dead of the war, still, it only takes a moment’s thought about the communities touched by grief in 1918 to realise the sheer breadth and variety of humanity.

I’m not suggesting that that simply relativises serious differences over ethics; but it does perhaps humanise them.

And it reminds us – and I think we always need reminding of this – that they were all part of one national community, as they were part of one human community, and that no one we commemorate was somehow ‘less’ than someone else, whatever their background, race, nationality, orientation, and identity.

 

Photograph – poppies in Walsham le Willows from East Anglian Daily Times

 

Posted in Jeremy Morris, Social Justice | 1 Comment

C of E Risks Failure on Human Sexuality Because of Privileged Power

by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, former Chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group and member of the Co-ordinating Group for “Living in Love and Faith”

Giles Goddard

I spent a few days recently in Oxford, in the company of 120 bishops.  They were very friendly and I was glad to be there. I was invited as a member of the Coordinating Group for the resource which the C of E is preparing: ‘Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage’. 

The terms of reference for the resource state its intention:

The Church wants to understand what it means to follow Christ in love and faith given the questions about human identity and the variety of patterns of relationship emerging in our society, including marriage, civil partnership, cohabitation, celibacy and friendship. These are vital matters which affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities and which have a profound spiritual dimension founded on the truth that every human being is of infinite value in God’s sight.

We’ve been working on the resource for 18 months, and it’s starting to feel that the longer we work on it, the greater the depth of the challenge is becoming.

Why?  Because it’s beginning to feel to me that, in the end, what is needed is a fundamental transformation of the way the Church of England thinks and does its business.

What do I mean by that?  Underlying all this are many issues, but one of the crucial ones is the question of power and control. Historically, the Church of England – its doctrine, its way of being, its practices and procedures, have been in the hands of those who have been traditionally powerful – nominally straight, white men – the patriarchate.

Over the last 50 years, things have begun to change – the tent has been opened up.

Each time, there have been challenges – as we have tried to include women at all levels of the Church, and black people, the Church has had to let go of its previous preconceptions. I never forget that at the start of the work to outlaw the slave trade, all the bishops in the House of Lords voted against Wilberforce’s Bill.

Each time the tent has been opened up, a little has moved. The Church has broadened its base and more people have been welcomed. The process has never been easy, but we have learnt, each time. I am sure that the College of Bishops which I attended felt different because of the presence of bishops who are women.

LGBTI+ questions are complex, and it is proving hard (an understatement?) for the Church to work out how to respond. LGBTI+ people were, until recently, criminalised. We have, for centuries, been condemned as intrinsically sinful – “objectively disordered”. The ontological status of LGBTI+ people is something new for many of those in power, who don’t know quite how to deal with these questions, and many of whom at the very least find them threatening. I think that is one reason why these questions drag on and on and on..

What is to be done?  What is the answer to the challenges we face?

In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter following the General Synod in February 2017, he talked about the need for the Church to find a new ‘radical Christian inclusion’. For the Church to understand more deeply how our gospel of love can be lived out, in England, in the 21st century.

Or to put it another way, in the famous words of Desmond Tutu:

This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw . . .” Did he say, “I will draw some”? “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others”? He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all. All. All!” 

That’s the context for the gospel on which I preached recently: the story of the rich young ruler. It’s one of my favourite stories, not just because I too grew up in a privileged world, a world I still struggle to have a healthy relationship with, but also because it contains one of my favourite verses in the whole of scripture.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ Mark 10.21

This story is about many things, but at its heart is the young man’s attachment to power, profit, status – patriarchy, if you will. Jesus challenges him with what we might term ‘his unexamined privilege’. But he does it not from a desire to hurt, but a desire to express love. Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and saw what he needed most.

Jesus understands, in love, that the man has to give up the things which are crucial to his identity, in order to find a new one.

And so, returning to Living in Love and Faith

Remembering the words in the  terms of reference, ‘the truth that every human being is of infinite value in God’s sight’  it seems to me that the challenge for us, as a Coordinating Group, is to help the Church to find a new identity:

  • unless the Church is able to see us, LGBTI+ people, as absolutely, fundamentally and radically included in God’s love:
  • unless the Church is able to stop thinking about us as people who are grudgingly being offered a place at the table:
  • unless the Church is able to move away from the idea that the supposed sinfulness of LGBTI+ people is different from anyone else’s sinfulness, both in fact and degree,

         the exercise will be a failure. 

If we are to do this, we will have to be willing to let go of some of the fundamental building blocks of who we are – our understanding, as a Church, of gender and sexuality – in order to find a new understanding, more fundamentally reflecting the gospel of love.

Let me stress: I am talking about an opening up of our current understanding. Paying attention to the recent letter from the Bishop of Blackburn and others, it seems to me that we need to learn how to both affirm our traditional understanding of marriage and learn from the wisdom and experience of so many who are, at the moment, left outside the tent.

That’s why all of this matters – not just for me and the others on the Coordinating Group and anyone else directly affected, but for the whole Church.  We have an opportunity to go back to first principles and discover a new thing.

Now it springs forth! Do we not perceive it?

It is very good, in this context, that the Dioceses of Lichfield and Oxford have both released unequivocally supportive letters encouraging the full inclusion of LGBTI+ people. They are carefully worded letters which respect the current position of the Church, but in a way which opens up hope for the future. Respect to the Bishops of Oxford and Lichfield and all who worked with them!

It’s a big task which we face, one which nearly all denominations are struggling with right now. But if we need encouragement – if we are looking for a source for hope – we could do a lot worse than to start with that wonderful image of Jesus, responding to the rich young man with that great challenge:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

 

Posted in Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality | 7 Comments

Brexit, Science & Sex: Can We Challenge Fake News?

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s and Vice Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

David ison 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was listening to an American political commentator on the radio the other day, who was saying that the divisions between two political sides in the USA were getting worse. Neither side is listening to the other; families and friends are divided; each side listens to what it wants to hear. He’d convened focus groups of differing views where within ten seconds people were taking sides, and within five minutes were shouting at each other. ‘Everyone wants to be heard’, he said, ‘but no one is listening.’

On Saturday 20th October there was a big march in London calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit. Three days later I sat at my breakfast table in London listening to the chanting of supporters of Tommy Robinson at the Old Bailey. Two sides, two views, and who is working to reconcile them and to listen to the other? Who will include the excluded, on either side? And what really is the truth?

The ‘post-truth’ undermining of rational evidence and reasoned argument makes it hard to know what to believe.  In the 2016 referendum campaign opinions were presented as facts; truth may be undermined by innuendo or downright falsehood. With climate change for example, doubt is thrown on carefully monitored conclusions by partial studies, in a similar way to how the tobacco lobby fought for years to minimise the harm done by its products. You don’t have to disprove the science: you just have to enable people to ignore it, by giving them an alternative narrative they want to believe, by creating ‘fake news’.

And the same thing is around in the church’s debates on sex. There’s been huge progress made in the scientific understanding of issues around human sexuality over the last 50 years, and there’s much evidence about sexuality to engage with. But that scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily fit with inherited ways of interpreting the Bible: so how do those who feel uncomfortable with the evidence respond?  The Church has been tempted to follow the way of the world: setting up binary splits (e.g. GAFCON), disputing the evidence, finding alternative narratives which undermine credible scientific studies, ignoring the challenges of the experiences of others, refusing to engage with those with whom we disagree.

A presentation at the Church of England’s General Synod in July 2018, about the work of a group reviewing the relationship between scientific understanding and the Church’s views on sexuality, began with reference to St Augustine’s comments on how literalist interpretation of the scriptures (in relation to creation) by some Christians was bringing the faith into disrepute among pagans who knew it didn’t tally with scientific understanding of the world which God had created.  Augustine’s point was that, while the Scriptures are authoritative and contain the truth of God’s salvation in Christ, the way they are interpreted needs to be carefully assessed, in order not to conflict with the truth of God made known in the world around us, the truths of reason.

Just as we no longer insist, for example, that the earth is the centre of a universe surrounded by water, so we need to listen to and engage with the truth of sexuality in the world around us.  We have the ability to understand the human body, the human psyche, the human brain and the human condition better than we’ve ever done before – and we should therefore be open to being challenged about our preconceptions and misguided assumptions. The science doesn’t determine our ethical conclusions, but it will helpfully inform how we should interpret and use the tradition.

That’s why I’m hosting a day in London on December 8th 2018, to help Christians understand more about how science is helping to illuminate our understandings of sexuality. This isn’t a polemical event arguing for change: it’s offering the opportunity to listen across binary divides, to listen to scientific truth which may be uncomfortable, but is the reality of how God’s world is.

A particular example is people who are born intersex, whose sex at birth is ambiguous or uncertain. Because they don’t fit the binary model of what’s ‘normal’, such people have often been forced as children, without their consent, to undergo life-changing surgery. If you’re open-minded enough to encounter four brave young people who don’t ‘fit’ and who may challenge how you think, spend four minutes watching this video:

On December 8th, Sara Gillingham will be sharing her own story about how she has been treated, and Dr Peter Hegarty will be explaining how society has responded to intersex people over time and the harm that has been done to them. We also need to be open to the truth about the significant harm many LGBTI people have suffered over the years, as evidenced by high levels of depression, self harm and suicide. Professionals such as Professor Michael King have been studying this for years – and as Christians we need to hear the facts from his studies, and respond pastorally to them.

Jesus says in John’s Gospel: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.’ Chapters 8 and 9 of John are concerned with ‘fake news’: how good religious people didn’t accept the truth of who Jesus was, because of what they believed should be the case. The religious group they belonged to believed the truth couldn’t be like that, and they were more loyal to their group than to God’s truth.

Jesus doesn’t call these good religious people true believers. He calls them ‘slaves to sin’ and ‘not of God’. Because God is the God of truth, even when the truth doesn’t fit with what we believe should be the case about God. Because not living in God’s truth leads us into sin.

God in Jesus calls us to listen to others, to learn and to love. Are we willing to be challenged by the uncomfortable truth? Or will the Church follow the way of the world and avoid the uncomfortable facts which don’t fit what we want to believe?

For more details about the Faith, Science and Sexuality Conference on December 8th at St John’s Church, Waterloo and to book tickets click here

Posted in Human Sexuality | 2 Comments

Brexit, Sex & Science: Can We Challenge “Fake News”?

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s and Vic Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

David ison 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was listening to an American political commentator on the radio the other day, who was saying that the divisions between two political sides in the USA were getting worse. Neither side is listening to the other; families and friends are divided; each side listens to what it wants to hear. He’d convened focus groups of differing views where within ten seconds people were taking sides, and within five minutes were shouting at each other. ‘Everyone wants to be heard’, he said, ‘but no one is listening.’

On Saturday 20th October there was a big march in London calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit. Three days later I sat at my breakfast table in London listening to the chanting of supporters of Tommy Robinson at the Old Bailey. Two sides, two views, and who is working to reconcile them and to listen to the other? Who will include the excluded, on either side? And what really is the truth?

The ‘post-truth’ undermining of rational evidence and reasoned argument makes it hard to know what to believe.  In the 2016 referendum campaign opinions were presented as facts; truth may be undermined by innuendo or downright falsehood. With climate change for example, doubt is thrown on carefully monitored conclusions by partial studies, in a similar way to how the tobacco lobby fought for years to minimise the harm done by its products. You don’t have to disprove the science: you just have to enable people to ignore it, by giving them an alternative narrative they want to believe, by creating ‘fake news’.

And the same thing is around in the church’s debates on sex. There’s been huge progress made in the scientific understanding of issues around human sexuality over the last 50 years, and there’s much evidence about sexuality to engage with. But that scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily fit with inherited ways of interpreting the Bible: so how do those who feel uncomfortable with the evidence respond?  The Church has been tempted to follow the way of the world: setting up binary splits (e.g. GAFCON), disputing the evidence, finding alternative narratives which undermine credible scientific studies, ignoring the challenges of the experiences of others, refusing to engage with those with whom we disagree.

A presentation at the Church of England’s General Synod in July 2018, about the work of a group reviewing the relationship between scientific understanding and the Church’s views on sexuality, began with reference to St Augustine’s comments on how literalist interpretation of the scriptures (in relation to creation) by some Christians was bringing the faith into disrepute among pagans who knew it didn’t tally with scientific understanding of the world which God had created.  Augustine’s point was that, while the Scriptures are authoritative and contain the truth of God’s salvation in Christ, the way they are interpreted needs to be carefully assessed, in order not to conflict with the truth of God made known in the world around us, the truths of reason.

Just as we no longer insist, for example, that the earth is the centre of a universe surrounded by water, so we need to listen to and engage with the truth of sexuality in the world around us.  We have the ability to understand the human body, the human psyche, the human brain and the human condition better than we’ve ever done before – and we should therefore be open to being challenged about our preconceptions and misguided assumptions. The science doesn’t determine our ethical conclusions, but it will helpfully inform how we should interpret and use the tradition.

That’s why I’m hosting a day in London on December 8th 2018, to help Christians understand more about how science is helping to illuminate our understandings of sexuality. This isn’t a polemical event arguing for change: it’s offering the opportunity to listen across binary divides, to listen to scientific truth which may be uncomfortable, but is the reality of how God’s world is.

A particular example is people who are born intersex, whose sex at birth is ambiguous or uncertain. Because they don’t fit the binary model of what’s ‘normal’, such people have often been forced as children, without their consent, to undergo life-changing surgery. If you’re open-minded enough to encounter four brave young people who don’t ‘fit’ and who may challenge how you think, spend four minutes watching this video:

On December 8th, Sara Gillingham will be sharing her own story about how she has been treated, and Dr Peter Hegarty will be explaining how society has responded to intersex people over time and the harm that has been done to them. We also need to be open to the truth about the significant harm many LGBTI people have suffered over the years, as evidenced by high levels of depression, self harm and suicide. Professionals such as Professor Michael King have been studying this for years – and as Christians we need to hear the facts from his studies, and respond pastorally to them.

Jesus says in John’s Gospel: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.’ Chapters 8 and 9 of John are concerned with ‘fake news’: how good religious people didn’t accept the truth of who Jesus was, because of what they believed should be the case. The religious group they belonged to believed the truth couldn’t be like that, and they were more loyal to their group than to God’s truth.

Jesus doesn’t call these good religious people true believers. He calls them ‘slaves to sin’ and ‘not of God’. Because God is the God of truth, even when the truth doesn’t fit with what we believe should be the case about God. Because not living in God’s truth leads us into sin.

God in Jesus calls us to listen to others, to learn and to love. Are we willing to be challenged by the uncomfortable truth? Or will the Church follow the way of the world and avoid the uncomfortable facts which don’t fit what we want to believe?

Posted in Dean of St Pauls, Human Sexuality, Politics | 3 Comments

Gender Recognition Act – Whose Lives Are Actually At Risk?

by Erika Baker, Convener of the Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook Group

Erika Baker

I have been genuinely shocked by the vitriolic responses to the Government’s consultation on the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) from feminists and from many Christians.

None of the arguments appear to be remotely rational, nor do they have anything to do with the proposed changes.

Radical feminists seem to have developed a concept of what it means to be female that absolutely depends on gender being fixed. Anything that challenges that view challenges their identity.

Concerned Christians base their objections on Genesis, a story that explains that God created male and female, and that can seemingly only be true if the categories are rigid and binary, and if male and female only refers to external physical characteristics.

Even many gay Christians appear to have used the acronym LGBT for decades as a synonym for “gay” and there is an astonishing level of LGB ignorance of trans people and aggression towards them.

As when sexuality is debated, it seems there is virtually no compassion for people who, through no choice of their own, find themselves outside what society considers to be the norm. Instead of looking at the reality trans people are living in, people look at their own fears and blame trans people for finding wholeness through transitioning.

Whenever our gender and sexuality are debated, science and psychology are ignored and trans people’s actual well-being is disregarded. To many people in society, trans people become “mere issues”, and personal belief and irrational fears become the sole arbiters of truth.

The argument that trans people are a threat to society, and to women in particular, tends always to focus on just trans women. Very little is being said about trans men and non-binary people meaning that all the shrill fear and public condemnation is reserved for trans women.

While those fears are definitely real, they are neither legitimate nor well-founded. Many are based on complete ignorance of the current legal situation.

One argument goes like this: ‘What if trans people are suddenly allowed to self-identify and use any toilet they like? What about safe women-only spaces in women’s refuges? Trans women in women prisons?’ The fact that not all trans women have had gender confirming surgery and that some may never want to have surgery seems to add another layer of terror of women with penises allowed to access women-only spaces and abuse “real” women. Or, another argument goes, ‘once trans women are allowed to access women-only spaces, it makes it easier for men to dress up as women to enter those spaces and assault women.’

The moral panic is palpable.

In reality, the proposed changes to the GRA have hardly any effect on trans people’s access to single‑sex facilities and services. The Equality Act of 2010 already legislates for trans people to use facilities and services that are best aligned with their gender identity. This does not depend on having a gender recognition certificate, nor on having had any kind of surgery or medical intervention. Trans people can already change their names, and gender identifier on passports and other documents, with the exception of non-binary people, as there is as yet no non-binary category on official documents. One exception are prisons, where it is harder to be placed in the right estate, although in practice, most cases are assessed on an individual basis.

All that the proposed changes within the Act are aimed at is changing birth certificates without requiring a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and evidence of having lived in the acquired gender for at least two years in the form of bank statements, passports, payslips, utility bills etc. The fact that this evidence must be available before a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued should make it obvious to the “panicking worrieds” that people are already changing their identity and peacefully living trans lives.

People who fear that self-identifying will suddenly open the doors to hostile men in women-only spaces need to realise that trans women have been using female toilets and changing rooms for many years. In order to convince doctors that they should qualify for a Gender Reassignment Certificate, trans people must prove that they have been living in their acquired gender for at least 2 years.

The fact that those who now worry about the changes have felt safe in the past, and that there have been no reports of women being attacked in public toilets by men pretending to be trans women, should help to set minds at rest.

The idea that women’s refuges will no longer be safe is particularly strange. Are we to assume that a man who wanted to attack defenceless women would go to the trouble of obtaining a new birth certificate, when he could far more easily enter a women-only space as a cleaner, electrician, plumber or delivery man?

If we are genuinely concerned about violence, we ought to look at the violence against trans people.

The recent Stonewall trans report makes sobering reading. Rather than being predators, 41% of trans people and 31% of non-binary people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. More than 28% of trans people have faced domestic abuse from a partner. 25% experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. 12% of trans employees have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year. 36% of trans university students in higher education have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of nearly 2.5 million adolescents, found that sexual minority youths have greater risk of life-threatening behaviours compared with their heterosexual and cis peers. Transgender youths are the most affected followed by bisexual and homosexual teens.

THIS is where our fears should be focusing – on the safety of trans people in our society.

Trans people are not the problem –WE are the problem.

Trans people do not threaten us  – it is OUR responses that threaten their physical and mental well-being.

Instead of giving in to our fears and trying to rationalise them,  would it not be better to resolve to find out more and to educate ourselves?

We owe it to our trans siblings to do what we can to create a society in which they are fully included, fully respected, fully safe.

This post has been written with the input of the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, who is a member of the Coordinating Group for Living in Love and Faith and author of This Is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians

Posted in Erika Baker, Human Sexuality, Politics | 9 Comments