by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found it almost impossible to get through William Nye’s response to the the Episcopal Church of America (regarding their request to understand the impact of their decision to trial liturgical rites for same-sex marriage) without wanting to scream!
It seems extraordinary to me that after all that has happened – the extensive Shared Conversations, voting not to “Take Note” of the House of Bishops’ Report, Conversion Therapy bans and decisions to welcome for our Transgender friends – that members of Church House staff could still churn out such an unbalanced and inflammatory letter.
It also seems incredulous that whilst it is eight pages long, it neither mentions the significant level of dissent that exists within the Church of England nor the growing concerns over the need for appropriate pastoral care of the LGBT community given the Church’s current discriminatory stance on this issue.
What were “they” thinking?! Indeed, who are “they”?
The honest answer is that we are never too sure.
Given the lack of transparency it can often seem like “shadowy figures who attempt to play God” (excuse the pun). Puppet masters who write long policy documents and then try to “get them through” Archbishops’ Council and Synod. The very language that is often used bears witness to the fact that these instruments of accountability are seen as obstacles to navigate through rather than opportunities for considered discussion and dissent.
Back in the days when I was on the Archbishops’ Council, I remember resigning myself to the fact that any minutes of our meetings would only ever reflect the points that those “in the central offices” wanted to hear. Any murmurs of dissent or awkward questions raised were usually always whitewashed out of the record, a case of selective amnesia by those who wished us all to sing from a monotone hymn sheet.
And so the establishment just rumbles on, regardless of what the people it is there to serve are actually saying. It is what I meant when I stated in a speech to Synod last February that the Church has become a Hobbesian Leviathan – a beast that bears no resemblance to the people of which it is constituted.
Indeed, I remember once trying to hold Archbishops’ Council staff to account for taking action on a certain matter that we as a Council had agreed, after some discussion at its previous meeting, should not be taken. The answer was simple – the Council had “made the wrong decision” as they were not aware of all the facts, and therefore the decision was taken to proceed anyway! What worried me most was that no one else seemed that concerned about this blatant disregard for process.
We see the living proof of this mindset yet again in this letter sent by the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council. Despite being someone who is meant to act as an executive of the Council, he somehow forgot to inform them all of a critically important document that he had written on their behalf.
Surely enough is enough!
If IICSA has shown us anything, it is that the “age of deference” – where those in positions of power should never be questioned – has now ended.
It is time for the Church to be honest about the state it is in, not the state that it wishes it was in – or (if it closes its eyes, puts its fingers in its ears) believes that it is still in.
The truth is that otherwise it will not be about “the state that it is in”, but rather “the state that it is out of”.
Disestablishment can only be the direction of travel for a Church that is meant to serve the whole people of Britain but is hell bent on serving just a closeted few. Parliament is watching, and their frustration is mounting.
Others, have explained in some depth what is fundamentally wrong with Nye’s letter. A quick look in this week’s Church Times will show a range of letters written on behalf of significant groups of people within the Church.
So what should we do?
The first step, I would suggest, is to send a more accurate and representative letter to our TEC cousins, which simply says:
Mr Nye has mistakenly sent the wrong letter to you regarding your invitation to comment on how your provision of same-sex marriage rites has affected the Church of England.
The one which the majority of us (according to research surveys on attitudes to same-sex marriage amongst English Anglicans) expected him to send simply says:
“Thank you for leading the way on this important issue. We are grateful that you have recognised that not all married couples can have children and that a gender-neutral approach will enable us to become a loving and inclusive Church for all. We still have a few problems to sort out over here with those who keep threatening to leave, but we know that your actions have given great hope to thousands and shown that the Church is not as homophobic as it can sometimes appear.”
We therefore want to publicly “dissociate” ourselves from Mr Nye’s initial response and are expecting “stringent consequences” as a result of his actions.