by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Member of General Synod (writing in a personal capacity)
The shocking results of the 2018 National Faith & Sexuality Survey have it seems caused quite a stir – in the media at least.
Of greatest concern to many is the high level of mental health issues – including attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts – suffered by those who are LGBQ+ and who have undergone attempts at so called “conversion therapy”. The fact that over half of these respondents admitted to being 18 or under at the time makes this an urgent safeguarding issue. I say “conversion therapy” although this is of course the very antithesis of actual “therapy” – horrifically 22 respondents bravely indicated they had been subject to “forced sexual activity with someone of the opposite sex”.
Can it be right that this is allowed to happen? Of course not. But it does.
So what of the Church’s response? Indeed, what of the Church of England’s response?
For an answer we must turn to the Pastoral Advisory Group, a group set up by the Archbishops back in February 2017 and chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, with a remit “to produce a set of pastoral principles for pastoral ministry among LGBTI+ people”. They have just presented their work to Synod in the form of a set of resources – “Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together” – which is framed around “six pervading evils that are a bar to good pastoral practice – prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy and misuse of power”. Within the resource pack, these six evils have been turned into six principles, which each seek to address six specific questions, or challenges, that start “Can it be right….?”
It is good to see these evils named, owned and recognised. To have the unanimous support of the House of Bishops is no mean feat. They will have been hard won, even if they are completely obvious to those of us who have lived with these evils for most of our lives. I want to warmly welcome them as an important first step on the path to ensuring the required shift in culture in many of our churches, which will provide a much needed resource to enable people to “break the silence” and start discussions within their PCCs and worshipping communities.
As one of the 458 respondents from the National Faith & Sexuality Survey who has sadly been through conversion therapy I did however find myself asking – will this resource address the serious safeguarding issues we ourselves have faced? I fear sadly that the answer is “no”. It is a first step – but much more will need to be done to ensure that the vulnerable are sufficiently protected and that this barbaric practice is stamped out.
Having named the evils, I believe the second urgent step has therefore to be that the “Living in Love and Faith” (LLF) group (including the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG)) has the courage to honestly ask whether they themselves are guilty of these very evils?
Personally, I believe they are guilty on all six counts:
Principle 1 – Can it be right that anyone fails to explore her or his own prejudices?
What of the prejudices that appear to exist that have ensured that none of the known leaders, past or present, of the large LGBTI+ Christian organisations are formally involved in the LLF process, of which the PAG is a part? Many of us are current members of Synod – we could easily have been appointed and in doing so this would have given a clear signal to the LGBTI+ community that LGBTI+ voices would be actively sought, heard and respected. It would have given concrete proof that the Church actually meant it when it told us “never again will we talk about you without you”.
Principle 2- Can it be right for our church communities to promote a culture of silence – whether consciously or subconsciously – about matters relating to sexuality and gender?
Of course on the surface the outcomes from the LLF process are totally focused on breaking this silence. But what of the silence that has been enforced on Synod in the mean time? The silence that means we can no longer debate? The silence that means we have shelved Private Members Motions? The silence that comes from managing Synod so closely that many feel we are being muzzled even gagged?
Principle 3 – Can it be right that some with pastoral responsibility in the Church are so often ignorant of what it is like to be LGBTI+?
With no intersex representation and minimal known lesbian representation involved with the groups, the ignorance levels amongst most of the working groups is extraordinarily high. To make matters worse, there is no one within the Pastoral Advisory Group who has any experience of what it is to be a LGBTI+ (as opposed to “same-sex attracted”) evangelical with experience of coming out in a church where they have suffered from years of conversion therapy and abuse. No one with the experience of having to leave their church, their family and their friends behind. No one with experience of having to take on the wrath of their church leaders and face them down. No one with the experience of suffering the problems so clearly set out in the survey. Significant representations were made by synod members to request this, but the answer we received was that the group couldn’t possibly hold “all minority views”! Minority views? Surely the primary focus of the PAG should be to ensure that the most vulnerable in our churches get the pastoral support and protection that they so urgently require?!
Principle 4 – Can it be right that people live in fear of one another in our churches?
Fear is rife throughout the whole LLF and PAG process. However it appears to many of us “on the outside” that it is fear of schism rather than “fear of another LGBTI+ person getting hurt or taking their life” that is paramount. Surely the fear should be that of failing to protect the vulnerable and weak? Instead it appears that it is about trying to maintain “unity at all costs”. Please let us not be under any disillusionment here, “at all cost” means risking the lives of those who feel unrepresented and unheard, and who feel they are being treated as an acceptable level of “collateral damage”.
Principle 5 – Can it be right that there are situations where people who might wish to be open about their sexual orientation feel forced to dissemble, or where parishes find themselves evading issues of sexuality?
This question is surely very close to home for many involved in the process, who are themselves subject to this particular evil of “fear”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who are actually LGBTI+ within the LLF and PAG groups could actually all feel able to be open about the fact that they are LGBTI+? What’s more, given they have no idea what it is like to come out in the Church, to go through the trauma of that and them come through to the other side, it is difficult to know how they can accurately speak for those of us who have. They are perpetuating this Principle, even if they have had the honesty to name it.
Principle 6 – Can it be right that pastoral encounters still take place without awareness of disparities of power?
“Disparities of power” are rife between those involved in the process and those of us who aren’t. I wonder whether they have any idea what it is to read this as someone who feels frozen out of the process by the powers that be? Do they have any sense of what it is like to be subject to a process in which we have little say yet which will ultimately affect our future happiness and those of the people we pastor, who look to us for leadership and support? Disparities of power?! Being LGBTI+ on synod and watching heterosexuals openly debate us without giving us a voice is one of the most painful things I have ever had to endure. But endure it we do – despite all the odds.
I will be honest and say I wrote one word on my notepad during the Synod presentation. It was in big, bold letters across my page. Those sitting next to me saw it and nodded. It said quite simply:
Until those involved with the process themselves learn to model what they preach, what hope is there that anyone beyond the synod chamber will do so too?
Can it be right that this is allowed to happen?
Of course not. But it does. My prayer is that having named the evils and created the principles they will now have the courage to implement them themselves.