by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, an LGBT member of the co-ordinating group for the Living in Love and Faith project
It’s been a pretty tumultuous and painful week. All sorts of people have been affected. A friend of mine was deeply upset by the Statement (I won’t call it ‘Pastoral’), both because of the way it seemed to speak to heterosexual couples outside marriage – she had never heard the Church’s current position expressed with such coldness – and because of its calamitous effect on the Church’s mission.
My own feelings were of betrayal – betrayal of process and of my personal position as an LGBTI+ member of the Church who is deeply committed to preaching a gospel of welcome, not fear, and who wants the Church to speak from a position where nobody is treated as an outsider.
I have heard a great deal of contrition from the College of Bishops and from the Archbishops and I am grateful for that. I hope it will help us to move on. But I also have a strong sense that the underlying causes for the publication of the Statement have only just begun to be addressed. I have had very recent conversations with bishops who remain dismayed by the Church’s way of being: still, deep down, dominated by a world-view which feels white, male and patriarchal in its teaching on sexuality and relationships. Women still find it hard to be heard. There is still a huge problem with BAME representation. There is only one out LGBTI+ bishop.
The deep regret about the publication of the Statement, and the acceptance of responsibility by the Archbishops, is welcome.
But I wish the apology had said more to truly acknowledge the effect of the tone and content. I wish the Statement could have been withdrawn. I fully understand that it simply expresses the Church’s current position, but it does so in such a horrible way. Perhaps the fact that it is still there points up even more urgently the huge task ahead of us: it’s like a heap of manure in the middle of the road that we will have to continue to walk past until we can find a way of removing it.
I am very concerned about the way this will impact on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. I am anxious about the hopes placed in it, almost as though LLF is a panacea that will get us out of jail free. It ain’t gonna happen like that! LLF is hard work, demanding real commitment and real openness across the board. It’s about relationships, and love, and joy, and gift, and all the things so conspicuously absent from the Statement.
So, what now?
I think there are at least four things that need to happen.
- We need to know what the Bishops’ commitment to the LLF process actually means. On Wednesday the College of Bishops was divided into small groups, and in those groups people were encouraged to speak openly and truly about their feelings and about where they are on these issues. I understand that many groups produced good and honest conversations. Will they enable and encourage that to be replicated across Synod and the Dioceses in the coming year?
- To do that, we need a substantive debate at the July Synod. One of the reasons for the rejection of GS2055 was the perception that it was completely top down. The House needs to trust Synod to have a constructive conversation, having used the LLF materials in small groups, so that the process can be commended to the whole Church by the House of Bishops and the General Synod. If that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to see how it can bring about any meaningful change.
- LLF needs to be owned by the whole Church, conservative and progressive. I have been linked with the process since the start, and through it I have developed a better and deeper understanding of 1 Corinthians 12.21: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, I do not need you.’ I am working again with Andrew Goddard, with whom some readers of this blog will remember I had a correspondence many years ago. We are friends. We want to find ways for each other to flourish in the Church, in accordance with the Pastoral Principles. We need to hear that from conservatives and progressives: it is better to walk together than apart. What will the cost of that be, to both sides? And how do we acknowledge honestly the pain and damage which the current situation is causing?
- When LLF is launched, in June, it needs to be launched with generosity and humility from those in leadership. The resources which are on their way are, in many ways, remarkable. Many people have been extraordinarily generous with their time and their selves, being willing to participate in films about their lives and faith, writing and speaking honestly in an attempt to help the Church move on. They deserve our thanks and our honouring.
LLF is about relationships and about how we try to live in love and faith. As I write this I am on my way to media training in preparation for its launch. My earnest prayer is that, when it finally does emerge into the light of day, the Church’s message is along these lines:
We commit to listen, and to learn, and to share with one another. We know that we cannot continue as we are. The Gospel is too precious for us to keep hurting it as we have. We are, as a Church and as faithful Christians, on a journey. We aren’t sure where we will end up: but we trust God and ask for the Spirit’s help in travelling together.
Then, perhaps, we will begin to discover what ‘radical, new, Christian inclusion’ looks like. Perhaps we will begin to be able to speak with as much integrity about gender, marriage, sexuality and relationships as we are beginning to be able to speak about the other huge issue of the day, climate change.
I know that many readers of this blog are hoping for much more, much more quickly, from the Church. I share those hopes and, having been working on this for 25 years, I have many times nearly reached the point of opting out. I wish we could have had these conversations twenty years ago.
Many have asked me why I continue with LLF.
My answer is simple: because I really don’t see another way forward, other than the endless back and forth that we have been stuck with for so long, or a deep and hurtful split.
This feels like our last, best hope for a better Church and so I am doing all I can to try to help that to happen. I am grateful for all the prayers for those of us directly in the process: and pray that, as LLF is rolled out, we will all begin to learn and speak better of Jesus, of God’s love, and of the Spirit.