by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of Via Media News and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
Most of you, I’m sure, will be more than aware of the events of the last few weeks when we have had pronouncements by men (and, of course, a few women) in power in the Church of England regarding the place of sex in a loving relationship for those with seemingly little or no power in the Church. The House of Bishops’ rather ironically named “Pastoral Statement” coldly set out the supposedly immutable fact that “sexual relationships outside of marriage fall short of God’s purposes for human beings”, just don’t tell the Holy Spirit, Mary and of course, Joseph. (Brackets, the Holy Spirit did tell Joseph, but that’s another story). And so, in one spectacular move we managed virtually overnight to upset millions whose lives do not conform to the way that those in religious power in our Church believe that they should.
Similarly, we have had a week where two seemingly all-powerful men – Prince Andrew and Harvey Weinstein – have been publicly questioned about what their victims claim were abusive sexual relationships, based on fear and power. Both of course, like Jack Profumo in his famous speech in the House of Commons, deny all such charges. To which, I can’t help reminding myself of the infamous words of Mandy Rice Davies when informed in court about the denial of Lord Astor to her claims of an affair: “Well he would, wouldn’t he!”.
Love, sex and power.
You see, abuse is rife in our Church – and what makes me so angry is that it is so often perpetrated by the very people who pronounce from their pulpits the very same words stated in the House of Bishops’ “pastoral statement” – that sex is for marriage between a man and a woman.
This, for me, goes to the heart of the issue. The deep levels of hypocrisy that exist amongst certain church leaders – and I for one want to say, enough!
I believe it’s time to end this hypocritical charade. It’s time for some honesty and some plain straight speaking. Quite frankly, it’s time now for some remorse and where necessary, apologies with real commitments to change.
I am surely not alone in being angered at hearing people pronounce cold, legalistic statements regarding our sex lives rather than our love lives. Do you know that the Bishops’ Pastoral Statement did not mention “love” once, save in mentioning the forthcoming Living in Love and Faith report? Such statements come without an ounce of pastoral sensitivity or understanding of the hurt that they cause millions – who understand far better than we, the Church, it seems, that it’s not who you love but how you love that matters.
What’s more, I’m angered by the duplicity and hypocrisy of certain men – and yes, they normally are men – who talk about the sanctity of marriage, while they themselves live such very different lives. Those who hide behind a smiling public face, but whose personal lives tell quite a different story.
We saw it with Peter Ball. However, as I’ve already touched on, it’s not just retired bishops who are guilty here. It is people serving in our churches now.
Many years ago, quite separately to the rape incident I talked about earlier, I naively found myself in a married conservative evangelical’s bedroom whilst away on Church business. I had foolishly accepted his invitation to continue our discussion from earlier that evening in his room over a drink. I wasn’t at all prepared for his advances (as he now knows, given I’ve since come out!). It ended with me having to push him off me as he lay on top of me tickling me, despite my protests. I was sickened and ashamed. I still am. He has never apologised, but he does keep pronouncing about sex being only between a man and a woman in marriage.
I’m not sure which is worse – the abuse I suffered that night or the hypocrisy of hearing him constantly pronounce his views on this subject, knowing what I do.
This type of hypocrisy surely must end.
There are so many of us who know full well that we have leaders who preach one thing and practice something completely different. Especially when it comes to sex. We have leaders who are married and have affairs. We have leaders who make unwanted passes and comments to those they work with and whom they pastor. We have leaders who are gay but won’t admit it – who then have sex with someone of the same sex – and then chastise those who work for them, who are in openly gay relationships, for doing the same.
It is a despicable abuse of power by those who believe that their only sin is getting caught. So, they get away with it because they can, because of the power they hold and exert over those in their charge. And many of us in the Church know about it and feel powerless to stop it.
None of us, of course, are guiltless – indeed we all fall short of what God expects from us at times. But that is why we need to be far more humble, pastoral and sensitive about how we, those of us in positions of power – whether actual power or perceived power, speak out about these things.
Our nation is, I believe, totally bewildered by an institution that exists supposedly to promote the unconditional love of God, and yet is so judgemental and hypocritical in the way that some of its leaders speak out about it and model it in their own lives.
It’s time for change.
It’s time to challenge the hypocrisy and speak out about abuse of power.
It’s time, I believe, that we developed a healthy positive Biblical understanding of the fact that God made us all sexual human beings.
More importantly, we need to learn to speak about sex in the context, always, of love – of loving, faithful committed relationships – in all their diverse forms.
Friends, the Church needs to recognise that sex is not the competition!
It is part of who we are. It is part of how God has made us. It is a gift from God, which when enjoyed in a loving faithful relationship between two equals helps us understand the true nature of Christ’s union with His Church.
For God lives in relationship, always. It’s so simple and yet so profound.
Would that we, the Church, were able to teach, embrace and celebrate it!
The full version of the speech can be read here.