LLF – Patience & Pain

by the Venerable Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

How long are LGBT+ Christians expected to carry the painful emotional cost of being part of an unsafe church?

After a break of some 12 years I returned to the Greenbelt Festival in the early 2000s as a newly out gay Christian. I attend a session by a then well-known progressive Church of England Bishop who was talking about human sexuality. In the session he said that LGBT+ Christians should have patience with the church. I said that whilst I understood this, he needed to recognise that it was those of us who identified as LGBT+ that had to bear the painful cost of this patience. He responded by saying that I knew the situation and if I didn’t like it, I could always leave.

November 2020 and after years of reports, General Synod debates and shared conversations, Living in Love and Faith is published and yet another two-year process begins. The heavy and painful cost of this still rests with LGBT+ Christians. As Chair of OneBodyOneFaith, we have taken the line all through the LLF project of recognising some people will want to engage with this and others will not. That some will see it as a way to move forward and others will see it as another tactic to marginalise and exclude. As an organisation we seek to support those who fall into either category.

Having supported the project, I now find the thick book sat on my desk staring at me and I am unable to pick it up and read it. This is not a critique of the material itself but rather a snapshot of what I am feeling and why.

There is a huge issue for me about just how safe this process will be for those of us who are LGBT+. I attended a session with other guests and some of the team who put the LLF material together this last week to introduce it. It was of course online but as I ‘entered’ the online room and looked around I found my anxiety levels increasing. I was in a space with those who have been architects of reports, statements and social media posts that have sought to exclude me and criticise me and my faith as a result of my being an openly gay partnered man. I do not doubt the sincerity of The Bishop of Coventry or his team in trying to create a safe space, but it was simply not safe, and I question whether it can ever be. In these groups I bring more than a theology or an idea or issue, I bring myself. I bring myself, my faith and my loved ones into a space where they can be dissected, examined, and condemned. I am a confident, out gay man with a senior position in the church and despite this here I was in an online room with significant anxiety.

My inability to see how this can be a safe process was underlined a couple of days later when the Church of England Evangelical Council released a 30 minute video called ‘The Beautiful Story’ in which they use very thin theology and some unhealthy arguments to condemn and judge LGBT+ Christians in an inappropriate and condemnatory way. This included members of the group who have worked on the LLF material clearly indicating that they have no intention of listening or engaging at all and thus undermining the whole process. The negative and abusive impact this video has had on a large number of LGBT+ Christians has been significant.

In addition to feeling unsafe I feel patronised.

Throughout the LLF process and in the meeting this week I have heard members of the LLF describe many times the incredible journey they have been on (although clearly not those in the aforementioned video!). I am delighted that they feel this way. For those of us outside it has been and remains deeply costly and painful. Additionally, many, many of us, both LGBT+ Christians and others, made this journey years ago. I have done it; I have worked through what my faith and sexuality mean. I recognise myself as created and beloved by God. I see my sexuality as a gift from God, I am glad I am gay and wouldn’t want it any other way! Yet I am expected to enter into that costly and painful process yet again just because the church has kept kicking the can down the road. I am glad some people feel able to do that – I am not sure that I do.

The world currently faces the worst health crisis in a generation. We are having to deal with a situation none of us could have imagined. The Church is having to adapt in ways we never imagined. My inbox has never had so much in it and my diary has never been so full. I am dealing with levels of unprecedented anxiety in people. Right now, the world needs the church to be offering a better narrative, to be offering hope. That is a challenge, but it needs to be our priority and I see very many Christians, including LGBT+ Christians offering that hope. What the world does not need is for the Church to be making judgemental statements about sex or to be seen to be entering yet another long and protracted conversation about it – it looks very much like ‘Nero fiddling while Rome burns’.

So that is where I am with it. That may change but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. I have tried my best to be hopeful and engaged but I also need to take care of myself, my loved ones and the people I seek to serve as a priest.

So that comment I made to the Bishop at Greenbelt some 20 years ago still stands. The painful and personal cost of this process is still being born by LGBT+ Christians.

And yes, we still have the option to leave but for some bizarre reason God seems to want me to remain. God seems to want me and my wonderful partner of nearly 14 years to be here as part of a loving and affirming parish and diocese. God seems to want me to worship with a diverse bunch of people on an island off the South coast of England. God seems to want me to serve with the fantastic, diverse trustees and members of OneBodyOneFaith in empowering LGBT+ Christians and advocating for change. God seems to want me to see the change which is happening at parishes across the country where people are affirmed and loved whoever they are, a change which the House of Bishops seems unable to see or to acknowledge.

God seems to want me to be part of a community of Hope. That really is a beautiful story.

This entry was posted in Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Peter Leonard, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to LLF – Patience & Pain

  1. Joanne Sturmey says:

    An EXCELLENT article sir!
    I’m profoundly deafened, and in my 56 years the hearing world has improved their attitude to deafness … a bit, but everyday is a battle of varying intensity so yes, sometimes the have to step away for our own well-being, but we cannot escape from it as this is how God has blessed us. We are advocates fighting the ignorance of people who simply cannot comprehend what our lives are like, they cannot see God in us … they cannot see the the love and God IS love, it’s not about us, it’s about them and their attitude as they really cannot see (so many scriptures come to mind).
    I get the name Greta Thunberg repeatedly … maybe you are the Greta of LGBT+ Christians?

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  2. Thank you, Peter. I want to continue to be in the same church as you – and I want that to be an inclusive, loving and affirming, CofE.

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  3. Helen King says:

    Thank you for this. I’m encouraged by the way some LGBTQI+ Christians and allies on Twitter have used the hashtags #beautifulstory and #FaithfullyLGBT to tell their own stories, which are far more ‘beautiful’ than that video. Actually it’s the appearance of alternative resources which makes me see the good points in LLF.

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  4. Patrick Hall says:

    Thank you Peter! You managed to capture exactly what I am feeling, right now and I am sure you speak for many others too.

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  5. I am struggling to respond to the video. It is more painful and personal for me, as two of the bishops who feature heavily in the video are my diocesan and suffragan bishops! I encounter another contributor regularly on Archbishops’ Council. So, yes, I suppose I am also considered pretty senior in the life of the Church of England, and when I joined that Zoom to introduce LLF, and saw the faces of those who have spent much of their ministry in attacking me and you and those like us, I felt the same panic and my anxiety levels rose to a level I have not experienced for some years. (The Shared Conversations at General Synod was the last time.) I am trying to let my anger dissipate before I make my response – I would be too immoderate in my words right now. But you say what I would wish to with characteristic clarity. Thank you.

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  6. Jane Turley says:

    Thank you. Absolutely my reaction too. I worry that the Church is encouraging us to enter their seemingly never ending ‘process’ completely unaware that it is harmful to us.

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  7. Ian Harker says:

    Hi, we need to stay strong. I’m an 82 year old retired Anglian priest, ultra left wing, straight and supported of gay rights from the 70s. I could role play Christian anti-gay statements and have ‘dialogued’ til the cows come home. But personally I am not going to allow bishop etc to marginalise me, to stick me in a corner where I will stop being a nuisance. SO stray strong!

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  8. rainbirdblog says:

    That is very well said, Peter. Thank you x

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  9. Gareth Wardell says:

    I found this video deeply depressing. It took me back to when I was one of a panel of four (which included Ed Shaw, who appears in the CEEC video) speaking to the College of Bishops in September 2014, prior to the start of the Pilling ‘Listening Process’. Now here we are again as a church, some six years later, but no further forward, while looking increasingly reactionary and irrelevant to most young people who are repelled by all this. I’m also struck by the way +Jill Duff is willing to support a (re-) interpretation of Scripture to support her God-given calling to be a Priest and a Bishop, whilst denying others the right to be who God has made them. I also note wryly that none of them seem to be making much of a fuss about the heterosexual male bishops who have been divorced and re-married – of whom there are now several. Funny that! I guess most of all it grieves me that people can take the wonderful, superlative good news of the Gospel and make of it such stupendously bad news!

    I would be interested to know whether the LLF process has given any thought to the specifics of Pastoral Care for LGBTI families and how they are spoken about and referred to within the wider church. As I watched the CEEC video I found myself thinking about a number of friends in same-sex marriages who have children. By way of illustration, one of these couples have adopted two siblings, who had a very difficult start in life, who were removed from their birth parents and then ineptly handled by social services in a couple of foster placements. Suffice it to say, social-services were not exactly inundated with interest from opposite-sex couples keen to adopt them. They have done an absolutely incredible job with them and both siblings are now doing well. This family are active members of their local church where one of the couple has served as a Church Warden, in addition to running the Youth Group and various other church activities. Both children have been baptised and confirmed. So… how would +Jill Duff, +Julian Henderson and others who participated in this video like this family to be described by the Church? Are they to be described as: A fake family? A pretend family? A sinful family? A family that is (to use a smug little phrase beloved by some in the church) ‘less than God’s best’? Or may be in some other way? If their parents’ marriage is not considered worthy of being blessed, would Bishops Jill and Julian be willing to explain why not, face-to-face, to these young people, both now teenagers? Do they really imagine their video will do anything to help young people like them feel the wider church is a safe place, when it treats their parents so shamefully?

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  10. Paul Pritchard says:

    Thank you for this article Peter. I’m a final year ordinand training part time and facing a ‘virtual’ residential weekend starting this evening which focusses on marriage. Same sex marriage is on the agenda and like you I am a confident, out gay man with a wonderful partner of many years but in my gut I feel like a child facing the first day at school again….. I have no doubt that my colleagues will be loving and many even affirming but still it feels grim. Your words have really helped.

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  11. Pingback: Another Response to ‘Living in Love and Faith’ | Kiwianglo's Blog

  12. Howard Wilkie says:

    This whole mess is entirely of the church’s own making. Jesus does not call us to spread partisan dogma, but to share the love of our caring God,who created every one of us in His own image. It seems that so much of the church has, like the rest of society, become obsessed with sex. Our calling is not to make new Christians, let alone ones that believe and act as we do. If only we learned that Christ’s commission to His people is to go and tell (“use words only if necessary”) and let the Holy Spirit do His job, that of conversion and direction of how to live. Maybe then the labelling and judgement would disappear as we all learn to accept and love people as they are. Judging others, on whatever grounds is God’s job, not ours.

    Jesus warned his followers not to judge others. He also, in that amazing prayer just before his crucifixion, pleaded that the church should “be as one”; These bitter fights between ourselves make a mockery of His hopes for the Church. Peter, it is none of my business whether you are gay or straight, or even support the wrong football team or like the wrong music! You are my brother in Christ and I look forward to your continued and blessed ministry here on the Isle of Wight.

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  13. fr David `ingledew says:

    Peter Thank You for your reflection and heartfelt response. As a retired priest of the last forty two years the message of my sexuality still being reflected upon since 1978 does not give me hope.
    I give thanks for my civil partner, supportive family and friends both straight and gay. Gratitude for my Christian brothers and sisters who celebrated alongside us in our Civil Partnership Thanksgiving Service a few years ago. But hope the C of E will surprise me and provide a positive response in LLF rather than ambivalent avoidance for another forty two Years!

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