by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia and Director of the Global Commission on LGBT+ Lives
It has been very interesting reading the various responses from a range of bishops around the world to my invitation to them, and to other faith leaders, to sign our Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Live’s recent Declaration.
This Declaration is boldly entitled “Declaring the Sanctity of Life and the Dignity of All” because that in essence is what this whole project is about: it declares that all lives are sacred, and that all should be treated with dignity. We wrote it – with input from our Inter-Religious Advisory Board – in such a way that we hoped no religious leader could have a problem with it. Surely we could agree that, independent of our theological views on LGBT relationships, LGBT+ people should have the right to life and that they should be treated with dignity…?
After all, there are 72 countries around the world where LGBT+ are still at risk of being locked up, and 11 where we are at risk of being put to death – purely for being found to gay or lesbian. It is sadly an even higher number (at least 15 countries) for those who are transgender. As we know all too well, there are a far larger number of countries – including the UK – where conversion therapy is still legal. So we hoped that religious leaders would want to join forces and speak out against the practices that have been classed as torture by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.
But of course it wasn’t that easy.
It was fascinating to see the critical role of leadership here. In Canada, where Archbishop Linda Nicholls was one of the first to sign, many other Canadian bishops immediately followed suit. Similarly, in Scotland and Wales. I’m thrilled to say that we now have 10 Archbishops, 9 from within the Anglican Communion, who have signed – the most recent being the Archbishop of Norway, Rt Revd Olav Tveit (the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches).
It was just as fascinating to see the excuses that many came up with for not signing.
I will be honest and say, without breaching any confidences, that these letters from known allies made me very angry. Did they still not get the power differential at play between those in power to change things and those with none, who tragically fall prey to draconian regimes? Did they still not understand the lives that were being lost, often because no one was speaking out into the silence? Did they still think this was about appeasing their conservative friends, so as not to risk losing them – whilst at the same time they were losing countless others?
Interestingly, this became the focus of the discussion towards the end of our final session of our Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives conference on Wednesday. The conversation came as a result of a typically bold and honest comment in the Zoom chat from Bishop Alan Wilson:
“I think it’s a fear of aggression that is holding things back more than anything else in the Church of England, and we really need to stop throwing LGBT people under the bus to try and placate them”
Archbishop Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, had just shared how his relationships with other ecumenical partners had in fact strengthened after their General Synod had taken the decision to allow same-sex marriages. He said that whilst there had been some initial anxiety that they might become isolated, the reality was that they hadn’t been. Instead he said that in Scotland “they were in better relationship with other ecumenical churches than they had been for many many years”. He admitted that there were some who still struggled as they didn’t like what had happened, but he added that hadn’t been excluded from anywhere. Instead, he found that people wanted to have a conversation and hear what he had to say.
Reflecting on this, Rabbi Laura said: “yes we are frightened of aggression, which is the other side of anxiety – anxiety and aggression/anger are either sides of the same coin.” She then went on to ask:
“How do you flip the coin of anger and aggression so that people can express their anxieties? How do you vaccinate (people) against aggression?”
Archbishop Mark’s answer was unequivocal: “the only way you can do this is in relationship”.
He recognised that whilst there were indeed people who did not want to speak to him, he had decided to just keep on talking to them anyway. As he explained, “it’s very difficult to maintain anger with someone you are in relationship with, with someone who wants to keep talking to you”.
And the learning from this?
Well, as Bishop Paul concluded – he hoped he could play this recording to other bishops and show them that “it is not the end of the world to say what you think!”
So, faith leader, what do you think? Will you sign our Declaration? Others have.
You can do so publicly or privately – just click here!