Wise Leadership: Needed Now More Than Ever!

by the Ven Elizabeth Adekunle, Archdeacon of Hackney

Our leadership matters now more than ever, as we look to our leaders to steer us through these choppy and unpredictable waters. The world has been faced with grave uncertainty because of Covid-19 and there are questions around how leaders manage the effects of a pandemic they cannot control. We have seen first-hand the legislative decisions that leaders across the world have made in response to the spread of the virus, and this has led to comparisons about effective leadership.

In addition to this uncertainty, the world watched on their screens the murder of George Floyd during lockdown and the subsequent protests and stories of injustice and discrimination that emerged. Despite lockdown many felt empowered by ‘Black Lives Matter’ to protest and to ask leaders to confront and address the racial discrimination within our structures and institutions.

If this was not enough uncertainty, add to the list the future leadership of the United States. The turnout of voters this year has vastly surpassed the number who voted in the 2016 election. One reason for the increase is likely, in part, to the gradual expansion of voting rights but another more important reason, relates to the desperate desire for good judgement and wise leadership in an environment that seems overwhelmingly divided. The likelihood is that we will know the results later today and the outcome of this contested presidential election may well lead to anger, frustration and violence.

How our leaders lead and implement change in this moment in time, affects us in ways that leadership has not dealt with in recent history. It seems crucial therefore that our leaders have the right tools to take on this immense level of power and responsibility.

The bible offers key teachings, not only about the dangers of the allure of leadership, but about wise affective leadership. The Hebrew scriptures aptly refer to these books as Wisdom Literature. These five books deal precisely with our human struggles and real-life experiences. Armed with prayer and quiet reflection, within these pages we see nuggets and insights in to how to be wise. For example, Proverbs 8:12 says “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.”

In the New testament we see the practical application of such leadership in the mission and service of Jesus; in his trial and death. Jesus exhibits a counter-culture style of leadership that is not based on ego and progression but rather on humility and integrity. A list of qualities and characteristics can be found in the nine Fruits of the Spirit; all of which help to develop wise judgement.

Biblical teachings are ongoing tools in an unpredictable world, in which God’s reflective wisdom is needed during times of trial and times of temptation, so that leaders do not pretend. The 1662 book of Common prayer offers these wise words:

“Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain the same by his infinite goodness and mercy”.

Wisdom can and should be nurtured, for wisdom brings good judgement, altruism, a perspective beyond the individual and an understanding of the power that leadership can wield, both positive and negative. Leadership can bring out the best and the worst in those who step up to the challenge. Therefore, recognising this and holding in tension these extremes is crucial for good clear judgement.

In a world that demands immediacy and is often unreasonable and unwilling to see the opinion of others, or indeed the bigger picture, or the longer view it takes wise leadership not be to seduced by those that shout the loudest, or miss the voices of the ‘least of these’ and the crucial discernment process that comes from listening to others and learning from others.

Nelson Mandela in his biography Long Walk to Freedom equated a great leader with a Shepherd, Mandela said, “He stays behind the flock, letting the nimblest go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”.

To lead wisely means to recognise that one does not have all the answers and cannot and will not know everything. Wise leadership involves a collective group of people with different gifts and skills in which different people at different times, depending on their strengths, or ‘nimbleness’ come forward to steer the group in the best direction. Mandela’s metaphor also hints at the strength and agility of a group that does not have to wait for and then respond to a command from (the front), the one in charge. That kind of agility is more likely to be developed by a group when a leader conceives of his/her role as creating the opportunity for collective leadership, as opposed to merely setting the direction that all should follow.

Wise leadership can be counter-cultural, in fact a leader may represent traits that are the opposite of what the world has been trained to see its leaders do and say. There are times when great leadership means letting go of what others, including one’s seniors, perceive one’s actions ought to be as a leader. Jesus is a good example of this. Wise leadership will inevitably involve God’s commandment to love and an understanding of the long view.

The wise leader understands that purposeful work is essential to human dignity and human flourishing and the immediacy of the short-term solution often does not create lasting impact.

Let us pray therefore that we will have the courage to recognise and appoint wise leaders that can contemplate the long view and hold them to account in order to make the world a fairer more just place

Archdeacon Liz will be in discussion with Cardinal Tagle on November 2nd 2020 for the first of the Autumn Westminster Abbey lecture series on ‘Wise Leadership’. The talk will be available on YouTube shortly.


Posted in Coronavirus, Elizabeth Adekunle, Politics, Racism, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Covid, LLF and the Power of “Lived Experience”

by the Revd Canon Timothy Goode, Rector of St Margaret’s, Lee, Disability Adviser to the Diocese of Southwark and Member of General Synod

‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God’.[1]

On the 8th October Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored the concept of ‘lived experience’ and agreed that, taken solely on its own, ‘lived experience’ is an unreliable position for moral authority, as it leaves itself open to manipulation by our unconscious and conscious biases.

However the panel admitted that when matched with rigorous and careful reflection, drawing into a deeper empathy with those with similar narratives, ‘lived experience’ acquires a legitimate moral agency that has the power to change attitudes and transform lives.  The program concluded that ‘Lived Experience’ speaks particularly powerfully when it states that ‘there is only so much we can do unless we have a voice at the table.’

Within this context ‘lived experience’ becomes a plea from the powerless to the powerful. Compare Donald Trump’s recent responses to his ‘lived experience’ of Covid-19 to the rallying cry from the ‘lived experience’ of disabled people. ‘Not about us without us’ becomes a direct plea to the powerful to listen and respond to the narratives of those who are being disabled by the very people who hold power and influence.

Although the Church of England’s new teaching document ‘Living in Love and Faith’ reflects on the lived experience of many within the LGBTI community, am I alone in wishing that the writers of LLF had had the opportunity, before going to publication, to hear and reflect on the lived experiences of the powerless in this pandemic?  For this pandemic is robbing many of the very action that is the LLF’s elephant in the room, namely physical intimacy.

People with serious underlying health issues have had to shield from their sexual partner, mirroring the lived experience of many for whom this is their daily existence. Others have found themselves geographically separated from their sexual partner due to lockdown. As previously stated in Savi Hensman’s Via Media blog on “life without closeness” this pandemic has forced us to step back from embracing or shaking hands, all but robbing us of a vital part of our humanity and that loss has hurt us profoundly.

It is within this context that I have been reflecting on my recent lived experience of being shielded, cut off physically from family and friends, and in particular having to live socially distanced from my wife for two weeks at the beginning of lockdown.

As a physically disabled person I experience physical intimacy as a gift of immense grace. To offer myself completely to my wife, emotionally, spiritually and physically; for that offer not only to be received but desired and for that offer to be reciprocated in kind, has been for us a perpetual manifestation of God’s love and grace. For to offer oneself so completely to another is an act of risk and vulnerability, one which opens us to the possibility of rejection and immense hurt, but also the possibility of profound transformation and healing.

Being desired so completely by my wife has confirmed and affirmed that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God. Physical intimacy continues to be for us a gift and vital sign of the vulnerable, selfless and graceful love of God.

Bernie and I do not have children and our sexual relationship is not open to the procreation of children and yet there is nothing about our experience of physical intimacy that in anyway falls short of God’s purposes, but rather continues to be an ongoing sharing of grace that has drawn us both into a deeper and closer relationship with each other and with the incarnate God; the Word made Flesh; the Risen Body, both fully divine and fully human that invites us to gaze upon the open wounds of Christ and respond ‘My Lord and my God’.[2]

That two weeks at the start of lockdown, when self-distancing denied both of us the possibility to be physically intimate, afforded me the gift of a glimpse of what the Church of England demands of clergy living in loving committed same sex relationships.

For the Church to demand that others are denied the experience of physical intimacy; to deny the possibility of offering oneself completely – emotionally, spiritually and physically – to the one they love and to deny that offer being reciprocated – all whilst denying them and their life partner a covenantal relationship with God, is to deny the graceful action of God and to fall desperately short of God’s purpose. 

It is the action of a powerful Church, selecting and predisposing particular passages of scripture to the judgmental pronouncements of the powerful over the powerless. In doing so ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has all but robbed LGBTI clergy of a vital part of our shared humanity and it has hurt them and the Church profoundly.

Many Christians respond with ‘you cannot bless a sin’ and I agree with them.

‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has not been a blessing for the Church of England, because it has denied God’s graceful action and therefore colluded with sin. ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has brought about serious safeguarding issues which the church can no longer ignore; for its pronouncements deny and abuse God’s purposes within loving relationships, profoundly impacting on the mental health of so many LGBTI Christians and denying the opportunity for the church to be for them a sacred place of safety and sanctuary.

My ardent prayer is that through the upcoming publishing of LLF and the conversations that ensue, the Church becomes a blessing rather than a barrier for LGBTI Christians, a Church that truly listens and responds to the lived experiences of the powerless, transforming fully into the Body of Christ, leaving no one behind –  a true agent of God’s grace, living out the Gospel clarion cry:  ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God’.

[1] The First Letter of St John, Chapter 4, verse 7

[2] Gospel of John, 20 verse 28

Posted in Disability, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Tim Goode | Leave a comment

Collusion, Hypocrisy & the Greasy Pole to Success

by Dr Charlie Bell, Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge and ordinand at St Augustine’s College of Theology

For those with ears to hear, the past few weeks have highlighted a very clear theme in the abuse scandal in the Church of England, whether that be in the IICSA report or the Diocese of Oxford’s review into the murder of a gay churchwarden of a ‘conservative’ church: it’s almost a truism – to quote Oxford’s review, ‘while people continue to feel forced to hide or lie about their sexuality, they can become vulnerable to exploitation’.

The topic has been covered in an excellent blog by Prof Helen King on this site, yet the silence from the Church of England’s authorities is deafening. The Bishop of Oxford may have said that this was a ‘clarion call for improvements to our work on LGBTI+ inclusivity’, yet where have the great statements of repentance been from the House of Bishops?

Same-sex spouses continue to be excluded from the Lambeth Conference, and meanwhile there hasn’t been a peep of recognition from the wing of the Church that would align itself with these ‘traditional’ views, with the usual woe-is-me ‘bullying’ accusations made yet again and again against people who honour the humanity of LGBT people. 

It really is time for this to change.

The lying, silence, dissembling and wink-wink nudge-nudge way of ‘managing’ homosexuality in Church circles is not only embarrassing, but a grave sin. It moves the church into a place of hypocrisy and collusion, and it is one we are far too willing to tolerate.

After writing my last blog, I was told by a priest that it was a virtue to ‘tolerate hypocrisy’. By no means is this true – and what is more this is fundamentally different to recognising and living with paradox and different theological positions.

We live in a Church that thrives on hypocrisy – where ordinands are told not to ‘rock the boat’ by being ‘too vocal’ about being LGBT, and where clergy have ‘special friends’ or ‘lodgers’. This pressure to dishonesty thus forms the backdrop for being LGBT in the Church, and it is hardly a surprise that such a culture can be manipulated by those who are looking for vulnerabilities in the system. That an elderly gay man was abused and murdered is not a shock – it is the inevitable result of a culture of lies.

Anyone who is young, gay and in the Church has lived this reality; I am quite sure that other LGBT people similarly face the consequences of this culture. All of us know of the inappropriate clergy, the unacceptable taking of liberties that are just the right side of ‘explainable’, and the abuse of power by those in authority. Not being straight makes this whole structure a lot more threatening – not only because of the threats of ‘disclosure’ that can be made against you, but also because there is a deeper underlying culture of ‘being gay in the Church’ that is deeply damaging, and is directly the result of the tyranny of silence and lies.

This culture is like something from the 1950s, where never a word is spoken about ‘the love that dares not speak its name’, where gay clergy form elaborate pretences and where public intimacy is frowned on and sex commodified. LGBT people are thus made both victim and perpetrator, and the culture continues to level its destruction. This culture blurs the line between acceptable and unacceptable, producing and hiding perpetrators of abuse.

Of course, some clergy, like many others in society, need a level of discretion in consideration of elderly relatives or similar, such is the history of homophobia in this country (aided and abetted by the Church of England) – this is not the issue. Clergy who are not in this position and yet still deny their partners, or describe them as ‘special friends’, are, however, colluding in the toxic Church culture – as are leaders telling LGBT people to hide, or to ‘be careful about’ their true selves. We even have senior theological educators who actively sponsor and head up organisations that recommend heterosexual marriage to ‘same sex attracted’ people’ – and we wonder why we have a problem?

Yet here is the Catch 22 – those who are honest end up losing their licences or being thrown out, whilst those who hide and collude climb up the greasy pole of promotion. This is the very culture that the actions and words of our bishops and other leaders are perpetuating. Power, lies, fear and opacity are a heady cocktail – and it is high time the church took some responsibility for sponsoring this scandal.

Yet there is a desperation not to deal with this issue – how often have we heard that speaking out, or even simply being honest, will ‘embarrass the bishop’ or ‘bring the institution into disrepute’? Bishops seem very willing to talk about this issue and urge change over lasagne, yet are far too often silent at the Lord’s Table. Yet their silence and collusion, and that of those who continue to promulgate this culture of hypocrisy, is not only wrong, but sinful – abuse, threats and dishonour continue apace.

Perceived unity is not more important than keeping people safe and treating them as human beings. The word ‘traditional’ cannot be used to cover evil. Any senior cleric reading this might want to ask themselves – have I done enough? Indeed, have I colluded, and what am I going to do about it?

In Poland this last weekend, LGBT people – yet again the target of vicious hatred, abuse and oppression by a populist state – protested outside church property and called for an end to the church. The Polish Roman Catholic hierarchy have taken the side of the oppressor, and colluded with the state. In the UK, the state is light years ahead, yet the Church of England continues to sponsor and collude in a culture of hypocrisy.

The only reason people aren’t protesting outside our buildings is because they’ve stopped listening – we are an irrelevance. The secular world has grasped the nettle and respected the dignity of LGBT people.

There have been enough reports – it’s about time we started to listen to them, because until we do that, we are stopping the people’s ears and participating in dishonour.

Posted in Charlie Bell, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Sexual abuse, Social Justice, Spiritual Abuse | 3 Comments

Church of England – Please Mind the Gap!

by Anne Foreman, Member of General Synod, Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation and former National Youth Adviser for the Church of England

If elected I will serve with the interested of parishes always in mind….”  So said my election address for the Church of England’s General Synod in 1999.  Now, as I approach my final few months on General Synod, having served on it for two very different Dioceses I have come to the conclusion that the gap between Synodical Structures and Pastoral Parishes is wider still.  The central structures have come up with a plethora of initiatives, such as Renewal and Reform, Simplification, Mission Shaped Church, Strategic funding for Resourcing and Planting new church communities, Estates Ministry, Everyday Faith.   However, questions need to be asked about how these fine sounding initiatives actually connect with existing neighbourhood schemes of care, advocacy and support? What is more, it often seems to be forgotten that parishes run on shoestring budgets, unlike the eye watering budgets behind these national projects!  The relevance of such initiatives to parishes is questionable and so the gap remains.  A gap brought sharply into focus by the response of the Institutional Church to Covid-19. 

In parishes you do what you can, where you are.  So, for the thousands of people going about their business of loving God and their neighbour there appeared to be little understanding at a national level of the impact of closing churches.  The physical building of the church, whether in a rural or urban setting, is often the focus from which service to the community springs and sustenance for its worshipping community sought. Suddenly it was not to be available. Despite lockdown first appearing on the scene in mid-March, it was not until the 9th September that anything like an empathetic recognition of the impact on community life by church closures came from the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he said…”worship is the work of God – not a social gathering – and gives the strength to love and serve.”  At last we had something that was more than a set of bureaucratic responses to matters of heart and soul.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that the many imaginative and creative ways of being church locally during this Pandemic has been in spite of national directives, (sorry guidelines), rather than in response to them.

Though General Synod representatives in our diocese work hard to communicate to parishes through contact with their deaneries, it’s a bit of an uphill task to enthuse people about stuff that does not appear relevant to the day to day concerns of their own parish life.  Concerns that have increased rather than diminished during this Pandemic.  Parish share still has to be found, Annual Meetings  still need to happen, faculties still have to be applied for.  Small wonder that the General Synod Report isn’t high on the Deanery Synod Agenda! 

In the main I think it’s due to time scale.  Although the internal workings and time scale of the Church may make sense to us in our synodical, gathered state, when we scatter…..when we go back to our parishes and out into the real world…..”to live and work to His praise and glory….” then the snails pace of action simply baffles people.  People, whether they be people in the pews or people on the fringe of church life, they simply don’t understand why things take so long. Structural  requirements render the gap too wide to be able to capture imaginations, let alone hearts, for Christ.

Measures at General Synod may have to be debated, supported by voting and enacted nationally, but they are lived out and implemented locally, through local relationships whose foundation is trust and loving God and neighbour.

Of course some General Synod stuff is actually highly relevant, in particular for example that arising from the Simplification Agenda, designed to make Parochial Church life easier. For instance the enabling of joint Councils for small Parochial Church Councils – sounds great and will be welcomed, but the legal rigmarole involved in making it happen is far from simple!  If the disciples on the road to Emmaus had been given some structural synodical stuff to read I don’t think for a moment that their hearts would have burned within them.!

Or take the long awaited publication of the Living in Love and Faith, LLF, materials.  Good people have worked long and hard, consulted widely and produced high quality materials.  And yet….and yet….it’s going to be another couple of years of conversations before any conclusions are reached, or not.  Dr Eeva John spoke of the need for scholarly work to connect with lived experience.  Speaking now as a former youth worker, for many (not all) young people, their lived experience includes sex.  While LLF conversations carry on we have a generation of young people who think the church just doesn’t get it as far as sex is concerned. We have a generation of young people for whom sex has become an alternative leisure activity.  So how then is the church to connect with them to model relationships, including same sex relationships, of fidelity, loyalty, kindness, delight and respect if it continues to say that marriage between a man and a woman is the only place that any physical expression of love or desire can happen, or indeed that sex is purely for procreation?

When I was still supervising full time Youth Workers and they were faced with a difficult issue  I would ask….”how and in what way will your decision enhance the lives of the young people you work with and for…”.? But that was then, and now for me the question is…..”How and in what way will the mission of the church be enhanced by the existing structures of the Church of England?”  The heart of the church beats in local communities and synodical structures need to uphold and strengthen the local.  More attention needs to be paid to minimising the gap between those structures and life as it is lived locally.

Posted in Anne Foreman, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | 8 Comments

World Without End…?

by the Bishop of Buckingham, Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson

On 13 August 2012 ministry took a new path for me. A journalist had alerted me to untoward goings on in Sussex. Young peoples’ lives had been damaged. The Church shied away from taking proper responsibility. Survivors felt they were being treated as an embarrassment, sidelined then blocked.

As a result, my colleague Revd Rosie Harper and I were invited to meet some of the people concerned and listen to their stories. When all is said and done the Church is a pastoral organisation. It exists to bring the grace and truth of Christ to a generation within its care. This calling had been massively betrayed, and I felt ashamed of the Church I represent.  Things had to change.

More and more people were getting in touch. Very often what they craved was someone to listen to their story and take it seriously. I realised that very often the most healing thing was truth about what had actually happened and, above all, honesty.

One emerging common theme shocked us. Male or female, high or low, recent or not, every person we listened to told us things had got worse for them after they reported.

In 2013 Pope Francis saw the Church as a field hospital. Imagine a field hospital in which all the wounded soldiers leave more shot up than they were when brought in. That couldn’t be entirely their fault.

I was comforted in July 2013, though, by our new archbishop’s recognition of the problem. He apologised and seemed to understand the systemic dimension of our failings as he articulated for General Synod “a profound theological point. We are not doing all this – we are not seeking to say how devastatingly, appallingly, atrociously sorry we are for the great failures there have been, for our own sakes, for our own flourishing, for the protection of the Church. We are doing this because we are called to live in the justice of God and we will each answer to him for our failures in this area”.

Time passed by. Budgets for training and advisers began to grow. I was encouraged.

In 2015 our archbishop told us “We failed big time, we can do nothing other than confess our sin, repent and commit ourselves to being different in the years ahead.”

Time passed by. A new project was in the air, collaboratively developed with survivors — “Safe Spaces”

2017 seemed less hopeful. News broke of John Smyth’s sadistic abuse of teenage boys whose trust he had betrayed as he blighted their lives. But at any rate the Archbishop was still sorry. We were told he “apologises unequivocally and unreservedly to all survivors.”

January 2018 saw preliminary hearings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. Rightly, our Archbishop had lined up the Church for early examination, a brave and honourable act.

And when the atrocious Chichester tale was revealed, giving substance to what we had heard on 13 August 2012, we were as sorry as he:

“You can apologise and apologise to survivors, and I would want to put on record again — I don’t know how to express it adequately — how appalled I am and ashamed I am of the Church for what it did.”

Time Passed by.

More money was spent, training improved and Safe Spaces underwent a reboot and would soon start for real. That was the good story. We continued to hear not so good stories from survivors, all of whom wished they never had reported to Church authorities.

We wrote a book, taking survivor experience seriously across a very broad spectrum of church abuse. We tried to understand the roots and cultural context of our failures, and proposed a fresh approach. It was mentioned by enough survivors for IICSA to call for material from it as evidence in 2019.

When our archbishop read the latest IICSA report last week, he was still sorry not only for what had happened but for the Church’s failure to respond pastorally.  “We cannot and will not make excuses, and I must again offer my sincere apologies to those who have been abused.”

After 8 years of sorry, then, from our Archbishop at least if not others, how do I feel about the post-IICSA future?

I am encouraged to see that our new Archbishop of York whom I like and respect very much as a former close colleague, is sorry too. He said on national radio how shocked he was by the report. Rosie pointed out he’d known about what was in it for years.

He replied personally “Shocked to read it again, Rosie. I suppose what I’m saying is I hope I’ll never stop being shocked and distressed until we have changed. I am in a position to really help make that change. I am determined to do so. And quickly.”

I am sure he will be supported, as will survivors, by Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, the Church’s new safeguarding bishop. Not only in General synod, but in a really helpful Religion Media Centre IICSA report briefing with survivors and advocates, Jonathan clearly demonstrates fresh commitment to drive change at every level.

Oh, and Safe Spaces actually started, albeit with a few learner driver’s kangaroo jumps, on 29 September 2020.

I return to Archbishop Justin’s words in 2012. But… How long O Lord?

Jesus said “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Martin Luther King said “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”

Rosie and I have met many survivors, courageous and wise people, who have often tolerated years of being ignored, patronised, lied to and blamed. They feel they have been going round and round in circles for ever.

After multiple forced apologies from a surprisingly small selection of bishops, a few training and cosmetic changes have happened at vast cost. Dr Josephine Stein reminds us this all dwarfs provision for survivors. Then somehow all the regret ends up back the too-difficult box…  until the next shameful revelation.

As it was in 2012, is now…. and ever shall be? world without end? Really?

Posted in Bishop Alan Wilson, Disability, IICSA, Safeguarding, Sexual abuse, Spiritual Abuse | 5 Comments

Why the Church of England Must ‘Connect the Dots’ – IICSA and LLF

by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University and lay preacher in the Diocese of Oxford

Life in 2020 has been very much about uncertainty. I’m not just thinking about the pandemic.

In narrower Church of England terms, in 2020 we’ve waited for two very important documents to be released: last week, the IICSA final report on sexual abuse of children in the Anglican Church, and in early November Living in Love and Faith (LLF), delayed from spring 2020. This delay changes the original sequence of events. Now it’s October: IICSA, then November: LLF.

What’s the connection?

While a member of LLF, I was one of those who asked over and over again for IICSA to be taken into account in the documents being produced. Yet the last LLF draft I saw still gave the impression that the questions such abuse raises were not really LLF’s concern. Yet you’d think some sort of liaison would be useful between these two large and costly processes – costly in terms of both money and emotional pain.

The extensive IICSA transcripts mentioned LLF twice on 1 July 2019, but only in passing. “The church has also been confronting issues concerning its teaching on human sexuality” said Nigel Giffin QC, representing the Archbishops’ Council. In his second witness statement to IICSA, the Archbishop of Canterbury had stated “I am informed by Mr Tilby that these [LLF] resources will be reviewed by the NST before they are finalised to ensure that they sufficiently address safeguarding related issues”.[1] I have no idea whether that review happened. Did anyone join the dots? The error in the IICSA final document, the claim that LLF – described as a “large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality” had been published in 2019 – suggests not.

I think the two documents are more closely related than the failure of an internal Church process to join forces with IICSA would suggest, and that the links need to be better understood.

In the Executive Summary of the IICSA final report, we read that: “Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome.”

What were, or are, these ‘taboos’?

Let’s go back to Fiona Scolding at the IICSA inquiry into Chichester Diocese, on 5 March 2018. She asked, “How far did the reaction of some within the church to homosexuality possibly inhibit the reporting of child sexual abuse?” DI Wayne Murdock, involved in the Peter Ball case, made it clear that “one of the factors that influenced his view of the public interest in bringing a prosecution was the risk that some church witnesses would be exposed as homosexuals in court. That would, in his words, have seen their roles within the church effectively finished.” As Murdock put it: “I believe that the issue of homosexuality had a detrimental effect in encouraging witnesses and potential complainants within the church to come forward” (IICSA, 23 July 2018).

So homophobia within the church deterred the reporting of sexual abuse.

When Fiona Scolding was interviewing the Bishop of Chichester, Rt Revd Dr Martin Warner, on 14 March 2018, she asked: “Do you not think that the Church’s difficulty in coming to terms with the complexity of self-identity when it comes to sexual orientation may have contributed to the misapprehensions you have identified because, you know, certainly amongst conservative individuals, homosexuality is seen as sinful?”

He answered “Yes.” She then asked, “The idea of civil partnerships is seen as anathema and the idea of getting married within the church is anathema. Do you think the church may have, albeit unwittingly, contributed to that by its approach to sexual orientation in the past?” Bishop Warner replied: “I think there has been contribution from the church on this”. He went on to talk about how covering up homosexuality contributed to a culture in which sexual abuse was also kept secret.

On 24 July 2018 Fiona Scolding, interviewing the former Archbishop, Lord Carey of Clifton, proposed that: “The church was so uncomfortable in dealing with and managing same-sex relationships that it didn’t really have an understanding of what was an appropriate same-sex relationship and what was an inappropriate same-sex relationship.”

Finally, at the 11 July 2019 IICSA hearing, Archbishop Justin Welby was asked whether “there is sufficient openness about  human sexuality in the church now so that there is, and can be, proper debate and discussion with victims and survivors and proper work on minimising risk within the church?”

He responded, “Yes. I think there is far more openness than there was. I think the Living in Love and Faith Project has enabled a culture of transparency in ways that didn’t exist before.”

When I re-read that, I was taken aback. Openness? A culture of transparency? Really?

I don’t get the impression that there’s any less fear now of being ‘exposed’ as gay. Rt Revd Nicholas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham,[2] remains the only out, gay, partnered bishop. If people still think their roles within the church would be “effectively finished” if their sexuality were known, that shows that the church is still not a safe place.

That has implications for safeguarding as well as for LGBTI+ people in all roles in the church. Despite the impression given in the key cases explored by IICSA, sexual abuse is certainly not only about men abusing boys: far more such abuse involves men and girls, or men taking advantage of their power to abuse women who know that nobody will believe them. The church’s history of secrecy, pretence and denial is one of the reasons why the terrible harm revealed by IICSA happened.

We need to join up the IICSA evidence of why sexual abuse was not reported, and the opportunity LLF offers to understand how the church continues to fail those who are not ‘pale, male, stale’ – and straight.

Refusing to acknowledge that, in the words of Stonewall, “Some people are gay. Get over it” has contributed to the shameful history of abuse in the Church of England.

[1] Graham Tilby: former National Safeguarding Adviser. NST: National Safeguarding Team.

[2] On the reactions to his coming out, I recommend Grace Davie and Caroline Starkey, ‘The Lincoln letters: a study in institutional change’, Ecclesial Practices, 9 (2019), 44-64.

Posted in Helen King, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Sexual abuse, Social Justice | 5 Comments

Safeguarding, ‘Reabuse’ and LGBT People

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury and member of the Archbishops’ Council

Last Tuesday was perhaps the most shameful day in the history of the Church of England for hundreds of years. Forensically, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) catalogued the personal and institutional generational failures which led to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by people in trusted positions in the Church. Whilst many say that the failure to address this issue over decades amounts to ‘reabuse’, some even saying that it is worse than the sexual offences once committed, none of us can escape the responsibility that this has taken place on our watch and that we have the duty to put it right. Some are even calling for a Truth and Reconciliation process like that of post-apartheid South Africa. It’s an idea worth exploring.

I was struck therefore by a forceful response to what seemed to me to be sincere statement of sympathy for survivors and victims of sexual abuse by Bishop Sarah Mullally from one of her priests in the Diocese of London. Father Robert Thompson described Sarah’s words on Twitter as ‘virtue signalling vacuousness’, pointing out that he has raised 4 safeguarding concerns with the Diocese of London concerning the treatment of LGBTI+ church members in some evangelical and charismatic congregations and has not had a proper response to any one of them. Lest this should seem like special pleading from him (or me) for a particular group within the life of the Church of which we are part, we should note that the IICSA report makes specific what we have known for a long time: that our hypocrisy and dishonesty about sexuality has without doubt contributed to the culture in which sexual (and I would say) emotional and spiritual abuse has been allowed to exist.

To be fair, however, we must not assume that being LGBTI+ in and of itself makes one a vulnerable adult in safeguarding terms. Still, for as long as I can remember I have had to listen to simply dreadful stories emerging from certain evangelical and charismatic churches, usually when a church member comes out or refuses to toe the line taken by ‘the leadership’ (which usually means the clergy). They find themselves silenced, removed from every ministry and leadership role, and generally treated like pariahs. The failure of many of these congregations to be able to discuss matters of sexuality or to live with diverse opinions has wreaked a dreadful emotional toll on many LGBTI+ church members and has contributed to what can only be described as a culture of fear, the subtle and overt withholding of love or placing conditions on it, and silencing of dissent. It is, by any stretch of the imagination, a form of abuse. 

Some within the tradition have felt uncomfortable about this for a long time. David Runcorn, a long-standing and respected Evangelical theological educator and spiritual director, has attempted to provide an Evangelical theological narrative based on openness, generosity (including to those who take a conservative view) and pastoral care. His recently-published Love Means Love addresses these concerns with an eirenic spirit that is admirable and biblical, although as a straight man he cannot necessarily summon the sense of righteous anger that those of us who see the damaged lives that have resulted do. Other evangelicals within General Synod, effectively kicked out of the Evangelical Group in General Synod (EGGS) for simply wanting to explore a line similar to Runcorn’s, have coalesced into a new group in which a different, honest expression of dissent can be aired, within a caring atmosphere far different from the stifling atmosphere of EGGS which, over my twelve years as a member, became increasingly reminiscent of a Soviet-style party meeting. It gives me no pleasure to admit I often felt afraid. Father Thompson notes the way in which especially some large churches in this tradition use their financial clout to exert leverage over dioceses: do what we want, or else, is the message.

The tragedy for the Church of England is that there is much within evangelical and charismatic traditions that the rest of the Church of England desperately needs. Missional zeal, social justice and deep personal faith were once the hallmarks of Evangelicalism, things that attracted me to Christian faith, even if these days I feel excluded from the evangelical tradition. Ever the optimist, I remain hopeful that the tradition most committed to the theological concepts of personal sin and repentance can see the beam in its own eye instead of projecting it onto its LGBTI+ members and their friends. Some of those most urging change in the Church’s traditional position are senior evangelical bishops who have come to see that for themselves.

In the meantime, we await the publication of Living in Love and Faith. I am committed to the process, more perhaps than many sceptics among the LGBTI+ community in the Church. But even I want to sound a word of warning. As we engage with scripture, science, theology and much more in the months ahead, we must not forget that, within parts of the evangelical and charismatic wings of our church, brothers and sisters face emotional and spiritual abuse. Conservatives and hard-liners within these traditions will want to focus on the intellectual issues – many will immediately want to rebut anything that smacks of a chink in the wall. But we must hold them and the wider church to account for this often unacknowledged abuse that is being inflicted in the name of “truth” and “sound doctrine” – including persuading those like Bishop Sarah who are I think very sensitive to issues of abuse that this is unfinished safeguarding business. I urge her and other bishops to take seriously the sort of allegations and concerns that Father Thompson has raised. There are plenty more where they came from.

We must not forget those who are most vulnerable to bad religion and who remain at risk of the ongoing abuse that has shamed the church so obviously in recent days, and continues to do so where so-called ‘truth’ silences love. As I said at Archbishops’ Council recently, any defence of the gospel or the church that sees that as more important than protecting the vulnerable will lead us back to the place we are being shamed into leaving hopefully once and for all. Ironically, the evidence of such abuse is the clearest example of why the theological position held by conservatives is biblically untenable. 

By your fruits you shall know them.

Posted in Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Mental Health, Sexual abuse, Simon Butler, Social Justice, Spiritual Abuse | 13 Comments

Resignations, Dysfunctionality and the House of Bishops

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Member of General Synod

I resigned from my Bishop’s Council this week.

The decision has been a long time coming – I’ve felt I’ve been hitting my head against a brick wall over our failure to prioritise the poor and disadvantaged, especially given we are such a rich diocese, for years. In fact, I’ve been banging the drum since I got onto Council five years ago. Interestingly, even though we constantly rated serving the poor in our diocese as a “the top priority” during our discussions, it rarely seemed to make the cut into any paperwork . In virtually every meeting I can remember I have had to remind those in authority of the commitments we had agreed as a Council.

I realised things would never change when after one Diocesan Synod meeting I was told, when the priority yet again failed to be mentioned to those gathered, that it was because it was too long to fit on the slide! All rather ironic given that we’d just had a report that emphasised the real issue in our diocese was that of “hidden poverty”!

In truth, I know I was as tired of banging my drum as Council members were of hearing it.

So, eventually, it got to the point where I felt that the best way for them to hear me was by my absence. You see, sometimes leaving is the only way left for people to be heard….

Since I resigned, I’ve been reflecting on why it is so difficult for those in the central Church or Diocesan structures to hear what those outside or on the fringes of the Church see as completely obvious. It came into sharp focus again this week with the IICSA report which stated what so many of us have been saying for some time now – that we need a completely independent safeguarding system in the Church in order for it to be fully functional.

I have decided that the real problem is that our boards and councils are populated by mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle class and mostly middle aged (and that’s being kind) people who all hold virtually the same world view – and who are incapable of recognising that there is legitimacy to any other view other than their own. Because they all end up endorsing each other, they confirm their own legitimacy, and nothing therefore ever changes.

That’s why we find it difficult to embrace those from other backgrounds – those that are different to the monochrome “norm” that the Church of England has built into the warp and weft of its very foundations. You just have to look at the make up of General Synod to see what I mean.

It is why we’ve an appalling record on nearly every measure of diversity – we are seen by those “on the outside and margins” as racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic. We are outrageously bad at dealing with people with differing abilities too. Although it’s “not good show” of course for us to admit this in public.

And what does this “monochrome” system result in? Well, I won’t be popular in saying this, but I believe this ultimately results in the single most critical problem for us as a Church. It’s the real root of most of our problems, which few are prepared to admit let alone publicly name – it is that we have a leadership structure that is, I’m afraid to say, deeply dysfunctional. It seems our House of Bishops operates like a boys public school, with prefects and head boys who whip the younger boys (and they are of course mostly boys!) into line. It may seem like the body that so many aspire to, but once you’re there you get sucked into colluding with a system that few feel able to break free from. Although thankfully, there are some brave individuals who do.

It is interesting to question why so few have called this out publicly over all these years?

Especially given that to many of us on the outside and fringes this dysfunction is plain to see. We have bishops leading double lives, which no one seems to bother about or challenge. We have bishops preaching one thing and practicing another, particularly when it comes to the way in which they treat LGBT+ clergy in their midst. We have bishops who lament safeguarding failures, but whose own record is pretty poor. It all leads to a postcode lottery, which everyone knows about but no one does anything about because they (we?) have all got too much to lose…or worse, that they don’t think that somehow anyone will notice.

But we do, and we all know. The charade was up a long time ago.

It’s just like my own experience with Bishop’s Council – no one can be bothered to bang the drum any more. We are resigned to letting it all continue, with no one rocking the boat.

But time is running out. Many are tiring of this game. And they’re leaving.

So much so that soon the primary problem won’t be the fear of people rocking the boat, but rather the fear of ensuring that there are still people who are prepared to sail in it!

So reform is needed – and it needs to start at the top.

The House of Bishops is about to release resources for the Church of England to engage with over sexuality. What they seem to have failed to see (again!) is that the vast majority of people in the pews made up their minds about LGBT issues long ago….what they’re waiting for is for the House of Bishops to finally do so themselves. And to do so in a way that has some credibility.

So it’s time the House of Bishops had an OFSTED inspection. They need to turn the mirror on themselves and take a long hard look at what they see. They need to be honest about their dysfunctionality, their divisions and their double standards.

Miracles can happen – and with God’s grace this might just be one of them. Goodness knows we need it!

Posted in Disability, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Jayne Ozanne, Racism, Safeguarding, Sexual abuse, Social Justice, Spiritual Abuse, Transgender | 13 Comments

Living in Love and Faith – Is There Really Hope for Change?

by Christina Baron, Chair of the General Synod Gender and Sexuality Group and Elected Member of General Synod for the Diocese of Bath and Wells

At the beginning of November, we are promised, the product of the Church of England’s exercise now known as ‘Living in Love and Faith’ will, finally, be published. This has involved hundreds of people and, almost certainly, hundreds of thousands of pounds in the three years since it was set up in response to the highly unusual defeat in General Synod of a paper on same-sex relationships from the bishops.

‘Living in Love and Faith’ was originally to be called ‘The Bishops’ Teaching Document’. The change of title confirms something which is already evident and well-known: teaching about sexuality, gender and relationships is something on which not all bishops can agree. So, in changing the document’s name, there is a tacit acknowledgement of that disagreement, but it is a continuing puzzle why this disagreement may not be publicly admitted. In contrast, on the subject of the ordination of women as priests and, later, bishops there was, and continues to be, public acceptance that not all bishops are in agreement.

So, the key question is, what is it about sexuality that makes the “good disagreement” to which the church aspires, so unwelcome?

Interestingly, there is a history of some in the Church of England leading public opinion on sexuality. In the 1950s an adviser to the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Rev. Dr. Sherwin Bailey, gave evidence to the Wolfenden Committee, advocating the decriminalisation of male homosexual activity. And when decriminalisation finally came to parliament ten years later, it was supported by Archbishop Michael Ramsey. Senior churchmen were not afraid to give a moral lead then it seems.

Over the past fifty years, as society has become more accepting of same sex relationships and the shadow of criminalisation has cleared, the Church of England has been endlessly rewriting its liturgy and discussing whether women could be ordained. Meanwhile, first civil partnerships and then same sex marriage became legal in England. That would indicate that the country, and attitudes to same sex relationships in general, have changed since Wolfenden. And if we look over the borders to the countries which share this island, we see that same sex couples may now marry in the Scottish Episcopal Church and that the Church in Wales has voted in favour to do so too, although not quite yet by the required majority.

A local councillor once said to me about gays and lesbians “I don’t know any.” Since the 2017 debate, no member of General Synod can say that. And with the increasing public acknowledgement and acceptance of same sex couples, nor can most Church of England worshippers – the people in our pews.

Before the 2017 debate, I put a note in the pewsheet of my parish church, asking for comments. This was in a small town (all right, we have a cathedral and a royal charter – so officially it’s a city, but a very small one) with a local, not a gathered, congregation. At coffee time there was a queue to speak to me and my heart sank. I should have had more faith, however. There was a procession of “we had a wonderful gay vicar in our last parish,” my godson should be able to get married in his parish church,” “my niece had a lovely Quaker wedding.”

Sadly, some Christians, including some members of the Church of England, see same sex relationships as what used to be called a “first order issue” – that is “fundamental to the faith”, like the divinity of Christ. That means that some members of the Church of England would find it impossible to remain in a church which allowed any endorsement of same sex relationships.

I don’t want to see anyone leave the Church of England over this issue. But we must acknowledge that current teaching means that the Church of England has already lost untold numbers of people, particularly partnered clergy and potential ordinands.  They have gone over the borders to Scotland or Wales, or left for another church or, in some cases, for no church. Great personal anguish has been caused and the Church has lost people it could ill-afford to lose. Those of us who want the Church to accept and affirm same sex couples could cohabit (although not literally) in one church with those who disagree, with provision to protect their conscientious objection. It is unfortunate that such cohabitation seems not to be acceptable to those who want no change.

‘Living in Love and Faith’ will, we are told, include study materials for discussion at PCCs and synods. However, as one bishop has said “it will land extraordinarily badly.” Not only are all churches and dioceses now coping with the pastoral, practical and financial consequences of Covid-19, but most worshippers accept same sex relationships and don’t know what all the fuss is about! For them the issue is no longer an issue.

If the Church of England had embarked upon ‘Living in Love and Faith’ forty or fifty years ago, it would have been leading the way for secular society. In 2020, the Church seems to many, both members and non-members and particularly the young, to be spending endless time talking about sex. At the same time, the environment is being trashed and poverty and injustice increase.

Sex is not the most important element of Christ’s teaching and I for one would really like never to have to write an article, make a speech, table a motion about sexuality and gender ever again. But the Church’s disregard, and worse, of faithful lesbian and gay Christians does not demonstrate the eternal truths – that we are all made in the image of God and loved by God. For the sake of the mission of the Church to all people, we must take the opportunity offered by ‘Living in Love and Faith’ to deal with this question once and for good. 

Many of us in the Church of England believe it is right to affirm same sex relationships. Other Church members cannot accept this. The critical question is – can we find a way to live with that difference and demonstrate that the Church of England truly is “here for all the people of England?

Posted in Christina Baron, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | 2 Comments

Walking in Beauty – Contemplation in times of Struggle, Suffering and Exclusion

by the Very Revd Rogers Govender, Dean of Manchester

It is an accepted fact that we are currently living in extremely challenging times, especially made more so by Covid-19. We have always had the challenges of human sexuality, poverty, racism and injustice to deal with. What Cov-19 has done is to expose all these issues more starkly. Perhaps because we are more tuned into social media and world news we are experiencing more awareness? The murder of George Floyd hit the news very quickly – I remember following the street protests on a live Facebook feed as it was happening. I was able to post my disgust and anger in seconds.

During the recent Pride season, I decided to fly the Rainbow Flag on the tower of my Cathedral. It was well received apart from a letter of complaint from a group of clergy. My initial reaction was that it would have been good to receive such a letter when I was speaking prophetically at services and on the news media on the racism being exposed by Black Lives Matter! No such support against racism was offered to me by these clergy colleagues. However, when the issue of human sexuality emerges I suddenly receive a letter of complaint! Is this the Church that I am part of, a Church that wants to grow God’s Kingdom? I think our Lord must weep over his Church and the exclusion and injustice that we often collude with.

It is a great temptation to become bitter and angry at one another and the world because of the lack of compassion and injustice that we witness on a daily basis, often in the Church of God. And I have only touched on two major issues in our society! As Christians and especially as Christian priests we are called to a life of love and compassionate service. If we are to serve the people of God then it is our life of prayer and contemplation that we need to be immersed in. Without a regular routine of prayer and the practise of a contemplative heart we can easily lose the vision of something greater than our prejudices and our sadness that accompanies it. We can easily lose our vision of Jesus and God’s kingdom.

So, I want to turn our attention to the writings of Fr Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest in New Mexico and one of my spiritual mentors.

He once wrote an article ‘Walk in Beauty’ in which he encourages us to recognize the beauty of the world despite its many disfigurations.  In his article he cites a prayer of the Navajo people in New Mexico from decades ago, which I particularly love. I mention it here as I want to suggest that we too need to be anchored to God in the midst of the huge challenges we face by ‘contemplating beauty’.

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

There is much beauty in our towns, cities, villages and rural areas. There is much beauty in one another. We simply need to be more aware of the beauty of our surroundings and recognize it in the sounds around us, in drumming, in the voices of people, etc. as we open our hearts and minds to our surroundings. This is how we recognize the divine in all things.

Michael Cassidy the great South African Evangelist in his book ‘The Politics of Love’ (p.253) cites Job who ‘in the depths of his problems and agonies began to question God and received back a shattering questionnaire from the God in whom all power resides’. The power we need to navigate the challenges of prophetic witness is found in God – cf Job 38:4, 8–11. It is only when we lose our life in and for Christ, that we will find it says Jesus in Matthew 16:25. So the ability to recognise the beauty around us in the midst of so many challenges and crises (not least in Covid-19) is found in the incredible life of Jesus who saw possibilities of healing and wholeness in broken human beings and in a broken and bruised world.  

Quoting Fr Richard Rohr again:

‘’I invite you to return to the Navajo prayer above when you have the space and time to literally move or walk with it. If you’re able to walk, you might take off your shoes and walk barefoot. Move slowly, noticing the sensations in your body—discomfort, surprise, challenge, pleasure, ease. Take in your surroundings with a soft, receptive gaze. What do you see? Listen to whatever there is to hear—your own breathing, birds, traffic. You may choose to pay attention to one sense at a time or try to hold two simultaneously. Be present to what is. Walk or move in this way for several minutes or even half an hour. When you have ended, bow in gratitude for your body, for the beauty surrounding you, and for the beauty that will continue to follow you everywhere you go’’ – Adapted from Richard Rohr, an unpublished talk, February 2018, St. John XXIII Catholic Community, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This he says is a form of contemplation! I want to suggest, in the great tradition of our numerous contemplative spiritual writers, scholars, brothers and sisters of old that contemplating the beauty around us will keep us hopeful as fellow pilgrims who strive for the way of God’s Kingdom. For this is the way of Jesus.

Posted in Dean of Manchester, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Racism, Social Justice | 1 Comment