General Synod: Honest to God!

by the Revd Dr Charlie Bell, Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge  and curate at St John the Divine, Kennington

‘Integrity’ is not, perhaps, the first word we might associate with elections. Those who run for high office will often find all kinds of excuses for not telling the whole truth – there are always higher goals to pursue, or a bigger vision to embrace and they just need to keep the voters sweet to gain the power to make things happen. Of course, this might not be totally honest, but that’s just the way these things go, and in any case, voters will forgive them when they see their grand plans in action. You see, it’s all for the greater good – or that’s what we’re told to believe, at least.

For all that we say that we do things differently, that we practice ‘good disagreement’, and that we live to a “higher standard”, it’s clear that elections in the Church of England are no different. In recent weeks, we have seen election guidance that seems to call on candidates to tell nothing like the full truth – and indeed to avoid topics that might be thought to be too ‘controversial’.

The problem is that these controversial topics are absolutely key to General Synod’s business for the next few years, and it is quite frankly appalling that candidates are being told to avoid discussions of abuse within the Church. There is something very dark indeed about calling discussion of abuse controversial, given all we know about the culture of secrecy that has led to such horrific outcomes for so many children and other vulnerable people over so many years. There is nothing controversial whatsoever about naming and stamping out abuse in the Church, and anyone standing for General Synod should be willing to discuss this topic head on or risk perpetuating the very culture we are trying to eradicate.

Yet this kind of advice gets to the heart of the conversation about what kind of Church we want to be.

There are a number of difficult decisions to be taken in the next few years, and if we are to make these decisions – and elect members of Synod to make them on our behalf – then we need to be doing this with our eyes open and with a serious commitment to speaking the full truth honestly and with candour. It is no longer acceptable to dance around these key topics in Church discourse. Trying to pull the wool over the eyes of voters is not the way to create a healthy structure of church governance.

For too long, the Church of England has been willing to favour convenience and a vague sense of ‘unity’ over honesty, integrity and the full truth. It is certainly true that homosexuality is not the only issue facing the Church of England in the next session of General Synod, yet it is also true that LBGTQI people are not an ‘issue’ either. Refusing to even mention them – to treat them as collateral in the ambition for power – is disgraceful.

The next session of General Synod is not likely to be a walk in the park, and nor should it be, given the complex discussions that are going to need to take place. Yet we should – as electors – be treated with enough respect by those who seek to represent us that we are at least told their explicit position on key elements of Church policy.

It is not enough to ‘sound as if you are a practicing member of the Church of England’ if you want to sit on General Synod – you should be willing to stand up and be counted, be challenged, and surely be open to the possibility of compromise and discussion once elected. Candidates that obfuscate before they even get elected are hardly those that can be trusted to act with integrity once they take their seats. Refusal to mention the key topics facing the next Synod is a choice – and it is a choice to obscure the truth of your position, however winsome your arguments.

If those who hold non-affirming positions on women’s ministry and blessings for same sex couples truly believe that their positions are right and true, then they should have the courage of their convictions to put themselves forward with their colours nailed firmly to the mast. Getting elected by the back door is the sign of a terrified sinking ship and not a healthy, vibrant, courageous Church.

Integrity must be the marker of the next session of General Synod, if we are not to totally lose our way. The Pastoral Principles of the Church of England, which exhort people to speak into silence and call our hypocrisy, are there for a reason, and if we cannot act in accordance with them whilst standing to represent fellow Christians in the governance body of our church, which forms part of Christ’s body, then we have fallen before we even fire the starting gun.

We are in desperate need of a Church that embodies integrity and ultimately honest and open compromise – that allows faithful Christians to live in accordance with their consciences and that deals in honesty rather than fear. We owe it to each other to clearly state what we believe and to be willing to be tried and tested on it – to take on each other’s arguments rather than our easily constructed straw men, and to always see the face of Christ in one another.

We may never agree, and for some the strain will be too much. Nobody doubts the difficulties we face. Those standing to make these decisions on our behalf most certainly need our prayers – but they owe us their honesty in return. The Gospel requires nothing less.

 

Posted in Charlie Bell, General Synod, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding | 2 Comments

General Synod: Coming Out for it All!

by the Revd Nicky Skipworth, Priest in Charge of the Parish of Harworth and Bircotes, Styrrup and Hesley (Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham)

I’d like to open this piece by telling you that I am (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) just an ordinary parish priest, living in Nottinghamshire with my family (husband and two children at school, one away at university). This year, I celebrate 20 years since I was deaconed, vows which have never bowed down in deference to those of my priesthood.

It’s a busy life, what with ministry, home and family, plus supporting an older family member and a newly adopted cat, but it tends to work out in a messy kind of way; many clergy will relate to it. So it might surprise you that I am currently seeking election to General Synod. In fact, I’m one of over 220 candidates supported by , the only such clergy candidate in my Diocese. You can read my election address here.

Why would I, as someone with an already full life, want to press even more grains of sand into my apparently full jar of pebbles? Well, to put it in two really simple terms, firstly, I want to work for change at what is arguably the heart of the Church of England. However cynical I may be after twenty years in this saddle, I still trust that change is on the way. I believe that either God is changing, or we are changing to think more like God, or else God is finding away around us. Given the recent decisions of Methodist Conference and my ‘alma mater’ the Church in Wales, it looks very much to me as if reality within the Church of England is the latter option.

Secondly, and I am not speaking for anyone else when I say this, I have grown sick and tired of what I look upon as my own apparent heterosexual-cis-gender privilege. Because I’m not what others think me to be; I’m not heterosexual, I’m bisexual and have known this since the age of 7. It all came to a head, bizarrely, in 2017 when thirty-eight years later I was stood alone in the bathroom one day, having just had a new hair cut and, looking into the mirror, found myself thinking “this is finally me looking back at me”. Oddly enough, the last time I had a thought like that was when stood in front of the mirror in my sparkly new collar the morning of my diaconal ordination. These were both moments of absolute clarity, which called for action on my part. I never, ever doubted God’s presence nor love in my life. I did, however, doubt other people’s ability to accept me, especially at school.

Since that second ‘reflection’ four years ago, I have been taking small steps to come out. My husband has known for years, our children know, too; thankfully my non-churchy Mum and brother were gracious; my friends have been marvelous. After taking care of  my deepest personal relationships, I told my congregation. They are lovely people with whom I feel safe (this isn’t always a given). We have gone on to join Inclusive Church, but please don’t think that’s just for my sake. One parishioner nearly fell off their stool, then asked the classic question, “How does that work?!” I responded to questions and comments as best I could, and am still doing so, because I’m still getting to know ‘me’.

It is therefore a combination of reasons that brings me to seek election, and being supported by Inclusive Church makes it crystal clear where I stand. After all, those opposed to inclusion aren’t going to vote for me, so I might as well go all out and be open about it all. There are, as my friend Andrew Lightbown re-iterates in his own blog) so many candidates not declaring their true position. I urge anyone voting in the House of Clergy election (and the House of Laity, for that matter) to scrutinize every election address; ask probing questions of your candidates.

I do have other flags to wave, though, flags which may not be as all-consuming as those which concern my identity before God, but mean a great deal to me all the same. The one that sticks out, and is possibly of equal use to General Synod, is my membership of the Faith Worker’s Branch of Unite the Union. I’m also an Accredited Workplace Rep., and Accredited Support Companion, not to mention member of the Branch Committee  and Branch magazine editor.

I bring with me, too, all of my experience as a parent in ministry; including the constant guilt. Being a female parent in ministry seems to worry parishioners, too, but more upsetting is how this concern doesn’t seem to be extended to all parents. Of course, I have been exposed so many times to less subtle forms of sexism, like the complete stranger who, during my time at All Saints’ Parish Church in High Wycombe, now an Inclusive Church member, barged into the vestry  to give me a piece of their mind. As if it would make any difference!

Going back to the matter of true inclusion, I have been reflecting deeply on what is at the core of people’s desire to exclude and denigrate. Because, surely, if marriage is so wonderful, so divine, why wouldn’t the Church want to extend the availability of that gift? Surely we need more public love and commitment, and the admission that if you are going to harangue people for this so called and all-too-undefined ‘sin’, especially before marriage, then we must allow people access to the remedy. We don’t probe the sexual habits of different sex couples when they come to book their marriage ceremony; quite frankly, it is pretty obvious when we meet the children of their current (and more often than not previous) relationships.  It’s just they make the way they love one another perfectly clear.

I’m probably not well known enough to be elected but, for me, this is about more than ‘getting elected’. It’s about giving a voice to the many, many clergy who fear that the ability to truly be the Established Church, actually more especially, to be the parish church – is fading before our eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in General Synod, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Nicky Skipworth | Leave a comment

General Synod: Permitting Discrimination is Very Dangerous!

by Canon Jenny Humphreys, former member of General Synod (2010 – 2021), member of WATCH and member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See Commission

I write halfway through the election process for a new General Synod. I remain a Synod rep until the results are confirmed, which makes me a member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See committee for one more meeting! Several of us are not standing for Synod again, and those that are standing are not guaranteed to be re-elected. So, an unknown number of new people will have to be brought up to speed very quickly, in time to vote for whoever is to join the Crown Nominations Commission to discern our next Bishop! Just one of the quirks of the governance structures of the Church of England!

What are the significant moments from my 11 years? (Not counting the weird experience of Zoom Synod meetings over the past 18 months, and the disappointment of not being in York for the final one to say farewell to fellow members) I looked up my election address from 2010 – when candidates’ statements were distributed as printed copies by post! Looking back, it seemed easier to compare the information and aspirations listed by candidates when you could spread their declarations out on a table in front of you than it is to juggle with them online – or maybe that’s just my age showing!

Personally, there have been a lot of changes. I was widowed shortly after the Synod elections when my husband Rod died in December 2010. The grandchildren who were infants then are teenagers now.  I retired from my role as Diocesan World Mission Adviser in 2016, and my parish is now in a Benefice with another local church and assessing what the post-pandemic future will be for worship and discipleship.

What did I offer to General Synod in 2010? I brought an understanding of the wider Anglican Communion through facilitating our Diocesan Link with the Anglican Church in Zambia, and from attending World Mission conferences here and around the world. Co-ordinating the pre-Lambeth Hospitality for global visitors to Bath & Wells in 2008 was a very special privilege, and I hope next year’s experiences will build up similar relationships of trust, co-operation, and companionship in the Gospel for others.

I said in 2010 that I believed it was crucial to take all that was best of the Church of England’s breadth of theological understandings, traditions, and attitudes into the future, but that we must not be afraid to change as and when the Spirit led us. 11 years later I believe that in some very significant areas the Spirit is way ahead of us, and we have some catching up to do!

During my first term I joined GSWATCH (General Synod Women and the Church) after attending a Fringe meeting and was later invited to become a national Trustee. Obviously one of the highlights of my time on Synod was the passing of legislation in July 2014 to enable women to become bishops – this followed the damage done to the church’s reputation when the legislation in November 2012 narrowly failed to pass in the House of Laity.  Compromises had to be made to enable the legislation to pass in 2014, and the effects of these do not allow yet for full equality for women’s ministry in the Church of England. This may sound controversial to some, but continuing to permit discrimination is not only a bar to mission, particularly for young people, but gives the impression that the Church of England is another religion that does not recognise the full humanity of half of God’s people – consider the Taliban in Afghanistan denying education and human rights to girls and women due to their extreme version of Islam, and the legislators in Texas influenced by US Evangelical Christianity denying women’s control over their own bodies – the current lack of transparency from some parishes here on their attitude to women in leadership is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

In my second term on Synod, I became more involved with justice and equality of opportunity for LGBTQA+ Christians. A significant moment came in February 2017 with the ‘Not Taking Note’ campaign in response to the House of Bishops’ Report on ‘Marriage & Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’. That debate was the most moving and powerful I have heard on Synod, with significant contributions from a wide range of speakers.  The Archbishop of Canterbury said that “the church needs a radical new inclusion based in love, our Christian understanding, neither careless of our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”. A request was made for the votes to be counted by Houses, thus needing approval in all three to pass. The House of Clergy voted against; the Report fell.  The outcome is the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project – will this lead to the necessary changes? Let us hope so, especially if a more inclusive General Synod membership is elected.

I have not only been concerned with issues of gender and sexuality: I have represented Synod on the Ethical Investment Advisory Group; and supported motions for more action on Climate Change; more equality of ministry for Readers; support for global church links and relationships; and more attention to be paid to the legacy of the Windrush generation and the church’s welcome, or lack of it, to those of different ethnicities.

Looking to the future, there are many issues that will crop up on the General Synod Agenda – legal, financial, liturgical, missional, educational, and ethical – to list just some areas of church life. But until we take seriously the equality of every person’s identity with regard to gender and sexuality – the equality that is recognised and legislated for in all other areas of life in England – we will struggle to get our mission to tell the wider community about the love of God to be taken seriously by those we want to reach.

 

Posted in General Synod, Good Disagreement, Living in Love & Faith | 1 Comment

Synod: A Call to Simplify Our Structures

by Rt Hon Canon Sir Tony Baldry, who was MP for Banbury (1983 – 2015), Second Estates Commissioner (2010 – 2015) and Chair of the Church Buildings Council (2015 – 2019)

I have some reflections on my time on General Synod having served for eleven years, been Second Church Estates Commissioner for five years, and Chair of the Church Buildings Council for four years.

The Church of England is now made up of a number of Tribes.

For the Church of England to flourish, ways have to be found to enable all of the different Tribes to flourish and we should seek to avoid the loss of energy and damage of the various Tribes conflicting with each other.

Sometimes this will mean having structures which enable different Tribes to do things differently.

So, for example, on the issue of same sex relationships it would appear that it is going to be impossible to persuade Conservatives of anything other than it is sinful.

But for many of us, I suspect most, sin implies choice, but we are not in a position to choose our sexuality.  It is what we are.

We cannot go on kicking the issue of same sex relationships down the road.  Sooner or later we are going to have to have in place legislation that allows priests to marry same sex couples, or bless same sex marriages at their discretion.

Similarly to the practice which has existed since the 1920s, whereby Church of England clergy at their discretion have been able to marry or bless marriages involving someone who has been divorced.

Nearly a third of a century as a member of the House of Commons, and including eight years as a Government Minister and four chairing a Select Committee, has taught me something about the complexities of the machinery of Government – that Whitehall is running a country, including three devolved Administrations.

Whitehall is simple compared to the complexities of the governance of the Church of England.  We have: General Synod, the Archbishops Council, the Church Commissioners, Lambeth Palace, Church House, the National Church institutions – I do not think it would be possible to find anywhere in the world another institution with such labyrinthine governance rules.

If I had a magic wand, I would wave it to summon a former Cabinet Secretary, such as Lord Butler, to review the governance of the Church of England and advise how it could be significantly simplified, with less cost, and less time taken on matters of process to all involved.

I see that there are rumours in the press that the Bishop of Leeds has recommended the merging of the Archbishops Council with the Church Commissioners.

There is an urgent need to simplify the governance of the Church of England and merging the Church Commissioners with the Archbishops Council makes extremely good sense.

Some Parish campaigners seem to have expressed the concern that such a move would be in some way a “coup” by the House of Bishops.  They need not have such fears.  Such simplification would mean fewer costs and less money spent on administration means more money available to pay Parish priests.

The Church Commissioners are established by Act of Parliament and any change to their status will require an Act of Parliament and I am sure that the House of Commons will have a real interest in the outcome of any such reform not least what will happen to the role of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, which is  a Crown appointment and at present the link between the Commons and the Church of England.

Parish priests are the lifeblood of the Church of England and many of the concerns expressed by the current “Save our Parishes” campaign are concerns about the future of the numbers of parish priests in different Dioceses.

The simple fact is that there is a limit to how much one can increase the amount of money given across the country by parishioners and others to support the centralised work of the Church of England.

Every £1 spent on administration and elsewhere within the Church is money that is not available to spend on parish clergy, but the Church of England is an organisation with no fewer than 42 Regional Offices, each replicating many of the same functions.

There is little logic with this.

The Diocese of Oxford – one Diocesan Office – manages to look after three quite populous counties, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, whereas three Diocesan Offices and all their associated costs look after the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

If we want to ensure the greatest possible amount of funds available to support parish clergy, sooner or later someone is going to consider how the overall administration of the Church of England is made as efficient and as cost-effective as possible.

Posted in General Synod, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Sir Tony Baldry | Leave a comment

How to Help Change the Church of England…

by Nic Tall, General Synod Elections Coordinator – Inclusive Church

Voting works – change is happening!

In June the Methodist Conference voted to allow same-sex marriages.  In September the Governing Body of the Church in Wales voted to introduce a service of blessing for gay couples.  Both stories have been welcomed by LGBTQI+ Christians and their allies, demonstrating a grassroots desire for change.  Crucially, both were as the result of voting, one where a two-thirds majority was needed in all houses.

Many changes need decisions by governing bodies, whether it’s promoting racial justice, supporting carbon neutrality, or the introduction of equal marriage for LGBTQI+ couples.  There are meetings, conversations, much ink spilled on reports and briefing papers, but eventually it comes down to a vote.  It’s clear that voting really maters!  And how do people get to be part of governing bodies in the first place?  Again, it’s usually down to people voting for them.

The Church of England’s General Synod is elected every five years, and voting in the 2021 election takes place between 17th September and 8th October.  Elections are taking place in every diocese for both clergy and lay candidates, and by the end of October we will know the results.  Those people returned will take part in the big debates and cast the votes that will guide the Church of England.  This will include the conclusion of the Living in Love and Faith project, with any recommendations to General Synod likely to be voted on in November 2022.

Inclusive Church has been working in partnership with Ozanne Foundation and a broad coalition of church groups to encourage inclusive candidates to stand.  We are delighted to be supporting over 200 candidates who have signed up to our inclusive election statement:

 “I am committed to equality for everyone, at all levels and roles within the church, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status, mental health or sexuality.” 

The full list of candidates is online at www.inclusive-synod.org.  In 2015 Inclusive Church backed 108 candidates, today we have over 200.  To have doubled the number of candidates shows the desire for a fully inclusive Church of England.

The candidates are in place and now we need people to vote for them.  Everyone on a deanery synod can vote.  That’s every licenced priest and every parish lay representative. It’s really important to vote – the opportunity only comes up every five years.  In elections such as UK General Elections a marginal constituency would be around 1000 votes either way.  With General Synod a small number of votes can make a big difference.  In 2015 half of the diocesan elections would have had a different outcome if just five votes changed.  One in eight elections were decided by just one vote.  Electorates are small and turnout can be low, so with multiple candidates and a proportional representation voting system every vote counts!

When it comes to General Synod every inclusive candidate will matter.  Really big decisions often pass by wafer thin majorities.  The 2017 the House of Bishops sexuality teaching document was rejected by just seven votes.  In 1992 the approval of women priests passed by just two votes.

In 2021 just five extra votes going one way or the other in each diocesan election could change around 40 seats in General Synod.  With such close Synod votes on important matters the direction of the church will be decided by how people vote in this month’s elections.  Inclusive candidates need your vote so that they can make a difference.

So please find out who the inclusive candidates are in your diocese by visiting www.inclusive-synod.org, and make sure if you are eligible you vote for them.  Spread your top preference votes (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) around those on the list.  If you yourself can’t vote then encourage people you know who can to do so, and share the inclusive candidates list with them.  If you’re not sure who your local deanery reps are, ask your local Church of England priest.  We have a real opportunity to make a difference by voting for a positive, open, forward looking and truly inclusive church.  This is a vision that is definitely worth voting for!

Posted in General Synod, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Nic Tall | 2 Comments

LGBT Stories: Bring on the Ban!

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

This is a brief and unoriginal article, simply reminding us what we have done as a Church, and what the Government has done, and what still needs to be done, and what you can do.

In July 2017 the General Synod voted to support the following motion:

That this Synod:

(a) endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK of November 2015, signed by The Royal College of Psychiatrists and others, that the practice of gay conversion therapy has no place in the modern world, is unethical, potentially harmful and not supported by evidence;

(b) call upon the Church to be sensitive to, and to listen to, contemporary expressions of gender identity;

(c) and call on the government to ban the practice of Conversion Therapy.

Here’s how that vote went:

In the House of Bishops: 36 in favour (97%), 1 against (3%), no abstentions

In the House of Clergy: 135 in favour (78%),  25 against (14%), 13 abstentions (8%)

In the House of Laity: 127 in favour (68%), 48 against (26%), 13 abstentions (7%)

Archbishop Sentamu said this in his speech:

“The sooner the practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is banned, I can sleep at night.”

As part of my own brief contribution I said this:

“As the world listens to us the world needs to hear us say that LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a crime. LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sickness. And LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sin…

What matters here is that a therapeutic model is not appropriate if LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sickness. And if the Church suggests that really, actually it is, then our many statements opposing homophobia are void, and the world will think that in fact we really do believe LGBTI+ people to be second-class humans no matter how they behave; and this is not acceptable to me and I hope not to this Synod. That’s why I will vote for this motion…”

In 2018 in the Government document “LGBT Action Plan”, the then Minister for Women and Equalities committed the Government to:

Bringing forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK”

In July 2020 the Prime Minister said this:

“On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country.”

On 11 May 2021 a press release from the Government Equalities Office said this:

“…the Government will take legislative steps to ban conversion therapy… Many forms of the practice are already prevented under current legislation, but this new ban will ensure that it is stamped out once and for all.”

The stories told by contributors to Via Media over the past few weeks underline once again the human cost of conversion therapy. The decision of the General Synod to call for a ban stands. The statements of the Prime Minister and the Government stand.

Despite this the Government has not yet brought legislation forward. Like my colleague the Bishop of Manchester, I regret this. In Via Media a month ago he wrote:

“Meanwhile, whilst we fail to press on with draft legislation, young people are continuing to suffer abuse disguised as therapy. Their harm is real and immediate. For their sakes we need to make this consultation both short and to the point.”

The Church has spoken confidently, and Government ministers have agreed. But action is needed now.

And you have the opportunity to influence this action. So:

  • Please write to your Member of Parliament, and/or to the Minister for Women and Equalities, and/or to the Prime Minister, asking for a swift and positive introducing of legislation to ban conversion therapy “once and for all”. Please encourage those in your church community to do the same. And as you do so, remember those who have courageously told their stories on this website, and the many thousands whose stories remain untold, and pray for them.
  • And please consider supporting those who are working to advocate to Government and to play their part in whatever consultations are to come. For example Ban Conversion Therapy Campaign or the Ozanne Foundation could really use your help and support.

Many thanks to all difference-makers!

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | Leave a comment

LGBT Stories – Can Conservative Evangelical Churches Ever Change?

by Anne Dannerolle, Church Minister of Hull Community Church (soon to become Oasis Church Hull) and East Yorks Regional Ambassador for Inclusive Church

The day I stood up to tell our church congregation in Hull that we were opting in for same-sex weddings, back in 2018, I felt a mixture of thankfulness and dread. I had a picture of my head above a parapet and wondered if it would be shot down in flames, and if my brief stint as church minister was about to come to an end. Was I about to split the church, and what would happen next?

Hull Community Church had once been a very typical conservative evangelical church in the 1990s. One of the ‘new’ style churches it appeared informal, fun and exciting. There was certainly a buzz about the place when I arrived as a student, with a newfound faith and desire to get stuck into a local church. There was a great sense of family and community, but underneath the modern appearance, there were also deeply held conservative views and a purity culture to follow. But in the late 1990s, a number of community projects grew out of the church, and with these came a change in thinking. The church grew less conservative in its views, and more open and loving and accepting.

In 2015, I was asked to become the church minister, after having headed up the community work of the church for 10 years. But I was becoming increasingly torn about being silently affirming instead of openly vocal about my support for the LGBT+ community. Like many church ministers I stuck my head in the sand and pretended that by staying neutral, I could serve and love everyone. I remember reading the words of Desmund Tutu and being haunted by the truth of them, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”.

In the summer of 2017, I felt that God was kicking me off the fence, and asking me to stand up and be honest. Not long afterwards, Lucy Gorman from the local LGBT Christian Fellowship asked if we would host Steve Chalke at the church for him to share his story about inclusion – we were the only church in Hull willing to have him speak, with a big enough room to meet in. That took us on an eight month journey of conversations with the church and bringing people’s stories into the light. We encouraged the church to read widely, and listen and talk respectfully together. While Biblical interpretations did have an importance, in truth it was people’s stories that made the real difference. Seeing God at work challenged people’s preconceived ideas and led to deeper relationships and understanding.

And then came the day. As an independent church, the decision was ours to make. The trustees and leadership team agreed that the church would opt in for same-sex weddings and become fully and openly inclusive. And it was time for me to stand up and deliver the news. If you’re interested, you can take a listen to the talk I gave.

Listening back now does make me cringe. Some of my language and understanding still had a way to go, and you can hear the nervousness in my voice. But it was a key moment in our journey, and unforgettable for me.

Afterwards, two people came to tell me they were leaving the church, which was a moment of real sadness, but the church did not split. The most memorable conversation though was with a young woman who came to tell me that she was gay. She said it was the first time she had felt safe to say that aloud in a church. The thing was, this young woman had been in my home, babysat my kids, walked my dog, eaten meals together, and been part of the family. Why hadn’t she felt safe to tell me before? Why didn’t she know I would have loved her?

It brought home to me in the starkest possible way that even though I believed I was loving, inclusive and safe, I wasn’t. Being silently affirming was simply not good enough. Not for a group of people who had suffered so much at the hands of organised religion. I needed to be bold enough to speak aloud words of affirmation and support. Love looks like being valued, affirmed and celebrated, not just accepted and tolerated.

Since then I have heard hundreds of heart-breaking stories, and I now believe that the most important work of my life has been to take the church to a place of being openly and vocally inclusive. I know I have a long way to go, and this is not the end of the journey.

This week, we will be announcing to our church congregation that we are joining the Oasis Church network. We have been in conversation for a while with the church, so they know it’s coming. We will no longer be Hull Community Church, but Oasis Church Hull. We’re proud to become part of a church network that is fully inclusive in every way. This is  embedding irreversible change into the church, meaning that we can never go back to being a conservative evangelical church, no matter what. It gives a safety net by being part of something bigger, and we’re excited about this new step.

Sometimes change in church feels like an impossible mountain to climb. But Steve Chalke said when he came to Hull in 2017 that it’s like a slow tide. There’s only one way it’s coming in, and it isn’t going away. Change is coming, slowly, too slowly, but I live in hope that in my lifetime our LGBT community will be valued and celebrated in every way in our churches. I can only say that I am sorry we didn’t vocalise it sooner.

And thank you for not giving up on church. We need you, more than we know. Without everyone being a part, we are not whole. Only when include, love, affirm and celebrate every human being in our midst will we see God’s kingdom come alive here on earth.

Posted in Anne Dannerolle, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Spiritual Abuse | 2 Comments

LGBT+ Stories – The Trauma of Abusive “Healing” Ministries

by the Revd Canon Timothy Goode, Rector of St Margaret’s, Lee, Disability Adviser to the Diocese of Southwark, Member of Archbishop’s Council and Co-Chair of MOSAIC

Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.’ (Psalm 8 verse 5)

My relationship with the Church of England has always been a complex one, built as much on a vision of what the Church of England could aspire to be, as much as to what the Church of England presently is, or was in the past.

As someone who passionately wishes for the full participation of the LGBTI+ community within the church, as I do for all who are marginalised by the church, I was deeply moved by the recent testimonies on Via Media, from those who have been on the receiving end of conversion therapy and who so generously shared their appalling experiences at the hands of a church that purports to articulate the immeasurable love of God for them.

However, I was caught utterly on the back foot, when I found, whilst reading the testimonies, that my acknowledged feelings of solidarity and empathy swung uncontrollably into what felt like deeply unchartered territory, as I found myself sobbing; not tears that well up when one hears of injustice or when one feels righteous anger, but sobs of unprocessed pain and suffering.

It felt like a scab was being brutally torn off revealing a deep wound underneath, which was crying out to be acknowledged and engaged with.  I initially felt shame and deep guilt that these testimonies had unearthed such suppressed feelings of confusion, embarrassment, diminishment and hurt.

But reflecting on my response now, I feel immense gratitude to those who shared their shocking testimonies of conversion therapy, as they also unearthed the as yet unprocessed suffering that I had experienced when on the receiving end of abusive unconsented forms of ‘healing’. These had taken many forms and contexts, but all had involved the use of physical restraint and a need for my collusion. My unwillingness to play ball had on each occasion been met with projected responses of anger and rejection; so that my inability to walk unaided became my fault, put down to my lack of engagement and my lack of faith.

I thought I had worked through these abusive experiences so that they no longer had a hold on me. Reading these testimonies revealed that, despite the support that I have received, these experiences still have the power to resurface and catch me unawares.

I don’t want to equate my own experience of abusive ‘healing’ ministry as a disabled person with the harrowing conversion therapy experienced by the LGBTI+ community. However, each experience matters, and each experience matters before God.

Both practices invite us to explore how it is that we as Christians can still equate a loving compassionate God with the shocking outcomes of these practices; how the reasons and means of conversion therapy can ever justify ‘the fruits’ of our actions. For it is the very fruits of these actions – the diminishing, the suffering, the pain, the anger, the rejection – that have led me to conclude that the theology that underpins it is deeply flawed and profoundly unhealthy.

St Matthew states that ‘a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.’ (Matthew 7.18) If conversion therapy and abusive ‘healing’ causes such bad fruit, as we read in these shocking testimonies, then St Matthew’s metaphor should cause us to question both the action and the theology that underpins and motivates such an action.

Maybe the time is right to join with what feminist theologians have been doing for decades, and critically explore and re-evaluate the biblical writers’ assumptions and unconscious biases. For example, when we read the bible through the perceptive and lived experience of disability, we may notice the biblical writers use of impairments as metaphors for sin, doubt, and unbelief, which in turn point to an understanding of perfection that is rooted more in Plato and Aristotle than the Body of Christ.

This does not sit comfortably with the risen body of Jesus Christ, a physical body that is healed but not cured, whose open wounds are a visceral and vital part of the resurrected body, drawing us into Christ’s fullest humanity. Maybe through the risen body we are being encouraged to acknowledge, own, and ultimately love and celebrate our God given diversity.

Candida Moss, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, writes that disabled people are often used by the Gospel writers to beef up Jesus’ credentials, showcasing his divine powers.

“When Jesus meets people with disabilities, he fixes them and that’s a sign that he is powerful,” she says. “That relegates people with disabilities to just being there to show the power of God. They’re not really real characters or real people who have feelings and needs and personalities. That pushes them to the margins of the story.”

All groups, whether it be LGBTI+, race, disability, gender, neurodiversity, to name but five, who continue to be viewed and treated as ‘less than’ by sections of the church, find that they are being consistently pushed to the margins of the story; and yet it is in the very margins of the story that Jesus so often to be is found.

We therefore should not be surprised that the graceful embrace of the sacrificial ministry of all who have shared their experiences of conversion therapy have reached far beyond the LGBTI+ community. Their brave and harrowing testimonies have opened the door for other marginalised groups to share their stories of abuse and diminishment, offering the possibility of true healing and hope to so many, including myself, who have suffered abusive ‘healing’ ministries within the church; drawing us all towards the ultimate truth, that we are each loved, that we are each unique and precious in God’s sight, that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made.

As the psalmist sings:

‘…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.’ (Psalm 8. Verses, 4-5)

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Disability, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Mental Health, Spiritual Abuse, Tim Goode | 1 Comment

Church Leader – Are You Helping or Harming?

by Jayne Ozanne, Member of General Synod, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition

The “debate” around the need to ban “conversion therapy” has attracted more than its fair share of fake news and scaremongering, particularly by those who want to continue to “help” LGBT+ people become something that they believe God finds more acceptable.  According to Julian Mann (Christian Today, June 21st 2021) my work to ensure that these degrading and harmful practices are banned will mean that “Christian pastors could be banned from saying the Lord’s Prayer with same-sex attracted people”.

This type of reporting inevitably feeds the narrative that certain Christians are now facing their own special form of “persecution”, which not only bolsters their sense of identity as God’s “chosen remnant” but also helps them justify why they are so beleaguered and vilified.  This narrative attracts many Christians who are eager to find support for the contentious views they hold, but it comes at a considerable cost – as it alienates an increasing number of Christians who wish to find more common ground.

There is one significant truth, however, that those who subscribe to these views consistently side-step.  This is becoming increasingly apparent to both Christians and non-Christians alike.  Indeed, the media are now also beginning to highlight it by asking repeated questions which those who are wedded to defending their right to “pray the gay away” refuse to answer. And the question?  Why will you not acknowledge or address the mounting evidence of the deep psychological harm that you have caused and are still causing so many LGBT+ people, particularly young LGBT+ people?

Medical professionals are clear; international institutions such as the UN are clear; hundreds if not thousands of senior faith leaders are clear; and now the UK government itself is clear – “conversion therapy” is harmful and must be banned in order to protect LGBT+ people whose lives are being damaged and destroyed by it.  Just how many more lives need to be lost before people decide to take this on board?

Of course, Jesus never caused anyone harm.  Indeed, quite the opposite – he had very strong words to say to those who cause “any of these little ones to suffer” (Matt 18:6).  Indeed, his whole ministry was characterised by showing unconditional love and compassion to those who were hurting and who had been judged unacceptable by the religious leaders around them.

I have recently run a series of testimonies on my blog site, Via Media, by LGBT+ Christians documenting the years of abuse they have suffered at the hands of church leaders.  The Bishop of London has called them “texts of terror” before going on to ask church leaders to recognise the harm that they are causing.  There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of stories just like them.  LGBT+ Christians being repeatedly told that who they are is unacceptable, that they did not have enough faith to be “healed”, that more often than not their problem lay with their primary relationships – such as with their parents – and so added yet more pain and anguish to those already hurting.  All had suffered rejection, most had had to leave their churches, all spoke of the mental toll it had had on them – often with quite harrowing results.

And the response from those who were responsible for their pain?

The truth is that the overwhelming response from these church leaders has been to shout even more loudly in the media about their “right” to continue causing such trauma and harm.  No one has seen fit to apologise.  No one has stopped and reflected on the serious safeguarding issues that have been presented. They have no plausible answer to the harm that they have caused and continue to cause, save to ignore the evidence and condemn the messengers instead.

The worrying thing is that this is sadly all too familiar – indeed, the Bible is full of such stories.

Israel constantly ignored their shortcomings and dealt with the prophets who confronted them with the evidence of their wrongdoings by ignoring them, and worse.  They vilified them, they mocked them, they berated them, and they even killed them.  It is a strategy as old as the hills, but one which always has the same outcome –the people who ignore the warnings end up facing the full force of God’s judgement.

So, it is time to say “enough”!

Enough of the excuses.  Enough of the spiritual abuse.  Enough of the hardness of heart.  Real people are being hurt and it is being caused – and condoned – by those who preach a message of love, which now sounds hollow and false.  Interestingly, it seems that evangelical Christians have some form in this area.

Take the so-called “smacking ban”, where the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute decided to “stand up to the government” and campaign to be allowed to discipline their children.  This was yet another example of Christians being oblivious to the damage – in this case physical harm – that they were causing.  They believed their God-given right to uphold scripture over-ruled any evidence of the pain and trauma they were causing, despite mounting evidence from professionals to the contrary.

If there is one thing Jesus was clear about, it was the need to stand up to religious leaders who defined themselves by what they were against rather than what they were for, who spent their time putting burdens on other people’s backs that they could not carry, and who prided themselves with the fact they thought they were more righteous than anyone else.

Interestingly, it was those “in the world” who formed the crowds that thronged around Jesus because of the love and compassion that he exuded, which was magnetically attractive – and in stark contrast to the hypocritical piety of the religious leaders, who seemed to think they knew the bible better than Jesus did!

So no, neither I nor anyone else are seeking to ban the Lord’s Prayer.  I am however seeking a ban on any religious practice that is focused on an individual with a predetermined outcome that tells them that they cannot be anything other than heterosexual or cis-gendered.  This includes any prayer that causes someone to suppress or hide who they intrinsically are and more often than not causes them to feel deeply ashamed about who God has made them to be. In contrast, I welcome and encourage any prayer or spiritual guidance that creates a safe space for people to explore who they are and come to a point of peace about how they have been created.  How they then chose to live out their life, in the knowledge of this truth, is quite another story – and one that Jesus promises to accompany us on so that we have fulness of life.

So please join me in praying that God will open the eyes of all those who have been the cause of so much trauma and pain to so many LGBT+ people over the years – that they will be humble enough to recognise the harm that they have done and courageous enough to admit it and apologise for it.

This article was originally written as a Right of Reply to an article about Jayne by Julian Mann for  Christian Today

 

 

 

Posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 2 Comments

LGBT Stories: It’s Time for Action!

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury and Vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea

As I write, we are preparing to meet at General Synod for the last time before the elections this summer. Everyone is acutely aware that, among the ‘to do’ items for the incoming General Synod in November, will be the “what next” for the Living in Love & Faith Project. Across the church, people will be preparing to stand and vote with their view about how far the Church should go in respect of its inclusion of LGBTI+ people.

Like many readers of this blog, I have read the distressing and harrowing stories provided by numerous contributors in the past few weeks. Because of my national role, I get approached by individuals with similar stories of pain, rejection and cruelty at the hands of other Christians. These sources of information convince me that, whatever else may or may not change in the coming years, we must take to heart the words of Bishop Sarah from this week’s earlier blog and address the issues of coercion, secrecy, harm and control. If we don’t, the Church of England will continue to be perceived as being on the side of abuse and maltreatment, rather than with the Lord who brings good news to the poor and comforts the broken-hearted.

So far, so good. But this article is aimed directly at those of you who read these articles, nod in agreement, share them on Facebook, and think that is enough. To the keyboard warriors out there, it’s time to act.

This Tuesday past I was able to see the first two episodes of a fascinating documentary series on BBC4 called Philly D.A. In 2017, Larry Krasner, a progressive, reforming human rights lawyer, managed to get himself elected to the most powerful offices in the City of Philadelphia, the District Attorney, responsible for prosecutions in one of the most divided, crime-ridden cities in the US. Since then he has set about dismantling a system that, while seeking to protect the public by sending more and more people to prison, at the same time caused immense suffering for the most marginalised communities, mainly poor, young black people. Having spent a career on one side of the court room, defending people, he realised it was time to try and change the system by getting himself elected. Taking on vested interests, including some extremely wise, sensible people who had been moulded by the system and worn down by ‘the way things are’ into accepting its culture of casual cruelty, he has found himself with the power and ability to start again. It will prove fascinating to see how things turn out in the remaining episodes.

Some of us who have been battling on, seeking to change the culture of the Church of England, feel worn down by it. Maybe we have become a little too comfortable in accepting that ‘the way things are’ is acceptable, or explainable. What we need, at least those of us who feel that the Church of England still has a future in being a vessel for the good news of Jesus Christ, is some more Larry Krasners, some more people fired by righteous anger, a new infusion of energy from those who are not yet worn down. We need people to serve on General Synod who are committed to changing the status quo, and all the negative cultural things that Bishop Sarah mentions, which prevent everyone who wants to belong to our church from flourishing, including I would want to say those who are conservative on sexuality matters.

There will of course be others who will be invested in keeping things the way they are. They are extremely well-motivated to stand and serve our church on General Synod. But, without people who want to change the church standing for election to in the coming weeks, it is almost inevitable that things will remain the same, including the likelihood of yet more fudge emerging from Living in Love & Faith.

For what it’s worth, despite the persistent cynics, I think the emerging vision for the Church of England – Simpler, Humbler, Bolder – offers a real chance for culture change. I know that we now have two Archbishops who long for it. But they, and all of us seeking re-election for Synod, need allies to encourage them and critics to hold their feet to the fire.

As Krasner himself says, “Ultimately if you never break down the wall, you may have to go through the door, because there’s stuff going on on the inside that is hard to fix from the outside.”

Stand for General Synod: we need you on the inside!

If  you would like more information about how to stand for General Synod in your Diocese, please visit www.inclusivesynod or email synod@inclusive-church.org 

Posted in General Synod, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Simon Butler | Leave a comment