In Praise of Activists…

by the Rev Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury 


Please Note – this article, written by Canon Simon Butler, has been published by him with support of other Via Media contributors. Ms Ozanne has had no say in the content or decision to publish.

The last place you would see me is in a demonstration. There’s something about the crowd mentality that doesn’t sit comfortably. Maybe it’s my inner reserve, or my fear of what others might think. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no coward. I’m happy to make my mark and speak my mind, but my way of working is through the structures. And I’m OK with that.

But I’m full of admiration for the activists, who tirelessly campaign, go the extra mile, write the letters, brief the media, even have the faith and passion to believe that one more action can tip the balance or make the difference. There’s something about believing in a vision of a better world, a fairer, better community, a more Christ-like church, that can drive women and men to passionate engagement, risking the opposition of those with power or who prefer the status quo or their understanding of orthodoxy. Let us now praise famous activists…thank God for you.

One of the amazing things about some activists – and here I come to praise the editor of this particular blog – is the way they make themselves vulnerable and are, often, fools for Christ. Jayne Ozanne has this gift: it is costly and it sometimes makes those of us who prefer the more softly, softly approach very uncomfortable, but for all the right reasons. Jayne has had to bear the brunt of the shadow side of those with whom she disagrees: it has been physically, emotionally and often spiritually taxing. There was, for a while, even a Facebook page devoted to mocking her. Such is, sometimes, the cost of discipleship.

But Jayne does this gospel work for the sake of the people who cannot speak, but who speak to her. She knows, not only in her own life experience of bad religion, but in the life of many who contact her, of the pain and hardship they experience, of the psychological distress – sometimes harm – often godly, loving Christian people wittingly or unwittingly inflict upon those to whom they minister. Often these sisters and brothers cannot see the distress they cause, and so those who suffer have no-one to talk to because they fear their pain will be interpreted as disloyalty to a particular church, minister, friendship group or even Jesus himself. As one of my own congregation ruefully said to me today about a church she used to worship in (prompting this article), “My church preached God’s unconditional love, but then I discovered that in that church love always came with strings attached.”

Jayne’s willingness to take a public stand has meant vulnerable people have found someone to confide in, and, thank God, someone who will speak for them. Despite some far-fetched fear-mongering by some that Jayne’s General Synod Private Member’s Motion on Conversion Therapy was a ‘Trojan horse’ for the outlawing of New Wine, HTB, Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest, many in these movements of the Holy Spirit in the Church of England’s who are members of General Synod voted for Jayne’s motion. They, like her, want to see any abuses of practice or, importantly, church culture, cast out. No one is banning prayer, but prayer must never be coercive or directed to potentially harmful outcomes, even if requested by the one who asks for prayer. The right thing to do is not to pray such prayers, but to pray that God’s will is done in and through a person.

Jayne will hate that I have written this article. But sometimes it’s important to give credit where credit is due. I’m no activist but Jayne gives me courage to be more bold in my own work to see God’s church renewed and reformed. Thank God for you, sister, on behalf of so many you speak for.

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3 Responses to In Praise of Activists…

  1. Dear Simon

    I entirely agree that the vote on conversion therapy was an important result and achievement, and our thanks are due to those who pushed it through.

    But I can’t help observing that a significant price was paid.

    Jayne Ozanne’s original motion endorsed the agreed statement of 16th January 2017, which explicitly made reference to gender identity. The concern of this statement was not only to reject ‘conversion’ therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation, but also forms of therapy which pathologise those who identify as trans, intersex or non-binary.

    In the event, however, this motion was rejected, in favour of Jamie Harrison’s amendment which upheld the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK of November 2015. Significantly, this memorandum does not deal with trans issues or gender identity.

    The interests and welfare of those who identify as trans or non-binary were therefore explicitly excluded. One of course expects this from the usual ‘conservative’ suspects. But it was disappointing to see how easily the marginalisation of trans perspectives occurred amongst those from whom one might have expected more.

    Jayne Ozanne herself indicated at the very outset she was happy to accept the Harrison amendment without argument. Paul Bayes, despite stressing his support for Liverpool Pride and his talk about LGBTI (and not just LGB) people, similarly indicated he would accept the Harrison amendment. Jamie Harrison’s passing assertions regarding the apparent lack of scientific evidence for harm for trans people experiencing conversion therapy thus went unchallenged.

    Subsequent reaction seems largely to have missed this. The report on the OneBodyOneFaith website, for example, described the final motion – which removed trans people from consideration – as only ‘slightly’ altering the original motion. It is difficult to see this is consistent with OneBodyOneFaith’s stated aim of a church in which transgender Christians ‘are welcomed and affirmed, not just tolerated.’

    Or again, on the ViaMedia blogsite, David Walker argued that “the Synod showed an overarching desire to hear the voices of LGBT+ people” – despite the fact that he himself had chaired the debate in which the concerns of those who identify as trans, intersex or non-binary were simply (and apparently without challenge) set aside.

    I realise the argument will be made that this was a pragmatic compromise – the best that could be achieved under difficult circumstances. But this is just another way of saying: to get the motion through, the interests of trans people had to be sacrificed.

    We’ve heard this line before. This is exactly the argument that bishops (for example) use for their failure to support equal marriage: “we didn’t support it, because we just don’t have the votes”; “we are privately supportive, but the time is not right”; “the way forward is more study and another working group”, etc., etc., etc.

    Support for LGBTQI Christians should be mean exactly what it says. This has to include unequivocal support for trans, intersex, and non-binary voices and perspectives, and not simply affirmation for lesbian and gay people.

    I am not on General Synod, and do not know what went on behind the scenes. The condemnation of conversion therapy was a good step, and I do admire the courage of those who worked for this motion, at considerable personal cost.

    But in the debate on conversion therapy at General Synod it seems that the arguments on behalf of trans people were not made and lost. The truth is: they were not made at all.

    This was not full inclusion. Let’s not suggest otherwise.

    • jayneozanne says:

      That’s actually not true Charles if you care to listen to my speech or my official response to Jamie during the debate. It’s indeed really unfortunate that the Royal College of Psychiatrists have not felt able to support the Jan 2017 statement, but to say no case was made is wrong

  2. Zoe says:

    The situation described in the following letters is entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.

    Dear Tomas,

    Thank you for your letter. Yes, of course I remember Brett—we have been friends for many years. Please thank him for recommending that you write me.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to begin by summarizing your letter back to you. That way, if I have misread anything, or assumed too much in any area, you can correct me right at the beginning. I want to make sure I have read you right.

    You became a Christian just two years ago, and were converted out of an active homosexual life—president of an LGBT group in college, every weekend in the clubs, and so on. You had known that this was the direction you were headed by the time you were fourteen, and you had never looked back. The thing that precipitated your conversion was not directly related to your sexuality at all, but was rather your parents’ divorce, which was more than a little messy. For the first few months of your Christian life you tried to carry on with “your normal,” but something was now off. You started out in a church that was truly “affirming,” but the sermons were about as anemic as a sermon can get, which is pretty anemic. In search of spiritual nourishment, you started trying more conservative churches, but that brought the issue of your sexual life front and center. As a consequence, about a year and a half ago, you made a decision to attempt a celibate lifestyle, which you have maintained for the most part—two falls in the early months.

    The reason you are writing to me is two-fold. First, you now find yourself in the conservative and evangelical world, but even here there is a welter of opinions about what someone like you should do. And second, your decision to be celibate feels to you like you have just cinched tight the lid on a pressure cooker, but have not figured out how to turn off the burner. You feel a certain inevitable dread . . . at some point there will be beans on the ceiling.

    Is that basically it? Are we dealing with the same basic issues?

    On the assumption that I got the basics, let me begin with three foundational issues, and two of them will not appear to you as having anything to do with sexuality at all.

    The first thing has to do with your relationship to your parents. The animosity generated by the divorce makes this trickier, but bear with me. In your next letter, I would like to ask you to provide me with a character sketch of both your father and your mother. I want you to write down what you actually see, and not what you think you ought to be seeing, or what I would like to hear. You are not gossiping—you are describing a situation to a pastor. I promise to take what you say as being simply from your perspective. But that is precisely what I want to get at—your perspective. When you have done that, I would like you to describe for me what your relationship is like with both your father and your mother. Given what you see in the character sketches, how have you navigated this? Which one is harder to get along with, and why? Who do you have an easier time with, and why?

    Then—if you don’t mind—I would like to ask you to write me a character sketch of yourself. Please begin with what you consider to be your strengths, your virtues. What do you do well? What are you grateful for? You have already written to me about your challenges, but you can add to that list if you wish, but the thing I am most interested would be your virtues. As you are describing these virtues, please be direct. You are not bragging, but rather are responding to a direct question from a pastor. And if it makes you feel any better about it, my reason for asking will become apparent in my next letter . . . and it is not a self-esteem thing.

    And last—this would be the one thing I would want to say directly about your sexuality now—be very careful that you do not slide into an unbiblical identity. We have many metaphors to describe our lusts, and some of the metaphors are just as pernicious as the lusts are. For example, to say that something in us is “hardwired” is a metaphor, and is what lies under the claim that many homosexuals make about being “born this way.” In conservative circles, where your decision to be celibate is honored, you will find others in your position saying that they are “same sex attracted.” This is just “the way it is.” And it is commonly thought that this orientation or disposition is not sinful, although a decision to act on it would be.

    But we are not defined by our lusts, or by well-worn grooves that our past lusts have run in. Our foundational identity is in Christ. If acting on an impulse is wrong, then having that impulse is also wrong. It is not the same wrong, and it is not the same level of wrong. The tenth commandment prohibits coveting, and this is the one commandment that focuses on our internal dispositions. Saying that you are same-sex attracted and that’s okay is like saying you are covetousness-inclined and that’s okay too. “Ooo. Nice car.” Just don’t touch it.

    Among your straight friends, what would you make of someone who claimed that he was “long-legged blonde attracted”? Or someone else who confessed that when he got into sin, he was “threesome-attracted”? I dare say, but you would ask both of them, respectively, to give you a break. Lusts are demented, by definition. They do not know how to say when. And different people struggle with different lusts. We also struggle with habitual lusts. But when you have identified a lust, you should have done so only because you are looking at it through the cross hairs. A little red laser dot should be shimmering on its ugly little chest.

    “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” (Col. 3:5–7).

    We are to identify a target, which is not the same thing as identifying an identity. How many young men are fornication-attracted? Well, all of them actually. But that does not make it right. That does not give us the right to “settle” with it. If you have been forgiven in Christ, the fact that you have done something sinful in the past does not give you an identity wrapped up in that particular sin. Say you shoplifted in the past. If you are in Christ now, you are no longer a thief. You are forgiven. That is not your identity. If you have engaged in homosexual sex in the past, that does not make you “a homosexual” now. You are in Christ now.

    You might ask why, if you are in Christ, you still have to deal with this as a recurrent temptation. It is a great question, but I want to begin by noting that to identify yourself as “a homosexual,” with the concrete dried, is part of the temptation. It is an antecedent part, doing its work before the first stirrings of explicitly sexual desire, but it is very much part of the complex web of lies that creates this temptation in the first place.

    I am sure we will have to go into this issue at greater length, because there is a great deal of confusion about it. But in case you want to puzzle over it in the meantime, there is a profound link between this issue and the second thing I asked you to do—i.e. make a list of your strengths or virtues.

    Thanks again for writing.


Any thoughts?