by the Revd Canon Peter Leonard, Acting Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral and Chair of OneBodyOneFaith
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
Words from Psalm 13 which came to mind when I saw the picture on my social media stream this last week.
Bishops and spouses invited but same-sex spouses excluded.
How long, O Lord must we put up with this kind of exclusion, discrimination and homophobia? Worsened by the fact that the very clear statement of exclusion (interestingly now removed from the Lambeth Conference website) is topped by a smiling Archbishop and his equally smiling, and of course valid spouse – thus emphasising the radical exclusion and invalidation of same-sex spouses.
How is this in anyway the ‘radical inclusion’ which the Archbishop called for in February 2017? How is this in any way demonstrating the apology for the appalling treatment by the Church of LGBT+ people which the Archbishop has offered on many occasions? An apology means nothing if the behaviour doesn’t change.
And I had hoped things were changing.
During General Synod just last week, the Church of England’s Pastoral Advisory Group published six pastoral principles for living well together. It is my opinion that these guidelines are very good, a step forward in addressing people as people rather than issues. These principles ought to provide a helpful framework to include the other, whomsoever the other is. With that in mind, let us apply them now against the exclusionary statement I have discussed.
Firstly, acknowledging prejudice: excluding someone from something based on their sexuality is prejudice. Dress it up however you like but it is prejudice and bigotry: plain and simple. By doing this the Church is saying that same-sex spouses are less valuable, less valid than others. It is offensive, rude and flies in the face of the hospitality we are called by God to show to all people. I recognise that there are cultural differences and understandings but once more it is those who are LGBTI+ who must bear the brunt of this.
Secondly, speaking into silence: “let’s not invite them because then we can pretend they don’t exist and won’t have to deal with the issue”. If we do have to discuss it in anyway there will also be less LGBTI+ voices to deal with, an ongoing feature of the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith process generally.
Thirdly, addressing ignorance: one of the very powerful ways in which opinions are changed and people grow is to meet those who are different to them. How can that happen with such blatant exclusion? All the major prejudices such as racism, Islamophobia and homophobia will only be dealt with by education and encounter, not by exclusion and ignorance.
Fourthly, casting out fear: All the exclusion of same-sex spouses does is to create yet more fear. Fear amongst the LGBTI+ community about encountering the Church, yet more fear of being rejected, yet more fear of being condemned. Fear from those LGBTI+ people within the Church that the positive words we hear from the Archbishop and others are just that – empty words. In his Presidential Address at General Synod last week the Archbishop called for us to give up cynicism for Lent. Well forgive me Justin, but this recent action only serves to reinforce the cynicism not give it up.
Fifthly, admitting hypocrisy: to be talking about evangelism whilst doing this, to be apologising for the treatment of LGBTI+ people publicly whilst also doing this, to talk of a radical new inclusion whilst excluding others, is the most spectacular hypocrisy. That coupled with the attitudes of some bishops from around the Anglican Communion towards women, relationships, divorce and power who still seem to be included and indeed welcomed is astonishing. The fact that the very exclusions I am talking about serve to ensure that these bishops are invited and made welcome leaves me speechless.
Sixthly, paying attention to power: to arbitrarily enforce this is an abuse of power. To say that any individual can decide who is and is not included is wrong. The very fact that the statement in brackets has now been removed from the website (as mentioned above) seems to indicate that the organisers of Lambeth 2020 know it to be wrong.
Applying the Pastoral Principles for the first time to Lambeth 2020 is a spectacular failure.
The Archbishop himself has seemed to ignore them to suit his own ends by once again not dealing with the real issue of LGBTI+ inclusion and affirmation. That churches around the Anglican Communion hold different opinions and some have moved on with this, whilst others have not. Furthermore, it is those who are throwing their toys out of the pram, and remain in positions of power and privilege, saying that they will not attend if same-sex spouses are included who should not be there – that is a consequence of their actions and other faithful servants of God who happen to be in a same-sex marriage or partnership should not be excluded because of it. I appreciate that the Archbishop is attempting to hold Christian unity but he is fooling no one. Is unity at the cost of a marginalised and oppressed group Christian unity in any sense?
General Synod last week had a focus on evangelism. The very public exclusion of same-sex spouses from the Lambeth Conference diminishes the Gospel message and mission of the global Church. Again, the Church of England’s exclusion and homophobia will have turned yet more people away and further underlined the toxic brand the Church has created for itself.
On Saturday rather than attend another debate on evangelism I went out and did some. I went to Hampshire Pride in Winchester. I received the usual reception as I have done at similar events, gratitude that I was there in my clerical collar marching with many other Christians. I also prayed with people and pointed them in the direction of safe churches, churches where they would be welcomed, included and affirmed. Praise God that there are such places and an increasing number. God is working amongst the LGBTI+ community even if the Church continues to turn their back on them.
OneBodyOneFaith has issued an invitation to those same-sex spouses who have been excluded. We will host you, we will welcome and include you, we will ensure you are in the same country as your spouse so that you can support them in the same way that every other spouse is being supported and included. Know that it is the Anglican Communion, it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is the Church of England which is excluding you and not the many faithful followers of Christ in this country.
The Pastoral Advisory Group refers to the pastoral principles as addressing six evils.
It seems that sadly the evil is going unaddressed at Lambeth.