by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, Member of General Synod and Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation
Barak Obama has written the first volume of his memoirs. In a fascinating interview about A Promised Land he speaks to David Olusoga about America and how change and progress happen. In many ways it is a very hopeful story. He identifies some central fault lines in the country’s history: slavery, treatment of Native Americans, internment of Japanese POW’s after W2 and he names them as their Original Sins. Then he tracks the progress and why he feels hope.
There is a long list including the Abolitionists, Suffragettes, the Union Movement, LGBTQ activists. As each step forward is taken there remain people who sincerely believe in slavery, patriarchy etc……but……once the country had decided what is right they are disempowered. In other words it is not possible to change everyone’s mind, but it is possible to do what is right.
Interestingly a change in America’s gun laws is not yet on that list. Why? Because of power. The gun lobby wields so much power that even the good guys like Obama were not able to do what is to clearly right.
Reading Living in Love and Faith (LLF) made me realise that LGBTQ reform in the Church of England is our “Gun Law” point. Slowly, inch by inch we have progressed. There is still huge racism in the Church, but we name it and admit that it is wrong. Women are not remotely equal. There was for example not a single female clergy candidate for the election to Archbishops’ Council last week. The rules however have changed and the wrong has been named.
What is stopping us from doing the right thing with regards to LGBTQ people?
We don’t do it because – like with the gun lobby – we are afraid. Afraid of the power that some at the far right extreme purport to wield. But is it true? Do they really have so much power that we continue to collude with institutional homophobia because we are afraid?
Undoubtedly even before Covid-19 the Church of England was facing an existential challenge. Numbers were plummeting, both attendance and income. The scariest statistics were in the collapse of young people’s engagement with “church”.
Somehow the story we told ourselves was that the only place where there was any hope for growth was in the “HTB model churches”. This was a far easier sell as we got a new Archbishop who had been groomed in that world. Sorry if you don’t like the word “groomed”, but in a way it is compassionate. The avowed intent of the hierarchy of the top private school ‘Bash Camp’ world was to equip these boys for high office in the church and in the country.
I can see how good it must feel – as if they have all the power. That easy manner. That self-deprecating, but entitled way of occupying centre stage. It must be true. They are the only hope of the survival of the Church of England. Even to suggest otherwise is to betray the church I love.
But we urgently need to challenge this myth of power. In the area where I live the most catastrophic collapse in numbers and giving have been in churches that have lurched to the right.
As LLF has now landed I suppose we need to respond, although part of me just wants to yawn and reference ‘Groundhog Day’. Here is my reply anyway:
This is a valiant effort to try and keep the Church of England together. It makes a very deep mistake in its conception. A pink and fluffy middle ground is neither moral nor achievable . Dr Adi Cooper a senior national social worker and academic, has just published her Oxford Diocese commissioned report on the murder of Peter Farquhar.
She said: ‘The policies of the Church of England regarding homosexual practice and the approach to sexuality and relationships continues to put people at risk because it forces people to hide, lie and become vulnerable to exploitation.’
LLF is simply not an adequate response to this ongoing fault line in the Church. As with slavery or apartheid, so long supported by warped readings of the bible, we will have to reach a point where we see that these sincerely held theologies are profoundly wrong.
We cannot hope to change the hearts and minds of people who think that being homophobic is their God given right. What we can do is be bold in naming it as shamefully wrong.
In other words the time has come to do what is right.
If we wait till we all agree that time will never come and meanwhile on a daily basis God’s children are being hurt, shamed, driven to the point of suicide and beyond. It is not sustainable to preach a God of love and allow this state of affairs to continue.