by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of Via Media, Member of Synod and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
“Why don’ you just leave the Church of England?”
It’s the question I’m repeatedly asked by my non-church LGBT friends and allies after the repeated mistakes, misappointments, misguided decisions and misunderstandings in relation to sexuality and gender identity matters.
To be honest, it’s the question I ask myself constantly too – as I’m sure do so many others.
But of course, that is precisely what the “conservative fundamentalists” want. They’d love to purify the Church of those who they think defile it, and I’m sure there are many who will have muttered under their breath “who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” (or in my case, “woman”).
The question has come into sharper focus following my recent resignation from the government’s LGBT Advisory Board, where I’ve been asked publicly by the media “Why on earth do you stay in such a homophobic institution like the Church of England? Surely you should resign from there too – for exactly the same reason that they too have created a “hostile environment”?”
My impromptu answer surprised even me. I said it was because I knew there were those who were changing their minds within the Church, that this movement was only ever in one direction and that research shows that there is a younger generation, even within the Church of England, who think very differently to those in power at the moment and that “one day things will change”. But, and it’s a big but, I have always then stressed that the key question is how many lives get damaged and ruined in the process, and whether people can cope with being the victims of injustice and abuse whilst this change occurs.
That “but” has come into sharp focus with the launch of the Living in Love and Faith materials, and the realisation (finally) that there are major safeguarding issues for LGBT people as they are “encouraged to take part”. Added to that there is the totally misguided notion from the Church hierarchy that there are “two equal and valid sides” in this “debate”, and that all we need to do is reconcile and everything will be all right.
Even the archbishops in their Synod address talked about the need to “just love each other”, which shows a complete lack of understanding about the abuse being metered out by one side on the other and the obvious power differentials at play. As many have themselves reflected, it feels like we are tragically in a situation akin to domestic abuse, where one side is constantly being assaulted and yet those with the power to do something about it are advising both parties to “just love each other” and get over it.
No, the abuse needs to stop first. There can be no peace without justice, and no reconciliation until those who have the power to wound are dealt with appropriately.
Interestingly, what domestic abuse victims are encouraged to do is to leave and find somewhere safe.
If I can be honest, it is what I’d recommend all LGBT people do who are finding the journey just too hard and too painful – there is no shame in going somewhere where you will be loved, honoured and cared for properly. Where your wounds will be dressed, your heart healed and where you will be honoured with dignity and your love celebrated.
In truth, it is already happening. Indeed, it has been happening quietly for years, as thousands have left without threats or sabre-rattling, and certainly with no media attention. Unlike a certain wing of the Church who keep holding their bishops to ransom, saying they will leave, but who rarely seem to actually follow through and go.
However, there is another reason – if I’m honest with myself – why I stay.
And that is because this is my home. It is where my friends and family are, it is where I have have roots and memories. It is my familiar place that I love. I do not want to leave for a foreign land, I want to stay where I belong – I just want to be safe in doing so.
Sadly, there comes a time in any abusive relationship where the realisation dawns that the only way out is to leave, with the vain hope that in doing so the offending party will then reflect on their offensive behaviour. The trouble with that strategy though is that they are inevitably then left to retraumatise other victims and so the cycle continues. Which is why so many of us stay and try and change things.
So, if you’re wondering what to do, I would suggest that you must put your own wellbeing and safety first. If you are finding things too painful, please do leave and find a refuge – even if it is for a short while, in order to find rest and recuperate. Easter Saturdays are an inevitable part of the Easter story.
However, for those who know their calling is to stay and soldier on, please do take care of yourselves and know where your “red lines” lie. That is, where are the lines that if crossed you will say “enough is enough”, and that you then feel empowered to act on principle – not beaten down into submission, as so often occurs in situations of domestic abuse.
I am honestly weighing up how near the Church hierarchy’s decisions are getting to my own red lines. The constant undermining of LGBT people and the lack of progress to create safe environments where we can flourish is astounding. Maybe soon it will be time for me to act again on my principles – and leave. We will have to see – God only knows.