LLF: The Cost of Careless Talk and Needless Silence

by Savitri Hensman, community worker, author of “Sexuality, Struggle and Saintliness” and LGBTI+ equality activist

The damage often done to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) people in the Church of England has been much discussed lately. At the same time there has been serious concern about failings in safeguarding as well as ongoing racism, despite numerous promises from senior church leaders to do better. Some people have been trying to understand what keeps going wrong across a range of issues where power and status are involved.

There is much that is good, especially at local level. Congregations and clergy are often caring, worship can be profound and moving, thinking and witness impressive, including service to some of the poorest amidst the pressures of the pandemic. But there is a strong element of chance about whether someone who is part of this church will be nurtured or harmed.  It is a little like wandering through an often beautiful landscape with crumbling tunnels underneath which cause the occasional cave-in. It is only by recognising the underlying weaknesses that the structures can be made safer.

Recent media coverage has largely focused on controversy over certain study materials that were launched in November 2020 to encourage conversation on sexuality and gender identity, entitled Living in Love and Faith (LLF). This was followed by a pushback by those most opposed to greater equality, including several bishops, which made dialogue that much more difficult. The weak response of the vast majority of all other bishops deepened the sense of alienation felt amongst many affirming Christians.

Yet for me, the most disturbing recent reminder of the grave cost of the official line on sexuality and gender identity came in answers to questions at General Synod, on a preventable tragedy in Maids Moreton. What happened there was indeed exceptional, but the response is revealing about harm routinely done to LGBTI+ people. This has been made worse by the depth of denial among leaders, which also undermines the Church’s mission in various ways. But to make sense of what happened in that Buckinghamshire village, the broad context is perhaps needed first.

Making choices and passing on the costs

Numerous theologians have been making the case for affirmation for many years. In fact, it is now over half a century since the Church of England began its formal study of LGBTI issues. Today, whilst only a small minority of Anglicans in the UK now believe that same-sex sexual intimacy is always wrong, the institutional Church seems largely focused on not displeasing this faction too much. Indeed, it often refused to accept inclusive recommendations by its own working parties and downplayed the strength of the case for change. This made it easier for anti-affirmation campaigners to promote the hollow claim that ‘Bible-believing’ Christians necessarily agree with them and so fend off greater equality.

This was the backdrop to the grim events in Maids Moreton and nearby Stowe, described in an independent safeguarding review by Adi Cooper for Oxford diocese. Peter Farquhar was an active member of a theologically conservative parish church, sharing those beliefs. “He was a homosexual and celibacy was his way of reconciling his beliefs and sexuality”, but when he retired, despite a network of friends and family, he was deeply lonely. Sensing his need for emotional intimacy, a ruthless young man, Ben Field, pretended to love him.  He wrote that this had “given me happiness that I have long since never expected to enjoy”. But Field defrauded and poisoned him, then moved on to his next victim, Anne Moore-Martin, before being arrested.

In one of the questions at Synod, Canon Rosie Harper quoted the review: “’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, as was PF’ and asked what steps will the LLF implementation group take to ensure that Dr Cooper’s concerns about both praxis and theology are comprehensively addressed?”

The Bishop of London replied on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops, stating that LLF resources “emphasise unequivocally that every person is equally loved by God and made in the image of God”, leading to “welcome, love and care” and an unprecedented openness “which will help to break the perceived need to hide, lie and so become vulnerable to exploitation.”

Prejudiced insensitivity and unkindness should indeed be discouraged. But the reply sidestepped the main issue: a theology which ruled out love like that which Peter Farquhar’s heterosexual neighbours might enjoy. The review indicated that he was respected and welcomed by his fellow-worshippers, who tacitly also knew him to be gay. Would he really have wished to open himself up to their disapproval and guilt, however caringly expressed?

Perhaps, as someone who grew up in a deeply hostile era when sex between men was criminalisedand who had internalised the message that acting on his sexuality was sinful, nothing done in the present would have prevented his victimisation by Ben Field. Moreover freedom of speech and belief mean that views that are potentially harmful cannot always be prevented without an overreach of state power which could be even more damaging. Anyway, penalising non-affirming opinions might have marginalised him yet more, since he was ‘conservative’ himself. But if the institutional Church had stopped pretending that suffering caused by inequality can be solved with “niceness” and instead embraced an affirmative stance (while allowing space for theological diversity), maybe he would have survived. So might many others whose mental or physical health  has been eroded by ongoing discrimination.

Of course, some LGBTI+ Church members are in affirming congregations. Others feel called to celibacy or have adapted to the constraints of a non-affirming stance. But not all can do so without considerable damage, just as some over-75s can safely run marathons but not all can! Yes, following Christ does mean taking up the Cross, even if this ends in pain or death. But this is not about heaping more burdens on the oppressed, rather the opposite: Jesus becomes a target because he champions those marginalised by the powerful and pious (Mark 3.1-6).

Undermining witness

While LGBTI+ people continue to pay a high price for Church leaders’ choices, the failure on this issue points to wider institutional weaknesses which leave others damaged or disadvantaged.  It also harms our mission.

In particular, official statements often reflect a theological perspective in which justice is not recognised as a practical expression of love, though this is a key biblical theme (taken up also by the early Church).

Showing love is not just about being kind and supportive but also taking action where some have been deprived of or refused, without adequate cause, what others can rightly take for granted (James 2.14-16, 5.1-4)  This Church failure to recognise the need to challenge misuse of power and privilege helps to explain why survivors of abuse and those facing racism, sexism, disability and class oppression have been repeatedly failed. This unwillingness to confront injustice also gets in the way of sharing the good news (Luke 4.16-19).

Change is needed, now.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Savi Hensman, Sexual abuse, Spiritual Abuse | 1 Comment

LLF: Please Break the Silence, Bishops

by Dr Charlie Bell, Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge and ordinand at St Augustine’s College of Theology 

How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Psalm 13)

Since LLF was published just a few weeks ago, the calls for a safe space for discussion has become louder and louder, not least given a number of videos, and associated justificatory articles, which many have seen as representative of the erasure, belittling and downright abuse that LGBTQI people have become accustomed to as members of the Church of England. Despite the promises made about ensuring the pastoral principles are adhered to, it appears that bishops are determined not to even mention ‘LGBTQI’ in their statements, aiming instead to talk in vague generalities about ‘different lived experiences and theological understandings’. Beneath this, it has become abundantly clear that, not only are our senior leaders  still missing the point when it comes to power dynamics and structural oppression, but that this is a fundamentally unsafe enterprise even for those in power.

LLF has asked LGBTQI people to make ourselves vulnerable, so we can listen to those of other ‘theological understandings’, and thus find a way forward as a church. Putting aside the simple fact that a threat of schism (as made in the CEEC video) is hardly ‘listening’, many LGBTQI people are willing to do just as the bishops ask, despite the personal cost. Yet what has become absolutely clear in recent weeks is that the LGBTQI members of the House of Bishops who are not out are themselves terrified to speak out – and that their straight colleagues are giving them no public cover. If they are not feeling safe, then how on earth are the rest of us supposed to? If the pastoral principles are the key to this, then why do they only apply to the clergy and laity – and not the bishops? Is this really what a safe space looks like? And if not, then are we really happy to live in a church driven by fear?

Silence is not always a bad thing – sometimes it signals serious intent to listen, to engage, to leave room for differing views that don’t need a referee. Christ’s own silence before his accusers was an act of resistance in itself. But silence is not always a virtue. In the past few weeks, the silence from the House of Bishops has been deafening. Very few LGBTQI people are calling for bishops to present combative opposition to those amongst their number who are threatening schism, or those who suggest ‘same-sex attracted’ Christians are trying to divide the church. But for so many bishops, including LGBTQI bishops and those known to be supporters, to say nothing when there is so much hurt amongst some of the most vulnerable in our communities, is extraordinary.

This silence leaves open the marketplace for insidious voices to continue to work a dynamic of oppression against LGBTQI people. We are told that we should be more ‘gracious’, as though attacks on our very personhood, identity, and, indeed, on the ones we love, are something we should discuss politely over a cup of tea. We are told that our ‘issue’ is being debated and that we shouldn’t ask for too much. We are told that there might be a few changes around the edges but we shouldn’t ask for marriage – often by straight, white men who are able to return, without any knowing looks of disapproval, to their own wives and children. It is very easy to throw stones when one faces no risk, in a system where one’s own privilege is deeply entrenched.

We are told that we shouldn’t be asking for ‘special treatment’, when such ‘special treatment’ is simply to be able to enjoy the very things that straight people take for granted. It appears to me that an overwhelming majority of straight people do not want to understand what being LGBTQI is like in the church. Very few of us want anything other than what straight people already have – I would have rather more time for the argument that we should wait for marriage if heterosexuals also declared a moratorium on their own marriages to ‘give the church time to make up its mind on this issue’.

LGBTQI people, like any oppressed group, find ourselves in a deeply pernicious environment, where false equivalences are made between genuine oppression and theological disagreement, where we are expected to model perfect behaviour in the face of abuse, where our identity is fair game for ‘discussion’, where our commitment to scripture is consistently questioned, where our integrity is dismissed, where our arguments are wilfully misrepresented, where our experiences are discounted or trivialised, where we are described as an ‘ideology’, where we are continually spoken about not with, where the bishops who are supposed to be upholding this ‘safe space’ feel neither safe enough to speak out, nor brave enough to even mention us by name – and, indeed, sack clergy for entering into same-sex civil marriages.

It is in this kind of environment that LGBTQI people are successfully gas-lighted, belittled, delegitimised, scapegoated. This is what structural violence looks like, however ‘gently’ or ‘generously’ it is expressed. Silence in this kind of environment is not neutral – it is participation in sin.

Life outside the Church would be so much easier, particularly for those of us who have grown up in a world where being LGBTQI is no more interesting than being tall or short.  The miracle is that LGBTQI people are still coming to church, still offering themselves for ordination, still loving the church.

We’ve had report after report; we’ve had the facilitated conversations; now we have LLF. We’ve been told time and time again that it’s worth it.

If we are to put an end to this cycle of violence, then our chief pastors need to look in the mirror and ask – what am I doing?

Posted in Charlie Bell, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 3 Comments

LLF: History Repeating Itself: The “Beautiful” Story

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury and and member of the Archbishops’ Council

Not long ago I did something very embarrassing. In email correspondence with a man of Afro-Caribbean heritage, I failed to notice that autocorrect on my new phone had substituted his name for a word that could be interpreted as racially offensive. When he responded by asking how to make a complaint against me I was mortified and immediately reached out to offer an embarrassed apology.

My partner runs an HR casework team for his Civil Service department. When I told him what had happened, he warned me that in discrimination law concerning protected characteristics the fact that my action had been accidental and unintentional was irrelevant. What mattered was the way in which the recipient heard the word I used. If he had complained, then in law I was guilty of the use of the word in causing offence, not because I intended to use it, but because of the offence it caused.

This has been in my mind as I have witnessed the reactions to the publication of Living in Love and Faith (LLF). We have already seen strong responses. There was a heartless attack on specific individuals from Christian Concern, which was contemptible. More worthy of note was the ill-timed Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) video The Beautiful Story, which speak of individuals less directly, and more in defence of theological principle or abstract ideas like orthodoxy and ‘the gospel’. For those who wish to read some helpful, measured responses, may I suggest Bishop Jonathan Clark and Jonathan Chaplin.

According to Dr Andrew Goddard, who clearly knew about the film in advance, the response from those associated with The Beautiful Story has included a strong element of surprise. The makers were surprised that people outside the CEEC network even noticed the video – apparently it was meant only to be directed towards Evangelicals; and they were surprised that the reaction to it has been so negative and strong. This “surprise” needs exploring because both are revealing and concerning for the integrity of the LLF process.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a provocative article for the Church of England Newspaper entitled, We Have Renounced Secret Ways…But Have We? In it, I took to task a culture of secrecy and doublespeak that characterised the approach of some Evangelicals to their dealings with the wider Church. I asked, “Why all this secrecy? Why are conservatives appearing to say one thing to one audience and another to a different one? Why risk the accusation of dissembling, or even downright lying?” I concluded “that some of my brothers (and generally they are brothers) are in danger of becoming so focused on being Evangelical that they are in danger of forgetting something central to being Christian. I have come to think that their commitment to theological truth runs the risk of side-lining the idea – and maybe the practice – of moral truth. In part this is due to an Evangelical worldview that sees itself as an embattled minority, striving to keep the church pure when all around are capitulating to the spirit of the age. In such conflict, perhaps they think that the end justifies the means.” Today those words sound rather painfully relevant again.

Is the CEEC so naïve as to think that other Christians might not be interested in what they might say, on this of all issues? Or is the culture of CEEC so dishonest that they thought it appropriate to offer one face to their fellow conservatives and another to the wider Church of England? What does that say about honouring the Pastoral Principles to which we are all supposed to be committed? Setting aside the fanciful idea that everyone in “CEEC churches” might have a common mind on issues of human sexuality, there is now an urgent task for conservative evangelicals to demonstrate that they are serious partners in dialogue with the rest of the church and are not going to turn a smiling face to the LLF process while showing a very different face when they think no-one else is looking? The dialogue ahead asks all of us to speak to those on our side of the debate as though the other side were present too.

The other concern is that many Evangelicals are surprised – or to use Andrew Goddard’s rather passive-aggressive word “puzzled” – at the reaction. This is at the heart of the questions that people are asking about the safety of the LLF process, and specifically the safeguarding of people who identify, to use a shorthand, as either “LGBTQ+” or “same-sex attracted”. I recognise that there is a concern among conservatives that safeguarding is being co-opted to attack their understanding of orthodoxy. But I think this is to miss the point. What concerns LGBTQ+ people at this moment is the way in which conservatives speak of us. It is the way in which the language used lands that is the problem, because it feels as though it lacks any empathy (that’s how it feels – even if they don’t mean it to, it’s the offence caused that matters). I’m surprised at how unsafe LLF feels right now, even for someone like me who has become used to being gaslit by those who misrepresent my views and whose sexuality has become the object of intrusive speculation. If Dr Goddard can’t hear this yet then he would do well to listen to same-sex attracted conservatives who also level this criticism at fellow conservatives: start by showing kindness, care and understanding.

All online personal abuse directed in any direction to any group or individual member of the Church of England is unacceptable, but I do think that the root of the problem lies with the way too many speak of LGBTQ+/same-sex attracted people. Andrew Goddard’s false equivalence between the pain of having my identity, my most life-giving human relationship and my sense of self questioned by conservatives again and again and his pain at having his doctrinal and biblical worldview called into question is simply a further demonstration of the lack of empathy and understanding.

Moving onto more empathetic ground will be the safe ground which conservatives will find LGBTQ+ Christians able to listen to their views, secure and ready to respond to their entirely legitimate questions about biblical texts and doctrinal matters. I am already hearing of clergy being signed-off sick thanks to actions of CEEC and Christian Concern. I am already hearing of vulnerable young people relapsing into depression by these interventions. This is, biblically speaking, a greater concern than a defence of orthodoxy or of the Church’s teaching. In what way does inflicting harm by our words demonstrate gospel love? Here’s a clue: this whole episode has all left me feeling very vulnerable, and some of us feel too vulnerable to even pick up the LLF booklet and to face having our lives dissected, let alone respond to the gaslighting, the personal and theological assault that the CEEC, Dr Goddard and others offer, with so much brain and apparently a lot less heart.

Please, just speak to us as if we are vulnerable and we might just get somewhere. Then we can talk about the things you want to talk about. And, if you can’t do that, if you insist upon your false equivalents and head knowledge alone, for the sake of us all stand back. Let others who can take your place. I know they are out there and they too winced at The Beautiful Story.

But is it a Beautiful Story?

No: it was the wrong message, at the wrong time, in the wrong tone. There’s still time to set things right. We can talk about the things that concern the CEEC. But it must be on much safer ground.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Simon Butler | 7 Comments

LLF: Bishops – The Time Is Now!

by Jay Greene, Member of General Synod and Member of the Co-ordinating Group for the General Synod’s Sexuality and Gender Group

Back in January I was fortunate to go to Wales and see Cherry Vann consecrated as bishop of Monmouth. It was a truly moving occasion: Brecon Cathedral was packed; the sense of goodwill, new hope and expectation was palpable; and then we heard Cherry and her partner, Wendy, welcomed from the pulpit.  It was faith enhancing, faith restoring and the memory of that day has sustained me through these past two weeks. We have to ask ourselves why +Cherry needed to go to the Church in Wales to be recognised and valued for her gifts.  Why do people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender rarely make it to the college of bishops here? I know that the Church in Wales has been on its own journey and I am not forgetting the past harm done to Jeffrey John at the Llandaff election.  However, they have managed to resolve their differences and move on. I think we could learn a little from that here in the Church of England.

Bishop Cherry was a member of the Living in Love and Faith Pastoral Advisory Group who produced the Church of England’s “Pastoral Principles”, which are to acknowledge prejudice; speak into silence; address ignorance; cast out fear; admit hypocrisy; pay attention to power.

These principles resonated for me as I took part in General Synod last week. I looked at members of the House and College of Bishops whose sexuality might be described as “a grey area” (a phrase made famous by David Hope, a retired Archbishop of York)  and wanted to say to them, as Our Lord said to Lazarus, Come out. Come out, not only from the closet but from the tomb of fear and silence which imprisons you and undermines true engagement with the Living in Love and Faith resources.

The Church is shaped by hypocrisy.

In 2003 my partner Marion was a Team Vicar and I helped her with admin and those myriad tasks which make parish life run more smoothly. People sensed that I had a vocation so I began that process of discernment which many of you know so well.  The Director of Ordinands described Marion and I as having “a modern marriage”. After a year of preparation, I suddenly got a call from the embarrassed DDO to say that the bishop had changed his mind. If I went forward for training then Marion and I could no longer live in the same house but “he didn’t mind what we did on our day off”……! What??? I’m not quite sure what the bishop thought “we did on our day off” but I can assure you that it normally includes, gardening, walking, and visiting family. Furthermore, when you come home from a harrowing funeral visit or a dispiriting PCC meeting you want someone to give you a hug and make you a drink – the promise of sex on your day off is not the panacea for all ills. The people of the parish knew who we were and their faith was not undermined by our love for each other.  I withdrew from the process. I believe that God brought us together and it was not for a frightened man, even if he was a bishop, to break us apart.  

There has been some change in the intervening years.  Marion and I are now in a welcoming and affirming diocese where she is a House for Duty priest for six small parishes and I continue to help behind the scenes. However, the culture that pretence and secrecy are okay because they preserve the status quo still pervades in the house and college of bishops and, I believe, undermines trust in the Church.  

Gay, Lesbian, and Bi-sexual bishops, I call on you again to come out. Let us stand together and acknowledge our sexuality, this is how God made us and we bring our whole selves to his service.  I call on your straight brothers and sisters in the House and College of Bishops to support you and uphold you in this. I pray that, if and when, you do come out and publicly own your sexual orientation, your straight colleagues will stand with you, commend your bravery and welcome this new openness.

You will need to be brave. We know how hurtful some people can be.

Last year when I was introduced to a conservative evangelical,  I was rather dismayed that, yet again, I found her first words to me were “ we are all sinners”.  That said, this is nothing compared to the trolling and hate speech that comes the way of some of our number. Yes, you will need to be brave as Jesus was brave, but know this – you are not alone as he was.  We are awake, woken like Lazarus and called forth from that time of prejudice, fear, and silence. We are here for you. By “we” I don’t just mean the LGBTQI+ community, I mean open-minded people in parishes, deaneries, and chapters all over England.

We know there are affirming bishops. We can read between the lines and see your input to Living in Love and Faith, but now we need you too to speak out.  One such is our new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterell. At Synod he spoke to us of the Vision and Strategy work whose aim is to create a church which is simpler, humbler, bolder.  A church which is Jesus Christ centred and Jesus Christ shaped. Archbishop Stephen is calling for a younger and more diverse church:  “this diversity includes human sexuality and identity and with the publication of Living in Love and Faith we now enter into a period of reflective learning as we are challenged afresh to honour each other and see Christ in each other.”

It is unfortunate that Loving in Love and Faith has taken a big knock from the release of the CEEC film.  There is a strong sense of betrayal amongst the LLF network of creators and amongst all of us, LGBT and straight, who were willing to engage with the resources.  Our trust in the process has been undermined but we can build back and build back better. In Vision & Strategy  Archbishop Stephen takes as his over-arching text:  “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). So, let us put aside the culture of fear, hypocrisy, and silence and make this church a ‘new creation’.

To do this will require more than bland unity from our bishops: it will need prophetic courage.  Bishops: the time is now.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Jay Greene, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding | 4 Comments

LLF: Can Perfect Love Cast Out Fear?

by Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s Waterloo and Member of the Co-Ordinating Group for the  “Living in Love and Faith” Project

I’ve found the past month surreal, exciting and painful, in more or less equal measure.

Surreal, because two significant (for me) processes have been unrolling at the same time. As part of the Coordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith I was very involved in the preparations for the launch, and the launch itself, and the responses and reactions afterwards. Readers of this blog will be able to imagine how much preparation and thought went into the launch, which was very different to how we had thought it might be, because of COVID. And how much prayer.   

At the same time I was, along with much of the rest of the world, watching the unrolling of the USA election process with increasing horror. The attempts by Trump and his camp to subvert due process, to disenfranchise voters (mainly Black voters) and to deny the reality of the USA today was grimly fascinating, and during meetings online I would switch obsessively between the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico and the Zoom call I was on…  It all felt quite surreal. It couldn’t happen here, I thought.

Exciting, because I have been relieved by the response to the content of the LLF resources. I have advocated for the LLF process since becoming a member of the Coordinating Group three years ago. I thought it was vital that we, as a church, acknowledge formally the existence in the C of E of committed Christians from across the spectrum of sexuality and gender. And I am convinced that if we are to discuss these matters seriously as a church, we have to collectively do the theological work.

I know that LLF isn’t perfect, but it comes after seven more conventional ‘reports’ over forty years, none of which have gained traction in the C of E.  Now, for the first time, many of us can see our faith and our lives reflected in a range of resources produced by the House of Bishops. I have been glad to receive  positive responses to the content from many people, and hope that LLF will find its way into the lifeblood of the church as we reflect and learn and engage together.

But it has also been a painful few weeks as the momentum of responses has increased. I don’t need to list to Via Media readers the videos and comments which have emerged. Many of us have been taken aback by the anger and aggressiveness expressed by some: and hurt by the raw nastiness of some of the online comment. Many of us have seen, in some of the responses, an attempt to derail the process at its beginning. It has been hugely disappointing as well as hurtful to many.

I wonder two things. First, I wonder whether the ferocity of some of the reactions – which have, in some cases, produced an equal response – is because for the last three years we have been in semi-purdah, waiting for the publication of the resources. Pressure has been building, and people have been preparing their responses in advance – without knowing what was coming – and so, now, we see an eruption. My hope is that it will become calmer, and I am grateful to the Bishops of London and Coventry for their statement reminding everyone of the need for grace. And also for the Pastoral Principles and the work on creating safe spaces which is at the heart of the LLF course, and being taken on board by the Next Steps Group, chaired by the Bishop of London.

Another hope: that those who have responded so negatively, perhaps before they had had time to really engage with the resources, will find the time to do so – they may be more encouraged than they had expected.

I am grateful for this blog by Fr Thomas Sharp, which acknowledges many of the complexities we are facing

Second, I wonder whether there isn’t a huge amount of fear around. It feels to me as though there is deep fear that a particular, traditional vision of the church may be taken away. And looking back over my involvement in these matters over the past thirty years, I wonder if part of the strength of the conservative reaction is that this is the first time I can remember that the House of Bishops have produced something which truly seeks to affirm the place of LGBTI+ people in the church.

For me, the urgent challenge for us, those who want to see change in the church is, how can this fear be overcome?

We read in John’s Gospel that perfect love casts out fear. This is the opening quote in the trailer film for LLF. It is an expression of hope, as much as an expression of confidence.

My hope for the next few years is that we can find a better way of being church, without the back and forth which so many of us have been involved in for so many years. But it will be a hard and exhausting process for everyone, requiring huge generosity, mutual support and trust  and we will only be able to do it with the help and love of Jesus Christ in our hearts.

Posted in Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding | 1 Comment

LLF: Power, “Mother Church” and the Anglican Communion

by Dr Jo Sadgrove, Research Fellow at the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds; Research and Learning advisor, USPG and Member of the Social & Biological Science working group of LLF

Over the years, I have been fortunate to spend some time analysing sexuality, Christian belonging and community life around the Anglican Communion. These experiences have encouraged me to consider debates about same-sex relationships within the Anglican Communion as reflecting aspects of global power dynamics. In this short piece, I want to think not about sexuality or sexual identity per se, but about power. Specifically, how processes like LLF over the next few years might protect those people who have had their power taken away by the churches’ actions within and between different parts of the Anglican Communion. LGBTQI+ people around the world have suffered hugely in the crossfire of global exchanges that are as much about international relations as they are about physical bodies. A nuanced conversation about the nature of power within and between national institutions is, to me, a critical part of what debates about same-sex relationships require.

I have found the spectre of the Anglican Communion within the LLF discussions rather puzzling. At one point in the process there was talk of reporting to the Lambeth Conference, that LLF might be a ‘gift’ to the Communion. Such thinking seemed to echo the Church of England’s unequal historic relationship with the Anglican Communion. Perhaps I misunderstood the intent, but it struck me at the time that we needed to turn the conversation on its head – to ask and explore what engaging other parts of the Anglican Communion might offer to the Church of England’s conversation about sexuality, society and scripture. By this, I do not mean using church stances on sexuality in other parts of the world to garner support for differing perspectives held in the Church of England. Rather, trying to suspend disbelief and enter a ‘third space’ in which to think through assumptions about the relationships between sexual identity and practice, social performance, marriage, material wellbeing, the nature of leadership and the Christian tradition, not least the role of the Bible. 

Many years ago, I had the privilege of being part of the evaluation team for the Communion-wide Continuing Indaba process[1]. These ambitious cross-provincial encounters sought to break the dominance of western parliamentary-style ways of negotiating differences of view in relation to a number of issues across the Communion. Representatives from three different provinces spent a week living in each others’ contexts to learn about the life of the church in each place. The group then engaged in a facilitated conversation about difference. The process drew on a Zulu process for conflict transformation in which community members gather to share their perspectives on an issue facing or dividing the community. Continuing Indaba did not aim to avoid conflict or foster consensus across the conversation groups, but to nurture an understanding of how contexts shaped attitudes towards a range of challenges facing the churches including mission and evangelism, social justice, Christian ethics and sexuality. 

The Indaba project required a great deal of courage from participants; many approached it with real fear. The discomforts of culture shock and profound personal vulnerability were felt in all of the encounters. Conversations were challenging and often painful. Participants had to confront aspects of themselves and their cultures that were uncomfortable and hard to acknowledge. Power dynamics were complex and differed greatly across the different groups. Patriarchy, racism, prejudice and (colonial) power had to be heard and explored by the groups. Yet despite the personal challenges, the value to the majority of participants of seeing their own church, context and worldview refracted through the perspectives of those from different provinces was clear. There was a marked growth of confidence in engaging in conversations where there existed real differences of view. We could see an emerging desire to engage with openness and curiosity rather than out of defensiveness or hostility. There was no expectation that minds would be changed on any of the issues. But the combinations of different provincial voices, the shifting vulnerabilities as people moved from context to context, and the building of relationships through the mutual exploration of another context profoundly re-shaped the conversation about same-sex relationships. 

It strikes me that this kind of engagement is one that the LLF resources seek to foster – to open the space for engagement rather than closing it down. Continuing Indaba was challenging. It teaches us that careful facilitation, constant vigilance over power dynamics within group discussions and the protection of those who are making themselves vulnerable are integral to such an undertaking. Ensuring that these aspects are in place will be the true test for the Church of England over the coming years.

In a recent book The Weirdest People in the World, Joseph Henrich explores the exceptionalism of those raised in societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic.  In unravelling the peculiar nature of the Western psyche, Henrich reminds us of the profound challenges in understanding the limitations of our own cultural perspectives. Working across cultures is extremely helpful for identifying blind spots within our own thinking – for ensuring that the questions that might loom large when examining another context are addressed when seeking to understand ourselves. At its best, cross cultural engagement helps us grasp how very distinct our own discourses are for thinking and talking about sexuality and prejudice. It ensures that projections onto ‘homophobic Africans’ or ‘the permissive west’ (both stereotypes Continuing Indaba had to grapple with) are recognised as such, queried and neutralised so that real engagement can happen.

For many involved on all sides of LLF, the Anglican Communion looms as another challenge for the Church of England’s deliberations. Why is this? Because the global Anglican context calls for a deeper engagement with many of the fundamental questions that underpinned early missionary expansion. Issues of money, power and race continue to inform both debates about sexuality in the Anglican Communion and global mission. One of the most challenging legacies of colonialism, mission and international development appears to have been that of fixing the categories of ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ in the minds of those who live in the global north and global south respectively. Whilst there is a wholehearted desire in the Church of England to practise mission in a mutual relationship of giving and receiving, there remain very entrenched ways of thinking about who might offer what to where, and limited thinking about how these habits and mentalities might be liberated from the crucible of colonialism, slavery and empire in which they were, for better or worse, shaped.

Issues of race and class intersect in powerful ways within global debates about sexuality. The Anglican Communion holds and reflects these painful realities. To see these for what they are clarifies our understanding about how national, church and interest-group power structures can inflict multiple oppressions. We can see these at work in some of the more hostile commentary that has followed the publication of LLF. Mutual encounters across contexts in which the intent is not to agree but to suspend disbelief, to listen, to draw on different knowledges and models of being Anglican indicate how liberation might be possible. Perhaps through deeper cross-contextual engagement, the Anglican Communion can be seen for the gift that it is and the Church of England can learn what it is to experience the vulnerability of being a recipient. Perhaps this is all part of the Archbishops’ call at this week’s General Synod to become a simpler, humbler Church.

[1] For a valuable account of the impact and potential of the Continuing Indaba process see Nesbitt, P.D., 2017. Indaba!: A way of listening, engaging, and understanding across the Anglican communion. Church Publishing, Inc..

Posted in Guest Contributors, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Racism | 4 Comments

LLF – That Video, Those Principles & a Call for a Public Inquiry

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia, Member of General Synod and Director of the Ozanne Foundation

I made myself sit down and watch the Church of England’s Evangelical Council’s “Beautiful Story” video yesterday, which, like reading the massive tome Living in Love and Faith, I have been steeling myself to do as I knew it would need both a high level of resilience and courage.

The opening notes of synthesised music immediately acted as a trigger – taking me back to those large packed worship spaces, where we are all carried along on a wave of professional modern music that lulls us into believing that we are safe, we are loved and that we are in God’s presence.  

It was a world I was so utterly familiar with – a world where I had, to use Rosie Harper’s term from her recent Via Media blog, been “groomed” as a young impressionable Christian.

It was a world where I believed without question that those “up front” are always right, for they are our ordained leaders “appointed by God” (oh yes, and bishops) to lead us into all truth and righteousness.

Their teachings – like the interviews in The Video – sound so reasonable, so plausible.  Indeed, to think otherwise would be to question Truth itself. 

I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels with the many Trump supporters who are currently living under what the rest of the world believes to be a false sense of reality, fervently believing that the election has been rigged and that Trump is indeed the True President.  What’s more, no matter how much you try and tell them otherwise, they are so “sure of their truth” that anyone challenging them “must be working for the other side” – that is, for the devil himself!

Many friends have asked me: “Why don’t you just switch the film off, walk away from this mess, stop putting yourself in a place that hurts and wounds you so much?”  The answer is because I am committed, I’d even say called, to work for a world where not one more young LGBT+ person will go through what I had to suffer.  I do not want another LGBT+ Christian to have to sit under this “oh so reasonable sounding teaching” and contemplate killing themself, because they can see no other way out.

So, at long last we have a 30-minute piece of evidence that clearly sets out the harmful teaching to which many evangelical churches are subjecting their congregations – including their LGBT+ congregants – to.  Please just stop and think for a minute what it must feel like to be a young LGBT+ teenager growing up in these churches, wondering who they can trust with the knowledge that they are “different”, that they are, heaven forbid, gay or bisexual or trans and being asked to watch this.  Here are leaders you have been brought up to revere, that everyone around you admires and respects, telling you that being in an intimate relationship with someone you love is wrong and sinful.  Here are “role models” clearly stating that it’s absolutely fine and normal to be single and celibate for your whole life, as that is what Jesus did and what he calls those of us who are not heterosexual to do. (Editor’s note – we are not Jesus!).

The pressure this sort of teaching puts people under is enormous.  It comes from those in authority at the front, with no hint that there may be other senior Christian leaders – even evangelicals – who think differently. They just say “this is The Truth”.  End of. Full stop.

Make no mistake about it, Church of England, this sort of teaching is wrong, harmful, dangerous and must be stopped.  What is it going to take?  Another young person deciding to take their life? Another set of statistics and reports that tell you what you already know but refuse to admit, that you cannot try and appease all sides in this debate?

Seriously, I have absolutely no idea why church leaders, including bishops, do not see what their inability to act is doing to the vulnerable in their care.  This constitutes gross negligence, which future generations will look upon with disgust and ask how we let it all go on, on our watch, for so long without anyone blowing the whistle or anyone caring enough to intervene.

That is why I believe the time has finally come to call for an independent inquiry into the harmful practices and rhetoric that LGBT+ people are being subjected to in our society, and by certain religious groups in particular.  It needs to be led by a QC who can hear the evidence of the trauma that people have gone through, and continue to go through, by those in positions of influence and authority over them.

The Church of England seems to believe that it has dealt with this by creating a set of six Pastoral Principles.  My personal view is that that process, just like the Living in Love & Faith (LLF) process, was highly flawed in its conception, its objectives and in its membership.  Despite repeated interventions on the floor of Synod, calling out the fact that there were a lamentable number of LGBT+ people with the right experience engaged with the process, the Church of England proceeded – deaf to any of this input, and arrogant in its assumption that “it knew best”.  The project is now in the court of public opinion – and the verdict is deafening.  They should have listened!  But that is not, sadly, a skill that many in the central structures seem to have.  

I mean, who would put a group together that was primarily tasked with providing safeguarding proposals, which had a membership weighted towards those perpetrating the very harm we were trying to protect people from?  No wonder they didn’t want to come up with anything other than “principles” or “guidelines”, to do otherwise would risk a whole plethora of Clergy Discipline Measurers against their friends and colleagues!  We needed something that had teeth, that would hold people to account, with clear consequences for when they crossed the line.  Instead we got “guidelines”, which can be interpreted in any number of ways and so does not set a clear safeguarding standard.

However, the sad fact is that these principles are all that we now have for now.  So perhaps we should try and measure “The Beautiful Story” video against them?

Prejudice – from its opening words to its close, the film shows a deep-seated prejudice towards LGBT+ people, particularly LGBT+ Christians, and indeed to anyone who holds a different view.

Silence – the video says absolutely nothing about what other faithful Christians believe, particularly LGBT+ Christians, even though many fronting the film have been part of the LLF process and are more than aware of what other Christians believe and teach.

Ignorance – it shows absolutely no understanding of the harm they are creating, nor of the mental health consequences of the teachings they are commending.

Fear – the whole teaching is wrapped in a fear of admitting that they might be wrong

Hypocrisy – goodness, there is so much I could write here, but perhaps the starting point is how can someone who has been an active member of the LLF co-ordinating group, and who is tasked with rolling it out in his diocese, be the front person of this film? How can bishops who are tasked with ensuring the roll-out across their dioceses of the LLF resource be seen to say “this is the only way of reading Scripture”?

Power – I don’t think these church leaders have an inkling of the power they hold over younger people in their care.  There is sadly an air of “assumed privilege” from most of the speakers, which comes from a deep internal belief that they are the only ones to take Scripture and Christ seriously.

So where do we go from here?

Well the Church of England has proved itself completely incapable of protecting the most vulnerable – one just needs to look at the recent IICSA or Adi Cooper reports to recognise this.  That is why we must look to another more senior source of power – which is why an independent inquiry is needed.

Meanwhile, like Trump supporters living in their alternative reality, many in churches that revere the “Beautiful Story” will continue to believe that the secular world is “the enemy”, that only they “have the truth” and that Jesus is coming soon.

It is clear that these people cannot and will not change their minds, so it is high time that the bishops stepped up to the plate and laid out clear safeguarding rules and regulations to protect those in their care.

The key question, to which we need an answer, is why don’t they?

Posted in Human Sexuality, IICSA, Jayne Ozanne, Living in Love & Faith, Mental Health, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 35 Comments

LLF – Power, Fear & Our Inability To Do The Right Thing

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.

Posted in Human Sexuality, IICSA, Living in Love & Faith, Rosie Harper, Sexual abuse, Spiritual Abuse | 5 Comments

LLF – Patience & Pain

by the Venerable Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

How long are LGBT+ Christians expected to carry the painful emotional cost of being part of an unsafe church?

After a break of some 12 years I returned to the Greenbelt Festival in the early 2000s as a newly out gay Christian. I attend a session by a then well-known progressive Church of England Bishop who was talking about human sexuality. In the session he said that LGBT+ Christians should have patience with the church. I said that whilst I understood this, he needed to recognise that it was those of us who identified as LGBT+ that had to bear the painful cost of this patience. He responded by saying that I knew the situation and if I didn’t like it, I could always leave.

November 2020 and after years of reports, General Synod debates and shared conversations, Living in Love and Faith is published and yet another two-year process begins. The heavy and painful cost of this still rests with LGBT+ Christians. As Chair of OneBodyOneFaith, we have taken the line all through the LLF project of recognising some people will want to engage with this and others will not. That some will see it as a way to move forward and others will see it as another tactic to marginalise and exclude. As an organisation we seek to support those who fall into either category.

Having supported the project, I now find the thick book sat on my desk staring at me and I am unable to pick it up and read it. This is not a critique of the material itself but rather a snapshot of what I am feeling and why.

There is a huge issue for me about just how safe this process will be for those of us who are LGBT+. I attended a session with other guests and some of the team who put the LLF material together this last week to introduce it. It was of course online but as I ‘entered’ the online room and looked around I found my anxiety levels increasing. I was in a space with those who have been architects of reports, statements and social media posts that have sought to exclude me and criticise me and my faith as a result of my being an openly gay partnered man. I do not doubt the sincerity of The Bishop of Coventry or his team in trying to create a safe space, but it was simply not safe, and I question whether it can ever be. In these groups I bring more than a theology or an idea or issue, I bring myself. I bring myself, my faith and my loved ones into a space where they can be dissected, examined, and condemned. I am a confident, out gay man with a senior position in the church and despite this here I was in an online room with significant anxiety.

My inability to see how this can be a safe process was underlined a couple of days later when the Church of England Evangelical Council released a 30 minute video called ‘The Beautiful Story’ in which they use very thin theology and some unhealthy arguments to condemn and judge LGBT+ Christians in an inappropriate and condemnatory way. This included members of the group who have worked on the LLF material clearly indicating that they have no intention of listening or engaging at all and thus undermining the whole process. The negative and abusive impact this video has had on a large number of LGBT+ Christians has been significant.

In addition to feeling unsafe I feel patronised.

Throughout the LLF process and in the meeting this week I have heard members of the LLF describe many times the incredible journey they have been on (although clearly not those in the aforementioned video!). I am delighted that they feel this way. For those of us outside it has been and remains deeply costly and painful. Additionally, many, many of us, both LGBT+ Christians and others, made this journey years ago. I have done it; I have worked through what my faith and sexuality mean. I recognise myself as created and beloved by God. I see my sexuality as a gift from God, I am glad I am gay and wouldn’t want it any other way! Yet I am expected to enter into that costly and painful process yet again just because the church has kept kicking the can down the road. I am glad some people feel able to do that – I am not sure that I do.

The world currently faces the worst health crisis in a generation. We are having to deal with a situation none of us could have imagined. The Church is having to adapt in ways we never imagined. My inbox has never had so much in it and my diary has never been so full. I am dealing with levels of unprecedented anxiety in people. Right now, the world needs the church to be offering a better narrative, to be offering hope. That is a challenge, but it needs to be our priority and I see very many Christians, including LGBT+ Christians offering that hope. What the world does not need is for the Church to be making judgemental statements about sex or to be seen to be entering yet another long and protracted conversation about it – it looks very much like ‘Nero fiddling while Rome burns’.

So that is where I am with it. That may change but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. I have tried my best to be hopeful and engaged but I also need to take care of myself, my loved ones and the people I seek to serve as a priest.

So that comment I made to the Bishop at Greenbelt some 20 years ago still stands. The painful and personal cost of this process is still being born by LGBT+ Christians.

And yes, we still have the option to leave but for some bizarre reason God seems to want me to remain. God seems to want me and my wonderful partner of nearly 14 years to be here as part of a loving and affirming parish and diocese. God seems to want me to worship with a diverse bunch of people on an island off the South coast of England. God seems to want me to serve with the fantastic, diverse trustees and members of OneBodyOneFaith in empowering LGBT+ Christians and advocating for change. God seems to want me to see the change which is happening at parishes across the country where people are affirmed and loved whoever they are, a change which the House of Bishops seems unable to see or to acknowledge.

God seems to want me to be part of a community of Hope. That really is a beautiful story.

Posted in Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Peter Leonard, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 13 Comments

LLF – Waiting for Godot

by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University and member of Living in Love and Faith project

So it’s over. The resources are published, the initial reactions registered.

In the run-up to publication, there was the usual speculation on social media that this was all about “kicking things into the long grass”. Some were trying to guess the conclusion of the book as ‘let’s all reflect on this some more’, while others pointed out that we already knew this was how it would end, because the press release had said the resources only “initiate a process of whole Church learning and engagement, within a clear timeframe, that will contribute to the Bishops’ discernment of a way forward”.

This, as Colin Coward has reminded us, is also how previous reports on LGBTQI+ questions have also ended. But LLF even starts with it: the page 3 ‘stunner’ is that LLF “offers no recommendations or guarantees of an agreed way forward for the Church in relation to human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.

So, what now? Or to put it another way, how long have you got?

When I googled that phrase I was interested to find that it features as a “way of saying that you don’t want to talk or think about something”. And I wonder: are all these words, all these videos and podcasts, these exhortations to talk, paradoxically saying that the Church of England doesn’t want to talk about human sexuality?

For those not in the LLF process, the last few years, waiting for the resources to be completed, have definitely been about not talking. “Waiting for LLF’ has meant not tabling at General Synod the Hereford Diocesan Synod motion asking for services of prayer and dedication for same-sex couples, and not issuing lists of resources for schools; the bishop who chairs the National Society Council said at the July 2019 General Synod that he “will await the publication of the Living in Love and Faith resources before considering next steps”. A similar answer was given to four questions on gender transition and Differences of Sex Development (DSD) at the February 2019 General Synod.

Wait… wait… wait.. wait. And now the waiting ends: only to usher in another period of waiting.

How many will use this waiting time to read the resources and to talk? I am sure that people will want to watch the videos of people who have views on sexuality different to their own: personal stories are always engaging. But will we really talk among ourselves as we wait?

We are being asked to talk at all levels of the C of E from the House of Bishops to the deaneries and parishes: to “engage with this book and its accompanying resources and, as far as possible, do this together with those who have different perspectives and lived experiences” (p.420). Personally, I wouldn’t want to sit down with those whose “different perspectives” mean that they regard my sexuality as unacceptable; is this really a safe thing to do, in a church shown by IICSA and even more recently by the independent review into the horrific crimes at Maids Moreton to be a very unsafe place for those who aren’t heterosexual? Remember, this is a church in which most gay and lesbian bishops aren’t open about their sexuality. The Maids Moreton review notes that “Attitudes towards sex and sexuality” contributed to what happened there. And, still within my own diocese, a recent story on Oxford churches described how a discussion on sexuality turned out to be a talk on how the only option for a gay Christian was celibacy.

Read the resources: yes. Talk about them in church groups: maybe not.

There are also a lot of resources to use: a 468-page book, videos, podcasts, an online library. Does anyone have the time or the heart for this? There are so many resources that the Church Society has already said that it will be issuing its own “summaries and critiques of it all” for those who can’t face reading the report or watching the videos. The Church Society’s view is that this is “about the authority and sufficiency of God’s word”, about what happens “if we take the Bible seriously”.

Not for the first time, I wonder what the point of three years spent working on LLF was; asking the church to engage with the materials, and then finding that the Church of England Evangelical Council instead recommends their own free 229-page book Glorify God in your Body (2018) and its study guide. Apparently “It covers all this ground, in a faithful and biblical way.”

Hey, people. Don’t suggest to me that LLF isn’t ‘biblical’ or ‘Doesn’t take the Bible seriously’. It is, and it does. Of course it is and of course it does. It states that the Bible has “the central place in our accounts of how we hear the voice of God” (p.274): “God speaks to the world through the Bible” (p.276).

Following on from the Shared Conversations resources, LLF acknowledges that one of the underlying questions that makes discussing sex so difficult is precisely that we don’t agree on how to read the Bible. It lays out the different approaches: the textual, historical and canonical contexts. It goes through the ‘clobber texts’. It fully acknowledges that we need to read the Bible, while accepting that there are – and always have been – different ways of doing this.

LLF recognises that, in the C of E, we all need to realise that our readings of Scripture are partial, and come from our privilege as (mostly) “white, male, middle-class, affluent, and Western”: “if privileged readers want to be challenged to recognize their own partial perspectives, and to see how those have shaped their reading and thinking, and to be enabled to read and think past them, it makes sense to engage seriously with reading and thinking from the margins” (p.328).

However, there aren’t any examples in the LLF book of such reading from the margins: as I said many times during meetings and in emails, while queer hermeneutics is mentioned and queer readings are mentioned as a concept which could cause “a transformative shock” (p.338), there isn’t a single example given of a queer reading of the Bible. If you aren’t aware of how differently the Bible was read in the past, try looking at the Church Fathers on Song of Songs.

Saying that LLF isn’t ‘biblical’ is simply shorthand for prioritising one way of reading the Bible. One of the good things about LLF is the acknowledgement that this isn’t good enough.

Already on social media I’ve encountered a number of LGBTQI+ people saying that they won’t be reading the LLF materials; maybe not until they are feeling stronger, maybe not at all. That’s hardly surprising, after the bruising they’ve already had from Christians or churches.

The take-home message of LLF is that the bishops “do not agree on a number of matters relating to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage … Most pressing among our differences are questions around same sex relationships, and we recognize that here decisions in several interconnected areas need to be made with some urgency” (p.422).

“Urgency” is the right word. People are being belittled, damaged, rejected right now. Talking about these matters is not enough. For me, the most important question is how these “decisions” will be made.

Posted in Helen King, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse | 4 Comments