9 Pointers towards how LGBT Inclusion will be won in the Church of England

I believe with all my heart that one day all the churches of the Anglican Communion (and let’s not stop there – all of God’s churches anywhere) will be fully inclusive of LGBT people. I’m working for that and have been for quite some time. And I believe it will happen because I believe in the loving, transforming power of God.

I find though that the loving, transforming power of God most often seems to work through the loving transforming actions of God’s beloved here on earth. The things we do can make God’s kingdom come all more quickly, which when you think about it, should not really surprise us.

It seems to me that the current strategy for working towards LGBT inclusion that seems to be being adopted south of the border is for the most prominent campaigners to fight one another publicly and then wait hoping and praying that a bunch of straight bishops (who have some form when it comes to prolonging conflict themselves) will somehow wave a magic mitre and usher in endless days of gay love and delight.

The reality of course is that, though it is going to come about, it isn’t going to come about that way.

Now, it seems to me that if those who desire LGBT inclusion in the Church of England were to be listening to the Holy Spirit of common sense then they might find the following 9 points of focus might provide them with some short-cuts to where they want to go. Things down south are very different to how things work in my own dear church but sometimes being outside a province and looking in can give one a useful sense of perspective. This is how I see things just over the border from here.

  1. This can only be won in the Church of England in the General Synod of the Church of England. Notwithstanding anything else I say below, it can be won no-where else. That means building up a formidable synodical operation that works vote by vote for inclusive policies. The key here is that getting permission to marry gay couples in church unlocks all the other things you want too. Yes, it is worth making every debate about pensions, the forces chaplaincies, schools etc all debates where LGBT issues are paramount – these are all things where LGBT rights need to be talked about. However, equal marriage is the goal.  And deliciously in a synodical system it is possible (difficult admittedly, but possible) to get things on the agenda. Oh, and don’t forget that the best way to provide jollity to a diocesan synod is to get enough people elected onto it and propose a motion or two about the national policy of the C of E when it comes to LGBT people. Don’t forget that  it was in Diocesan Synods that the dreaded covenant was defeated in England. Synods are your friends.
  2. Although things can only finally be sorted out in the General Synod, it is important to remember that there are other places in which pressure can come. One of the most important of these is the one debating chamber where the bishops of the Church of England are present but don’t possess either a majority or a veto – yes, the House of Lords. We know already that Archbishop Justin doesn’t like it when members of the House of Peers tell him he is being a rotter to the poofs. I’ve never heard of anyone campaigning around these issues in England who is cultivating members of the House of Lords but if they did it would pay dividends. The Church of England is essentially part of the establishment and it is the establishment which will need to be involved in sorting out all the anti-gay policies of the C of E, just as it has done with other institutions.
  3. Pressure can also be brought in the House of Commons, of course. However, here it needs to be targeted towards government policies. We need MPs, good, solid, shire-based Anglican MPs standing up and asking Theresa May whether she really intends to give more money to an anti-gay institution such as the Church of England to run even more schools. Oh, I know it is ugly to be accused of using schoolchildren as bargaining chips but it is even more ugly to be a bullied gay kid and putting pressure on the peculiar English school system over this issue pays dividends both to that kid who needs our support and the wider cause too.
  4. Every single political party needs to be asked repeatedly whether it will remove the Quadruple Lock on the C of E. Every single one without exception. So who is going to do that and when and how will that be decided? (Oh, I know, that’s a tricky question I slipped in there. I know, I know).
  5. Now, the joyful thing about the Church of England is that it claims to be a church for the whole English nation (whatever that is). This means that the whole English nation (whatever that is) can be enjoined to have a say. It would be good to hear a bit more of the old campaigning noises coming from Stonewall to put pressure on government, particularly about the schools issues and the quadruple lock. Postcard campaigns to MPs, being noisy in the media, using the undoubted skills of Ruth Hunt in the public arena – all these things will help. The important thing is that the way in which change will happen is when LGBT campaigners work to make Stonewall and other equality institutions work harder to call the establishment to account in the faith zone and not the other way round. Trust me on this one Stonewall – this isn’t about you trying to get LGBT faith campaigners to do the work here. Change is going to happen precisely the other way around and it is worth doing because the streets of England will not be friendly streets for LGBT people until the homophobia of the churches has been beaten. It needs to be a public, mass campaign using all the tricks of the previous Equal Marriage debates. Don’t be squeamish about telling religious people what to do – even the bible recognises that sometimes those outside the community of faith speak holy words of wisdom most clearly.
  6. One of the things that I think would be most effective most quickly would be for those who campaign on these issues in England to realise that their enemy is not those with whom they disagree. Their enemies consist entirely of those who agree with them but who stay silent. There’s really no need to fight people who disagree with you. It is mostly pointless and promotes the heresy that there are two equal sides to this conflict, which we all know there are not. However, there’s every reason to fight tooth and nail to get all those who might believe in the depths of their hearts in the haughty homophobes of the hierarchy being brought low and the lowly lesbian ordinands being raised up, to sing out their own magnificat of LGBT justice for all to hear. (Here’s an insider tip – start with Great Expectations for the Deans – bishops are not the only people in the hierarchy of the C of E).
  7. Oh, if only there were an actual international Anglican LGBT Network that was an official network of the Anglican Communion. So, why don’t we start working for one? There is much one can learn from other Provinces once you start buzzing about he world. A formal LGBT Network is the only real answer to that last Primates’ Communique that condemned homophobia, isn’t it? Sorry, I meant, “Isn’t it, Archbishop?”
  8. One of the things that I hope for is that Changing Attitude Scotland soon goes out of business and ceases to be. I’ve a feeling that I might struggle to find such sentiments in organisations in  England. Would campaigning organisations be prepared to sacrifice their own identity and existence if it brought about victory for the cause? I’ve a hunch that the current plethora of competing campaigns isn’t doing justice to Justice. Just a thought.
  9. If people don’t want to engage in campaigning in this way, they do in England have another unique option, which is to pray in the privacy of their hearts (or in public if they dare) for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, when he grows up, of a fine young gentleman. A royal wedding might sort things out remarkably easily though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen. Who knows whether that might be sooner than things might work out by other means?

I’ve a lot more that I’d like to say which may be best said more privately. However, the current attempt by the Church of England’s bishops to Sort Things Out by appointing a group of bishops which has neither any gay people nor any supporters of gay people on it does beg the question as to whether things are going well in that corner of the vineyard which thinks (quite incorrectly as it happens) that it is the origin of the Anglican Communion.

Change is coming, remember.

God’s goodness is never to be doubted.

And God is good, all the time.

Even now.

And even in England.

Comments

  1. Rosemary Hannah says:

    Politically, you are dead right. I think I would add another strategy. While it is important and inevitable to speak of the hurt anti-gay actions and teachings have caused, it is also important to show gay people as something other than miserable and broken. Play up the successful marriages, and the fulfilled partnerships. This is, of course, where the English clergy are in a double bind. Because the best image to present is of people who are both emotionally and sexually fulfilled. Presenting that image is liable to get them sacked. But the English laity are not in this position. I think the English need to make greater play with what the papers like to call ‘Prominent’ laity. Happy, vocal, confident, married LGBT people. Less of the ‘I have no choice’ and more of the ‘happy to have it this way’.

  2. I should probably add that points 1 – 8 mean would mean quite a lot of work if they were to come to pass. Quite a lot of work for about half a dozen people for about 5 years. That’s all it would take.

    Point 9, not so much.

  3. Well said. This echoes how change came in the US, mutatis mutandis for the peculiar issues presented by the Establishment. It can be a slow and painful process, but it is a process. English allergy to disagreement is another delaying factor, but at some point reality does tend to sink in, and the English sense of fair play (not always in evidence, and perhaps to easily self-assigned) may also have some impact — as indeed it did in the US (where notional fair play sometimes does make it into actual expression.).

    So here’s to continued work and pressure and testimony.

  4. “I believe with all my heart that one day all the churches of the Anglican Communion (and let’s not stop there – all of God’s churches anywhere) will be fully inclusive of LGBT people. … And I believe it will happen because I believe in the loving, transforming power of God.”

    Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! 😀

    Want to also highlight this

    “the way in which change will happen is when LGBT campaigners work to make Stonewall and other equality institutions work harder to call the establishment to account in the faith zone and not the other way round. Trust me on this one Stonewall – this isn’t about you trying to get LGBT faith campaigners to do the work here. Change is going to happen precisely the other way around”

    Speaking as a (queer Episcopalian) Yank here, it can be so frustrating to be told SIMULTANEOUSLY that it’s my sole responsibility (as a Christian) to reform the church(es), AND that I’m a blithering idiot/dupe/tool for (“still”) being a Christian in the first place. JOIN me, OR fight my homophobic Christianist opponents from the outside. But please do not attack me from the backside while I am fighting our joint oppressor. [I hope things are better for you in the UK on this point]

  5. Stephen Waters says:

    I want to thank you for your clear thinking on this issue. I long for the day when our churches are fully inclusive. Since I retired due to ill health I have been so disillusioned that my faith is now in shreds. All I can see is a house of Bishops who seem to act in an unchristian way.

  6. The Rev. Joyce Barnett says:

    In the Diocese of Toronto, on Saturday, we just elected our first out and partnered gay bishop. Pray for Bishop elect Kevin Robertson, his partner Mohan, and their two children.

  7. Take a cue from others who work for justice in other areas — it is a long hard slog – many days with no evidence of results –but in the end – it all falls down and the good revealed.

  8. Only half in jest I might edit point 1 to read wave a magic wand to make synod disappear. An organisation which requires a two-thirds majority in three chambers to bring about change is quite obviously designed with the sole idea of preventing any change in the first place. My main reason, on the human level, for trusting in a better future is that the further down the age range you go in the Anglican communion, the more you find that opinion on lgbt issues is at variance with the current leadership. There’s quite simply going to come a day when the younger present whoever’s in charge of the communion, if the communion doesn’t split that is, with a sort of fete accompli, or at least in England that’ll happen.

  9. Fr John E Harris-White says:

    Having spent most of my ministry south of the border, in both provinces, the enemies of LGBTI, are the closet members of the church.Bishops, priests, and laymen,, who are afraid of themselves, and of the human race.
    Happily now living in Scotland, in our. Episcopal church. surrounded by in ten main inclusive friends.

  10. The separation of church and state, is it a good thing? I think so. I acknowledge change is painfully slow for gay and lesbian people, especially in the church. Many are praying, in public and private, for a just solution. And point 8 leads on to yet more interesting points.

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