How to change the Church of England – quick recap

Here’s a quick recap of the way in which I think LGBT inclusion will be won in the Church of England.

[Repeated from a post I put up last year]

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?

To this I would add number 10 – All of this needs to focus entirely on the priorities of the LGBTImission which spells out exactly what LGBT people in the C of E need. It is excellent – succinct and just. You can find that here: https://lgbtimission.org.uk/our-priorities/

Comments

  1. Meg Rosenfeld says:

    I wish you all success. As you know all too well, the Episcopal Church in the USA has had a very stern finger shaken in its face for its radical actions. (Granted, this bothers me–I can’t speak for anyone else–very little, although it leaves a rather nasty taste in one’s spiritual mouth.) I personally would love to see Scotland lead the way in Great Britain!

  2. Pamela says:

    Would having a strong vocal presence from the gay bishops of the C of E also help ? Encourage the bishops to be open and honest… no one says it is easy being an openly gay cleric so I can understand why they may not want to come out but this latest document is shameful.

  3. The Church Mouse says:

    Agree with some of this, but have a slightly different view. Thinking out loud a little ….
    1. first thing we need to do is to accept some uncomfortable truths – that church doctrine only changes when there is an overwhelming majority demanding it amongst laity, clergy and bishops; that this isn’t the case today, so church doctrine won’t be changing any time soon; that liberal churches are mostly shrinking (although I contend this is not related to their theology) and that this puts them in a position of weakness; that conservatives are highly organised and highly motivated, whilst liberals are not.
    2. recognising these facts, if liberals don’t want to accept that they must serve under dioceses and bishops who tell their gay clergy and congregants that they are going to hell, they need to do something different.
    3. I suggest the different things they need to do are: (a) invest in becoming a stronger, bigger, more vibrant, spirit-filled and joyful place than any other in the Church; (b) organise pastoral oversight from bishops who share that vision to free churches and clergy from feeling like outcasts and second class citizens in their own denomination; (c) continue to do the hard yards of theological development to establish the case that a liberal view is a legitimate biblical position, which I contend has been neglected to date.

    What do you think?

    • I don’t really accept the idea that liberals are all in favour of LGBT people and conservatives are against. Those are stereotypes that are ceasing to be useful. Increasing numbers in evangelical congregations are of the view that the gay thing isn’t that big a deal and that God probably isn’t that bothered about gay relationships. Marriage and the expectation that people in partnerships live in marriages is also a conservative not a liberal ideal.

      I think the twin ideas of doctrine being either declared by bishops or determined by majorities are deeply suspect. Neither seems to hold onto any idea of love, truth or biblical fidelity. I think by doctrine you are meaning some version of The Rules, which is not really how I think of doctrine.

      I agree to some extent that people listen to those churches experiencing revival. But I’d want to point to several churches in Scotland who have experienced growth and are currently in positions on strength who do indeed celebrate a desire for equality.

      I don’t think that numbers are terribly good determinants of what is true though – neither bums on seats or votes in synod.

      Synods seem to me to be political realities even though most people would prefer they were not. The abuse of process of various synods through the Shared Conversations model concerns me greatly. It was always wrong to suspend normal ways of doing business. I said so in Scotland and I said so of England. It was manipulative and cruel to the vulnerable. The processes were ungodly. The blame lies with those who advocated the falsely named indaba process. They have done huge damage with their falsehoods and the imposition of their pseudo-African methods which excluded out LGBT people and particularly organisations which LGBT people trusted, from the design of the various discussions from the beginning. That is a sin that needs repentance.

      It is difficult however for those who accepted such processes to complain about them.

      • The Church Mouse says:

        Thanks for responding – very helpful comments, as I’m only just thinking this through. I certainly agree that many evangelical churches support gay equality in the church. I used conservative to mean churches which oppose gay marriage and liberal as those which support it. You are quite right that this is dreadfully sloppy language and in many ways unhelpful.

        I also agree that numbers don’t equal truth and that doctrine isn’t something that arises simply from declaration from church hierarchies or voted on by majorities. And I agree that general synod is the political reality.

        However, I don’t think Synod (however constituted) would vote by a two thirds majority for anything which wasn’t overwhelmingly supported by the church as a whole. We saw this with women bishops where just a small minority was able to put up fierce resistence for decades.

        My point about growth and strengthening of the inclusive constituency – whether anglo-catholic, charismatic, open evangelical or something else entirely – it is simply that the goal of a genuinely inclusive church may take decades to achieve. And in the mean time, inclusive churches can draw strength from each other.

        Am I barking up the wrong tree!?

        • I don’t think you’re barking up the wrong tree but I don’t think that synodical process should be put on hold now any more than it should have been put on hold for the Shared Conversations.

          Generally speaking, I rather like that idea of Anglicanism that says that it is a church without any distinctive doctrine but which holds to the doctrine of the catholic church. What Anglican churches (I mean Anglican Provinces here) do is set a means by which and rules by which local churches can function should they chose to be aligned with that Anglican Province. I don’t think I believe any Anglican doctrine. I hope not anyway.

          If one believes in Anglican doctrine being set by Anglican synods one must also accept the absurdity of doctrinal truth changing at geographical borders and I’m pretty sure that’s completely theologically bonkers.

          I said in the comments on the original post on which this stuff appeared that I thought that getting to inclusion in the C of E could be done by half a dozen people working very hard for five years.

          I still think that. However, there would need to be very radical change in the way that pro-gay advocates behave and though there are some positive signs since I originally posted that, I am unsure whether such change is actually likely.

  4. Dominic Stockford says:

    If you want to set up new rules which have no support in the Bible then why don’t you leave the Christian church and found something new where you can do and encourage anything that takes your fancy?

    • Oh, I don’t.

      • Dominic Stockford says:

        Yes you do, you say so clearly in the article above. You wish to cast out Romans 1, 1st Corinthians 6, and various other passages in order to reshape the Church you are in, in the image that suits you.

  5. Happy Jack says:

    “Generally speaking, I rather like that idea of Anglicanism that says that it is a church without any distinctive doctrine but which holds to the doctrine of the catholic church. What Anglican churches (I mean Anglican Provinces here) do is set a means by which and rules by which local churches can function should they chose to be aligned with that Anglican Province. I don’t think I believe any Anglican doctrine. I hope not anyway.”

    This comment left Happy Jack confused. Could you explain it please?

    • The simplest way I can put it is this…
      Anglicans believe the doctrines of the Christian faith. I’m not convinced there is or should be such a thing as Anglican doctrine.

      Canons are just the rulebooks we live by. I don’t really buy the idea that doctrines are best derived from canon law.

      • Happy Jack says:

        Anything beyond scripture (as you understands it) and faith, as set forth in the early Apostolic creeds, is up for grabs. The Canons are just rules that can be changed as science and our understanding of scripture evolves.

        Jesus, being human, was influenced by the sexist, homophobic culture of the Jewish people. He didn’t know what we know today. That’s why He only chose men as Apostles. Plus, He had no experience of faithful, lifelong same sex relationships. We know today the Sodom story was really about inhospitality and gang rape, not loving, same sex permanent partnerships. Judaism was a “primitive morality”, as evidenced by Lot offering his daughters to be raped instead of the men. As for Leviticus, that condemns lending money for interest, shaving the beard, and weaving two kinds of cloth together. Terribly old fashioned.

        Saint Paul and the early Church Fathers didn’t understand homosexuality. The doctrine Canon concerning marriage is based on the writing of those living under the yoke of patriarchism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia. We shouldn’t be prisoners of past traditions based on primitive cultural understandings and a lack of science.

        So long as you believe in Jesus, out-of-date, man made “laws” are unnecessary.

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