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/

Praying for the Powerful

Just over four years ago, I was on sabbatical in the USA and one of the institutions that I visited was Washington National Cathedral in the US capital. It is an odd entity in many ways, carrying with it what feels very much like a load of assumptions about established religion in a land where religion is not established. There’s no doubting that the cathedral is there for America rather than simply for its city or its locality as that is what it was built for and determined in foundation documents. Yet the paradox is that America proudly believes in the separation of church and state in a way which might lead one to believe made a National cathedral an impossibility. As usual, religious people manage to hold the paradox together, believe 6 impossible things before breakfast and Washington National Cathedral has a place in the life of the United States that can’t really be explained with logic alone.

When I visited, the question that the cathedral faced was what happened if Obama were to lose the election. Not because the cathedral cared particularly about Obama winning but because his opponent was a Mormon. No-one knew what would happen. Would a Mormon president want a liturgical act at an Episcopal cathedral or not? And work was being done to try to find out. It is the nature of conservative institutions to work very hard to adapt to circumstances and all cathedrals are inherently conservative in that sense. That’s what often makes them places where radical things can happen.

There is currently a hoo-ha about whether the choir from Washington National Cathedral should sing at the inauguration of President Trump on Friday. The word has gone out that the choir will sing and there’s quite a lot of people who think that is inappropriate given the mores and peccadilloes of the incoming president.

I can see this one from both sides. It seems unsurprising to me that the cathedral would want the choir to accept the invitation. Otherwise, they are going to have to vet every incoming president’s agenda for suitability in the future and that is not a comfortable place to find oneself. It seems to me that one either accepts all the invitations or none of them. One cannot get into the business of picking and choosing or else one will forever be in the midst of conflict and forever be upsetting half the country.

However, I can also see it from the side of those who want something to protest about. Trump is a baffling figure to the liberal establishment at prayer. He is their worst nightmare. Why should the church turn out on parade for someone seen as an ogre? Are there no limits? Isn’t Trump so far removed from normality that normal presumptions no longer apply?

There’s a similar connected discussion about whether there should be a liturgical celebration for the new president in the National Cathedral and indeed about how or whether people are going to pray for the new president in US Episcopal churches across the country.

There’s a wee nugget of Scottish Episcopalian church history that our US daughter church might want to be aware of in trying to work their way through these dilemmas. However, before I get to that, I think it is worth noting that it can matter hugely whom one is praying for.

A significant part of my time of formation for priesthood was spent in Egypt living with the Coptic church and also with Anglicans in Cairo. In that environment I learnt about subtle and not so subtle forms of persecution and have never forgotten the response of one Coptic bishop when I asked him why a particular sectarian attack on Copts had taken place. He leaned back on his chair and stroked his not inconsiderable beard and said very sadly: “attacks take place because we do not love our Muslim brothers and sisters enough”. I’ve never forgotten those words from someone who himself could have been a target of violence. (They were spoken in the compound which was recently blown up with great loss of life just a few weeks ago).

The point is that at that time in most of the big churches in Cairo (Anglican and Coptic) people were very careful to pray for the then president Hosni Mubarak. The reason they were keen to pray for him was that there would generally be a couple of well dressed young men in the congregation to check that such loyal prayers were being uttered. The secret police were not really that secret. The government was always just checking up and people prayed with an implied threat over them at all times.

When I was in the USA – I was immediately intrigued by one aspect of the intercessions that is connected with praying for the powerful. Wherever I went I found that the intercessions contained prayers for the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is unremarkable in the USA but to a Scottish Episcopalian on tour it was a revelation. We tend to pray for our diocesan bishops and sometimes (but not that often) for the Primus, and almost never for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, not praying for the Archbishop of Canterbury is almost a part of who we are.

The prayers for the Archbishop in the USA illuminate the incredible hurt caused by Rowan Williams and his successor in snubbing the American church and persistently misunderstanding or misrepresenting its polity. “We prayed (and also often paid) for your ministry” you can feel the US Episcopalians wailing in their distress. We played the pipe for you and you refused to dance.

But back to the Scottish Episcopal Church – that church which blessed the US Episcopalians into being.

For controversy about prayers for the powerful are a big part of our history. At times in our history, the safety and wellbeing of those gathered in church was directly connected with which monarch was being prayed for in the prayers. I am not the first Episcopal priest in this city who needed to worry about safety and security for the congregation. Prayers for the House of Stewart could (and sometimes did) lead to violence.

Gradually it became the practise of Episcopalians in this part of the world to pray for the ruling House of Hanover. However, not all in the pews ever really got there.

American Episcopalians today might be interested in the historical records of Scottish Episcopalians in the pews faced with clergy who, rightly or wrongly, and for a whole range of reasons believed that they had to pray for the Hanoverian regime.

There are records of congregations going to divine worship and when the state prayers for the House of Hanover were read those in the pews simply and loudly slammed their prayerbooks shut or coughed loudly.

There’s even reports of people deliberately partaking of snuff in the pews at the contentious moment the better to affect a snuffling, coughing and sneezing fit.

Now, let us finish with a prayer from the wonderful US Book of Common Prayer.

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend this nation to thy merciful care,
that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace.
Grant to the President of the United States,
the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth),
and to all in authority,
wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will.
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness,
and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

Now, do I hear the people say Amen?

Or Aaaah-choooo?