Wednesday 11 February 2009

General Synod Wednesday - Women bishops and LGBT Anglicans

On a bitterly cold morning, Brenda and I joined members of WATCH with their two banners at the Dean’s Yard entrance to Church House at 8.30.

The debate on the women bishop’s Measure followed. Various speeches evoked thoughts connecting with LGBT issues.

For example, the Bishop of Beverley spoke about the importance of priests operating with the authority of their bishop, and of those catholic (Forward in Faith) bishops against the ordination of women bishops who need to be under the authority of a male bishop. This got me wondering about some of the FiF priests I know, who seem ready to ignore Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the Windsor Report and what CA is repeatedly told is the historic and official teaching of the church on homosexuality. Obedience to church teaching by priest and lay members of FiF is clearly selective. Anecdotal evidence from Walsingham, St Stephen’s House, Mirfield and the now-closed Chichester comes to mind.

Another speaker referred to those priests who have been ordained since the late 1980s into a church whose polity is to ordain women. I was ordained into the 1970s church in which it was commonplace to ordain gay men and not ask questions about relationships. Church teaching and practice changed. Questions that had never began asked began to be asked, sometimes directly of candidates for ordination. The church changes, church teaching changes, and it is up to us who disagree with integrity to push the boundaries and live into new possibilities in the Spirit.

Rod Thomas spoke of the effect on the number of ordinands against the ordination of women who are coming forward for training, numbering in tens every year. Changing Attitude doesn’t keep similar records on the numbers of LGBT Anglicans who have reluctantly decide not to proceed to selection because of the hostile message given by the church.

The Archdeacon on Chichester spoke of feelings about his place in the church, about the need to feel welcome and secure. Our security, I thought, lies not in the church but in God, who gives us the freedom to live in ambivalence, diversity and confusion.

The need to find security is, of course, a strategy for dealing with anxiety. In my psychotherapy training, one of the most valuable things I learnt was the universal nature of anxiety – that anxiety was going to be a fundamental emotion for every client who walked through the door.

Those on the extremes of the church, conservatives crying for protection, are in part trying to excise their anxiety – about human authority figures or God or personal salvation. For me, confidence in God is fundamental, and that confidence brings freedom in relation to God, other people and the structures of the church. In the public gallery I sat next to man who, when I applauded a speech, three times told me it was against the rules to clap in the gallery. I thanked him for telling me. I confess I used to be similarly offended by others who broke that rule, but I’ve broken enough church rules in my time not to worry, and in any case, it’s a silly rule!

The Bishop of Manchester, whose introduction to the debate was passionate and clear, said in his summing up that we need to be seen as a church which at the first big hurdle in the process leading to the ordination of women bishops, lifted up its hands in horror and gave up. I hope when the process of revising legislation affecting LGBT people starts, there will be bishops encouraging the church to have a similar courage.

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