Friday 18 June 2010

A huge gulf is opening in England between the attitude of the general population to gay partnerships and the Church of England

My partner and I are planning to contract our Civil Partnership in October (dependent on approval from the Home Office). Our focus will not be the legal ceremony in the registry office but a service of holy communion in church using material from Jim Cotter’s The Service of my Love. We met our Rector this week to talk about planning the service. He is totally positive about our desire to commit ourselves to each other in church in the presence of God and our friends.

Similar services have been taking place in St Luke’s Charlton in South London for over 15 years with the full approval of the PCC. Other services have taken place up and down the country in village halls, marquees, secular venues – and in churches. Guests at Christian ceremonies in secular venues fail to understand why they can’t be held in church. Because church rules forbid it is not a satisfactory answer for the couple’s family and friends.

A huge gulf is opening in this country between the attitude of the general population to gay partnerships and the official position of the Church of England. The church is driven by a conservative minority demanding that it conforms to Issues in Human Sexuality, Lambeth 1.10, the House of Bishops Statement and the Windsor Report (conformity being selective).

The gulf is not simply an inability to accept C of E teaching about the place of LGBT people in the church but about people’s spiritual experience and their vision of God. I’ll return to this in a later blog. Today I want to focus on the outworking of the Windsor Report.

Since the Episcopal Church consecrated Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, there has been a storm of reaction from conservatives and counter-reactions from pro-LGBT networks. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued his Pentecost letter, the Presiding Bishop responded, the General Secretary laid out the next steps. Others have issued thoughtful responses, Giles Goddard for Inclusive Church sending open letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop and Andrew Goddard writing an analysis for Fulcrum.

In the past, I would have engaged critically with the contributions posted by others and with Andrew’s analysis of the meaning and implications of the Archbishop’s letter. I’ve been struggling to write a blog for over a week, beginning but not completing several drafts, trying to express truthfully my response to the various published reactions.

I’m with the people who express disbelief at what the Archbishop of Canterbury is proposing and despair at the success with which conservative forces are destroying the credibility our church in the hearts and minds of English seekers after God. My despair increases when I read reports by George Conger and Anglican Curmudgeon that the Archbishop has conveyed to the Presiding Bishop a private request that she withdraw from her position on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and not attend the next Primates' Meeting in January 2011.

The majority of people I talk with are unaware of the developments taking place behind the scenes in our church and Communion. If they were aware, they are likely to be uncomprehending, despairing or angry. Despair and anger would increase if the reports that both Archbishops plan to table an amendment at General Synod in York to provide greater protection for those opposed to women bishops turn out to be true.

No innovation is the mantra of conservatives opposed to changes in church teaching and practice in the ordination of women bishops (and still, for many, priests) and the full inclusion of LGBT people in church life and ministry. In England, this stance is proving disastrous for people’s perception of the Church of England which they perceive as prejudiced, homophobic, reactionary, and out of touch with the life and teaching of Jesus revealed in the Gospels.

That’s the greatest tragedy – that the position of the church is now radically at odds with most people’s experience of God and is a barrier to discipleship and spirituality. More about God later!

On the wider front of Anglican Communion policy, the majority of people I talk with are at one with the Episcopal Church in wanting to challenge injustice, work for change and extend love and welcome to all God’s children. Attitudes held by many key leaders and opinion formers in the Communion towards LGBT people are viewed as barbaric. People do not distinguish between the death penalty for lesbian and gay people proposed in the Ugandan legislation, the proposed ant-gay marriage bill in Nigeria, the condemnation of TEC for having elected partnered openly lesbian and gay bishops and the murders of gay men in the UK.

The mind of the church towards the place of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, detailed in the Windsor report, is being interpreted and put into effect selectively by the Archbishop of Canterbury to maintain unity in the Communion. This is proving to be a disastrous policy for the mission and spiritual and pastoral ministry of the Church of England. LGBT Anglicans are reaching a level of despair at the direction in which our church is being taken. With those enlightened enough to support us, we know what the C of E seems unable to acknowledge fully – that we too have been created in the image of God.

Meanwhile, planning for the celebration of our Civil Partnership in Devizes continues. Invitations will be sent out when we have the go-ahead from the UK Border Agency. We hope many will come and celebrate with us, rejoicing in our love for each other within the love of God. The disconnect between our intimate plans for celebrating our relationship and the machinations going on in the Communion is huge. It won’t be resolved for me until LGBT people are not just made safe across the world but welcomed warmly and lovingly by every Christian community.


  1. We hear so much in the current debate about how Anglicans in Africa 'struggle' over sexuality matters because of their religious and cultural setting. Well hello, what about OUR cultural setting, and that in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Europe, Scandinavia and other socially liberal areas of our world.

    When the Bishop of Oxford came to visit our chapter after he had arrived in the Diocese, I raised the issue of the 'culture gulf' that was opening up and getting ever wider between where the people of England are and where the church currently stands. HE kept his counsel...

    And in countless 'conservative' or 'biblical' churches with large numbers of young people, you will find plenty who disagree with their church leaderhsip on matters realtinng to human sexuality. Why? Because they have friends who are lesbian or gay,and they realise they are not evil, possessed by demons or in need of healing, but are good, decent, ordinary people like them!

    And if homosexuality is SUCH a sin that is worth breaking the Communion over why don't the conservatives campaign for the re-criminalisation of homosexuality? Because they know damn well everyone who doesn't already seem them for the right wing bigots that they are, would then and they would lose what little credibility they have already! It's crazy that such a minority in the church can make such a loud noise and be heard.

    Not only are we in danger of making the church seem irrelevant to LGBT folk - CHristian or not, but in danger of alienating ourselves for vast sections of our own society who simply cannot understand why the CofE's official line is more concerned about the difficulties faced by other cultures, than our own.

    Many see our church as at best indifferent, at worst homophobic in its attitued towards LGBT people in England. I for one simply cannot understand how this can be with Rowan as our Archbishop, given his own previous public and private comments on LGBT matters.

    Sorry for the long post - but bravo Colin, when you have your Civil Partnerhsip you will know that over two thirds of British Citizens are right behind you!!

  2. Hi Colin -

    Congratulations on your approaching ceremony. You have succinctly expressed the perception of many/most of us on this side of the pond. Seems like we have not advanced much from the '98 Lambeth Conference, when you and I had to work around official ban on any LGBT presence. Little did we realize !
    Pax, Bob

  3. Hello Colin, I've been reading your blog ever since we met at the 2006 General Convention of TEC. I appreciate your post about the gap between what ordinary, spiritually alive people are thinking and the actions and statements of many English archbishops and bishops, including Rowan Cantuar. No doubt part of what is driving Rowan is his vision of how to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion: he doesn't want to go down in history as the one on whose watch it shattered. Yet I wonder if an ever stronger motive of this very Catholic-minded prelate is his deep desire to lead Anglicans closer to Rome and to Orthodoxy. Therefore his hesitations about women bishops and his opposition to ordaining open and partnered gays and lesbians. If that is his objective, then removing the "offense" to dialogue with Rome and Constantinople by sacking the women-and-gay-inclusive TEC representatives would make a lot of sense in his terms. What do you think?