[Guest Blog] Calling the Church of England to account on LGBT issues

15 February 2017

Liberal Judaism has long recognised the importance of providing a truly inclusive religious home for its members. It draws no distinction between people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, be they congregants or Rabbis. We offer our support and thoughts to the Church of England as it debates these crucial issues. However, we also stretch out a hand of unity and friendship to those who are currently feeling threatened and isolated and hope that the Church is able to find a way forward in recognising that the need for equality and diversity is now.

The Revd Dr John Seymour

This picture is of Simon Butler; he goes by the title of Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury (!) in the Church of England’s governing body. His role is to represent the views of clergy to the Bishops, who as the Church’s designated leaders in what is a hierarchical structure, form the upper house of this ‘parliament’ or synod.

For some years now, the Church of England has been debating the place of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in its life. Three years ago, the church embarked on a process of Shared Conversations to allow those with different beliefs to hear one another’s’ perspectives.

From September 2016, the Bishops decided to take the next steps for inclusion into their own hands. Their discussions have led to a report on same-sex relationships and marriage. The report has surprised and dismayed many by its conservative and legalistic tone; it is being discussed at Synod on Wednesday 15th February. That discussion includes a group work, a debate and a vote to take note of the report; to broadly assent to its findings.

Simon voiced concerns on the first day of proceedings for the safety of LGBT members participating in group work looking at case studies about LGBT people; these groups are to be facilitated by the same Bishops who have written a report on same sex relationships that has been met with consternation because of its conservative stance; these are the same bishops who interrogate clergy over their private lives with the threat of removing their license if they don’t get the answer they want.

The Church of England’s present position will surprise many in its non-inclusive stance. It is not permissible to say prayers of blessing with a same sex couple after a civil ceremony. Marriage of persons of the same sex are not allowed. Clergy who marry their partners face disciplinary action.

Before the start of the debate on Monday Simon described how he had received a text message from a member of Synod, asking him about his sex life. He rightly identified this as ‘borderline harassment’ as he disclosed this to the synod.

Despite this, the chair of the business committee who he addressed said that she had consulted and that there were no specific safeguarding issues which had been identified in the group work. This in a week in which the Oasis Foundation has published research showing that LGB people’s rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm & attempted suicide are 3-13 times those of the whole population, this difference being attributable to direct discrimination and social isolation.

When Simon’s disclosure takes place before the whole governance structure of the Church of England – including those responsible for clergy wellbeing and safeguarding, and recognition of safeguarding risk is perceived, or protection of LGBT people put in place in response, it is apparent that the Established Church is not capable of self-regulation. We need those outside to speak out to call the Church of England to account.

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