Responses to the Bishops’ conclusions after the Shared Conversations
From the Revd Adrian Alker
Sir, — Despite two years of Shared Conversations across the dioceses, the Bishops of the Church of England, in this latest report on marriage and same-sex relationships, have underscored again how a conservative and Evangelical hierarchy can effectively dig in its heels, reproducing the same set of arguments as has been rehearsed many times.
Although the report acknowledges the “contested tradition” of Anglicanism, it is clear that “faithfulness to God’s word” is seen to be understood as lying within the Evangelical position. For “others”, the imperative to read scripture differently stems from a “parallel conviction”, left unspecified!
The report, as with the long debate over women’s ordination, speaks of the need to take account of widely differing cultures in the Anglican Communion, as if the attitudes towards gay and lesbian Christians in the Churches of Uganda and Nigeria and elsewhere are to really influence how the Church of England serves this nation.
Do the Bishops see nothing positive about the freedoms granted in law to same-sex couples to celebrate their union through marriage equality? Is there such a limit to love that even such legal partnerships cannot be blessed in church? Were the more progressive members of the House of Bishops not even willing to consider a minority report, one that might at least have countenanced the blessing of same-sex unions in our churches?
The Bishops say again that a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” must be shown to lesbian and gay people, and the Church of England must work in mutual love and understanding on “these issues”. Gay and lesbian people are still, evidently, “an
The report says that there must be boundaries about what the clergy may or may not do if their prayers are sought by a couple choosing to prepare for or celebrate a civil marriage. In other words, they are instructing the clergy not to allow such a couple to feel that their relationship is in any way equal to the heterosexual couple who have been able to be married in the church.
I have served as a priest in the Church of England for 37 years, and this latest salvo from the House of Bishops leaves me ashamed of the continuing hypocrisy of an institution loyally staffed by many gay and lesbian clergy, an institution dominated by a hierarchy who have such a slender appreciation of Anglican theological and biblical scholarship.
I fear that this hardening of the heart, which is unwilling to sanctify in marriage the love held by two people of the same gender, will further diminish the place of the Church of England in our society, and only add to the number of church alumni who join organisations such as my own for mutual respect and support.
Chair, Progressive Christianity
Sheffield S8 7UA
From the Revd Dr Catherine Shelley
Sir, — I am sure that much will be written in various media over the next few weeks about the House of Bishops’ latest statement concerning human sexuality and in particular homosexuality. The statement and its recommendations yet again preserve the status quo and fail to offer any clear guidance on what can be done, all in the commendable spirit of mutual discernment and unity.
What the statement fails to recognise is the hurt and injustice that continue to be perpetuated. Clergy seeking to minister to parishioners, friends, and family in same-sex relationships are forced to preface their ministry with what to most recipients seem like irritating semantics (”It’s only prayers: I can’t bless you”) that simply highlight the Church’s lack of welcome and differential treatment.
Alternatively, they find themselves facing Clergy Discipline Measure proceedings because they are deemed to have overstepped the mark. Both are unjust. Guidance and something more positive are urgently needed.
24a Queens Mansions
Croydon CR2 6AA
From the Revd Steven Young
Sir, — As someone who has suffered the spiritual and psychological abuse of “gay-cure” therapy as a teenager in Evangelical churches in the 1990s, I would say that what the group Living Out is doing today has the potential to be even more destructive to LGBTI people. Why? Because it has successfully introduced the terminology of “same-sex attraction” into the official rhetoric of the Church of England.
The term “same-sex attraction” is included multiple times in the House of Bishops’ report. Encouraging Lesbian and gay people to define themselves as “experiencing same-sex attraction” is very clever, because it quietly changes a category of being into a desire, inclination, tendency, and, ultimately, a weakness to be overcome.
The Living Out website includes testimony-style videos of men
who are described as “same-sex attracted”, but have got married to women, or have chosen to leave behind their “gay identity” with a life partner of the same sex to live as single celibate men who experience “same-sex attraction”.
Would even a sexually celibate civil partnership between two people of the same gender be discouraged by Living Out, because it might lead to sex or stop your being open to the possibility of meeting a heterosexual life partner?
This is the old wolf of “gay cure” dressed up in the lamb’s clothing of “same-sex attraction”. If this group gains influence, as it appears to be doing, we will be in a worse state as a Church than we have been for decades.
Living Out? I call you out.
From the Revd Andrew Allen
Sir, — The timing of the publication of the House of Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships After the Shared Conversations could not have been worse.
Throughout Europe and much of the world, 27 January is set apart as a day of reflection on humankind’s inhumanity, with especial regard to genocides and the Holocaust.
Surely the House of Bishops isn’t so far removed from society to have chosen Holocaust Memorial Day as the date to reaffirm its discrimination and inequalities?
Oxford OX1 3DP
Proposed scheme for clergy risk-assessment
From Mr Martin Sewell
Sir, — The Church of England’s present systems for safeguarding and clergy risk-assessment are devised and managed by a combination of bishops, safeguarding officers, and diocesan registrars, guided by our National Safeguarding Team. All have skills and important contributions, but it is worth noting that each of our safeguarding “car crashes” last year were devised and managed by precisely this combination of skill sets.
They are now bringing a new scheme for clergy risk-assessment, which again places responsibility for managing the selection, instruction, management, and evaluation of risk assessors upon 42 bishops and maybe 80 safeguarding officers and registrars of varying experience and professional background and specialism.
This scheme is to be approved by General Synod members, few of whom have any knowledge of how risk-assessment works. What could possibly go wrong?
There is a cohort of people routinely entrusted by the Courts with instructing, managing, and critically evaluating experts’ opinions, handling exactly this kind of assessment daily. I refer to those accredited by the Law Society to act as lawyers in children’s proceedings.
Across the country, there are approximately 2000 of these specialists, all subject to professional standards and independently monitored; they cross-examine risk-assessors and experts, and they network, sharing information about who is reliable and whose opinions have been recently rejected by a judge. They are also not expensive lawyers.
The problem is that these skills are mainly exercised away from the public gaze. More specifically, our registrars have real and important experience across a variety of disciplines, but I have been looking at registrars’ firms and cross-checking with the list of accredited Law Society Children Lawyers. I have yet to find a single such specialist in a registrar’s firm. The reason is simple: our registrars tend to come from commercial firms that do not have Legal Aid contracts.
This is not, of course, to say that non-specialist lawyers cannot handle such matters, but if you were “playing the percentage game”, where would you start? I am not sure that this has even been considered; that is probably why we have a tweaked model that has delivered failures instead of a radical rethink.
Only a few of our safeguarding officers have been consulted about these changes. I have contacted a selection of safeguarding officers to ask for their opinions in confidence, and already have had interesting responses. This is an HR and pastoral issue. One called the new proposals “an impossible imposition on an already beleaguered section of the Church workforce”. Another said: “they want me to manage training — I am not a trainer, now it’s assessments — I’m not an assessor; they just want to make sure, if it all goes wrong it doesn’t have a clerical collar attached.”
It must be horrible to be in the eye of the storm when something goes wrong, whether one is the Bishop, Safeguarding Officer, or Registrar. We owe them all the best support possible and our sympathetic critical judgement when a new system is under construction.
I hope that the General Synod does not routinely pass these changes. The guidelines have not yet been drafted; the list of assessors is under construction; the safeguarding officers have not yet been fully consulted or trained; and we do not know the criteria for the selection of assessors, or the costs that will apparently fall on dioceses. The devil is in the detail. We are at an early stage: there is no hurry to pass them now.
When all the ducks are in a row, let us have some cases studies published, so that we can understand how it is proposed that we will manage an assessment of the stressed priest, the bullied depressed curate, or the dean with a drink problem: only then can we pass a system, confident that it is fit for purpose.
General Synod representative
for Rochester diocese
8 Appleshaw Close
Kent DA11 7PB
Church-and-world work of distinctive deacons
From the Revd Terry Drummond
Sir, — The correspondence on the question of the ministry of the distinctive deacon (Letters, 27 January) would seem to be missing an important element, in that if this ministry is to be distinctive, it is important that there is an understanding of what this means in relation to the whole ministry of the Church.
In the light of the publication of Setting God’s People Free (News and Comment, same issue), this would seem to be even more important.
On 10 December, the Bishop of Southwark ordained three distinctive deacons, of whom I was one. In addressing the question of the focus of the ministry, he pointed to Matthew 25 and the parable of the Kingdom.
The expectation in the light of this text was that the distinctive deacon brings a focus to ministry in the world, sent by, and rooted in the life of, the Church, with a ministry that addresses the needs of the excluded in society — a ministry that, drawing on that experience, can speak truth to power both in the Church and the world.
In the light of this call, it is important to recognise that the distinctive deacon is someone who is rooted in the wider ministry of the people of God, with a responsibility of service that contributes, in partnership with other both ordained and lay Christians, to working out together how the Christian faith speaks to the wider issues of what might be described as public policy.
29 Orchard Rise
Croydon CR0 7QZ
Interfaith questions for the close-quartered
From Suzanne Fletcher
Sir, — While discussion continues about the reading of the Qur’an in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow (Letters, 20 January), and there is the helpful theologically based article “Leaving disagreements on the table” on different faiths (Comment, 27 January), life is going on.
Few people know that when asylum-seekers are housed in the UK, single people share houses, and more than half of them share a room to sleep in. They are allocated places to live with no thought for common language, culture, or faith. There are, of course, issues around, such as sharing cooking equipment in a house, but it is common for a Christian and a Muslim to be sharing a bedroom when they cannot even talk to each other about their prayer needs and practices.
Their willingness to tolerate and try to understand each other is an example for many, but, of course, it does create ongoing tensions as the situation goes on for years.
Has any thought at all been given by the Churches to how we can best help?
3 Hoylake Way, Eaglescliffe
Stockton on Tees TS16 9EU