THE Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison, has expressed concern about the Bishop of Maidstone’s comments on the Lichfield diocesan letter seeking to define “radical Christian inclusion”.
In a blog contribution, he also criticises the Church of England bishops more generally for “institutional dishonesty” about clergy in same-sex relationships, which, he says, is damaging to mental health as well as corrupting of the institution.
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, expressed disagreement last week with guidance from the bishops of Lichfield diocese to their clergy and people that “nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity” (News, 8 June, 18 May).
Bishop Thomas, who chaired the conservative Evangelical group Reform until 2015, argued: “The 1987 General Synod motion [on marriage, Canon B38], which remains the Church of England’s official position, speaks of the need for all sexual relationships outside marriage to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.”
On Via Media, the blog run by Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical LGBT campaigner, the Dean responds: “It seems bizarre that the Church is spending so much of its energy on getting Christian LGBT people to repent when they are living ordered lives and are looking for the Church’s blessing, rather than promoting ordered relationships in a world deluged by disordered sexuality.”
Bishop Thomas suggested that the reference to “a place at the table for all” in the Lichfield document “might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion. This understanding would create a tension with the BCP Article 25 distinction between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation.
“One of the practices in many churches is to draw attention to this distinction and to welcome those who have sought to repent and have placed their trust in Christ’s atoning work on the cross; it is then up to the individual members of the congregation to decide on their participation.”
Dean Ison describes the Bishop’s statement as “very concerning”, and writes: “It’s not only that appealing to Article 25 of the Book of Common Prayer begs the question as to whether that article correctly interprets ‘unworthy’ in 1 Corinthians 11 as being about a matter of individual conscience. In its scriptural context, Paul’s concern is about a religious and socially disordered matter — Christians eating separately and not recognising Christ in one another and the sacrament (which might sound familiar in other contexts today!).
“It’s also that Bishop Rod’s letter assumes that LGBT people don’t trust in Christ’s atoning cross if they don’t agree with the view he sets out.
“This is itself an exclusive and unscriptural view insofar as it judges and condemns brothers and sisters in Christ who are very clear about their faith in Jesus Christ and their intention of living a holy life before God, if not holy enough in the eyes of those who share the Bishop’s view.”
He continues: “Entering into our Christian identity does not mean eradicating who we really are, in order to fit us into an idealised (heterosexual) humanity, like the story of the Procrustean bed; it means Christ being manifest in and through who we really are. . .
“The confused state of the Church of England makes it harder for LGBT people exploring ministry to know what to do. The Church has clearly discriminated against clergy who are in a same-sex marriage, but has also been hypocritical in accepting the validity of clergy civil partnership without sexual activity while offering the opportunity to discriminate against any cleric in a civil partnership when recruiting for jobs.
“Clergy who are in formal, informal or hidden partnerships (about which ‘intrusive questions’ are not supposed to be asked) live in fear of discrimination if they are open about their partnership, or exposure if they hide it, whether or not they ‘have active sexual relationships outside marriage which are seen as intrinsic to their identity’.”
He argues: “This institutionalised dishonesty is bad for people’s mental health and corrupting for the Church’s institutions. A simpler and more honest way forward would be to treat different orientations and identities equally, welcoming all and genuinely supporting the discipleship of those who live an ordered life.”
He expresses hope that the whole Church will follow the diocese of Lichfield “in welcoming all to a place at the table of Christ”.
Dean Ison has spoken out before. In 2016, he referred to a “growing consciousness across the Church that our response to lay and ordained LGBTI Christians cannot stay as it is. We need far greater honesty and transparency with one another” (News, 9 September 2016). As a contributor to Ms Ozanne’s book, Journeys in Grace and Truth: Revisiting scripture and sexuality (News, 24 June 2016), he concluded that it was important that LGBTI people “have access to what I’ve termed ‘the virtues of marriage’”.
On Friday, Ms Ozanne commented: “The concept that we should repent for who we are and be denied the sacraments is offensive in the extreme, and is the type of teaching that can lead to self-hate, depression, self-harm, and even suicide.”
Her autobiography, Just Love: A journey of self-acceptance, was published by DLT last week.