A TRANSGENDER priest, the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley, has pulled out of the group that is co-ordinating the House of Bishops’ sexuality project, Living in Love and Faith (LLF).
In an article in this week’s Church Times, she argues that not enough attention is being paid to the experiences of LGBTI+ churchpeople. And she questions the neutral stance that the LLF process has been taking: “There’s an assumption that LLF is handling equally valid views about sex and gender on which we can, in the end, agree to disagree.”
She said on Tuesday: “I’d hoped it would be better. I hope it can be better.”
Dr Beardsley had been a member of the LLF process since the start: she was one of the five consultants to the central co-ordinating group (the group’s full members are all bishops). She had had doubts about the process, and her part in it, for some months, but the trigger for her departure, announced to the group last month, was disparaging remarks made about an LGBTI+ contact.
The co-ordinating group was surprised and saddened by her departure, the project’s enabling officer, Dr Eeva John, said on Tuesday. She felt that the group had “always been very aware of how deeply personal and painful these matters have been”, and attempted to listen to people without skirting round issues, “but we do that imperfectly”.
She disputed the contention that not enough weight was being given to LGBTI+ voices. As part of the wider participation, which will be fed into the LLF process in the coming weeks, Dr John had held interviews with 22 individuals, 15 of them LGBTIA+, including five transsexual people.
There were eight openly LGBTI+ people in the LLF working groups, 12 if the Pastoral Advisory Group was included. Dr Beardsley would be replaced, she said. “We’re going to find another trans person. We need that voice.”
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, who chairs the co-ordinating group, said on Tuesday that LLF was not simply about balancing different views. “We cannot regard it as impossible in a Christian community to enable people to understand each other’s heartfelt perspectives; and it is our hope that, in a deeper understanding, there will develop a greater level of respect between those who hold differing views — and a greater possibility of assessing the validity of those views and whether they fall into the Christian spectrum.”
Canon Giles Goddard is the other LGBTI consultant on the co-ordinating group. He intended to stay, he said on Tuesday. “We are doing something very difficult and challenging, but we have to stick with it.” He understood Dr Beardsley’s reservations; but so far his experiences in the group had been positive. “As a partnered gay priest, I’ve felt that I’ve been able to speak very clearly and been listened to.”
Dr Beardsley said that she had learnt a great deal by being part of the group. “There was a lot of warmth there; but the structure and the premise I didn’t find helpful.”
Read more from Dr Beardsley in our comment pages