A VIDEO on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) materials, produced by the campaign group Christian Concern, has been criticised by the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, for condemning participants in the process. Police are looking at the video as a possible hate-crime.
In the video, posted on YouTube on 13 November, Ben John, development director of the Wilberforce Academy, comments on clips from a trailer video which promotes the LLF course.
One clip features Alex Clare-Young, a transgender member of the United Reformed Church who served on the LLF co-ordinating group, and his wife. Mr John says: “In reality, if transgenderism is a false ideology — which it is — then what we’re actually seeing here is a lesbian couple. This man isn’t really a man, she’s a woman. And so whilst the Church of England might say ‘We haven’t changed the doctrine of marriage yet,’ we have changed the practice.”
Mr John also criticises comments in the trailer by a heterosexual couple, who say that “Marriage to us means just a deep sense of commitment.” Mr John says that the Prayer Book describes marriage as “a creational ordinance. . . We cannot redefine marriage.”
He also criticises a gay Christian who speaks of finding a church in which he does not have to hide anything about himself. And although he accepts the reality of intersex, he describes it as a physical condition: it is “sneaky” of LLF to try to group it together with homosexuality.
Mr John goes on to say: “The reality is that some views should not be accepted or tolerated. There are some views which we need to condemn.” The whole Living in Love and Faith project, he says, “was compromised from the beginning by having people we should not have associated with contribute”.
The Times reported on Monday that Mr Clare-Young had reported the video to North Yorkshire Police, who confirmed to the paper that it was investigating.
The chief executive of Christian Concern, Andrea Williams, is a lay member of the General Synod. She told Radio 4’s Sunday that there was “nothing abusive about the video. . . The video does not contain personal attacks, and it simply calls on the Church of England to uphold its biblical understanding of sex and gender.”
Speaking on the same programme, Mr Clare-Young said: “I feel that the video very clearly misgenders me, when I am legally male. Myself and my wife are being described as being in a same-sex marriage, when we’re not; that my identity is referred to as a false ideology; my vocation is called into question; and I think the comments that have been made on the video, on YouTube and other social media sites, some of which demonstrate the hatred and harm that this can lead to.”
He continued: “It’s really important to me that traditional or conservative views are allowed to be heard, as well as LGBTQ+ views of all sorts, but there’s a big difference between free speech and speech without consequence or reaction, and people are only free to express their beliefs and opinions in ways that don’t directly harm other people, which is why we have hate-crime legislation.
“I would also say that being trans is a protected characteristic — gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in law — and so misgendering a trans person in that sort of public forum is never OK in the UK.”
Asked whether the Christian Concern video amounted to hate speech, Mr Clare-Young replied: “All I can say about that is the police are investigating whether that’s the case. It’s not my preference for this to be a police matter, but it’s really important for the safety of myself and others involved in the video that it is taken down.”
Dr Cocksworth, who chaired the LLF co-ordinating group and who was also interviewed on Sunday, agreed with Mr Clare-Young that there was “a huge difference” between “expressing views and convictions — even objecting to the views and even the practices of others”, and “personalising those views in such a way that they cause offence to someone else, that they are hurtful”.
Asked how he would ensure that LGBTQ+ people felt safe during the LLF process, Dr Cocksworth said that he and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the LLF Next Steps Group, “have been very clear that specific and harmful targeting of individuals who’ve courageously shared their experiences and take part in the project is wrong”.
Dr Cocksworth and Bishop Mullally issued a joint statement on Wednesday of last week, which said: “Specific and harmful targeting of some of the individuals who have courageously shared their stories as part of LLF is wrong and not in the spirit of LLF and the Pastoral Principles commended by the House of Bishops. Personal insults and attacks are contrary to the respect, love, grace, kindness and compassion to which we are all called. . .
”Questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are deeply personal with real-life consequences. It is vital that our ongoing conversations and processes of learning and discernment take place in as safe a way as possible.”
Also last week, a letter signed by more than 20 people, most of them clergy, was sent to 34 bishops whom they had identified as “known . . . to be strongly supportive of LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England”. They included the Bishops of Chichester, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Norwich, and Oxford.
“We ask you, either as individuals or jointly, to speak publicly about your personal support for the Living in Love and Faith process and your hope that it will lead the Church of England to a resolution of over sixty years of reports and conversations that will grant LGBTIQ+ people an equal space in the Church,” the letter says.
It speaks of the Christian Concern video and a video produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), The Beautiful Story (News, 20 November).
The letter describes the CEEC film as “homophobic”, which “issues a challenge and a threat — if the outcome of the LLF process isn’t agreement to conform to their biblical position that same-sex activity is contrary to God’s will and unchanging Word, they will reconsider their allegiance and campaign for a third or fourth Province in the Church of England”.
The letter goes on to say that the Christian Concern video attacked “trans and intersex people with the most abusive, disgusting language”.
It continues: “We were already seriously concerned about participation in the LLF project, not least because of the complete lack of awareness within the House of Bishops of the institutionalised homophobia and transphobia within the Church. . .
“The LLF Pastoral Principles are excellent, but currently there is no mechanism to ensure that they are followed. If any process follows, you will need to provide absolute assurance of proper safeguarding for LGBTIQ+ people who may wish to participate.”
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, who was a recipient of the letter, responded in a blog post on Saturday that he understood fully why the signatories to the letter were “deeply distressed” by both the Christian Concern and CEEC videos.
But he says: “The writers of the letter seem to me to be trying to enlist to their side. I think they’re going about things the wrong way.
“Firstly, and speaking personally, this feels more like the press gang than an invitation from friends. The letter sets up a binary choice: either publicly declare that you agree with our position, or we’ll walk away from the process. But you don’t build an alliance by making a public challenge to a certain group of people to join with you — or else.
“That’s important not just for me personally, but because it leads to the second, much more fundamental problem. By looking to recruit to its side in this way, the writers of the letter are accepting the terms of the debate on the grounds that the CEEC video proposes. Everyone is either an ally or an enemy in the battle to be fought: the question is who has the strongest army.
He continues: “Enough of the military language: I will not be recruited, because I refuse to see this process as a fight. LLF invites us to listen to one another at depth, to hear each other’s stories as well as sharing our understandings of scripture and tradition and contemporary society. To take all of this and let it become a battleground would be a tragedy — more than that, it would be a sin.
“What I will do my best to achieve is this: I will try as hard as I can to keep the LLF space safe for all. LGBTIQ+ people are much the most vulnerable, so I will particularly try to ensure that they are able to participate in this process to the full.
“That will involve listening to the voices of those who are not as safe, privileged or powerful as I am, and using what power I have to remove barriers that might prevent them speaking confidently for themselves. It will involve being mindful of the intersection of safeguarding and safety. I will call out the language of conflict, or of other abuses of power, wherever I see it, and seek always to bring our conversations back into the place that LLF has tried to create: one in which we are living together in love and in faith, seeking as God’s people together to discern the movement of the Spirit.”