THE Church of England has always been regarded as a “broad church”, which, because of its established nature, has sought through the years to care for everyone. It’s in our DNA.
There have, of course, been notable times when not all felt able to stay. Charismatic leaders such as George Fox, John Wesley, and George Whitfield led renewal movements that helped give birth to the Methodist Church and the Quakers. Of course, our own roots lie in a seismic schism, which, while political in its origin, gave Protestantism a home in England.
Throughout all these times of change, the Anglican moral tradition of conscience has served us well — enabling us to listen to the Spirit as we approached divisive topics such as marriage after divorce, and women priests.
It is this tradition that the Archbishop of Canterbury reaffirmed at the Lambeth Conference, concluding, in relation to human sexuality, “that there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality”. Critically, for the first time he recognised that some provinces “have blessed and welcomed same-sex union/marriage after careful theological reflection and a process of reception” (News, 12 August 2022).
IF THIS is truly the case, then why are we being held to ransom by a section of the Church that refuses to give any ground in this area? The recent statement by the Church of England Evangelical Council could not be clearer: if the Bishops move forward with their proposals, then this will “prevent us from walking together and promote disunity, even schism”. They have at least been consistent with this threat — right from the 1987 Higton debate through to their 2020 response to Living in Love and Faith.
This situation will not change, and we would be fools to believe otherwise. This is why I have tabled my amendment asking that proposals for equal marriage be brought to the General Synod in July (News, 23 January). I am doing so now as I believe we must decide, once and for all, what type of Church we want to be, and, importantly, what Good News we wish to proclaim.
For our fundamental problem is that there are two very different versions of Christianity being taught in our Church.
On the one hand, a God of unconditional love who commands us not to call anything unclean that our Creator God has made — especially those of us who by our very birth and nature are different.
On the other, a God who limits that grace, so that, despite any fine talk about “justification by faith”, our salvation seems to be dependent on which rules we keep, rather than on what God has done for us all.
This means that, for a lesbian like me, the “good news” is that I will go to hell if I rejoice in the gift of a sexual relationship with the woman I marry. As conservative believers have repeatedly said, for them this is a “first order” issue, which they place alongside the divinity of our Lord Jesus and the resurrection.
It is this that we must come to a view on. The problem will not go away, and no amount of delay or procrastination will solve it. The latest offering from the Bishops (News, 20 January) asks us to accept each other’s differing views for the sake of Christian unity. But it’s too late for that; it just won’t happen.
“Unity at any cost” cannot be the Jesus way, when that cost is the happiness — and, indeed, the innocent lives — of some of the most marginalised and victimised members of our Church. LGBT+ people have consistently borne the pain of “good disagreement”, not in “debate” but in their own lives. We are being sacrificed on the altar of unity. We are the scapegoat on whom the sins of the Church have been laid.
And it’s time to stop. We must face the truth and own up to the fact that we are not united, as a Church or as a Communion, and have not been for a very long time. As the recent Census data has shown, people have been leaving in their droves (News, 2 December). The pressure on us, the LGBT+ community, is intolerable, with many of us bearing scars for life because of the way that we are treated. The Bishops know this, and yet, astonishingly, they allow the abuse to carry on.
THAT is why I am also proposing that we remove the apology until such time as this abuse has ended, for to do otherwise is sheer hypocrisy. We cannot, as a Synod, “lament and repent . . . for the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church” at the same time as continuing with the active discrimination that is the root cause of this harm.
I understand that the decision not to move to equal marriage was a “political” one, as the Bishops did not believe that it would receive the two-thirds majority needed for a vote in the Synod.
I fail to see the example of Jesus in this sort of calculating compromise. My amendment seeks to rectify this and urges the Bishops — and the Synod — to show some moral leadership. I believe that the gospel we preach must be one of justice and grace, and that there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. For we are each loved equally by a God who rejoices in all those whom he has made.
Unless we are prepared to have this debate now, the abuse and the discrimination will continue. It is time to decide whether moral conscience can truly have a place in our Church.
Jayne Ozanne is a General Synod member for Oxford diocese, founder of Founder of ViaMedia, and director of the Ozanne Foundation.