Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Two bishops comment on Church of England homosexuality policy

The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge is reported in the Worcester News as saying Attitude to gays is in need of rethink:

THE Bishop of Worcester says the church should “reflect deeply” on the fact that many youngsters believe its attitude to homosexuality is wicked.

The Rt Rev Dr John Inge threw his weight behind comments made last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said a lot of people under 30 think the Church’s view on gay men and lesbians is “incomprehensible”.

The city’s bishop told your Worcester News that the Most Rev Justin Welby was “undoubtedly right” about the stance taken by young people.

“The Church needs to reflect deeply on the implications of this,” said Bishop John. “For the first time in many generations, our traditional teaching is being seen by large numbers of people as being on the wrong side of the moral argument. It’s important that we recognise this and do some soul searching, recognising that God doesn’t only speak through the Church of England.”

The Bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham is reported in the Gloucestershire Citizen Bishop of Gloucester apologises for church treatment of gay community:

…”The church has to be sorry,” he said.

“It has not treated the gay, lesbian and transgender community very well. “The church may be moving slowly, but it will get there. The vast majority of Christians are moving relatively fast towards a more modern way of thinking and towards a position where they should be. It is a place where they should have reached a long time ago, but clearly not as quickly as the rest of society. The church is slow because it is trying to pull together this universal family from all over the world to have the same understanding.

“The church’s view on same sex marriage is not sustainable. But homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic. We should all celebrate committed, faithful and loving relationships.”

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"We should all celebrate committed, faithful and loving relationships.” (Bishop of Gloucester)

Go to it !

Posted by: Rev'd Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 at 3:40pm BST

Well said Bishops

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 at 4:47pm BST

Isn't it _remarkable_ that suddenly, after the carcrash of the equal marriage bill and the Anglican church's incoherent position on it, and the publication of a social attitudes survey that shows that the bigot vote is small, old and getting smaller and older every year, all these bishops discover that their long-held views which they voted for are suddenly wrong, and they're now all down wid da kidz and stuff? How convenient.

"homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic"

Why should people suddenly believe that a church that consistently campaigned against equal marriage, published lengthy diatribes about how it would undermine society and destroy relationships, and whose leader supported a wrecking amendment, and whose leadership has lied consistently to conceal its attempt to block civil partnerships, could possibly have be homophobic?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 at 10:03pm BST

All I'm willing to say is: "Let the Church get on with its mission - of Justice for ALL and Peace to those of good will". It truly is amazing what can happen when society judges the prejudice of the Church, and finds it wanting.

NOW, what about those Women Bishops?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 12:44am BST

I am reminded of Fr Barry Orford's superb Church Times article sometime last year. It is still behind a paywall but it contains the following:

'I spend most of my time working with university undergraduates and graduates. They hear voices raised in the Church attacking any attempt to change the existing ecclesiastical discrimination against homosexual Christian people and they are baffled. This is a mindset so far from their own that they find it incomprehensible. As one indisputably heterosexual student said to me, ‘this is just not an issue any more.

The fact is that we have a rising generation whose members actually know gay, lesbian and bisexual people. If they are not gay themselves, they have openly gay brothers, sisters, friends and acquaintances, and they know from their own experience that what the Christian anti-gay lobby is saying about gay people is simply not true. Whatever attacks are made here or abroad against the Church’s gay and lesbian members, there are now young men and women, including Christians, who know that gay people are not monsters of vice, that their relationships are not inherently unstable, and that the love they feel for each other is ‘the real thing’. When they hear the supposed arguments from scripture and tradition which are used to justify continuing oppression of gays, they respond as one highly gifted Christian graduate did in conversation with me – ‘these are yesterday’s people with yesterday’s agenda.

The starving will not tolerate indefinitely being told they are not hungry. Homosexual people and those who know them will no longer tolerate indefinitely a Church which is conniving with lies about them. In short, the cat is out of the bag and cannot be pushed back in...

I take heart from this when I think of our bishops. My confidence in them has frequently been stretched to breaking point, yet I still dare to hope that when they sit round a table and wonder what to do in the sexuality discussions, the panic-stricken silence will be broken when a brave man faces the truth and speaks. Then another one, and then another...

I hope the new dawn will come in far fewer than ten years, and I hope to join in its festivities. But the time it takes, though important, is not the chief thing. What matters is that the truth about God’s beloved and loving gay children can no longer be repressed, and therefore the issue is all over bar the shouting.'


Now the cracks are appearing. Our bishops seem to be catching up.

For our part, we can waste time - and TA column inches - complaining how long this has taken, or we can support what we see and hear from them and help them and others to turn the Titanic.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 7:46am BST

I really don't understand the "homosexuals must understand the church is not homophobic". Exactly what evidence can be advanced in support of this assertion? I can think of much that can be advanced to the contrary!

The church, and even this sympathetic bishop, seem to occupy a world of ingrained cognitive dissonance. In this world, what the church thinks is completely disconnected from what it does. The church is not homophobic, he thinks, because they way it thinks is well-meaning. (Not, incidentally, that I believe that to be true either.) Yet what it DOES remains, tout court, homophobic. Discriminating against gay people does not cease to be homophobic simply because the discrimination issues from putatively good intentions.

I have experienced identical argument foaming from clergy's mouths in defence of racist exclusion of parishioners, and I must say, it all makes me feel pretty sick.

Posted by: AndrewT on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 8:22am BST

"Isn't it _remarkable_ that suddenly, after the carcrash of the equal marriage bill and the Anglican church's incoherent position on it, and the publication of a social attitudes survey that shows that the bigot vote is small, old and getting smaller and older every year, all these bishops discover that their long-held views which they voted for are suddenly wrong, and they're now all down wid da kidz and stuff? How convenient."

Without wishing to defend anyone in the Church of England who is homophobic, and fully aware of some of the ghastly things that have been said and done in the Church's name and by some of its members against the LGBTI community, I think we need to be careful about making sweeping statements. Who is "the Church"? I am an ordained member of it, and for the whole of my ministry I have been speaking in favour of equal marriage in the churches I have served. I have also had to recognise that
some of those in my congregations regard homosexuality as a sin, a sickness or a self-indulgent lifestyle choice and have done for so long that changing their minds is a huge leap. I recall an elderly man in my congregation 15 years ago pointing out to me that for someone his age it required a very great turnaround in his attitudes. As he reminded me, for most of his lifetime homosexuality was not only disapproved of, but actually illegal. Those who lead congregations and dioceses have to take into account the fact that those we speak to may not be starting from the same point we are - shifting people's attitudes is not simply a matter of standing at a distance from them and shouting loudly.
The truth, also, is that "the Church" is an organisation with a very fuzzy structure - it isn't just the Bishops, just the Synod, just the people at Church House, or just the people in the pews, and throughout this debate there have been people in every part of the church advocating for and believing in the rightness of equal marriage. My experience is that even when they have spoken out, their voices have often not been heard or reported. The recent trend for unattributed documents to be issued giving "the Church's" position on this or that is very regrettable, partly because it gives the impression that we are a top-down organisation with a monolithic view, and some sort of "head office" which can dictate "company policy". Those involved in the C of E know that this isn't so, and every time such a document is issued the chorus arises "not in my name"
I don't know what these two bishop's track record is in speaking and voting on homosexuality - but I know that there are many bishops who have, in practice, gone as far as the rules of the C of E have allowed them, and challenged those rules, so as to support, include and honour gay people. Sometimes they have done so behind the scenes (not every gay priest or layperson in their care is "out")If they are now able to speak out more openly and with more hope of actually being heard rather than shouted down (which the secular moves towards equality - also very recent, and not at all universally approved - have made easier) it seems to me it is far more productive to say amen and put our weight behind them than to criticise them, especially since we may be blaming them for attitudes which they never held.

Posted by: Anne2 on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 8:29am BST

Amen to that, Lister!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 9:10am BST

Welcome signs of change. But this is the same John Inge who was jointly responsible for the woeful CofE document on marriage just a few months ago. And so theologically illiterate that the House of Bishops looks in danger of not requiring a minimum level of theological expertise anymore.

Posted by: Neil on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 9:17am BST

'But homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic.'

That +Gloucester should make such an arrogant statement surely indicates that he and the church at large are in denial about the institutional homophobia endemic in the Church of England. His fine words butter no parsnips when he can be so crass speaking to a group of GLTB people. We don't have to 'realise' anything. We KNOW.

Peter Ould has an interesting take on this. Essentially he is saying that +Gloucester knows something since he is on the Pilling Committee (which you will remember contains no women and no out gltb people either; another instance of the church 'telling' us.)

Peter posits that either the Pilling Committee is going to recommend major changes in the Church's teaching - which is unlikely because the Bishop wouldn't jump the gun or be so discourteous to his fellow committee members - or the committee is going to recommend no change or make no recommendations at all but merely provide options. In which case the Bishop, who is coming up to retirement, is trying to make his mark before he goes.

Now I don't know whether there is any truth in this or whether is just cynical speculation. we shall have to wait for more leaks or even perhaps the publication of the report. But I for one am not optimistic that the Committee will recommend change. It can't. We already know from one leak that one participant has already said that the evidence he has seen hasn't changed his mind. It is more likely to be deadlocked by the need to provide 'balance' in its composition and it is more than likely that those participating will have already made up their minds before the first sitting.

I think that the Church is heading for another major car crash on this, much as it did over the Women Bishops vote. The response to what I am sure will be an ineffective and temporising report will be outrage and anger. The Bishops will be forced to take over the process, as they have had to with the Women Bishops issue and will have to force change through the sclerotic arteries of an uncomprehending and mystified organisation who still just 'don't get it'

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 9:35am BST

It's really important, though, that the CofE doesn't change its traditional teaching simply because it is "seen by large numbers of people as being on the wrong side of the moral argument". They must do what many of us have already done and see that it really *is* on the wrong side of the moral argument and respond accordingly.

This shouldn't be about public perception, but about doing the right thing.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 9:50am BST

I agree with Alastair Newman.

In my view, we ought to recognise that it is an increase of knowledge, chiefly scientific, about homosexuality that prompts, and ought to prompt, a change from the traditional teaching.

Posted by: John Ross Martyn on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 10:49am BST

Sorry, Lister Tonge, but if Nick Griffith suddenly moved to Balsall Heath and opened a sweet centre, I think people would be justified in being sceptical, no matter how good the samosas and pista barfi and how attractive his special offers for iftar. One of the comments to the Gloucester story says "we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse" and that is entirely the point.

When the Christian Church held the high grounds of power, and was able to dictate terms to society, it was virulently (and in some cases violently) homophobic.

In countries where it still has that power, it is still homophobic.

Its posture of now being caring and decent (so long as it doesn't involve apology, repentance or, indeed, ceasing to vote for homophobic measures) is only apparent in countries where its power is waning, where demographic trends are marginalising it, and where civil society has made it clear that it simply isn't listening any more. And it is "deniable" --- although all sorts of informal briefings have individual bishops claiming to have seen some sort of light, the Anglican Church's official position, as articulated in position papers published earlier this year over Welby's signature, and as evidenced by Welby's voting record, is exactly the opposite.

It is perfectly reasonable to doubt the sincerity of bishops who are suddenly in favour of equal rights for all, when they were voting for discrimination six weeks ago. Damascine conversions they may be, but it does all seem rather convenient. For example, Welby may have talked about his regrets over the SSM issue while answering questions at the EA, but he didn't trouble himself to make the same point in his actual speech, even though the EA are exactly the people who are causing the problem. The bishops in the stories cited here are talking in abstract terms about "the Church" and its need to repent and apologise, but a start would be for them to repent and apologise.

If the CofE believes that equal marriage is good policy, it should perform marriage on an equal basis. It doesn't, and campaigned loudly and at length to make it as difficult as possible for this to ever happen, not only in CofE churches (which is its right, no matter how misguided) but anywhere. It also demanded legislation to permit registrars to deny people equal marriage in civil register offices, and a host of other petty, malicious, spiteful measures to make it clear that equal marriage isn't equal or marriage. George Carey even demanded that it be called something else, to hammer home the inferiority, and there was complete silence from all these bishops who now, rather later, are discovering that they disagree.

Matthew, 7:15

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 11:06am BST

Anne2
While I agree with the general thrust of your comment, I would like to point out that "I recall an elderly man in my congregation 15 years ago pointing out to me that for someone his age it required a very great turnaround in his attitudes. As he reminded me, for most of his lifetime homosexuality was not only disapproved of, but actually illegal." was precisely my own father's reaction when I told him about my female partner. It was accompanied by a letter welcoming her into the family.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 11:51am BST

gay friendly bishops are sprouting up everywhere. But " homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic" sounds very condescending, and I thought it was only homophobes who referred to gays or lgbt folk as "homosexuals"?

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 11:51am BST

It's movement, at long last.

I appreciate the words of Anne2. I would say, however, that we LGBT people have had to shout. And I challenge you to name a wrong that was righted without the victims "shouting." Or at least telling their stories and being visible. Young people don't accept homophobia because they know gay people. In a climate of fear and silence, the older people don't have the same opportunity until someone speaks up. It isn't as if the British gave up on India of their own accord without Gandhi or the US gave up on racial segregation without MLK. Those injustices would continue to this day if some people didn't stand up and shout "this is wrong and here's why." How convenient it is, now that things are changing, to say to those of us who've been hurt that we needn't have made a fuss! The fuss is driving the change.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 12:42pm BST

I am pulled two ways on this one.

I am glad that Michael Perham and John Inge are saying what they are saying. But what really counts is whether the leadership of the bishops will be strong enough (post-Pilling) to set a new direction and fashion a new polity in the face of the people who want to die in the last ditch before they let the gays have a place at the table on the same terms as everyone else. And there is the small matter of getting gender equality sorted as well of course. In other words, fine words butter no parsnips whatsoever. I read it as prefatory noises by people who do want to do things differently preparing the ground. But the judgement of its real value will come when things have to be DONE, not just said.

Secondly, it really doesn't help when Michael Perham tells LGBT people (please, NO MORE "homosexuals") that we "must realise that the church is not homophobic". Must realise! I don't think so. All that shows is that he still is nowhere near getting it. Oppressors do not tell the oppressed that they have to realise that they (the oppressors) are nice people really. He is just inviting an Anglo-Saxon response.

Change. Do things differently. Act justly. Engage. Include. Then you will find that no one tells you that the church is homophobic any more. Because it won't be.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 1:08pm BST

May I join Erica's "Amen to that, Lister." Just one thing: No one who's read Dr King's 'Letter from the Birmingham Jail' can help but notice that Lister's last sentence doesn't quite leave us where we need to be. It's not 'complaning OR help', it's 'complaining AND help'. One complements and enables the other. Both are quite essential to getting things like this done me thinks.

Posted by: Brant-N-LA on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 3:30pm BST

I am still unclear exactly what the Bishops fear if they come out clearly in favour of change in the Church re LGBT people. The Bishop of Buckingham blogs, tweets and comments all over the place in full support and, as far as I know, is not threatened, shunned by the other Bishops or has the Clergy Discipline Measure waved in his face. Or perhaps these things do happen and he is even braver than I thought! I know he's not a Diocesan but if he can do it, why can't the others? And not just in the condescending tones used by the likes of the Bishop of Gloucester.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 4:44pm BST

'When the Christian Church held the high grounds of power, and was able to dictate terms to society, it was virulently (and in some cases violently) homophobic.

In countries where it still has that power, it is still homophobic.'

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 11:06am BST


I support this 100% and that entire comment.

The Churches have behaved appallingly and still are. Both in the UK and around the world as IO says. Just look at the RC church and the Eastern Orthodox whose bishops are falling over themselves from Russia to Greece, to condemn loving relationships between lgbt.

As for 'homosexual' - any one who has to be told how offensive it is, really has nothing of value to say on this subject - yet.

Pilling will be the next opportunity for the C of E to parade its willful ignorance and anti-gay stance before the British public.

Posted by: Rev'd Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 6:08pm BST

I'm still trying to figure out whether or not this is substance or damage control.

A concrete gesture on the part of the Church would have more credibility than all the Bishop's statements in Christendom.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 6:33pm BST

Thank you , Erika and Cynthia. The elderly gentleman who I recalled in my earlier comment was speaking to me following a sermon in which I had preached about homosexuality (can't remember the context now), and was making a genuine attempt to get his head around the idea that the things he had been told and had believed all his life might need to be rethought. He was realistically pointing out, though, that this was not an easy thing to do. I sometimes wonder what things, when I am his age, I will struggle to reconsider, and what prejudices (which I will think are perfectly reasonable opinions, of course) I will be challenged on.
As for people experiencing injustice having the right to "shout" - of course they do! As an ordained woman I have always treasured Rebecca West's words to the effect that "I have never been able precisely to define what a feminist is. I only know that people call me one whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." Having the right to shout out loud and clear when we need to does not mean, however, that we will necessarily be able to make others hear us, and that may not be because they are willfully disinclined to. Sometimes, as with the gentlemen I recalled, people are just a very long way away, and need to make a journey to come closer (as we may need to do towards them too) in order to hear and understand how the world looks and feels like to us.

Posted by: Anne2 on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 6:33pm BST

"Pilling will be the next opportunity for the C of E to parade its willful ignorance and anti-gay stance before the British public."

The CofE made fools of themselves with the unsigned (but seemingly ex cathedra) pronouncements which were made during the equal marriage debate. If the Pilling Report is more of the same, the credibility of the CofE will hit new lows. The opportunity to put out a document which announces the the CofE is a marginal cult is an opportunity to be missed.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 7:14pm BST

" was making a genuine attempt to get his head around the idea that the things he had been told and had believed all his life might need to be rethought."

I'm sorry, I just don't buy that argument. I buy it even less in 2013.

Firstly, accepting, arguendo, that in the 1960s there were a large number of people traumatised and shocked by the very idea of homosexuality, they have had nearly fifty years to get used to the concept. If they're alive today, they were at most in their fifties when it was decriminalised, and being fifty does not condemn you intellectual rigidity and an inability to change. This isn't an "all his life": homosexuality was illegal for a small portion of the adult life of anyone still alive.

Secondly, I don't think that many people, particularly Christians, would welcome the following argument: "well, he may refer to black church-goers as [n word] and think that they shouldn't mix with white women, but the Race Relations Act wasn't passed until 1974 so he's still making a genuine attempt to get his head around the idea that the things he had been told and had believed all his life might need to be rethought". No one seriously advances the argument that we should be relaxed about racism provided the perpetrator of it is old enough. Why is that argument acceptable when it comes to LGBT issues?

Approaching fifty years is a long time. Demanding the right to pretend that it's 1966 in cultural, political and ethical terms (ie, that you're ninety, and are still rigidly fixed in the thinking of your 43 year old self) is unreasonable. They've renamed the Light Programme, you can't spend half crowns, it's not legal to throw blacks out of pubs any more and, aside from what the French call "Les Rolling", culture has moved on a bit. The Ageism of low expectations isn't great.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 10:43pm BST

none of those observations about what most young people think and the "church" (whoever that's supposed to refer to) needs to "reflect deeply" on it--none of this comes close to being good enough.

The church's leadership must stand before their clergy and congregations and say out loud that the church's treatment of gay people has been and is grossly and deeply sinful. Until this has taken place--publicly and repeatedly--I don't want to hear another freakin' word about "some think we're wicked" or our view is not sustainable. What has been done and continues to be done is hideously sinful. Now Deal With It.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 at 10:57pm BST

"No one seriously advances the argument that we should be relaxed about racism provided the perpetrator of it is old enough. Why is that argument acceptable when it comes to LGBT issues?"

Amen.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 3:32am BST

I am with Jeremy in his comments - both his gratitude to the bishops for speaking out and his necessary critique of their words and intentions.
But it does feel at times here that such is the (understandable) long term pain, anger and frustration present that even when people are genuinely trying to change and lead change, however falteringly, it is never enough and is variously dismissed as clumsy, 'arrogant'. People remain unforgiven for their former stated positions and are routinely presumed to be insincere or to be a manoeuvring around personal agendas and therefore not to be trusted.
It can leave the feeling 'what must I do to be saved?'

Posted by: David on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 8:46am BST

Being in my seventies, I am pretty intolerant of any idea that getting old excuses you from trying to come to terms with new ways of thinking. At least the gentleman Anne mentions was making some sort of effort to understand. Perhaps the point is that the CofE has tended to be shamefully slack about promoting serious discussion of issues around gender and sexual orientation.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 8:48am BST

To Interested Observer. I am not condoning homophobic statements or attitudes. I am just telling it like it is (or certainly like it was for that elderly gentleman who was in his late 80's when he made this comment to me at least 15 years ago - probably nearer 20 now I think about it.) Male homosexuality wasn't legalised until he was at least 60. That is a lot of years to believe one thing, and have that belief confirmed by legislation. He had simply never had cause to question his beliefs himself because it hadn't directly affected him personally and he didn't move in the kind of circles where people debated issues like this (or even mentioned sex at all).
I still regularly meet people in my ministry who have all sorts of completely unquestioned positions on all sorts of things - theological, ethical and political - but who, when you sit down and discuss things with them one to one will make huge shifts in their thinking, as this man was doing, if they trust you not to condemn them or make them feel stupid or wicked. Many people don't read newspapers and books, and don't engage with, or even notice, debate on issues that we might think of as inescapable. They just aren't interested, or have never learned to think critically - the average reading age of the writing in the Sun newspaper is apparently 9.... Many people also live incredibly sheltered lives, moving in social circles only with those who think as they do, or never talking with their friends about ideas, and avoiding controversial or intimate topics. We often don't notice them among the loud shouting of the chattering classes (among whom I suspect TA readers and commentators should put themselves...)

I think of an elderly lady in my congregation who had come along to a Lent study group for the very first time, and who, when the discussion turned to LGBTI issues looked very discomfited and confused. She wasn't unintelligent ; this was just something she would never have dreamed of talking about out loud. The swinging sixties passed many people by, and she was certainly one of them.
Eventually she said " but I thought they were all people who interfered with children! How can that be right?" As we, very gently, unpicked what exactly she thought we were talking about it turned out that she did indeed think that "homosexual" meant "child sex abuser" - not that she might have suspected that gay people weren't safe around children but that she literally thought this was what the word meant. No wonder she was puzzled by the relaxed attitudes the rest of the people involved in the discussion had shown.
It would have done no good at all to come down on her like a ton of bricks and tell her sternly that "it just wasn't good enough" that she thought these things. These were the things she thought, and we needed to find out why and give her the help she needed to think again when it plainly felt as if her whole world view was collapsing around her.
I don't know your background, Interested Observer, but as a parish priest I have to deal with people starting from where they are, not where I think they ought to be. I am clear about my own beliefs in public and in private, but ministry is as much about listening as it is about speaking and I have to accept that if people think the things they think then that is what they think, and that changing their minds is not necessarily a matter simply of telling them they should think differently.

What would you have done in the case of the elderly gentleman and lady I have mentioned?

Posted by: Anne2 on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 8:56am BST

Anne2
I think it depends on what you mean by "getting his head round".
Unlike Interested Observer I still come across many people who have genuinely never thought the issue of homosexuality through. Whatever my be on the statute books, we don't tend to really grapple with a subject until we have an actual need to do so.
And I still through Facebook get contacts with people who genuinely ask very basic questions but who are willing to listen.
I find it puzzling but humbling. Sometimes it's even very young people who have grown up in very evangelical households and churches and who have swallowed their churches lines without thinking too much - until life kicks them into thinking.
There's nothing wrong with that and saying "you shouldn't start where you're starting" isn't helpful.

BUT. And it's a big but. We are not talking about a church that is trying to get its head round homosexuality. We are talking about one that is still actively discriminating against gay people and that has reaffirmed in recent months that it is planning to continue to do so. We are talking about groups of people in power who HAVE discussed this for decades, who have not just stumbled across the reality of it and need some time to adjust.
And we are right to mistrust them, or at least to be very very cautious.

FD Blanchard's point here, about trying to figure out whether this is substance or damage control is crucial.
And while I know the motivation of those who talk to me privately and to seriously try to understand, I am far less certain that the same can be said about church at large yet.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 9:06am BST

And getting back to FD Blanchard's question - the new Bishop of Durham was a signatory of the Coalition 4 Marriage anti marriage equality campaign.

Seems the substance is getting flimsier and flimsier.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 9:24am BST

Erica
Thank you for a typically thoughtful post
but you write
'while I know the motivation of those who talk to me privately and to seriously try to understand, I am far less certain that the same can be said about church at large yet.'

Who or what exactly is 'the church at large'? There is no such group or being or entity. How is such a being addressed, challenged or evangelised rather than condemned? I find the stories of vulnerable conversations and disturbing epiphanies of understanding from Anne2 and others moving and encouraging and honourable. I can match them. In my experience they are happening everywhere dare I say it in 'the church at large'.

Posted by: David on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 11:53am BST

Anne2, I am perfectly prepared to believe that there are people in society who are profoundly ignorant of LGBT issues. I suspect that you are more understanding of them than you would be if they turned up and and used racist language to articulate a disapproval of black priests (which would, if we're playing the "what was accepting in 1955" game, pass the same test), but perhaps I'm wrong and you are willing to start from the starting point with all of them.

However, your examples are a somewhat missing the point. Firstly, your old man who was sixty when homosexuality was legalised in this country was born in 1907. With the best will in the world, in 2013 people who are 106 are not a major part of the demographic of any church. It might explain attitudes in the past, and even the quite recent past. It does not explain attitudes today.

Secondly, and more importantly, people who have a reading age of nine, do not read books and newspapers, do not discuss ideas, etc, etc are (one trusts) unlikely to be ordained as bishops, or even vicars, in the Church of England. If they are, it has problems beyond our imagining. Such people are also, I suspect, unlikely to be writing position papers for the Church of England to be published during major national debates. The formal policy of the CofE is set by people who are educated, articulate and, indeed, part of the chattering classes.

Let us say that I accept that people who are elderly and/or have not had a substantial post-16 education and/or have not travelled physically or socially far from where they are born may have attitudes that are not as progressive as we might like, and may need gentle assistance to move from knee-jerk responses they learnt in school or from their parents in 1937 to a more considered view today. And I admire your willingness to do that work, and I am sorry if I gave the impression that I think such people are malicious.

So what's Justin Welby's excuse, then?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 12:09pm BST

Episcopacy isn't working.

These people who are meant to lead are having to be nursed along and compared by Ann2 to elderly people who have not kept up with the News, let alone current affairs or their reading.

3 serving diocesans and a suffragan have to my knowledge spoken up for gays. I t will not do.

The house / college of bishops en bloc have failed to speak up for us.

For this reason, among others, fewer and fewer of us bother with the Church.

The bishops need to say with immediate effect, that all ministers and / or parishes who are up for it, can start giving services of Thanksgiving and blessing for lesbian and gay couples following a civil partnership, which Canterbury, York and Leicester have recently praised to the rafters.

Of course, if they do nothing, we will know that that praise was strategic intended to scupper marriage equality. And we will know that they were bearing false witness, and telling untruths.

Moral behaviour from the bishop ?

You will upbraid me as naive...

the churches will continue to empty ...

Posted by: Rev'd Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 1:50pm BST

But isn't it fascinating that, when the C of E is reaching 'new lows of credibility' it is the time when a number of dioceses are actually beginning to show signs of significant numerical growth.

I wonder why that is?

Posted by: Ian Paul on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 2:03pm BST

David,
yes, the church at large was not a very clear statement!
Like Interested Observer in the comment following mine I am most concerned about priests and bishops. About the people who make church policy and rules, about the laity in Deanery, Diocesan and General Synod, and about priests on the ground who influence how their own individual church responds to Christian challenges.

It is that "church" made up of educated people who HAVE been thinking about homosexuality for a long long time that worries me.

As contact point for Changing Attitude I get to hear appalling of incidents of appalling institutionalised discrimination that goes way beyond "I don't think God approves of homosexuality". There are countless of churches with internal rules that no gay partnered people must play any official role whatever, people are still being discouraged from joining PCCs, from being Churchwardens, from leading children's groups, leading Intercessions, being Chalice Assistants etc.

On a higher level people are not licensed as Lay Readers or Lay Pastoral Assistants on the say so of their bishops. Lay Readership and Pastoral Assistance are not included in the official ban on partnered gay priests and bishops can permit them without flouting church policy.

There may be effective local challenges against it from time to time, but until official church policy changes and people can no longer cloak all kinds of appalling behaviour with the cleansing mantle of "orthodox theology" there is no chance for a genuine change.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 2:08pm BST

"But isn't it fascinating that, when the C of E is reaching 'new lows of credibility' it is the time when a number of dioceses are actually beginning to show signs of significant numerical growth."

Those facts are not in opposition to each other, if facts they are. The CofE has historically had a lot of influence on English civil society, and the views of its bishops have been taken seriously in parliament. The ABC has a direct line to the Prime Minister and to influential commentators, and what he says has historically not only been reported, but often listened to. Even if the ABC hasn't been able to directly influence the PM, he has at least usually been able to force the PM to justify himself and account for his policies.

The outcome from the ordination of women debacle, both amplified and demonstrated by the equal marriage debacle, is that none of that's true any more. The Conservative Party simply ignored what the Archbishop of Canterbury said about SSM, and has made it very clear that the consequences of continued intransigence on women bishops will not be tolerated. The ABC will, if this continues, find that he has the same political influence as the secretary of his local model railway society.

Now that's a perfectly honourable choice: your local model railway society doesn't care about imposing its views on the nation at large, or even announcing what they are. It just wants enough members to keep itself going. The CofE might likewise see itself as becoming a private members' club, with no influence outside its own membership. But I don't think that, currently at least, it wants to give up its "conscience of the nation" role, and therefore driving itself to political irrelevance may not be quite the plan.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 3:36pm BST

Anne2, I would echo the sentiments that there's a huge difference between educated people wielding actual power to discriminate, from a sheltered parishioner. For the latter a deeply pastoral response is required, some talking, some exposing, some clarifying, as you have described.

The problem is with those with power to harm. I'm glad some are coming around, for whatever reason. Given that all the discrimination is in place, people have a right to be skeptical, even as I hope that they encourage these bishops.

Time will tell. Is this a real sea change that will lead to full inclusion in the church? Or is it a tactic for PR purposes, or to offer a second class solution dressed in pretty words? We don't know yet.

I agree with David (or is it +David?) to give them some space to work it out. But dialogue is needed. And they need to know that actions will ultimately be the measure.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 8:10pm BST

I am so glad that these two dioceses at least, will now be having services of Thanksgiving & blessing, following civil partnerships.


How very wonderful !

Posted by: Rev'd Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 12 September 2013 at 9:30pm BST

While I think most everything that needs to be said in this thread has been, I couldn't help but notice the archly asked "I wonder why that is?" from Ian Paul.

Never having heard of Ian Paul before, I followed his link to his website. There I found

"How could God communicate to me that gay relationships are as hallowed as opposite-gender ones? By not condemning it unilaterally throughout Scripture, by not rooting human identity in gender-differentiation, by Jesus overturning contemporary Jewish morality (as he was happy to do on numerous other issues), and by Paul including gender as a difference that was dissolved in Christ. Unfortunately, none of these has happened."

Well OK then.

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 15 September 2013 at 7:39am BST

Well, if we analyse the bible at that basic level (and that's astonishing coming from a very nuanced biblical scholar like Ian - JCF, you should read the fantastic work he's done on women priests and a lot of other topics), then I will be persuaded that gay relationships are not a God given gift if someone can show me a very clear instance where a stable, faithful, committed and faith focused same sex relationship is explicitly condemned in the bible.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 15 September 2013 at 8:30pm BST

I agree with you Erica
I have a lot of respect for Ian Paul as a theological teacher but the strange thing about his use of such flat, off the page, linear logic here is that this is precisely the 'literal' reading of scripture he so effectively challenges con evos for using when they are arguing against women/bible/bishops.
The change of theological method here is quite startling.

Posted by: David on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 7:33am BST

Ancient culture was pretty much organized with women as chattel, so even today's opposite gender marriages aren't really "Biblical." To extrapolate Biblical marriage and apply it to faithful gay couples makes about as much sense as looking to the Bible for input on the internet and rockets.

The best we have is Jesus defending outcasts against those who would use the law to exclude and demean people. That's pretty good! And when Paul says that in Christ there's no male or female, Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, etc., it certainly gives strength to the idea of ALL people created in the Image of God.

It almost seems like the Bible is a big Rorschach test that works even on theological scholars...

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 3:23pm BST

"and by Paul including gender as a difference that was dissolved in Christ. Unfortunately, none of these has happened."

I'm no theologian, so I may be overlooking a subtlety, either in Ian Paul's scholarship or in JCF's argument.

But as Cynthia says, didn't Paul write that in Christ there is no male and female?

Am I missing something? Or is Ian Paul missing something?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 at 2:43am BST

I believe Cynthia has it - despite all efforts to establish a rigorous dogmatic or systematic theology, religious conviction must remain subjective. All the canons can do, all the Councils have done, is provide a framework for all these intensely individual religious positions to occupy the same planet. Religious strictures can be no more than a sort of diplomatic courtesy, not a claim to the ONE TRUTH.

The Bible is a Rohrschach test because that is all it can ever be. Each experiences God subjectively.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 19 September 2013 at 5:00am BST

Mark
That sounds quite dogmatic to me.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 19 September 2013 at 11:12am BST

Of course.

It is my personal dogma, just as yours is that that is dogmatic! :)

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 20 September 2013 at 4:40am BST

I'm not quite sure how Mark's statement can be seen as dogmatic. There is nothing scientifically objective we can know about God, not even whether he exists.
By definition what we believe and how we experience him has to be subjective.

We can choose to accept a set body of theology, but it's still a subjective choice.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 20 September 2013 at 1:16pm BST

I chose to take David Runcorn's comment as playful. If not, Erika's response is more than adequate.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 at 6:01am BST

There is a fundamental mistake in many of the comments above which suggest that those "under 30" think the Church is stupid or whatever. In my experience, speaking on these matters to Church members, the generation which can remember the 1967 Act coming in and those which followed are equally convinced. Above all, they now recognise that they know a good number of gay people when they may well have been ignorant of that in the past. Where I have found an intergenerational difference of opinion, it has been on equal marriage; civil partnerships are fine by most older people I have come across recently and the Church should certainly perform them and/or bless them. I am not in the slightest dismayed by this attitude to equal marriage. Civil partnerships have only been possible in the last seven years. Young and old have met and know couples who are civil partners and that is fine. It will not be long before they will meet gay couples who are married. It is not right to assume that people of certain ages think differently about things. It is worth asking them! My contemporaries come from the 60s feminist generation which achieved enough not to be dismissed in a way implied by these "under thirties" comments.

Posted by: April Alexander on Monday, 16 December 2013 at 12:59pm GMT
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