Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Open Letter to Primates

The General Synod Human Sexuality Group have published the text of a letter sent from them to all the Primates of the Anglican Communion ahead of their meeting next week.

In the letter the Group (which represents 240 synod members and wants the Church of England to be fully inclusive of LGBTI people) reminds the Primates that “the direction of travel” for the church is now “clearer than ever”.

In a press release, Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Group said:

Synod has shown both in its non-acceptance of the House of Bishops’ Report on Same-Sex Relationships and in its desire to condemn conversion therapy and welcome transgender Christians, that it wants to be a fully inclusive church. The status quo is no longer an option — people are deeply concerned about the impact on our mission to the nation of the Church’s current stance towards LGBTI people.

Group member Jayne Ozanne said:

The medical profession, including the World Health Organisation, is clear that conversion therapy causes stigma and prejudice towards the LGBTI community. It is critically important that the Church recognises this and takes a lead to condemn it.

The full text of the letter is copied below the fold.

To All Primates of the Anglican Communion
26 September 2017

Dear Brothers in Christ

We write to you following a significant year for the General Synod of the Church of England, which has seen elected representatives from across our dioceses take decisive steps towards an inclusive Church that can better serve both our Church and nation, and in particular the LGTBI community. This has involved General Synod ‘not taking note’ of the House of Bishops’ Report on Same-Sex Relationships, the condemnation of Conversion Therapy (notably by all but one of the House of Bishops), and the request for liturgies to welcome our Transgender brothers and sisters in Christ.

The direction of travel for the Church of England is clearer than ever, for which we give thanks.

There are inevitably those who would like to deny these measured steps towards the full inclusion of all within the Body of Christ, but their voices are becoming fewer. Even so, we are committed to walking together with them – as we hope and pray they will do with us.

Many of us were involved in signing the letter that was sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York ahead of your last meeting in January 2016. We were grateful for the personal apology that Archbishop Justin made regarding the way the Church has treated the LGTBI community in the past, yet were saddened that his was a lone voice in doing so. We welcomed however the section of your communiqué, issued at the end of your meeting, that stated:

‘The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.’

Persecution of the LGTBI community continues in many of your countries, some of whom still treat being non-heterosexual as a capital offence. For instance, according to a 2016/17 report by Amnesty International relating to one African province ‘Police continued to arrest LGBTI people. Men perceived to be gay were attacked by mobs and were blackmailed and targeted for extortion.’ We would therefore ask what steps you are taking to make good this commitment?

The basic premise for the condemnation of conversion therapy by the Church of England is that being of a non-heterosexual orientation is neither a disease, nor an illness nor indeed a sin. To treat it as such is to create a society that will harbour prejudice and stigma that causes known mental health damage to the LGTBI community. This is true the world over, and so we would ask that you prayerfully consider the impact of such practices in each of your own countries — as well as the damage that they inflict on minorities whose voices are often left unheard.

Please be assured of our prayers as you discuss your Task Group’s Report, as well as the other items on your agenda some of which, such as evangelism, are directly affected by this issue.

We hope and pray that you will continue to listen to the voices of LGTBI people as you do so, as to do otherwise will continue to prolong many misconceptions and beliefs, and undermine the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assurance that there will be ‘no more talking about us without us’.

Yours in Christ

The Executive Committee of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group:

The Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Southwark (Chair)
Ms Christina Baron, Bath & Wells
Ms Tracey Byrne, Southwell & Nottingham
The Revd Canon Robert Cotton, Guildford
The Revd Andrew Dotchin, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich
Ms Jay Greene, Winchester
Canon Jenny Humphreys, Bath & Wells
The Revd Chris Newlands, Blackburn
The Revd Bertrand Olivier, London
Ms Jayne Ozanne, Oxford
The Revd Neil Patterson, Hereford
The Revd Canon Priscilla White, Birmingham

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Justin will undoubtedly endorse calls to stop the legal criminalisation of gay sex and physical attacks on gay people.

But this... "The basic premise... is that being of a non-heterosexual orientation is neither a disease, nor an illness nor indeed a sin."

Will Justin be called to task to endorse this statement as well? Because as far as I know he STILL has not said whether gay sex is sinful, and therein lies the continuing theological criminalisation of gay sex as sin.

Until he comes off that fence (if he can in good faith) frankly the condemnation of physical and legal homophobia are face-saving and serve to 'let him off the hook'. They are the easy option, and the PR front that masks the continuing position of the Church of England on his watch: a status quo that still represents gay sexuality as 'sinful', and which does not by any means equate to the "radical inclusion" Justin spoke about.

It's a simple question which deserves an honest and truthful answer:

"Justin, is gay sex a sin?"

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 at 7:14pm BST

Awesome statement, well done! I think that this show of independence is also good. It presents reality to the primates.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 at 9:03pm BST

Yes. it's sinful - fallen human nature - works of the flesh. Jesus saves sinners from our sin, certainly not to continue in it. Marriage (the God-ordained context for *undefiled* sex) = one man & one woman for life.

Posted by: Steve Thomas on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 at 11:29pm BST

Susannah - hasn't Justin repeatedly affirmed the Church's teaching that the only God-given context for sex is heterosexual marriage? Our deductive powers don't need to be too strong to tell that he believes gay sex to be sinful. One can hardly blame him for refusing to answer your question straight up - it's not a neutral question and only ever seems to be asked as a fowler's snare nowadays.

Posted by: Laurence Tibbet on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 8:37am BST

Laurence, when you say 'the Church's teaching' I presume you mean 'the Church's official teaching' or, more accurately, 'the Primates' teaching'. Because very many of us in leadership positions in the church don't teach that, don't believe it, and can justify our position from the Bible.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 9:26am BST

This is a very disingenuous letter.

To start with, there is no "request for liturgies" in the way it is implied; what exists is a proposal for the HoB to 'consider whether such liturgies might be prepared', and this is not strictly the same thing. The motion was carried that it be discussed, but there is no obligation whatsoever to see such liturgy produced, or to discuss the issue for any significant length of time. We could see liturgy prepared as a result, but it is surely unlikely?

Second, Archbishop Welby is hardly a lone voice in apologising for the churches treatment of LBGT people in the past. He might have been the only one with a platform to say so at the synod meeting, but he is far from alone. A recognition of the lack of compassion and pastoral care shown is near-universal, acknowledged by even the staunchest conservative. No one of note in the debate, on either side, is advocating a return to what once was, or looks upon such times fondly.

Third, and most importantly, there is the issue of 'Sin'. This letter is correct to connect the condemnation of conversion therapy with recognition by synod that it is neither disease nor illness, but then it oversteps the bounds of what synod and the HoB passed judgement on. The church's current teaching is clear, and whatever his personal opinion on the matter, the archbishop must be seen to uphold it until such time as it is changed. Said teaching is clear; which is that same-sex activity, as with any sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage as currently defined, is a sin.

It is incredibly presumptive, and false, to declare that it is not recognised as a sin, or that the archbishop holds that view, until such a time as the official liturgical, doctrinal and pastoral position changes.

This is very much putting the cart before the horse.

Posted by: Mat Sheffield on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 10:24am BST

Mat: it isn't quite so straightforward at all. Pastoral statements and Some Issues etc have made it clear that those lay people who, in good conscience, wish to decline from such 'teaching' are not to be excluded from the church's fellowship or asked intrusive questions about the nature of their relationships. In other words, it isn't considered 'absolutely' sinful. There is willingness to acknowledge that not all people view it that way, and it is not a bar to participation in the life of the Church.

In short sinners are asked to repent, but those in same sex partnerships are not asked to repent of that behaviour.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 5:19pm BST

'the Church's teaching that the only God-given context for sex is marriage? '

So where do the creeds and formularies of the Church of England assert this so-called 'teaching'?

The Church in other places is open to equal marriage --oh let's see, Scotland USA., Canada...

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 5:54pm BST

Surely the duty of the Archbishop, indeed any Bishop, indeed any Christian, is to speak the truth. It would be utterly absurd for anyone to feel obliged to lie so as to uphold the doctrine of the church. If you dissent from the "official" position then you have not only the right but the obligation to say so, and to take any consequences that flow from that. That may be a change in the position of the church or it may be damage to the standing of the speaker within the church, and in some circumstances may involve an obligation to resign a particular office. Upholding doctrine because it's doctrine, rather than because it's true, is very much to put the cart before the horse.

Posted by: Jo on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 9:24pm BST


I agree and accept that "Issues" (and other material) makes good provision for those who, in noble conscience, disagree with such teachings. But, that is not the same as saying the alternative positions are acceptable and/or legitimate; merely that those people who hold them be tolerated (I hate that word....), treated fairly, and not stand condemned/exiled for their difference of opinion. These are not the same things as approving those differences as correct, never attempting to challenge or question them, or regarding them as of equal value.

Posted by: Mat Sheffield on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 10:04pm BST

Mat: you are avoiding the main question about whether the archbishop might regard the matter as sinful. My point is that the pastoral statements and some issues etc have pre empted him being able to make such a statement. If people who engage in same sex activity are to be given full sacramental inclusion in the church without questions and without asking them to repent of it, then I'm afraid you can't at the same time say they are sinners for that particular activity. The archbishops hands are tied.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Thursday, 28 September 2017 at 7:03am BST

Laurie Roberts: it asserts it in the BCP liturgy for one, where the only possible marriage is a male and female one. That marriage is given as *the* context for sexual intimacy. So, yes, pretty easy to defend on the Formularies. Besides, if the measure of current Church teaching is creeds and formularies, we can hardly assert that's women's ordination is the teaching of the Church of England. And yet it is.

Janet Fife: the "Church's teaching" could hardly mean anything other than its "official" teaching. What a strange and silly distinction to make in order to defend rogue priests who don't uphold the doctrine and discipline they've sworn to uphold.

Posted by: Laurence Tibbet on Sunday, 1 October 2017 at 9:35am BST

oh the BCP-- I see !

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Sunday, 1 October 2017 at 9:52pm BST

Well, you asked for formularies. Common Worship is not a formulary, but it teaches the same thing.

Posted by: Laurence Tibbet on Monday, 2 October 2017 at 8:12am BST
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