RADICAL INCLUSION .CO.UK
please do not erase our lives, our love, and precious parts of who we are
'Life shrinks or expands, in proportion to one's courage'
IF NOTHING CHANGES AFTER 'LIVING IN LOVE AND FAITH'
Given that the harm being done by the Church to LGBT+ people is grave, immediate, and happening now, week in week out, it is important not to see the exploration of doctrine as something that unfolds in decades or even years.
The truth is that fundamental doctrine has not changed in 50 years of discussion, studies, documents, listening processes. Gay and lesbian sexual love is still said to be wrong in the eyes of God, and anyone who is gay or lesbian is expected to remain celibate all their lives. That is the official position of the Church. It is not what people who make up the Church actually believe. The uniform position of the Church is a false concept, because the Church has deeply-held, conscientious, and diverse views. And yet, from the top down, one partisan view continues to be imposed on the consciences of probably half the church, possibly more.
Harm is being done... shame, marginalisation, erasure, hidden compromises, alienation, threats of sanctions, required lifelong celibacy, internalised stigma, self-harm, and the terrible witness of gospel love (or prejudice) that puts off many from even considering Christianity, when it vilifies their daughters, uncles, workmates, friends. Harm is being done by a faction of the Church imposing one view only on everyone else, and refusing to change.
As pressure has mounted on the Archbishops from multiple directions (growing number of people in England and the Church accepting gay sexuality v. demands from some provinces of the Anglican Communion to strengthen the repudiation of gay sex in black and white terms)... the desire to hold the English Church and the worldwide Communion together has led to an inaction - with no change attempted to the status quo, and the issue repeatedly delayed, then moved further down the road into the future.
At each stage, the half of the Church of England that wants more radical acceptance of gay and lesbian sexuality has participated in initiatives, shared painful lived experience, pleaded for change... but the outcome has been no doctrinal change to the conservative status quo. Meanwhile, church leaders have tried to control the process top-down, insisting a uniform position must be imposed on everyone, even against the consciences of priests and local church communities... and in some cases pursuing non-compliance with harsh sanctions (£500,000 spent forcing a hospital chaplain out of work for example). But generally the threat of sanction has been a sufficient enforcing mechanism.
The 'Anglican Covenant' was, at root, motivated by the desire to impose uniformity, with sanctions possible against any who challenged the status quo. When that failed, because the Church of England did not support it, the Pilling Report was commissioned, and then the 'Shared Conversations' listening process, which pushed decisions further years into the future. Again - as the bishops attempted unsuccessfully to re-assert the status quo in synod - the outcome was further prevarication but no doctrinal change. After Synod's challenge, Justin called for 'Radical Inclusion' but not doctrinal change. Instead, further delay, with a call for further 'listening' and the production of teaching documents (although frankly by now the issues had been done to death for 50 years, and the core issue remained how to deal with clear difference of conscientious belief). So 'Living in Love and Faith' (LLF) was established. The implication was further years of delay, and continued harm being done.
LLF involved many people opening themselves, and their wounds, and sharing just how much the Church was harming LGBT people. I participated myself, had my testimony recorded, and although Eeva John (my facilitator) was decent and sensitive, the experience brought up so many raw issues, and it was a harrowing and tearful exercise. But all the time, any substantive change was like a can being kicked further down the road, and it was understandable that some people quit the process disillusioned, and others suspected that perhaps the whole ongoing agenda, and the continuing delay and doctrinal impasse was to placate the sincere concerns (for they are sincere) of socially conservative Anglicans in England; and to appease belligerent prelates in Uganda and Nigeria, who along with the Gafcon initiative threatened dire schism and walkout if the Church of England gave any ground, especially with the Lambeth Conference looming. Yet LLF, and the concept of Radical Inclusion, has involved zero doctrinal change.
Radical Inclusion - Justin's slogan and I'd hope his sincere conviction as well - can be good intent, but it is not just a matter of tone and 'being nice' to people: because when you tell them their most precious and tender love is perverse and wrong with God, that is far from nice, and if the niceness of inclusion sugarcoats repudiation, people's most precious love (and who they really are) is repudiated nevertheless. That's not radical inclusion.
So now, in Spring 2020, Living in Love and Faith is about to reveal its 'teaching documents'. We prepare to be taught about the lives we've been living, but in realistic terms the Church will remain divided down the middle. Teaching documents are not a change in doctrine. So - we are told - there will now be a further year or two of reflection, while the recent 'Pastoral Statement' from the bishops just re-asserts a status quo with no sign of doctrine changing any time soon.
It's further delay. Yet TODAY the harm is being done to young people - the repudiation of their sexuality or the sexuality of their friends, and who they deeply are, and can become. TODAY gay and lesbian ordinands and priests must continue to live in celibacy or live a lie. They are to stay celibate all their lives. TODAY the stigma attributed to gay and lesbian sexuality results in internalised shame, and its distress and self-hatred or worse. TODAY people are being put off the Church's message and thinking it disgusting. The harm is being done NOW.
And many of you as priests are being called to collude in that harm, to compromise for fear of sanction.
Many priests and churches know this is wrong. They want to act on conscience - the known values of their local communities - and they want unashamed affirmation of gay and lesbian relationships (hence one of the questions in the Radical Inclusion Project's survey is "Would you publicly bless gay and lesbian relationships, if the Church allowed you to?"). And yet the top of the Church controls the process - the process by which the can is kicked down the road indefinitely into the future - and successive initiatives still end up with an unchanged doctrinal 'status quo'... a status quo whuch is supposedly 'What the church believes' though we know it's not believed by half the Church.
There is no uniformity of conscience on these issues. Unity cannot be achieved by imposing a fake uniformity, which flouts the consciences of whole church communities, when the truth is there simply are diverse and deeply-held conscientious views in the Church of England. This has reached an intolerable impasse - intolerable because of the harm it is causing - a logjam to action - and really (as Scottish Anglicans already determined) because this is an intractable issue of conscience, the time is very near for grassroots local churches to assert the actual reality of belief in the Church of England today, if necessary as a de facto collective decision of local church communities... to be true to themselves, true to LGBT people, true to their own church communities and the people who live beyond the church with whom they share their lives... and, as many of you believe in your God-given consciences, true to the love of God.
It is measured and respectful to everyone who has participated in LLF, that we see in the coming months what documents are presented. But the issue is doctrine, which is expressly not the remit of LLF. And the issue is harm being done in the present, grave harm, and harm to the Church itself.
Therefore, for the House of Bishops, the time has come - and is years overdue - having gone over and over these issues ad infinitum, to commit to a timetable for actual and specific and defined change in the doctrine and practice of the Church. Not change of tone. Not window-dressing. But change to the practice of the Church, in such a way that local churches are allowed to exercise conscience on these issues, and to publicly bless and affirm the relationships and lives of lesbian and gay people.
The bishops will meet this autumn. They need to decide this autumn. If they do not, then conscience and decency (and obedience to God) at local grassroots levels may nned to be set in motion, on the basis of PCC and local church agreement to do so, because harm can't go on, and because being brave and decent as a community is just the right thing to do.
If LLF does not lead top-down to a commitment to change in doctrine and practice by the end of 2020... if just further years of delay lie ahead, then perhaps change needs to break out in 2021 from grassroots upwards - and what a joyful thing a collective change like that would be! - with collective action to assert: 'No, this is what we believe. This is what Radical Inclusion really is.'
The bishops need to commit, on an agreed time-scale, to allow each local church to follow conscience. They've done it in Scotland. Respect for conscience. So we can do it in England too. There is no other way round this doctrinal stand-off. The prevarication needs to end, or local churches (where most of the Church's mission is happening in people's lives) will decide for them. A decision is so badly needed: not further years of reflection. And an actual time-scale for action.
That said, if we allow conscientious differences of practice, because it's where we are as a Church, we also need to respect other people's right of conscience too. And that will be a test of whether we can love one another, even (or especially) when we have different views. We badly need grace, need love, need to recognise the good in other people, and we need to find our true, our eternal unity in Jesus Christ (not in a false uniformity): to pray for one another's flourishing, and to get on with our local service to the poor, the sick, the young, the elderly, the lonely and the vulnerable.
We are Church. We can do this. We need courage and resolution. And above all, because it's the greatest commandment, we need to get on and love. As you know, for that, we really need God. We need God so much. And God longs for us to open our hearts to the flow of love, the flow of God's love that is always longing to break out, to reach out to others, to help each one of us become in God the whole of who God created us to be.
Two parallel sites have been created:
radicalinclusion.co.uk - the site you are visiting right now - is the more 'in depth' version if you have time to read it
radicalinclusion.uk is the 'quick read' version if you want a shorter summary of main points
~ click on any of the links below for 'quick read' versions of these pages ~