RADICAL INCLUSION .CO.UK
please do not erase our lives, our love, and precious parts of who we are
RADICAL INCLUSION in the CHURCH of ENGLAND
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has called for 'Radical Inclusion' in the Church, but oversaw a widely criticised 'Pastoral Statement' (pdf) in January 2020 which continued to tell gay and lesbian people that they should live in celibacy all their lives; defined committed and intimately loving relationships as theologically illegitimate; and instructed priests not to bless the civil partnerships of either gay or heterosexual couples. To many people, this was not at all congruent with the slogan of Radical Inclusion which he had claimed to champion.
The 'Pastoral Statement' went out in the name of the House of Bishops, but many of them had no idea it was being done, and found it a cold and damaging docunment, especially during a period in the Church's history when it had promised to listen and reflect on issues of human sexuality, in a process called 'Living in Love and Faith'. The January Statement seemed to pre-empt or destabilise that process, and in its strenuous assertion gave the impression that official policy was already entrenched.
It caused immediate dismay and deep distress, with a dozen serving bishops publicly signalling that they were deeply unhappy with what had happened, some calling it 'cold' and 'unpastoral'. Further to that, a deeply-critical Open Letter was addressed to the Archbishops, and over 1000 Church of England Clergy and over 3700 people (many in important roles in the Church) have signed it.
The reality of the Church of England is that there are diverse views on human sexuality and relationships, and the top-down attempts to impose uniformity is a misrepresentation of what the Church of England actually believes across its membership. If anything, most members are fine with gay and lesbian relationships, and believe that civil partnerships deserve recognition and blessing, because they represent love, commitment, and gift to their communities in lives lived decently and well.
The impact of Justin's 'Pastoral Message' is frankly deeply hurtful to people up and down the country, and impairs the Church's attempts to share faith with local communities, and especially those from the LGBT sector which this Statement theologically vilifies. Especially vulnerable to emotional conflict and even suicidal ideation are young LGBT people, who are told in effect that if they acknowledge and live out their sexuality they will be contravening what God allows. The tragic case of Lizzie Lowe, a talented and lovely Christian teenager, who could not resolve these forces and took her life, should have been a wake-up call to the whole Church. These are not minor issues. They are matters of deep conscience.
Therefore, the idea that one group in the Church of England can impose its views on everyone else, and dominate conscience, simply doesn't work. Indeed, this crisis in the Church has been going on for 50 years, and it is not possible to 'square the circle' when quite simply there is no consensus. So damaging has this become, that the need for solution (not just 'being nice to gay people') is urgent. The Episcopal Church in Scotland has demonstrated one way of respecting diverse views and prioritising conscience.
If, as many fear, the 'Living in Love and Faith' initiative does not result in change of the status quo - that gay sex is wrong - then the only way forward for people who believe they owe it to their local communities to put conscience into action must surely be to allow at least those local churches, PCCs and priests - who believe radical inclusion means blessing and affirming gay and lesbian relationships, in public, in the presence of the community, and seeing them as gift - to exercise their God-given consciences and begin doing just that, ideally with the Church's official sanction, but if necessary without it.
On the next page, you can read about an action process being proposed, in the event that 'Living in Love and Faith' fails to change the 'status quo'. To be clear, 'just being nice and welcoming' is insufficient and does not seem 'nice', if you still vilify the essential sexuality of individuals and their most precious and devoted relationships. It disgusts many people, especially the young, and many gay and lesbian people decide they want nothing to do with a Church, however much the message is sugar-coated, that demeans who they are and their intimate love. The country is alienated from the Church of England on these issues, and it is the Church that is doing the alienating.
To date, process has actually acted as an instrument for controlling agenda top down, resulting in initiative after initiative, but no substantive change in allowed practice, with process 'kicking the can further down the road'. That has asserted the need for uniformity of practice, but failed to accommodate the conscientious beliefs of at least half the Church of England. It follows that since process is resulting in top-down control and domination of diverse consciences, process itself needs to be disrupted, from grassroots up, to create a new de facto situation and practice in the Church, that more honestly reflects where the Church actually is in belief. This is the way forward now being proposed by this website, which believes in true 'radical inclusion', reaching beyond slogan, to public affirmation, and public blessing of precious and valued relationships that matter so much in the life of our local church and communities:
website and author: Susannah Clark
thecommunity (at) gmail.com