He has campaigned against church homophobia for 50 years and was responding to the decision by the General Synod (parliament) of the Church of England to reject the Bishops’ report: ‘Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.’
A LGBTI human rights vigil took place outside Church House as Synod debated and voted on the Bishops’ recommendations. It was organised by One Body One Faith (the merged Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude) with the support of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Out and Proud African LGBTI.
“This report defends heterosexual superiority and opposes same-sex blessings and marriages. It totally ignored bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
“The Bishops’ recommendations urged continued discrimination against LGBTI people. They confirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex civil marriages, as well as same-sex religious marriages. They also reiterated the refusal to permit same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in church. The church blesses warships and pets but the Bishops refused to countenance the blessing of loving, committed same-sex couples. Their stand against LGBTI equality means that people in lawful same-sex civil marriages will be refused ordination as priests and those already ordained will be denied further appointments, even in secular jobs such as prison and hospital chaplains. This is outrageous discrimination and is incompatible with the Christian gospel of love and compassion. The Bishops have treated LGBTI clergy and laity as second class, both within the church and the wider society,” added Mr Tatchell.
“We are appalled by the church’s mistreatment of LGBTI people and the bishops unwillingness to remedy it. LGBTI people want full inclusion and equality, both inside and outside the church. LGBTI Christians are denied equality by the Anglican leadership. They are victims of religious homophobia and this homophobia must be opposed, irrespective of one’s personal views on religion and the church,” he said.
What did we seek from the Church of England?
- We urged members of Synod to refuse to accept the Bishops’ report
- Full equality for LGBTI lay people and clergy in ministry and relationships
- An end to the church’s support for discrimination in marriage law and its refusal to accept the equal validity of same-sex love and commitment
- LGBTI Anglicans must be fully involved in conversations about their future from now on and these conversations must lead to a non-discriminatory, inclusive church
Why did we object to the bishops’ report?
Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of One Body One Faith (formerly the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) commented:
“The Church of England has spent almost three years and £350,000 in a careful process of ‘Shared Conversations’ about sexuality. So how has this report from the bishops managed to get it quite so wrong?
“Despite promising a ‘change of tone’, the report reasserts that marriage is (only) between one man and one woman for life, and there are no steps towards any form of words for blessing the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Equal marriage in church – a right for our opposite-sex brothers and sisters – seems as far off as ever.
“As a consequence, people in same-sex civil marriages may not be considered for ministry in the church, others are denied the opportunity to offer their services even as volunteers, and clergy in civil partnerships face innumerable obstacles to taking on new posts or promotions. Even clergy in secular employment – as hospital and prison chaplains – risk losing their jobs if they marry their partner.
We need the bishops to face up to what a ‘change of tone’ would mean: Not more words but a recognition of the real damage that continues to be done by this inertia.
“We need a national programme of practical change to move the church forward. That will require resources – a national lead person – and LGBT people at every level of the strategy, holding the church to account and monitoring effectiveness on the ground,” she said.
Rev Colin Coward, founder of the LGBTI Anglican group, Changing Attitude, and now a part of One Body One Faith, said:
“Church of England bishops issued a new report at the end of a process that started in 2011. It offers nothing new for LGBTI people. It holds out no hope for change and is less adventurous than the Gloucester Report published in 1979 and the Osborne report of 1989.
“The last six years have been wasted years. The ‘Shared Conversations’ have had no impact on the mind of the bishops. We are now asked to wait a further indefinite period while the bishops write a new teaching document.
“We are insulted by the report’s call for a ‘fresh tone and culture of welcome and support’ for lesbian and gay people. The public perceive the church to be prejudiced and unwelcoming. Why is the Church of England unable immediately to offer unconditional welcome and support to us?
“The report makes clear that no ground is going to be given to the twenty-five lesbian and gay clergy who have already married. The bishops have done nothing but add further delay to our urgent request that they permit LGBTI couples to be blessed in church.
“Bisexual, transgender and intersex (BTI) people also experience discrimination in the church. Despite our request, the Bishops’ report omits all reference to BTI people.
“Progress towards radical change was urgent six years ago. The bishops’ new recommendation is that a further period of delay follows while they prepare a new teaching document. This must be rejected. Any further work by the bishops that doesn’t include LGBTI representatives is unacceptable. There must be no more talking about us without us,” he said.
Edwin Sesange, Director of Out and Proud African LGBTI, whose members attended the vigil, added:
“This vote was very big achievement because it moved against LGBTI exclusion. We urged Synod to change its understanding of marriage; to accept it as a union of two loving, consenting adults, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. The Synod vote was a step in that direction. For a long time, African LGBTI Christians have felt betrayed, excluded and not loved by the Church of England.
“The Bishops’ report failed to endorse equality for LGBTI people. We were not deemed to be equal with others in and before Christ. It makes a mockery of one of the greatest teachings of Jesus Christ: love. If it had been accepted, the report would have been used by our religious oppressors in the UK and Africa to justify denying us equal rights. Moving forward, the church must in future affirm LGBTI people as equals,” he said.
What the bishops’ report said and why it is inadequate:
This summary and critique has been written by Colin Coward of Changing Attitude.
The recommendations of the Bishop’s report are in bold:
- No change to ecclesiastical law or to the Church of England’s existing doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships, reaffirming the current doctrine of marriage as being between one man and one woman, faithfully, for life
The bishops are determined to maintain the teaching that marriage is an exclusively heterosexual state, despite the many LGBTI Anglicans and others who are in loving same-sex relationships and the 25 clergy who are married to same-sex partners. By allowing divorce and the remarriage of divorcees, but not same-sex marriage, the bishops reveal their double standards and dishonesty. Lesbian and gay Christian couples conform to Christian teaching, with one partner, faithfully, for life.
- Clergy may not legally solemnise the marriage of two persons of the same sex, and civil partnerships may not be registered in Church of England places of worship
There is no proposal to change this profound and explicit discrimination, which would be unlawful in civil society. The Bishops’ report refuses to advance in any way the place of LGBTI people in the Church of England. LGBTI clergy, including those who are married and in civil partnerships, are legally prohibited from marrying two people of the same sex. This is an incomprehensible position not only to lesbian and gay couples, but to family, friends and colleagues, to their congregations and to the majority of Anglicans and the general population. The overwhelming majority of churchgoers want the Church to be open, inclusive and unconditionally welcoming.
- Clergy will be allowed to pray with couples but no authorised service of blessing and no permission to bless same-sex relationships is allowed
This is one of the key changes required by LGBTI Anglicans. The church allows weapons and pets to be blessed but not the love of same-sex partners.
- Explore the distinction that has opened up between the state’s conception of “equal marriage” and the Church’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony, and consider the implications of this
The bishops have had plenty of time to explore the distinction between state and church marriage. The church asked for and got the ‘quadruple lock’ to bar equal marriage in church. The bishops know the prejudiced, discriminatory treatment of LGBTI people is having a disastrous effect on the reputation and mission of the church.
- Establish a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people
Offering a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people will change nothing and has been greeted with anger and derision. Nothing less than a radical change in teaching and practice will achieve the bishops’ ambition.
- Continue to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the church
This is a platitude. Almost everyone subscribes to the desire for mutual love and understanding. We want action to remedy LGBTI exclusion.
- A substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships
The Church of England has produced a series of teaching documents. Producing another new document would be an excuse to delay any significant change until after the next Lambeth Conference in 2020.
- Any questioning about sexual conduct should apply equally to homosexual and heterosexual people and take the same form – establishing that the person concerned understands the Church’s teaching that sexual relations are properly conducted only within heterosexual marriage
Lesbian and gay clergy and ordinands, and those seeking ordination, have been and are singled out for intrusive questioning about their sexuality, relational status and sexual activity. This looks set to continue.
Photo by Peter Tatchell Foundation