Influential Church of England evangelical comes out as gay

One of the Church of England's most influential evangelicals has come out as gay.

Jayne Ozanne, 46, was a founder member of the Archbishops' Council, the Cabinet-style body at the heart of the established church's governance. She has through a distinguished career and record of service worked closely and prayed alongside senior evangelicals including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton and the present Archbishop, Justin Welby.

Today, Monday, she is to be announced as the new director of Accepting Evangelicals, whose patrons include Baptist minister Steve Chalke and worship leader and commentator Vicky Beeching, who herself stunned the evangelical community worldwide when she came out last year.

Formerly from the Orthodox wing of the Church, holding strictly conservative views on sexuality, Ms Ozanne disclosed her sexuality in confidence a few years ago in a moving letter to a select group of church leaders. Not one of the few who knew has leaked details of her journey.

She has now decided to go public through Christian Today as part of what she believes will help the Church, currently deeply divided on the issue, to a better understanding of sexuality. She, along with many others, wants to see the Church end its infighting and move on to more pressing issues such as mission and social justice.

"It's not about right and wrong, it's about the Gospel of Christ. For me this whole issue frankly is about understanding Scripture," she said, adding: "God is a God of surprises. We can never be sure of what the future may bring, but what I do know is that He will always look to transform our darkest hours into something beautiful. I'm personally thrilled to be able to serve Accepting Evangelicals during such an exciting and important time for us as a Church". Accepting Evangelicals is an open network of evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life.

The emergence of Ms Ozanne, a formidable force, as a campaigner for gay equality within evangelicalism comes as the Church engages in conversations on sexuality. As a former conservative now on the side of the gay Christian lobby, her coming out will surprise many churchgoers and add to the growing pressure on mainstream evangelicalism on an issue that still arouses deep passions on either side. Conservative evangelicals remain deeply resistant to any accommodation to secular norms, and it has become a litmus test in many churches for an individual's Christian orthodoxy. The conservative group Reform has called for a boycott of the "conversations" in protest at what many fear is an agenda weighted towards change.

After joining the Archbishops' Council in 1999, Ms Ozanne went on to hold a range of senior positions in the UK and abroad. She was deeply involved in General Synod, particularly in areas around mission and evangelism. At that time her views on sexuality, she said, were "extremely black and white" and gay Christians had to choose between God or a homosexual relationship. In common with conservative evangelical thinking then and now, she believed the two were mutually exclusive. "I did not believe it was compatible to be gay and a Christian."

Before serving on the council she had a high profile career in international marketing where she managed many household brands – from Fairy Liquid to the BBC. She has been an active lay-leader in various well known evangelical churches, and has been a trustee of Trinity Theological College, the Church of England Newspaper and the International Centre for Reconciliation in Coventry, where she worked alongside the future Archbishop Welby and Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White.

At the same time, however, she struggled with her sexuality, and was ministered to many times in the hope of "healing" or change. In an interview with Christian Today, she described how experienced the full range of what is known as "deliverance ministry", as well-meaning clergy and ministers attempted repeatedly but without success to expel a sexual orientation that was regarded as demonic.

She came out to her friends, family and senior church leaders in 2009. She also became involved in her first proper relationship, although is currently single again.

Among Ms Ozanne's achievements, she has set up two international charities, she's worked closely with international royalty and she was also one of Tony Blair's directors at his Faith Foundation. She is also a former head of marketing for BBC Television and worked in marketing for Procter & Gamble and then Kimberly Clark.

In her letter five years ago, she reveals that the struggle with her sexuality led her to have a breakdown. She wrote: "I had, unfortunately, for some time been battling with a major conflict between my sexuality and my spirituality, and had been horrified by the unwanted feelings that I found myself harbouring towards certain female friends."

Following her breakdown she told her psychiatrist about her sexuality, and was advised to change her religion.

She wrote: "There is nothing that can describe the hopelessness that one feels when we believe that God has abandoned us, and when we yearn for death but it does not come.

"Some may remember that I ended Synod's first debate on homosexuality by reading a draft suicide note written by someone struggling with their desire for love, but knowing that the only thing that could satisfy this hunger was 'forbidden fruit'. The letter was my own, written during this time of pain - a cry from the created to the Creator, asking why I had been created with such a cruel dichotomy."

She also hoped she could one day be happily married and was prayed for regularly. She wrote: "I have had all sorts of things cast out of me, sometimes more than once (!), and have submitted myself to various processes. I can't say that I fully agreed with them all, but I firmly believed that I was on a path and that the Lord would see that I would finally reach the right destination as long as I trusted Him to lead the way."

But she continued to crave intimacy and love. "I came to understand that the intimacy I so desperately craved is a basic human desire that we have been born with. It comes from being human, and that with the right person it could bring life. To try to suppress it had, it seemed, only led me towards death."

She told Christian Today that when deliverance ministers tried to "cast out" her sexuality, it was like "trying to cast out myself from myself. Nothing was going to budge." These experiences left her feeling "like there was something terribly wrong with me."

She prayed for years also for "the grace" to be celibate, a state she maintained throughout her time on the Archbishops' Council. It nearly killed her. "I could not cope with the loneliness," she said, quoting Genesis 2, where God says it is not good for humans to be alone. Finally she met someone special and had a relationship that lasted over five years.

She said she was inspired by Vicky Beeching coming out publicly to re-engage with the Church. She had become "cut off" and felt it was "as if I was the only gay evangelical woman in the world." She knew this could not be the case but simply did not know of any others. Now she has met many. "It is the evangelical church more than any that needs to learn how to hear and embrace each other," she said.

She will replace Benny Hazlehurst at Accepting Evangelicals who is stepping down soon. He said: "The last 10 years have seen the beginnings of wonderful changes in the Evangelical world, but it has also been an uphill struggle and I need some time to recharge my batteries and seek God for the future.

"I am delighted that Jayne has joined AE and is willing to take up the reins. She is a highly motivated and committed Christian with huge experience in the evangelical world, and excellent links with many senior figures in the church. It will be a joy to work jointly with her over the next few months and I thank God that she is the right person at the right time for Accepting Evangelicals."