LGBT leaders threaten to quit Church dialogue unless bishops support gay marriage


LGBT leaders and supporters in the Church of England are threatening a mass walkout from a recently-launched discussion process about sexual issues unless bishops give an urgent guarantee to support the marriage of same-sex partners in church.

The warning was issued in a joint letter sent to 34 bishops "known to be supporters of LGBTIQ+ people", among them the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Dover and Liverpool. 

The letter was sent by Jeremy Timm, former chair of Changing Attitude England, and co-signed by a number of LGBT clergy and supporters, including Rev Colin Coward, founder of Changing Attitude England, the Very Rev Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham, and Canon Jeremy Pemberton who previously brought a failed discrimination case against the Church of England over its same-sex marriage stance.

The signers say they will abandon the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) discussions set for 2021 unless the bishops make a public declaration in support of LGBT equality in the Church. 

"We need to know whether you are able to express public support for the full equality of LGBTIQ+ people in ministry and relationship in the Church of England," they write.

"This includes permitting those going forward to selection for ministry and for licensed Readers and clergy to marry same-sex partners and to conduct same-sex marriages in church and bless marriages and civil partnerships with the same parameters applying to opposite sex marriages.

"Unless this is clarified before any next steps process begins we will be unable to be involved with it or support it. We need you to provide this clarity as a matter of urgency." 

Living in Love and Faith is a Church-wide dialogue around relationships, sexuality, identity and marriage.  It is an attempt to move the Church of England forward after years of divisions over same-sex relationships. 

LLF resources three years in the making were released earlier this month and were intended to lay the foundation for an engagement and discussion process across the Church of England in 2021, but the conversation has quickly turned into a war of words, prompting an appeal for civility from the Bishops of London and Coventry this week.

The letter from Changing Attitude England has been sent in direct response to two videos released by evangelicals following the release of the LLF resources, one called "Beautiful Story" from the Church of England Evangelical Council, and the other an analysis of LLF's introductory video by Christian Concern

The videos present the traditional Christian interpretation of marriage, gender identity and sexuality. "Beautiful Story" includes comments from the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, who said that evangelicals may have to reconsider their allegiance to the Church of England if it decides to change its historic teaching on sexuality. 

In a forward to the letter, Rev Coward claims that the videos have "fatally compromised" the LLF process and risked harm to LGBT people who participate in it.

"The videos show that LGBTIQ+ people will risk encountering abuse and homophobia at any meeting or event held as part of the LLF process," he said. 

"They have made it impossible for us to participate safely, and the bishops have no way of ensuring that such meetings will be safe for us." 

The letter itself calls the CEEC video "homophobic", while Christian Concern is accused of using "abusive, disgusting language". 

It proposes a "plan B" whereby the 34 bishops publicly declare their support for LGBT equality and commit to a safeguarding mechanism.

"The LLF Pastoral Principles are excellent but currently there is no mechanism to ensure that they are followed," it states.

"If any process follows, you will need to provide absolute assurance of proper safeguarding for LGBTIQ+ people who may wish to participate." 

The letter concludes by saying that LGBT people will be exposed to "emotional and psychological abuse" in the LLF process unless a clear message of support is sent by the bishops.

"We can see the hope and potential within the LLF process. No previous report has engaged in such depth with questions of human identity. We don't see how the process of engagement across difference can now work," they write.

"The CEEC film and Christian Concern video have sabotaged the hopes and trust of LGBTIQ+ Anglicans.

"Without absolute reassurance from you that it will be different from now on we cannot encourage LGBTIQ+ members of the Church of England to participate in LLF. We are unwilling, ourselves, to risk exposure to emotional and psychological abuse." 

Christian Concern has defended its video.  

In a statement, Christian Concern CEO Andrea Williams said: "There is nothing abusive about the video we released relating to Living in Love and Faith. It does not contain personal attacks and simply calls on the Church of England to uphold its Biblical understanding of sex and gender.

"It is, in fact, the revisionists in the Church who have resorted to personal attacks by comparing conservatives to rapists and Holocaust deniers, by making false reports and by using very coarse language in public.

"They have reacted this way to everything made by those upholding Biblical teaching, no matter how gently it is put. They were never interested in engaging in genuine Biblical reflection, only in getting their way."