Statement to the House of Bishops – February 2017

Following the defeat of the ‘Take note’ motion on sexuality at General Synod last week, Accepting Evangelicals wishes to assure the House of Bishops of our prayers as you seek a way forward for the whole Church of England.

It must be said that we were disappointed by the House of Bishops’ report which was the substance for the debate. The report followed three years of ‘Shared Conversations’ which had been entered into by LGBT Christians in good faith and not insignificant courage.

Our disappointment centred around two areas:

  1. That after such a careful and lengthy process of Shared Conversations, the voices of LGBT Christians were still not adequately voiced in the report.

  2. That its central proposal of maintaining the status quo in terms of law, liturgy and doctrine, while seeking to allow ‘maximum freedom’ within Church Law was inadequate and flawed.

The first of these has been well articulated by the retired Bishops’ letter which preceded the debate and we would not want to add to that.

The second point however, does require the further explanation:

Very few people expected that this report would signal a rapid change in the Church of England’s Doctrine of Marriage. We understand that determining if or when this is appropriate will be a lengthy process. What was hoped for by many however, was a clear sign that the recent statements about radical welcome for LGBT people and repentance of the way they have been treated, would lead to concrete moves towards creating a liturgy of blessing of thanksgiving for those in Civil Partnerships and same-sex marriage.

Such a development would not require a change in doctrine on marriage, just as the introduction of a liturgy of thanksgiving for people who have remarried after divorce did not require a change in doctrine to exclude the understanding of marriage as a lifelong commitment.

We believe that the creation of such a liturgy is essential if LGBT people are to feel they have a place in the Church of England. The present pastoral accommodations do not give that assurance. They lead to LGBT people feeling tolerated at best, problematic at times, and ultimately unwelcome – even in many parish churches which would like to be fully welcoming of LGBT people.

As is often said, the heart of the Church of England is found and expressed in its liturgy. As long as there is no provision for the celebration of loving, committed LGBT relationships, LGBT people and especially couples, will feel that they are marginalised or excluded from the life and worship of the Church at a fundamental level – that of their relationship with a person they deeply love.

Thus, the report is both inadequate in that its proposals do not address this vital area and flawed because without movement of this kind, all positive statements by the Church of England towards LGBT people will be seen as mere empty words.

If the Church of England is genuinely serious about recognising and welcoming the faith, life and ministry of LGBT women and men, this cannot be omitted.

Our misgivings and disappointment mean we are pleased that the ‘Take note’ motion at Synod was lost last week, as we hope that this defeat will cause the House of Bishops to reconsider its approach and its leadership of the Church of England in this matter.

We also hope that the defeat of the motion will lead to a greater recognition of changing attitudes within the Church of England towards recognition of LGBT people as our sisters and brothers, made in the image of God, and not problems or issues (as the Archbishops’ letter makes clear).

Evidence of this change can be clearly seen in the opening speech by Ven. Nikki Groarke, who, as an Evangelical, spoke in support of the introduction of a pastoral liturgy for the blessing of gay couples in committed partnerships, despite her continuing concerns about marriage.

Evidence for these changing attitudes can also be found in the election of Canon Simon Butler, (also an Evangelical) as Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury even though he is openly gay with a same-sex partner.

In the light of the Shared Conversations and the debate at General Synod, we would want to endorse strongly the need for a substantial re-evaluation of the House of Bishops’ response and leadership, towards the genuine inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England.

In conclusion, we would like to commend to the House of Bishops a modern day parable, written by one of our Trustees. We would humbly suggest that consideration of this parable and the questions it raises, should be included in the meeting of the House of Bishops in May.

We would like to assure you of our prayers for you in charting a difficult, yet vital path for the Church of England. ‘Maximum freedom’ under our current rules will not resolve the impasse. We need to find a place for our LGBT brothers and sisters in the heart of the Church of England – in its liturgy.

Elaine Sommers
Martin Stears-Handscomb

Co-Chairs of Accepting Evangelicals.

 

Modern Parable for the Church of England…

So I went to my local cinema with a friend.

We got to the box office to buy our tickets, but when we said which film we wanted to see, the cinema usher suddenly looked uncomfortable.  The colour slowly drained from her cheeks.

After an agonising pause, she finally said, “I’m sorry but this film isn’t really for you.  It’s for other people… you know, people who aren’t like you.”

My friend and I stood there, caught somewhere between amazement and incredulity.  We began to argue with the usher.  “What do you mean – it’s not for us?  Why can’t we go in?  What sort of cinema is this anyway?”

The more we argued, the more uncomfortable she looked, mumbling things like, “I know, I know… it doesn’t seem fair…  If it were up to me, I would let you in… you are more than welcome to see other films, but not this one – its company policy.”

We stood our ground, continued to argue and after a while, she offered to talk to the cinema manager and see what he could do.  While this was far from ideal, we reluctantly agreed and she disappeared into his office, leaving us standing there wondering if it was really worth staying.

In the end, we decided to wait, and eventually she came back with a smile.

“I’ve talked to the manager, and he doesn’t agree with the company policy either, but his hands are tied.  We can’t sell you tickets to that film – but we can get around it!   If you want, I can sneak you in through the side door, and sit you in a corner where no one will see you.  I’m afraid you won’t be able the whole screen, but you will get the gist of the film you want to see.”

Now we were completely incredulous.

“But” she continued, “you have to agree not to tell anybody, and you mustn’t let anyone see you, and if you hear certain words – words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘blessing’ or ‘ring’ – you must put your hands over your ears and remember that those words don’t apply to you.”

Now we didn’t know what to do.  We really wanted to see the film.  We had been looking forward to it, ever since it came out.  We had made a commitment to each other to see it together.

Yet now, faced with all these conditions… faced with the way we were being treated… faced with all the difficulty our presence was creating… we just felt a mixture of angry, deflated, and sad.  All the joy and excitement had gone.

Should we stay and take what we’ve been offered, even though it’s not what we want?  Should we walk away?  Find another cinema?  Surely they can’t all be like this? Perhaps we should just wait for the DVD? But that wouldn’t be the same either…

The cinema usher asked us again, “So… do you want me to sneak you in?”

Tell us, Church of England, what should we do?

 

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