Gathering Voices is an ongoing series of events, conferences, and resources aimed at enabling churches to move from welcome to full inclusion of everybody.
At the beginning of the month, the Scottish Episcopal Church announced that 6 of its 7 dioceses have voted in favour of changing their rules on marriage to allow same-sex marriage in church. This was the second of three stages in changing church rules, and the final step will be put before their General Synod in June. If the proposal gets a 2/3rd majority, then the Anglican Church in Scotland will be the first part of the UK to marry same-sex couples, whilst also protecting clergy who in good conscience feel they cannot embrace this.
Then Stephen Cottrell (Bishop of Chelmsford) addressed his Diocesan Synod on 11th March calling directly for services of thanksgiving for LGBT couples in the Church of England. “There is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships cannot be offered” quoting Genesis 2 that “It is not good for human beings to be alone.” For a Diocesan Bishop to make such an unequivocal statement to his Diocese is a major step forward.
But then, just as light appears to be breaking, it appears that bishops in the Church in Wales have vetoed an openly gay man in a celibate Civil Partnership from being appointed Bishop of LLandaff. This is especially shocking as the Church in Wales has been among the most supportive Anglican province of LGBT people in the past.
According to a letter published by Jeffrey John, whose appointment was blocked, the reason was anti-gay discrimination. Despite unanimous support for Jeffrey among the appointed representatives for the Diocese of Llandaff, and a reminder by the presiding bishop that being in a Civil Partnership was not a bar to appointment, 2 of the 5 Bishops objected to his appointment on the grounds of his sexuality, effectively blocking the appointment. In his letter Jeffrey John notes that, “This is the way that anti-gay discrimination always works.”
Indeed, such discrimination is nothing new in his experience. In 2003, Jeffrey John was forced to withdraw from being appointed Bishop of Reading by the then Archbishop of Canterbury because of his sexuality. In 2010, substantive leaks followed the process of appointing a new Bishop of Southwark. One of the members of the appointing group (the CNC) died the following year, and his daughter made his account of the meeting public. Jeffrey John’s appointment had been blocked by a ‘bad tempered Archbishop’ who left a number of the members of the CNC in tears.
After the appointment of Nicholas Chamberlain to be Bishop of Grantham last year, and the subsequent revelation that he was in a long term same sex relationship, it appeared that change had finally come. Current events have shown that to be a false dawn.
Which brings us to the heart of the issue…
Words can only be believed if they are backed up by action. For all the warm statements about LGBT people being welcome in Anglican churches, about saying sorry for the way they have been treated in the past, and about opposing homophobia in all its forms, Jeffrey John’s treatment has shown that some things have not changed.
Jayne Ozanne, former Director of Accepting Evangelicals has referred to this as institutional homophobia. It’s the kind of homophobia that comes from an institutional culture rather than a bigoted individual.
It also demonstrates the difference between ‘saying sorry’ and true repentance. Saying sorry is an expression of regret, but Christian repentance involves a change of direction. It involves a desire and a commitment to do things differently in the future. Sadly, the Church of Wales has fallen short of this standard and its actions speak louder than its words.
For the Anglican churches in the UK to genuinely redefine themselves in relation to LGBT+ people, it is repentance that is needed. It is a willingness to change the habits of a lifetime and not to fall back into well-worn ways of thinking. Otherwise each small step forward will be followed by a long stride back.
My heart is heavy whenever I hear a minister of religion taking the opportunity to publicly suggest that gay people should repent of their sins. While I think that I understand the concern behind this – that gay people in sexually active relationships (even civil partnerships and marriages) may remain in a state of unrepentant sin, I’m always troubled by the glaring inconsistency. Surely, if we are concerned about gay people remaining in unrepentant sin, we should call them to repentance for all their sins, the ones of which we are aware and the ones of which we are unaware. If we itemise one sin (to the exclusion of all the other sins they may or may not be committing), it becomes obvious that this is the ‘sin’ causing us the most difficulty. Further, if we are concerned that gay people may remain in unrepentant sin, then surely we should be equally concerned for all other people remaining in unrepentant sin (and truly there will be an awful lot of people and an awful lot of sin – calls to repentance will keep us all busy for some time).
To highlight one particular people group (gay people) for one particular sin (possible sex in their civil partnerships or marriages) says far more about our current difficulties in accepting civil partnered and same-sex married people into our church congregations than it ever does about the nature of repentance or the nature of sin. It really looks as if we have a particular axe to grind, a particular agenda to further.
LGBT+ people (and also straight people in society who believe in equal treatment for LGBT+ people) hear ‘gay people should repent of their sins’ and notice that they are subject to specialised treatment. Gay people may interpret this as ‘You are not acceptable to us as you are and you will need to change if you want to be part of us’ to which they may well reply ‘That’s fine. You have your own point of view. We’ll stick with Buddhism’. Bridge-building efforts underway (perhaps for months or years) between individual church members and their gay friends, family members, work colleagues and neighbours may take a blow from which it is difficult to recover.
I hear too the suggestion that gay people, on coming to faith, will be called, as we all are, to ‘carry our cross’ and that, in their case, this may mean a commitment to celibacy. This seems to some of us to be the answer to the problem. But of course, it is Jesus who calls us to carry our cross and our crosses are tailor-made for each of us, given our individual journeys of faith. No human has the power or authority to tell another human how heavy his cross will be or for how long he will be carrying it – this authority belongs to Jesus alone. I dare to suggest (but I can’t prescribe) that some of us may find that Jesus calls us to ‘carry our cross’ when we are asked to fellowship with particular people whose inclusion in our church communities we struggle with. I appreciate that this too will be a costly discipleship.
I am an evangelical and so I desire greatly that gay people (indeed, all people) in my community come to faith in Jesus and even to be part of my own church. I am sure that they are happy with Buddhism but my belief and experience is that a living, ongoing relationship with Jesus is an adventure not to be missed.
My Bible points me to God who wants to draw all people (straight and gay) to himself, who can bring people to metanoia (a turning away from those things that harm us and a turning towards a life of flourishing lived in him) and who can convict of sin and effect transformation. All of these are God’s work and beyond the abilities of us mere mortals. Further, my Bible and my experience reinforce my belief that God works in very different ways with different people over different issues in different timescales – our own prescriptive ‘you will change in x way, in y time, in order to be part of us’ may thwart God’s particular plans for a particular person. We take our Bible seriously but surely we take God and the outworking of his plans for individual people more seriously still.
It’s unfortunate for gay people that, in committing to civil partnerships or same-sex marriages, they are ‘wearing their sin on their sleeve’, but all the same, can we bring an end to this arbitrary sin-shaming? Can we surrender our plans to God’s plans, our comfort to his unpredictability, and our need for control to his desire to see people come to faith? Can we submit to the Holy Spirit and see where this adventure takes us?
I will not be afraid. They will not make me afraid. The icy stones they cast at me will melt into water. I shall not fear because the Lord is with me. Fear will be banished from my heart and I will rejoice. There will be rejoicing and dancing, but not fear. Singing, but not fear. Fear will be cast from me, and the seeds of fear will be cast away from me because the Lord cries out with joy every time my name is on the lips of the angels.
There will be no fear in this house. No cries of banishment from the Kingdom. No wailing at the walls, and no mourning in times of peace. Because this home will be a home in which the walls are built on the foundations of joy, both found and cultivated. There will be joy here, and thus no room for fear in this household of God. If fear returns like ever-persistent weeds, the Lord will cast it away, and plant flowers in its wake. Flowers, not weeds. The winters of fear will yield unto spring times of joy, even when winter looms large.
There will be no bitterness, only honey delivered by the bees as gift. There will be sweetness, and rejoicing for we have entered the land of the Lord, entered the gates of thanksgiving. There will be a chorus of angels who say “yes, yes, alleluia” who are glad when they hear our voices in the courtyard of the faithful. If our dancing threatens to turn to mourning, you O Lord will cast your nets and catch us and make us whole again. You, O Lord, will grant us peace when we cry out and say, “peace, peace, and yet there is no peace”. You will redeem us again even when our faces are pushed to the ground and ground into the mud. You will pick us up in frailty and dance us into wholeness. And fear will be cast out.
There will be healing because we will not be afraid. Our lack of fear will touch the lives of the fearful, and transform all of us into the priceless gems that you enjoined us to be. Oh God, we will not be afraid of you. We will not fear hell nor demons nor hate, when you are on our side. And while some others may make us think “your God is against you”, we will know that our God is on our side for we have been delivered unto love, love, love. You have bestowed upon us precious friends with whom we will share love, receive love and make love. And we will not be afraid, for where there is love, there God is.
Sadness, when it comes, will be offered to you as tears to turn to salt to add it to the ocean. We trust that the ocean’s waves will wipe away all envy and bitterness. Your voice will be clear to us in the garden, as you whisper, “I chose you both and made you upright”. There will be no fear because we will not be afraid of the dawn in the garden. The stars will spell out our names as every hair upon our heads is drawn towards the heavens and the sun’s rise. There will be no fear. We will not be afraid of the Light.
Today we launch a new section to the AE Website – Good Disagreement – Jayne Ozanne explains….
If there’s one thing we see modelled in Christ, it is the fact that He met His critics head on. He seems to be in constant dialogue with those who disagreed with Him, appealing time and time again to the greater law of love revealed consistently through scripture, rather than a strict adherence to the actual letter of the law.
That said, one of the things I find quite limiting about the way the Gospels are written down is the fact that they fail to convey the tone with which I believe Jesus would have spoken. It is often easy to imagine an exasperated voice filled with anger and frustration – which no doubt comes from our own reaction to the situation: “You are like white-washed tombs!” Always read with such relish by the Gospel reader. But can we really be sure of how it was uttered? How it was said?
This is our Christ, the perfect embodiment of grace and truth – the Son of Man who is able to manifest fully all the fruits of the Spirit. I am personally convinced that His tone would always have been one of loving patience and kindness – the same voice which found the strength to cry “Father Forgive” to those who had sought to crucify Him.
As we enter this time of Shared Conversations within the Anglican Church, I believe it will be the tone of these discussions that will mark us out as either a beacon for the world to admire, or a squabbling clique that becomes even more sidelined and marginalized.
To help us reflect on the nature of “Good Disagreement”, we have commissioned the Very Revd David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral to share his thoughts on this critical matter, drawing on his wide range of experience – particularly with inter-faith dialogue. He raises some key issues which people from all sides will want to engage.
Please do join in the conversation – but please do so in a tone that recognises the pain and hurt on both sides. Thank you.
The Church of England has announced the next stage of its ‘Shared Conversations’ on sexuality which aim to promote greater mutual understanding, reconciliation, and the possibility of developing ‘good disagreement’ in the Church.
David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, has been preparing the ground for such conversations for the past 2 years and the House of Bishops met for 3 days last year to pilot this conversational approach.
It will now be rolled out in 13 Regions across England over the next 12 months or so before the process comes to General Synod in July 2016. Each Shared Conversation will last 3 days and have a wide spectrum of views represented. More importantly, there will also be 2 or 3 LGBTI people from each diocese participating.
Accepting Evangelicals welcomes this new development for the Church of England. Benny Hazlehurst said, “This process is deeper and more wide ranging than the CofE has ever engaged in before and we pray that good will come out of it for the whole Church.”
Jayne Ozanne said to Christian Today this week that it was critical for the Church to create forums where people of different views could engage “safely” with each other. “For me, Jesus embodied grace and truth. It is about grace, and understanding the hurt of those who hold a different point of view. For too long this has been a hot issue, a theological debate which has been a battle of words. When you embody these words in experience and personal testimony as we see Jesus did, I believe they take on a new meaning and authority.”
Full details and resources for the Conversations have been published on a dedicated website http://www.sharedconversations.org/
We would encourage Anglican members of Accepting Evangelicals to offer to take part in these Conversations by writing to their Diocesan Bishop.
On January 26 the Revd Libby Lane hit the headlines when she was consecrated as the Bishop of Stockport, and the first woman bishop in the Church of England. There was much rejoicing as the Archbishop of York presided over this milestone event in the inclusion of women, albeit with a brief interruption from a protestor. It was a great day for all who support full equality in church leadership.
A somewhat less publicised event, which took place on the same day, was the funeral of the Revd Carol Stone, who died in December after a short illness. She was the vicar of Upper Stratton, near Swindon, in the diocese of Bristol, a post which she had held since 1996.
Bishop Mike Hill published a beautiful tribute to her on his diocesan website, describing her as
‘a diligent, thoughtful and compassionate parish priest. She was both loved and valued by her ordained colleagues, but equally was loved by the people she served within and beyond the Church. She was in many senses an old fashioned parish priest who loved the Church of England, its worship and its people. It could truly be said that her ministry spanned all age groups.’
What he didn’t mention (possibly in honour of Carol’s wishes) was that she had started her ministry as a man, and subsequently transitioned to being Carol. According to a recent Church of England Newspaper report, she was the first transgender parish priest in the Church of England to do so. Although we never met, we had corresponded a little and I had come to appreciate what a remarkable individual she was. The fact that she confided with her congregation about her trans nature, and that they in return supported her through and beyond her transition, says a lot about her courage, but also about the degree of love and acceptance shown by her parishioners, something which many of us would envy.
Other trans clergy have followed in Carol’s footsteps, and I don’t expect Libby will be the only woman bishop for long. But being the first in anything is special. So let us celebrate two pioneering women, on very different journeys, one ending, another beginning – separate paths, now drawn together by the same day. May their lives be an example to us all, and for those who experience discrimination in the Church just because they are different, a source of encouragement and hope.
Libby and Carol, we salute you!
AE member, Rev Sam Adewumi, is holding a inclusive evening of ‘Davidic Praise’ in London on Saturday 7th February for everyone who would like to join together for a night of Ecstatic Music Praise and Worship.
The event will take place at St Barnabas Church, Walthamstow and will start at 5:30pm.
Sam is a Pentecostal Minister with a heart to see an Inclusive Pentecostal Fellowship established in London. He hopes that Davidic Praise on the 7th February will be a stepping stone towards that goal.
“Davidic Praise” promises to be an evening of dynamic praise and worship experience in the presence of the Lord.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we hope to foster an atmosphere of liberty where people can freely and openly express their love, adoration, and worship for God in words, songs and dance, even as King David did (1 Chronicles 29: 10-13).
We believe that praise is a vehicle of faith which brings us into the presence and power of God, because God inhabits in the praises of His people (Psalms 22:3), God is set to refresh His people with His presence. The psalmist also writes, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalms 100:4) Because we believe that Praise and worship is the “gate-pass” which allows us to enter the sacredness of God’s Shekinah glory; our hope is that as people encounter God in worship, they will be filled with hope, joy, strength and receive healing and restoration.
“Davidic Praise” is not only dynamic but it is also an inclusive praise, which aims to create an atmosphere where all believers/Christians can come together in worship irrespective of their social class, age, race, gender, or sexuality. Because we recognize the centrifugal power of music to bring people together. Our long term vision for “Davidic Praise” is to use it as a platform to bring Christian churches of all doctrinal persuasions and diversity together for a yearly praise and worship event. We may have different doctrinal views and postures about many issues of life; however we believe that praise and adoration of our God is one thing we all agree to in common. In praise, we find a common voice, united in the love of the One who gave Himself for us all, whether we are Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Gay or Straight Church.”
Come expecting to be blessed!
Jeremy Marks reports on his trip to Portland Oregon for the Gay Christian Network conference earlier this month. It was quite an occasion!
“I was so pleased to have been able to go to away at the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland Oregon a fortnight ago. The conference was excellent, with an absolutely record turnout – of 1400+ delegates, which was way up on recent years. The organisers had originally expected half that number, and had to change venues to accommodate the much larger conference, at very short notice, which was not only a miracle in that they found they were able to use the Portland Convention Center at such short notice, but also the fact that it all ran so smoothly – a great tribute to the excellent administrative abilities of the organisers – a very young team too! Moreover, the whole conference was “streamed” live for the benefit of anyone who could not be there in person. I believe this was the first time this facility had been made available.
A group from Westboro Baptist Church came all the way over from Kansas to demonstrate against the conference on the day of Vicky Beeching’s keynote speech; I guess that might have been because it was a Saturday, but it also just goes to show how far Vicky’s infamy has spread – which to my mind is a great tribute to Vicky. It is a kind of back-handed tribute I suppose when a group that is so opposed to what you stand for turn out in force to demonstrate against you, and against GCN.
But what was truly amazing was the way that many members of local Portland churches who’d heard about the planned demonstration also turned out – to protect conference delegates from intimidation or downright nastiness from the Westboro folk. They formed a “corridor of love” for conference delegates to pass through en route to the conference that day. These Portland Christian people, standing there stoically in the pouring rain, sang songs and welcomed us personally with greetings such as “Welcome to Portland”; “God bless you” and many other welcoming gestures; I found it so moving that I failed to hold back my tears, because I (and other delegates) have never been given such a warm welcome from other Christian groups, who have clearly got the Gospel message in their hearts and turned out in the pouring rain to express it.
Then to crown it all that day, in a moment of sunshine a brilliant rainbow appeared over the conference centre. The significance of the occasion was not missed on the conference delegates because, brilliant though the talks were at the conference with all their obvious technological expertise, a rainbow of that order was such that we had to attribute it to God not man-made special effects! The Lord was with us; that was clear in all kinds of ways, but especially with the timing and location of the rainbow.
For me personally, the conference was also extra-special because it turned out that a number of close friends that I had made in my “Love in Action” days (that was an ex-gay ministry back in 1987) were also at the conference. So on the Saturday night we got together for a small party at the home of John Paulk, who was formerly one of Exodus poster-boys (appearing on Time magazine as an ex-gay with his wife Anne). All of us have, since then, fully come to terms with our God-given (homo) sexuality, publicly apologised for our involvement in that toxic ministry, and now most of us are happily settled in long-term same-sex partnerships. It was a very special occasion indeed – thanks be to God!
If you want to hear more, it would be well worth listening to the conference keynote speakers…
Jeff Chu – author of “Does Jesus really love me?”
Danny Cortez – pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, California. His church was formerly a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, and withdrew the church’s membership as a result of Danny bringing most of his congregation through to a gay-affirming perspective
Vicky Beeching, patron of AE.
Finally, Justin Lee, founder and executive director of GCN, gave the closing keynote address on the Sunday morning.
Here is the link to the keynote talks: http://new.livestream.com/GCNconf
Patron of Accepting Evangelicals.
“As a dual US and UK citizen, and a straight ally anywhere I go in the world, I was thrilled to be in Washington DC for The Reformation Project conference in early November. The Reformation Project exists to train Christians to support LGTB people by making a biblical case for inclusion. It also provides practical support to LGBT Christians and their families, and their conferences offer many opportunities to create friendships and strategic partnerships.
The focus of this regional conference was to better equip LGBT Christians and their allies to make a biblically-based case for affirming and integrating LGBT people into all aspects of church life, including making the case that God affirms same-sex marriage. There were also inspirational talks and helpful breakout sessions for parents of LGBT children, pastors, a variety of denominations, various ethnic groups and those with global connections. Following the main sessions, all participants worked in small groups with experienced facilitators to defend their views using role playing. It was incredibly helpful.
The Reformation Project was founded by Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian: What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say –About Homosexuality, where he tells the moving story of coming out while at Harvard University. I had read his book, and another highlight of the conference was seeing his parents, who are my age, attending and fully supporting his work, and working to do their part in changing peoples’ hearts.
My role as an ally in an evangelical church led me to the sessions where evangelical pastors and academics spoke about their journey, and their church’s journeys towards becoming affirming. It was tough stuff; many had been fired or had their church removed from their denomination. Other stories were so inspiring. I particularly enjoyed hearing Danny Cortez from Los Angeles talk about his journey towards affirmation. Knowing that he might get fired, he talked to his family about coming out as an ally and making his church affirming. At the same time, his own teenage son came out to them. Although his denomination removed him, 60% of his church chose to stay with him in an independent, evangelical church.
I was also so honoured to meet Ken Wilson, who wrote A Letter to My Congregation, a charismatic Vineyard Pastor, who is standing by his faith on this matter, while the Vineyard USA is not ready to move forward. I noticed that it was far easier for pastoral allies closer to the end of their careers to be vocal; they did not have to be so worried about being fired. Brian McLaren was not at the conference, but he is a good example of someone with a platform in the evangelical world because he’s not employed by a local church.
The highlight of the conference, for everyone I think, was the closing address by David Gushee. Dr. Gushee is a well-respected evangelical scholar, and one of the foremost Christian ethicists in America. He released a book called Changing Our Minds at the conference and gave a resounding call to end 2000 years of discrimination against sexual minorities in the church. It’s been widely reported in the US media. He reports that he’s getting hundreds of emails a week, primarily from young Christians who are so grateful for his work and who are in pain in their churches.
I am a new member of Accepting Evangelicals, and I look forward to being a part of the work. My husband and I live in South London, and we try to reach out to young or newly out LGBT Christians in our church and area. You can get in touch with me through Benny if you know a young person who could use Sunday lunch with welcoming parental figures. I met a British woman who I was able to network with some people I’ve met through this group and Diverse Church. What a privilege it is to partner with you.
Kim Post Watson