Sunday, 17 August 2014

'Shared Conversations' and the place of LGBTI people in the C of E

‘When are the shared conversations starting and who’s going to be involved?’

I’ve heard and been asked these two questions in various settings over the months since The Pilling Report came out. 

The Pilling Report commended a process of ‘facilitated conversation’ as a way of moving forward discussion and relationships within the Church of England on all things LGBT. In light of the House of Bishops’ meeting earlier this year, the notion of ‘facilitated conversation’ shifted towards ‘shared conversations’ between various interested parties, leading up to a discussion in General Synod in 2016. (One assumes that the term ‘facilitated’ was troublesome because it held the implication that healing and mediation might be necessary.)

As I understand it, this formal process of shared conversation begins after a meeting of the College of Bishops this coming autumn. Diocesan bishops will then nominate representatives for regional discussions, including LGBT reps and a mix of lay and ordained.

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this (by church standards!) imminent process in the past couple of weeks. While this fact is no doubt a symptom of my need to get out more, my rumination is also unsurprising. Like pretty much every LGBT person who has chosen to stick around within the church I am profoundly conscious of the extent to which ‘we’ have been treated as something to be talked about, as an issue. So there’s a part of me that’s intrigued by the possibility that we might be talked to. Really talked to.

And, yet, the Pilling Report was also, supposedly, part of a process of being talked to and with. As someone who conversed at length with members of the Pilling Committee I’m not especially convinced I was listened to. It would not be beyond the possibility that I might the kind of person who was asked to participate in the upcoming conversations.  (And I suspect there will be a goodly number of people who – as much out of a desire to know what this process will involve – will be keen to participate.) And yet that previous experience has made me suspicious of the whole process.

In some respects it feels like the world is changing fast. The number of ‘coming outs’ recently, including Vicky Beeching, has hopefully left some church people thinking, ‘are there actually any straight people in the church?’ (;-D). However, the treatment of Jeremy Pemberton and the patchy nature of support for LGBT people in the C of E should give pause. As someone said to me recently, ‘We live in a bubble in Manchester diocese.’ It is a place where – more or less – LGBT lay and ordained can thrive and feel supported. You don’t have to travel too far outside the bounds of the city to experience a quite different reality.

Why am I suspicious about the ‘shared conversation’ process? Partly because ‘conversations’ have been going on in one form or another since at least the Consultations of the ‘70s. And yet it’s not clear that the C of E institution qua institution has shifted that much.

However, I am more concerned about whether the conversations will truly be conversations. The notion of ‘conversation’ includes the meanings of a ‘turning together’ or a ‘changing together’ as well as a living amongst or dwelling together. It is a mesmerizing possibility, but given things like the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement (aka The Valentine’s Day Massacre) it’s difficult for those of us who have been traditionally excluded from welcome in the church to trust that those with power, privilege and authority will genuinely place their privilege at risk of conversion, of conversation.

I believe that, in conversation, a mutual conversion to one other is certainly possible and I guess many of us would still be willing to give it a go. But we’d better hope God is around to give all participants a reality check, a regular kick in the shins.


  1. Thank you Rachel. Like you, I've tried to instigate conversations, with no success.
    I'm interested to know if these conversations will be had among themselves, or with those who have been most affected if they're truly genuine about wanting to engage (which - like you - I'm sceptical of!).
    Through closing the communication channels, you reduce the LGBT churchgoers and clergy to a silent minority, who can go on supporting your Church financially and by their service in ministry - provided they maintain their silence.

  2. Would a 'conversation' only be considered a good conversation if the Church 'comes out' fully affirming and supporting equal marriage? Could we come to a place where the Church decides to maintain it's current stance and those who are LGBT feel 'listened to'? Genuinely curious if this is considered possible, because if not we are asking for more than a conversation to occur.

    1. Christians who are faithful to the truth of scripture will never "Come Out" in favour of LBGT attitudes and/or behaviour. They can't, as to do so is in direct opposition to what the Bible says on the subject - and yes I too know the rubbish about the so-called misinterpretation of the scriptures, that people like Matthew Vines spout at every available opportunity, well he is gay of course, - And he can only, as he would claim to be, a bible believing Christian, support his sexual preference by distorting scripture. BUT that doesn't make Christians homophobic - now there's a misnomer if ever I heard one, homo= man, phobia=fear, Christians who won't accept same sex relationships as holy are NOT afraid of men! - This whole pressure group is not about individuals being accepted and loved because they have a problem about sex and gender, but a determined push to force the Christian church to accept the unacceptable - i.e. sodomy and the female equivalent. This protest movement isn't about love and grace at all, but rather bullying tactics to force a perverse view upon the church. I am surprised that an intelligent person such as Yourelf Rachel cannot see the absurdity of the fact that you were born male (no doubt your genetic make up hasn't changed) with the normal male attraction to women, but you decide you prefer to be a woman, as you were born in the wrong body I assume, but strangely your sexual attraction hasn't changed and you, as a woman, are STILL attracted to women. Isn't that a bit peculiar my friend. And what is really worrying is that you have just spent a w/e encouraging other confused and vulnerable young people to follow your example. Are you not a little concerned that you may be one of the false teachers we have been warned about. This LBGT issue in the church isn't about Christian love, no church that I have been in would ever turn anyone away, regardless of their sexual preferences, but would welcome the stranger with warmth and love. There is nothing unloving about refusal call black white or wrong right. What this is about is trying to impose the worlds' unholy behaviour on the church, quite another thing altogether. just asking!!

  3. Just listened to your video clip on coming out and Zaccheus. Doesn't it bother you Rachel, that you take a Bible story and twist it to cover your sexuality? The point of the story is that Jesus cared about the tax collector, but the tax collector once he had met with the Lord Jesus Christ could not continue in his sinful ways - i.e. cheating people. Jesus still wants to meet with sinners BUT He wants to change them and their behaviour. c.f. The woman taken in adultery, a sexual sin, wasn't condemned to death, as the law allowed, but sent home "TO NEVER REPEAT HER SIN" - ADULTERY. Jesus never condoned sin, and the bible teaches VERY clearly that homosexuality IS a sin, in spite of the nonsense that Mattew Vines and his ilk preach..

  4. Rachel - don't you ever respond to comments on your blog? Isn't that a bit rude?

  5. Somehow I don't think Rachel is under any obligation to respond to bigotry from people too cowardly to post under their actual names.

  6. The point you miss Tim is that this "woman" is a vicar! Whose responsibility is to teach truth and model righteousness to "her" flock. How can she possibly do that when she is so far removed from Biblical truth? Answer me that if you can! Rachel doesn't reply because she can't do so with integrity. But worst of all she is leading other men/women into sin.

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