Dear Synod Representatives,
I know you have a very busy week ahead of you. Many of you will not want talk about ‘sexuality’ to dominate your important work. However, I hope you might take a moment to read my letter to you.
I write specifically to invite you not to take note of the Bishops’ Report on Sexuality (GS 2055). I do so after considered thought, prayer, and conversations with laity, clergy and bishops.
You probably don’t know who I am, so a little about me. I am a parish priest in Manchester, trying to be faithful to the hope that’s in me, to share God’s good news and serve a diverse and complex parish community. I am also lesbian and a trans woman.
I took part in the regional Shared Conversations and – unlike some of my LGBTI friends and colleagues – found it a rich experience. I have sought to model an eirenic, generous respect for those who disagree with me.
However, GS 2055 has come as a profound shock to large swathes of people involved in the Shared Conversations as well as many who did not.
The Report is not simply flawed as all reports must be flawed, but reflects a far too limited range of those positions which emerged during the Shared Conversations process. Indeed, it over-emphasises positions which reflect minority views within the wider Church of England.
Signals of this include:
1) The equal weight given in the report to voices who identity as ‘same-sex attracted’ as opposed to the self-description of the overwhelming majority of non-heterosexual people: lesbian, gay, and so on. The language of ‘same-sex attraction’ seems to have gained a traction in the mind of the House of Bishops completely out of proportion to its place in the lives of LGBT people and wider culture
2) The report is also marked by a complete absence of interest in the contributions of transgender and bisexual people.
3) The composition of the group writing the report lacked any out-LGBT voices.
4) The group writing the report was over-loaded towards those identifying as ‘traditional’.
Equally, GS 2055 contains a lack of recognition of the theological intelligence and rich and deeply-considered strategies of reading Biblical texts represented within the wider church.
What is perhaps most shocking about the report from an inclusive perspective is its inability to speak of LGBT people’s faithful, committed and life-long relationships as honoured and celebrated by God. The text may talk of 'maximum (pastoral) freedom' with the Law, but I trust that - in a report that talks of new tones of address - this feels hardly rich and celebratory. It is the language of concession, not celebration and hope.
We - LGBTI people - continue to be treated as an issue to be solved and dealt with; despite the talk of a new tone in speaking of and relating to us, GS 2055 fails to model it. I trust that any of us would be shocked if many other groups of people, traditionally excluded from the normative position in church, were spoken of in this way.
We in the C of E can do much better than this report. All of us, gay and straight, deserve a richer, more honest and more graceful way forward than this Report represents. I welcome talk of a new teaching document, but how new can it be if it has already pre-determined what 'Marriage' and 'Holy Matrimony' is?
You will encounter a number of senior voices encouraging you to vote to take note, not least because the Report will be presented as a modest attempt to combine the best of Anglicanism (our desire to defend what has been revealed to us via scripture, reason and tradition balanced by a gentle shift towards better welcome and ‘maximum freedom’ for LGBTI people). It will be presented as a kindly increment - hopeful, spacious, offering succour to those who want to challenge their bishop on what they can do for LGBTI people.
LGBTI people do not want to be given a bargaining chip for pastoral accommodation. We want to be recognised as people of equal dignity before God in our deepest richest selves - which must include our faithful, loving, committed relationships. We want to rejoice with you - all our sisters and brothers - in our Abundant God.
I suggest this Report represents a failure to model both the best of ‘us' as the C of E and is a misrepresentation of the Shared Conversations process. Equally, it departs embarrassingly from our rhetoric of ‘justice’ and – as recent news reports indicate – can only be greeted with incredulity by a nation we are called serve and call into hope, new life and worship.
I invite you not to take note of this Report.
Thank you for reading.