The General Synod is debating today’s report from the House of Bishops, which was received with widespread disappointment by lesbian and gay members of the Church of England. While the report said the church needed to repent of homophobic attitudes and called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” towards lesbian and gay Christians, it also said that it did not propose to change its “one man – one woman” definition of marriage. Currently, clergy may not legally solemnise same-sex marriages and same-sex civil partnerships may not be registered in Church of England places of worship. The report said there was “little support” for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage but that “guidance and tone needed to be revisited”.
These goodwill gestures, however, offered little comfort to the LGBTI rights champions gathered outside the Church of England headquarters holding placards calling for the Anglican church to “stop anti-gay hate”. Rev Colin Coward, Founder of the LGBTI Anglican group, Changing Attitude, said the report “offers nothing new for LGBTI people” and is “less adventurous” than the Gloucester Report published in 1979 and the Osborne report of 1989.
Vicar and broadcaster Rev. Richard Coles commented that the Bishops Report offered “substantially no change in terms of the doctrine of marriage”. While it seemed to provide “a little warmth”, said Coles, it was more or less what people expected: “a classic Anglican fudge.”
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s chief executive Tracey Byrne said: “The Church of England has spent almost three years and £350,000 in a careful process of ‘Shared Conversations’ about sexuality” and that “LGBTI+ people who have participated in this process in good faith, at considerable personal cost, will feel angry and disappointed that there appears so little real change.” The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s Open Letter to the Bishops of the Church of England said in response to the Bishops Report that it would effectively formalise a policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ among clergy in same-sex relationships, a move that would push them back into the closet.
Peter Tatchell, whose human rights foundation was among the vigil’s organisers, said he was appalled at the bishops’ failure to remedy the church’s mistreatment of LGBTI people. “[The report] treats LGBTI clergy and laity as second class, both within the church and the wider society,” he said.
Andrew Foreshaw-Cain, a parish priest in north London said “The majority of practicing Anglicans are now in favour of supporting same-sex relationships and none of that is recognised by the bishops.”
The Bishops Report also indicated acknowledgement of ‘issues’ of identity, stating that, “some deep-seated questions are likely to come to the fore in addressing these matters.” The report’s wording insinuated a renewed emphasis would be placed on communitarianism, which has taken precedence over liberal individualism in the wider context of globalisation and Islam. The report’s language also implies that Bishops will give ‘community’ more emphasis than individual autonomy/self-determination in their account of human flourishing. These are the broader issues that we can expect to encounter over the next several years, although it remains to be seen just how they will be applied in practice.