Church of England softens stance on LGBT issues after defeat of controversial report
LGBT Christians have welcomed a Church of England promise for “radical inclusion” on LGBT issues, after a report on the issue was voted down by clergy members.
The Church’s democratic governing body this week voted down a report from Bishops, which would have broadly rejected the case to relax the Church’s anti-LGB policies after three years of “conversations” on the issue.
The report made minor proposals to reform to a rule that requires gay clergy to pledge their celibacy, but the lack of commitment to more substantive LGBT reforms were derided as pencil-pushing in light of the church’s continuing archaic rules on sexuality.
At present the Church of England permits blessings for household pets but bans them for gay unions, while the Church has also exempted itself from the UK’s anti-discrimination laws in order to punish gay clergy members who defy a ban on same-sex marriage.
Following the embarrassing defeat, the Archbishop of Canterbury has vowed to go back to the drawing board and recommence “conversations” on sexuality.
A letter from Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu pledges support for “radical new Christian inclusion in the Church” in the wake of the defeat, attempting to set out a way forward on issues that have strongly divided the Church establishment.
The letter directs Bishops to commence an “extended conversation in order to establish clearly the desires of every member of Synod for the way forward”, signalling willingness to give ground in order to secure passage through the Synod.
It also announces “a large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality” penned by Bishops that will set out a “wide ranging and fully inclusive approach”.
It says: “We will also be suggesting to the Business Committee a debate in general terms on the issues of marriage and human sexuality. We wish to give the General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm.”
The pledge has been welcomed by LGBT Christian campaigners from OneBodyOneFaith.
Canon Jeremy Pemberton said: “The joint letter from both Archbishops to Church of England synod members is a bold and welcome response to address the disjunction between the House of Bishops and Houses of Clergy and Laity in their understanding of and response to human sexuality.
“We applaud the tone set by Archbishop Justin as he seeks ‘a radical new Christian inclusion’ and his affirmation that, ‘no person is a problem or an issue [because] people are made in the image of God.’ In this we find echoed our own vision, longing for Christ’s body to be one, finding unity in a diversity which includes all whom Christ has called, that they might participate in God’s mission, leading to transformation for our world.”
“For Bishops to consult with local synod representatives in how to establish a way forward on human sexuality that is ‘about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity’ will indeed be a significant change.”
Campaigner Tracey Byrne added: “The process needs to allow each participant to speak without fear for their own safety or fear of recrimination. OneBodyOneFaith stands ready to resource the Church of England as it embarks on this process of embodying more deeply the radical and transforming love shown by God in Christ which is for all.”