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The Church of England is ‘deaf to the cries’ of the LGBT+ people it is harming. Its recent actions have proven that

Lily Wakefield November 13, 2020
Church of England declares sex is only for married, heterosexual couples

The Church of England declared sex is only for married, heterosexual couples. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty)

Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, has slammed the horrific impact of Church of England teaching on LGBT+ people of faith, and called for “urgent” safeguards to protect them. 

This week, the Church of England published a set of resources titled Living in Love and Faith, exploring LGBT+ issues including “identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.

But while the materials admit the ongoing harm to the LGBT+ community by the Church of England, it said it would not be implementing any changes until at least 2022.

Jayne Ozanne is a British evangelical Anglican who started her foundation to work with “religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender in order to embrace and celebrate the equality and diversity of all”. 

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” is a Biblical saying, said by Jesus on the cross, that many will be familiar with. It is a sentiment we are urged to embrace ourselves, offering forgiveness when confronted with actions that have unintentionally wounded or hurt us.

But what about when the perpetrators know that they are wounding and hurting you even when others are telling them it’s wrong and that they should stop, but they carry on doing it all the same?

What about when the victims are crying out in pain, and yet the aggressors appear deaf to their cries and carry on regardless? Surely this, then, is different?

Personally, I believe that it is completely different. Indeed, I think it is immoral, inexcusable, and cowardly.

What is more, when there is clear evidence that certain actions are wounding people, particularly young people at the start of their lives, then they must be robustly challenged and stopped. If necessary, by enshrining things in law.

For far too long many religious institutions have been anything but safe spaces for LGBT+ people.

For it is the moral duty of a civilised society to safeguard the vulnerable – not appease the perpetrators. This is all the more insidious when the perpetrator is a religious institution, a place which is meant to show love and provide sanctuary.

The truth is that for far too long many religious institutions have been anything but safe spaces for LGBT+ people.

The Church of England has just published its long-awaited resource on sexuality, which has been three years in the making and involved over 40 people. That is the good news. The bad news is only 5 of the 40 were ‘out’ LGBT+ people!

The resource itself does at least include some LGBT+ voices, who speak from their own experience of the church – experiences of rejection and also, in some places, of the church’s welcome. But it falls far short of what it could and should have been.

The resource provided a much-needed opportunity to clearly state and address the harm that has and is still being done to LGBT+ people. But in this it has singularly failed.

While the Archbishops may have recognised the “huge hurt” that has been caused, the report does nothing to address this. Instead, the resource focuses on encouraging people to “listen and learn” from each other.

As such, it asks LGBT+ people to sit down and “listen and learn” from the very people who have inflicted so much harm on them in the first place.

Would one invite a survivor of the Holocaust to sit down and listen to the rantings of a Holocaust denier?

Specifically, it encourages those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to sit and “see the Christ” in those who think that their very identity is “sinful” and that they should instead “transform” themselves so that they become single and celibate – a teaching which has led many to contemplate taking their very lives!

It is utterly ridiculous! Would one invite a survivor of the Holocaust to sit down and listen to the rantings of a Holocaust denier? Would one ask a rape victim to sit down with a rapist and understand why they want to rape people? It is not only ridiculous – it is downright dangerous!

There is now a wide body of evidence that shows just how harmful these teachings are to people, particularly young LGBT+ people growing up in conservative communities of faith.

The church is fully aware of this evidence, but it chooses to do nothing to safeguard vulnerable people – despite loud protestations.

It has been highlighted by two independent safeguarding reports – one from IICSA and the other into the tragic death of Peter Farquar. Has the church rushed to respond? No.

My foundation has just conducted some research among the trans community, with a coalition of other LGBT+ charities, including Mermaids, GIRES and Stonewall, to understand whether any had experience of so-called gender identity “conversion therapy”, and what impact it had had.

This follows a similar survey that my foundation conducted two years ago into “faith and sexuality”. The results of the trans survey, which will be released in full in December, are horrific.

There is clear evidence that gender identity “conversion therapy” (GICT) exists in many forms in the UK and that it affects primarily young people under 24.

Religious leaders and community members were found to be frequently involved in offering, conducting and even forcing respondents to go through gender identity conversion therapy.

Religion was found to play a significant role in GICT. Firstly, trans respondents with a religious background as a child were more likely to have been offered GICT, say they had “freely chosen” it, or had been forced to go through it.

Secondly, religious leaders and community members were found to be frequently involved in offering, conducting and even forcing respondents to go through GICT.

Thirdly, there was an array of motivations cited for going through GICT, including disapproval by friends, family and spiritual/religious leaders.

Religious belief also played a key motivating factor for going through GICT, such as believing that being trans was “sinful”, along with a sense of shame.

Fourthly, respondents mentioned a range of religious practices that they had gone through, including fasting, prayer and exorcisms.

Worryingly, there were also reports of some experiencing severe physical and sexual violence.

What is perhaps the most upsetting, though, is that nearly half of those who had been through GICT had attempted suicide. Unsurprisingly, 92 per cent of trans respondents (367 of 399 people) want GICT to be banned.

The church’s mission is to be Good News – and it is difficult to see how this type of harm provides Good News to the trans community. Indeed, quite the opposite.

Most LGBT+ people are aware that religious teaching can be very Bad News for who they are, who they love and how they are accepted amongst certain religious communities.

Should we forgive the church for the harm that it has caused and continues to cause?

It has led to deep rifts between family members, close friends and work colleagues. This has all had a significant toll on the mental health of LGBT+ people of faith, and the Church of England is more than aware of this.

So, should we forgive perpetrators for their known crimes? Should we forgive the church for the harm that it has caused and continues to cause?

Well, ultimately finding the ability to forgive is a gift – and one that frees the person who is doing the forgiving. Does the perpetrator deserve it? No, not at all, and they should always be held to account and face the full force of the law.

That is why I and others are working so hard to make conversion therapy a crime. In the meantime, we need to continue to shine a bright light on the harm that is being done, and the urgent need for safeguards to be put in place.

Till then I will be saying: “Father, forgive, even when they are fully aware of what they do…for I myself find it incredibly hard to do!”

More: Church of England, Jayne Ozanne, Living in Love and Faith, Ozanne Foundation

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