“Changing Attitude’ – Responds to the Pilling Report

Changing Attitude England has two primary goals: for the church to welcome loving, faithfully committed same-sex couples, offering services of prayer and dedication in church; and for equality in ministry for lay and ordained LGB&T people, including those living in committed relationships which may be expressed sexually.

We evaluate the Pilling report in the context of our vision and goals, in the wider context of theology, mission and pastoral effectiveness, and in the specific context of the current teaching and practice of the Church of England as defined by the 1987 General Synod motion, Issues in Human Sexuality 1991, and Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 of 1998.

The House of Bishops Review Group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling suffered from a fundamental flaw when the group was created – the absence of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender members of the group.

In dealing with the role of women in the church and the process of formulating legislation leading to the full inclusion of women in the episcopate the bishops learnt a critical lesson – women are integral to the process and have to be included in the conversations; they have to be present around the table, their voices heard.

The Review Group’s report is inevitably inadequate. LGB&T voices were absent in the group. The presence of conservative members with strongly held convictions about homosexuality and an inadequate grasp of LGB&T experience and the gospel imperative of justice for all has resulted in an unbalanced report. We know the heart of many bishops is unsympathetic to current policy.

Following the commitment of the House of Bishops and College of Bishops to include women at their meetings, I believe the College of Bishops should consider inviting a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans to the meeting on 27 January 2014 when the Pilling Report will be discussed in detail. Changing Attitude is serious about this idea. Pilling should never have been constituted without openly LGB&T members. So, it is a Working Party of the House of Bishops, and the House has gay members but none of them are open in the House. That’s a huge problem for the Bishops and one way or another LGB&T people now have to be included. One way of including gay men would be for a number of bishops to come out. Failing that, the House has to find a way of including LGB&T people from outside the House in the same way as it has formally included 8 women.

The inadequacies of the report result from the theology held as orthodox and traditional by many Christians, belief in the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God, and belief in God as a supernatural being, remote from the world, who is primarily a law-giver and rule-maker, judging our lives and behaviour.

The report lacks empathy and compassion for LGB&T people. It lacks the courage needed to free the church from gender and sexuality-based prejudice and hypocrisy. It lacks the vision needed to over systemic homophobia in the church.

The trustees of Changing Attitude England know that the majority of bishops understand this. It is now time for them to use this flawed report creatively to transform the lives and ministries of LGB&T Anglicans, our families, friends and congregations – and ultimately to continue to transform the church itself.

Bishops, of course, know the truth about God revealed in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. God is the infinitely compassionate Father who runs with open arms towards his child, extending an unconditional welcome to the wayward son, celebrating his return with a banquet. We wait with hopeful expectation for the bishops to extend an all-embracing welcome to LGB&T people.

The social and legal status of LGB&T people in British society has been transformed since the 1997 General Election. There is now a radical disjunction between attitudes in society in general and Christian attitudes as reported by the media. Conservative Christians argue that society is moving away from the laws of God as enshrined in scripture. As noted above, people in secular society disagree. They think the Church, far from following the teaching of Jesus, is trapped in attitudes which are contrary to the nature of God as revealed in scripture and creation.

They are also well aware that the Church is dishonest. There are bishops who are gay, and bishops who turn a blind eye to single and partnered LGB&T people in ministry, and bishops who turn a blind eye when clergy allow services in church following a civil partnership.

Many LGB&T clergy and readers have survived thanks to those bishops who have been warm and affirming towards those in their dioceses who have felt safe enough to be open. There are many in the Church who continue to fear for their security were the bishop to discover they are gay and partnered.

We all collude in one way or another with this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture. It is corrosive of trust, transparency and the flourishing of individuals in relationship and ministry.

We encourage the House of Bishops to explore ways in which the place of LGB&T people in the Church can begin to change now in parallel with the conversations. Delaying further progress for another two years will test our patience and tolerance of what is already an intolerable environment in the Church.

Fr. Colin Coward, a Director of ‘Changing Attitude, here (in an extract from the official communication from C. A.) outlines his reservations about the Pilling Report and the fact that there was not one single open advocate of the LGBT community on the membership of the Commission.

What Fr. Colin points out is that, in the matter of the Women Bishops debate, the College of Bishops eventually realised the need for some representation from among the Women of the Church – before any satisfactory resolution could be reached to the question at issue. Accordingly, there are now six Women who will meet with the College of Bishops, until such time as Women Bishops are Ordained in the Church of England.

Similarly, Colin feels, there ought to have been at least one openly LGBT clergy-person on the Pilling Commission – in order for the Commission to be able, objectively, to assess the actual feelings and experience of what it is to be a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, or trans-gender person having to deal with the prospect of being officially marginalised by the Church – if they were to be open about their sexuality. He contends that, because of the current problem associated with any clergy-person or bishop in the Church of England being prepared to admit their status in this area of sexual-orientation, there has not been any attempt to recruit such a person to speak up for that constituency – probably because of the ignominy that might be called down upon such a person if they were willing to speak up for the group.

This is a real justice issue in the Church. Because of the lack of any encouragement to be open about one’s own sexual-orientation as a clergy-person – for fear of either dismissal or other disciplinary action – there is a real lack of incentive for anyone to admit to the fact of their real identity as a fully-functioning human being. This cannot but lead to an invitation to charges of hypocrisy on the part of a Church that chooses to deny the fact that being a single clergy-person in the Church of England one is forced to be celibate.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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