by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Human Sexuality Group on General Synod
I dreamt last night that I had an altercation with the Archbishop of Canterbury. About progress on LGBTI inclusion in the church. I’m not sure what that says about my subconscious – perhaps my mind was preparing for this blog, or perhaps I’m just a little bit sad – but it did prompt me to ask myself what sort of progress, if any, has been made over the past year.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that those of us working for full equality have made a great deal of progress. In February, after much careful planning and close coordination of different groups, Synod voted not to take note of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relations. The vote against the motion came from across the spectrum of church tradition; readers of Via Media were crucial in making it happen.
Full disclosure: I’m Chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group which was a key voice in the opposition. But, whatever my role, I think the significance of that vote is still working its way through the Church of England. It changed the terms of the discussion. No longer, we said, can you talk about us without us. And my experience of our active participation in the Coordination Group for the House of Bishops’ Teaching Document is a sign that the call for change was heard.
The battle is by no means over. I have heard many stories over the past year of continued discrimination on the grounds of human sexuality within the Church, and I am very aware of the reality and determination of the opposition. But I am also sure that we have been helped by the antics of the conservatives. I am writing this shortly after Roy Moore lost the election in Alabama, despite the support of nearly all the white evangelicals in his state. While I am careful not to claim a direct connection between the bile spewed by Moore and people in the UK, it is clear to me that that some white evangelical views in the UK are on a spectrum with those we hear from Christian supporters of Donald Trump. Don’t forget that Franklin Graham has been invited to lead a mission in Blackpool.
A member of my church – a young, bright, new Christian – recently attended one of the leading conservative evangelical churches in London; she was, not to put too fine a point on it, repelled. She wondered how that church could consider itself Anglican – her experience of its preaching and teaching were deeply at odds with what she had learnt of the Church of England. Last week, too, we saw the irregular ordinations by AMiE; the same week as the Alabama elections, a nice coincidence in timing.
What, then, does the future hold? What are my hopes for 2018?
We have a big challenge, as LGBTI Christians in the Church of England. That challenge is the challenge of grace. One of the biggest reasons I have remained Anglican is because of our particular charism of breadth and inclusion. As LGBTI Christians working hard to help to C of E reform, we have a huge responsibility – to ensure that the grace-filled breadth of the C of E is maintained and strengthened. Nearly all the most committed members of my congregation – me included – have deep roots within the evangelical tradition. We must celebrate that and work closely with those who wish to see the best of evangelical faith flourish within the church.
And we have a wider responsibility than that – because the Reign of God embraces everyone. As a former chair of Inclusive Church I am continually challenged. What are those of us who put time and energy into LGBTI inclusion doing, to help ensure that others shut out by the church’s structures are fully welcome?
We also have an infinite responsibility to the whole of humanity, and the planet we live on. Half my extracurricular time is spent on LGBTI work. The other half is on climate change, which is in all sorts of ways already affecting, especially, poor people. Anyone who watched Blue Planet II will be even more aware of the urgency of environmental issues.
So, for 2018, I want to see the movement for inclusion continue to build and continue to deepen, reaching into every corner of the church’s life.
In preparing for this blog I came across a thought-provoking and challenging article by Daniel José Comacho; ‘How Martin Luther King’s political vision became politically irrelevant.’ I encourage you to read the whole thing; it recalls the radical openness of Dr King’s vision and calls for a renovation of his commitment to re-making society. Comacho quotes this extract from one of Dr. King’s last speeches:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
There are two well-known Goddards who are priests in the Church of England. One is an advocate for the ‘Reform’ group (anti-LGBTQ) – while this one, Fr.Giles Goddard – is an advocate for the LGBTQ Community in the Church and the former Chair of Inclusive Anglicans. I remember meeting Giles at a meeting in London some years ago and being impressed with his sincerity and vision for the role of ‘Inclusive Church’ in freeing the Church of England from its legacy of homophobia and sexism.
For those of us in the Anglican Communion who long for the time when a person’s sexual orientation is not regarded as a barrier to their full inclusion in the Church – in either a clerical or lay role – we are looking forward to some real progress on this issue in the coming year. Fr.Giles and all the members of the Working Group will need our prayers for a just and loving outcome – in keeping with the Gospel revelation of God’s Love at this Holy Season of Christ’s Incarnation.
Blessings to you all!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand