Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ people
The bishops of Lichfield Diocese are calling for a Church where LGBT+ people feel welcomed and honoured.
In a letter sent to all clergy and lay ministers in the diocese, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave; the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas; the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory; and the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Revd Mark Rylands, emphasise that “everyone has a place at the table.”
The letter updates clergy on discussions underway in the national Church on the ‘radical Christian inclusion’ called for by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and draws attention to the work being done on a major new Teaching Document.
In Lichfield Diocese, Bishop Michael has convened a consultation group for LGBT+ Christians to share their views and concerns, and this has met several times.
The letter concludes: “We want Lichfield to be a diocese in which people of any sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcomed and honoured in our churches.”
It focuses on the pastoral dimensions of the issues involved and says: “… as bishops we are committed to encouraging people with differing views to meet, pray and talk together.” The letter does not address the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex marriages.
The bishops highlight the practical consequences of ‘radical Christian inclusion’ locally including the importance of access for all to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the affirmation of LGBT+ people in roles of leadership and the importance of mission to and alongside LGBT+ people.
The Diocese of Lichfield has almost 600 churches in an area with a population of over two million which includes Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, the Black Country and most of Shropshire.
In my clerical vocation, I have pastored congregations of two Churches whose patron was Saint Chad, the saintly Bishop of Lichfield. I think, considering his great pastoral gifts, Chad would, in our day and age – when much more is known about the aetiology of human sexuality – have supported this initiative of the Bishops of the Diocese of Lichfield to issue a proclamation of inclusivity extended to the LGBT+ community.
The Bishops said: “Our basic principle is that all people are welcome in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table”. When one compares this theological nicety with the discrimination of the Prelates of GAFCON and their offshoots in the worldwide Anglican Communion, whose disrespect for LGBT+ people has led them to proclaim their own exclusive doctrine of salvation in the Jerusalem Declaration of Faith (virtually condemning homosexual people and others of diverse gender identity to eternal damnation), one cannot but wonder whether they believe in the same God and are living on the same planet as the rest of us.
Sadly, the puritanical outlook of the GAFCON Primates relates directly to the Victorian ethos of prurient sexual mores that was taught and practised by many of the earlier Christian missionaries, for whom sexuality was a spiritual and political minefield. The conservative Evangelical Puritans who believed that sex was only for procreation and was otherwise banned from polite society were not slow to inculcate what became know as the ‘missionary position’ advocacy to the local native people, whose tribal customs were overcome by the inhibitions of the Victorian era of sexual mores.
Hitherto, the Church has supported the myth of binary sexual exclusivism, a culture which was inherited from the Jewish tradition of creating a race and nation of Jewish adherents – which militated against the need to accommodate the reality of other nations and cultures in the diverse world created by the same God and Father of ALL peoples God had created. With the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God – a Jew who thought differently – an understanding of the multiplicity and variety of humankind was brought into being destined to create a revolutionary idea of an inclusive community bound together – not by force of The Law but by the advocacy and polity of LOVE, the charism by which Jesus proclaimed his followers would be known and identified.
With his respect for women, and his treatment of sinners, Jesus in his day overturned the ingrained entitlement of the tradition of patriarchalism, by advocating the equality of all humanity in the sight of God – a plurality which did not sit well with the Jewish traditional ‘Keepers of The Law’, and a reason for which they conspired with the secular (Roman) authorities to have Jesus put to death. One of the areas in which, for instance, his Jewish critics vilified Jesus was in his pastorally light treatment of the perceived sexual sin of the ‘woman caught in the act of adultery’ while the men involved with her were seemingly let off the hook. This specific action of Jesus challenged the male superiority complex in matters of sexual responsibility and judgmentalism.
Although Jesus did not directly address the matter of committed same-sex relationships, he was careful to say that heterosexual marriage was not for everyone. In his epic statement on the need for faithfulness in marriage, he appended a statement on the minority function of celibacy, where three types of eunuch were described. One of these, which may well have included LGBT+ people, Jesus describes as “so from their mother’s womb” – thus either incapable or not destined for a life of procreative heterosexual marriage, which was considered to be ‘the norm’. When one considers the Genesis statement that ‘man was not destined to live alone’, this surely meant that partnership could also have referred to a non-procreative relationship of same-sex persons akin to that of heterosexual marriage, with monogamy and faithfulness as the criterion.
Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield; the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas; the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory; and the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Revd Mark Rylands, emphasise that “everyone has a place at the table.” In doing this they are bringing the message of an Inclusive Gospel denied by GAFCON, which has pointedly refused to share with other members of the Body of Christ at the Eucharistic Table. In direct contrast, Churches like TEC, SEC and the Anglican Church of Canada – have taken care to include members of the LGBT+ community as ‘part and parcel’ God’s family – especially in the sacred context of the Celebration of The Eucharist.
The Diocese of Lichfield is obviously opening up the Church of England to an era of radical inclusion of a category of people in the Church and community whose needs are, at last, being recognised and met by the leadership, which traditionally has always been slow to overcome outdated understandings of the diversity of the children of God, for each one of whom Christ came into this world to bring God’s love and redemption
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand