The letter comes in response to the video produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council, and released on the same day as the LLF materials, and also to a video produced by the group calling themselves Christian Concern. Suffice to say of Christian Concern that I do not wish to associate myself with them even so far as to link with their video, and I will not discuss it further. The letter writers, along with many others, are deeply distressed by the videos, and I fully understand why. The CEEC production sets out an uncompromisingly conservative view of sexual ethics, and includes discussion of possible schism within or from the Church of England if its teaching were to include further recognition of same-sex relationships.
The LLF resources have been produced to “encourage and enable engagement and learning”. It seems to me that the CEEC production has taken up one of the possible range of meanings of the word “engage”: to engage the enemy, to begin the battle. Viewing the video, it feels to me like a call to arms. That is not the sort of engagement that the LLF process is about. It seems quite reasonable to me that those who identify as LGBTIQ+ should feel as if they are under attack. CEEC’s attack may be couched in polite terms, but it clearly invites its viewers into combat – and where there’s a battle, there’s an enemy, even if you don’t name them directly.
So what happens next? There has been a pre-emptive attack, a theological initial salvo: how to respond? The writers of the letter seem to me to be trying to enlist to their side. I think they’re going about things the wrong way.
Firstly, and speaking personally, this feels more like the press gang than an invitation from friends. The letter sets up a binary choice: either publicly declare that you agree with our position, or we’ll walk away from the process. But you don’t build an alliance by making a public challenge to a certain group of people to join with you – or else. That’s important not just for me personally, but because it leads to the second, much more fundamental problem. By looking to recruit to its side in this way, the writers of the letter are accepting the terms of the debate on the grounds that the CEEC video proposes. Everyone is either an ally or an enemy in the battle to be fought: the question is who has the strongest army.
Enough of the military language: I will not be recruited, because I refuse to see this process as a fight. LLF invites us to listen to one another at depth, to hear each other’s stories as well as sharing our understandings of scripture and tradition and contemporary society. To take all of this and let it become a battleground would be a tragedy – more than that, it would be a sin.
What I will do my best to achieve is this: I will try as hard as I can to keep the LLF space safe for all. LGBTIQ+ people are much the most vulnerable, so I will particularly try to ensure that they are able to participate in this process to the full. That will involve listening to the voices of those who are not as safe, privileged or powerful as I am, and using what power I have to remove barriers that might prevent them speaking confidently for themselves. It will involve being mindful of the intersection of safeguarding and safety. I will call out the language of conflict, or of other abuses of power, wherever I see it, and seek always to bring our conversations back into the place that LLF has tried to create: one in which we are living together in love and in faith, seeking as God’s people together to discern the movement of the Spirit.
I first met Fr. Jonathan Clark when he was Vicar of the Parish of Saint Mary’s, Stoke Newington, in the diocese of London (Church of England), while on a visit there with my wife, Diana. A quietly spoken priest, Fr. Jonathan’s sermons grabbed my immediate attention. He was obviously concerned with all matters of peace and justice, but with a special reference to the Church’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community.
When, later, I heard he was to become Bishop of Croydon, I was not too suprised. Father Jonathan’s earnest promotion of social justice in the Church had obviously markedhim our for promotion in the Diocese of London, which ministers to many of England’s outcast and marginalised people. Charged with the mission of the gospel of OLJC, Fr.Jonathon’s gifts had been recognised and he was ordained a Bishop in the Church of God. With wife and children of his own, Fr. Jonathan recognised the need of all people for loving and stable relationships – whatever their gender and sexual orientation might be. To him, the Church had a need to not only cope with this new situation in society, but also to offer appropriate pastoral help and support – especially for young people who happened to be troubled or adversely affected by their inborn gender or sexual difference.
Bishop Jonathan’s expressed dismay at the efforts of a minority of Con/Evo protesters against the enabling encouragement of LLF, has led him to reject their newly-produced videos which refute the expressed intention of the Church to accommodate the pastoral needs of the LGBTQ+ community. His explanation of his reasons for this ought to remind his fellow bishops of their responsibility towards a significant minority whose gender or sexual difference is not self-induced, but an innate aspect of their created being, worthy of respect and acceptance by the Church and the world.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand