LGBTI Mission – a vision of the future C of E?
by Andrew Symes:
Thursday 4th February saw the launch of a new campaign group which seeks to radically change the teaching and practice of the Church of England in a revisionist direction. LGBTI Mission is a coalition of a number of groups with similar aims; it is led by Simon Sarmiento, the editor of the website ‘Thinking Anglicans’, and its board includes Bishop Alan Wilson, former worship singer/songwriter Vicky Beeching, and Giles Goddard who last year hosted a service of Muslim prayers in his church, as well as other vicars and a church youth and families worker.
The front of their website says their aim is “full acceptance and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people within the Church of England”. Several reasons are given for this. To start with, “God is love”. Then, the Church has seen change with regard to women priests and Bishops – now is the time for change with regard to views and policies on sexuality and gender. We have a ‘progressive’ Archbishop of Canterbury, they say, who has put sexuality on the church’s main agenda and who has recently apologised for the hurt caused to gay people. But most significant of all, Parliament has opened marriage to same sex couples, and public opinion is in favour of it.
A well produced document details the complaints about the current situation in the Church of England, states what the group would like to see changed, and itemizes some action plans to bring about the revolution. The document claims that the current doctrines and official policy of the Church of England, ie the historic teaching of the Christian faith, does not ‘recognise diversity’ in relation to different views on sexuality, and that this is harmful to many LGBTI Anglicans who have to keep their sexual orientation in the closet. The “one-sided dominant narrative about marriage, human sexuality, and gender complementarity is used a justification of persecution and bullying of LGBTI people”, it says, and calls for radical programmes of change to promote diversity, equality and inclusion in schools, youth groups, theological education and liturgies (for example conducting and blessing of same sex marriages, baptism of children of same sex couples, and ‘re-naming’ after gender transition). The ‘discrimination’ against partnered or married gay men and women in relation to ordination and preferment should be revoked, and should be countered by more appointments of openly gay clergy and Bishops as ‘role models’.
The document is worth reading carefully, because it shows what the Church of England would look like if this group and their supporters (there will be many sympathizers including some in senior positions) are able to put their radical plans into action.
First, it would be a church with a new anthropology, a new understanding of what it means to be human. Instead of affirming, with Jesus, that in the beginning God created us male and female, and instituted marriage, sex and procreation; partnership between the two genders in community for creative stewardship, we would have a church which officially endorses a ‘pansexual’ understanding of diverse sexual identities and expressions. It would promote an understanding of who I am based not on my physical body, my mind and my soul as a unit, connected to my family ancestry and now a new person in union with Christ, but as a free-floating self-defined identity created in my mind and my emotions, shaped by my environment, which may be at variance with my body. An anthropology in common with the teachings of the Gnostics and Plato rather than historic Judaeo-Christian understandings.
Second, it would be a church with a new understanding of mission and ministry. At the moment, the C of E welcomes all, but provides a context where thinking, behaviour and emotions can be challenged and transformed by the saving grace and lordship of Christ. The LGBTI mission aims for a church to affirm, include and give ministry status to all, especially those who feel unfairly judged by the standards of historic Christian faith. But actually this isn’t quite true. This new church would celebrate bisexuality (the ‘B’ in LGBTI), and apparently make no distinction between someone clearly distressed by ‘gender dysphoria’ and the man who likes to dress in women’s clothes for unwholesome reasons (both can identify as ‘T’). ‘Post-revolution’ the church would even generously provide a temporary space for those clergy who disagree with same sex marriage to “opt out” of having to conduct them. But the document makes it clear that it regards those who hold such views as ‘homophobic’, inherently in the way of progress, and so ultimately not welcome.
Third, it would be a church with new theological foundations. As there is only one theological statement in the lengthy LGBTI Mission document – “God is love” – and no biblical quotation apart from this, one could say that the theological foundations are a bit thin! But this would be unfair. “God is love, therefore he gives me what I feel I need, and the church must do the same” is a powerful theological idea. While there might not be much Bible or God-talk in the LGBTI church, there would certainly be a coherent philosophy about how our Christian faith should be relevant by reflecting the values of the majority of the population, rather than the wisdom of the Bible interpreted consistently through church history. If we want to know what the church should believe and teach, listen to people’s feelings as expressed in opinion polls.
Fourth, it would be a church which has a new means of driving mission. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to work through men and women in congregations, working outward to do mission in communities, this group wants to use the power of government and secular lobby groups to force change on the church. For example, the section on ‘fostering a culture of safety for LGBTI children’ reads like a briefing from Stonewall. Then, when talking about ensuring that no barriers are created for children of same sex couples (for example, clergy insisting on bible-based preparation before a baptism service) the group advocates ways of using the media to spotlight any such violation. Most alarmingly, LGBTI Mission intends to:
“Raise concerns in Westminster about the reach and scope of the current religious exemptions in civil law.”
This is clearly a threat to to ask Parliament to remove the protection and exemptions that the C of E currently has with regard to same sex marriage.
Finally, the church envisaged by LGBTI Mission would be a new ecclesial body that is detached from the Anglican Communion. Many of us hoped that after the Canterbury meeting that the position of the Anglican church had been made clear: marriage is between a man and a woman. There will be many pastoral issues that arise from the realities of sinful people, whatever their sexual orientation, seeking to follow Christ; the church should always offer the mercy and compassion of Christ to individuals, while upholding the principles of Christ to the world. LGBTI Mission, in rejecting the clear view of the Primates, appears to want to lead the Church of England outside the Anglican Communion, and become a religious body with no connection with the historic denominations of world Christianity, but which worships the state-sponsored gods of the culture.