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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Gay Anglicans and the Primates' Meeting: the open letter

I've signed an open letter that is published today. You have probably heard about it in today's news. More than 100 people, described in the press-release as 'senior Anglicans', have written to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York ahead of the Primates' Meeting this week. Here it is in full. 

Your Graces,

We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates next week that the time has now come for:

- Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world.  We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated.  We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.
- Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.

We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.  

Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours sincerely

This isn't the first time I've blogged on same-sex relationships. But at the risk of repeating myself, I wanted to say something about why I've signed. It's for three reasons, all of which will, or ought to, be self-evident to Christian people, whatever their theological stance and whatever their sexual orientation.

First, I've signed because the church must be a place of truth. It follows the One who proclaimed himself as the Truth that would set us free. The truth of human sexuality is often hard to speak about because it is so complex. The discovery of my sexual identity is a lifelong task, and a God-given vocation. In cultures where same-sex relationships are not approved of, and gay people experience pressure or even persecution, truth-telling is driven underground. (Even in the west, gay teenagers often find it extraordinarily difficult open about their sexuality in the face of peer-pressure that is suspicious or hostile.) Sex is intended to be one of life's joyful mysteries, but the church has often debased it through suspicion or fear into a sorrowful one. It's vital that the church models a society that is open and unafraid in its take on human sexuality, acknowledging the consensus of serious research into same-sex attraction, challenging what the letter calls 'ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people', and celebrating the truth of each cherished man or woman's sexual giftedness. This is a profoundly theological task that our church leaders must not evade.

Secondly, I've signed because the church must be a place of justice and equality. The treatment of homosexual people in many countries around the world is an offence to our sense of what is fair and right. At the very least, the honouring of human dignity and the recognition of difference should be a matter of ordinary courtesy. But Christians should aspire to an altogether bigger vision of how we should treat one another as made in the image of God. It is to me a matter of outrage that Christian churches anywhere in the world should collude with attitudes that are at best discriminatory and often very much worse where gay people are concerned. No primate would tolerate them if they stemmed from racism. A generation ago, many of us were hard at work endeavouring to make sure that women could take their place alongside men in the ministry of the Church of England. That too was a matter of justice because good theology always has a finely-tuned conscience. And while I am keenly aware that the idea of an 'inclusive church' can offend Christians in other more conservative parts of the world, and could also alienate people of other faith traditions, especially Muslims, it cannot be right not to act justly merely because of our fears. Our letter calls on the Primates to act according to what are surely their best instincts for a world that is more equitable and fair.

Thirdly, I've signed because the church must be a place of compassion and love. The Quakers (who have often been a long way ahead of the C of E in matters of justice, including their acceptance of homosexual people) are known as the Society of Friends. This is how St John sees the church gathered in the upper room, where disciples are set fee to love one another in a way that echoes God's eternal love for them. Human pain and suffering have a particular claim on our compassion. And we shouldn't make any mistake about the suffering and pain many gay people around the world experience. I include in this gay clergy and other ministers in the Church of England who, in an ecclesiastical culture perceived to be hostile, live in real fear of being found out. The Primates have a special responsibility to make sure that our churches are communities of hospitality and friendship that do not collude with hypocrisy. They, we all, have that calling because this is how God himself is always reaching out towards each of us. It's a great deal harder to act hospitably than to uphold simple binaries that banish the non-approved from acceptance. This truly is 'tough love'.

I hope that this letter will not come across as trouble-stirring or polemical. It's meant to be firm but eirenic in tone. It would be great if it helped give the Primates confidence as they debate human sexuality, if it helped them to know that every step they take, however tentative, towards changing entrenched attitudes and welcoming gay Christians into their communities will be warmly and gratefully supported. The first step, maybe, is to recognise that just as with female ordination, there will be differences of view among the Primates and this needs to be respected. (I'm not sure that it altogether is, yet.) As Justin Welby has said, in grown-up communities there must always be room for 'deep disagreement'. 

But our letter is looking for much more than this. We're looking for a deep change of hearts and minds. We use the word 'repentance'. That's undeniably a strong word, but nothing is less is called for in the face of any great wrong we have committed. I am pretty confident that in decades to come, we as churches shall be saying we are deeply sorry for the way we have mistreated and oppressed gay people in the past. So why not say it now? That would make the Anglican Communion a place of hope and sanctuary for LGBTI people across the world. 

Anglicanism has always been good at bridge-building: perhaps that's one of its gifts to the world church. That's why we have every reason to think it can rise to a challenge it has known about for decades. But I also want to sound a warning note. Our unity as Anglicans is profoundly important. But I don't believe it's more important than the fundamental Christian values which have given me the headings for this blog: truth, justice and love. If we know what is true, what is just and what is loving, we must not fail to obey their imperatives however painful the consequences may be and however little we may be honoured, still less thanked for it. 

So it will take great courage on the part of the Primates to do what our letter asks for. That's why we end our letter with the promise of our prayers for this week's meeting, and for Justin Welby as he presides over it. Let William Blake set the tone of our prayers and their debates with his famous words that get close to the heart of what we Christians believe about God and humanity:

For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is Man, his child and care....

Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

You can read the press-release at http://www.lettertoarchbishops.wordpress.com/.


  1. Thank you Michael, this is beautifully written and powerful.

    1. I could not agree more. I wish I could write and think like this.

  2. So eloquently, and so gently, written - reminds me of Aslan in his relationship with the children, the best possible sort of clerical leadership and shepherding.

  3. Replies
    1. Good to see some Christians upholding the teachings of Christ and 'loving thy neighbour'!

  4. Your blogs are always a worthwhile read, but this especially so. I keep a toe on the Anglican doorway, but travelled first to the United Reformed Church then to Quaker Meetings. I often hear non-Quakers speak well of The Society of Friends - but I believe they too experience differences within certain African communities. Some wheels of change turn more slowly than others.

  5. I don't wish to be anonymous! NorahC

  6. im confused ,in the bible it clearly states that same sex is not good.am i wrong or is the bible wrong

  7. Thank you for doing this Michael. I think I may be rather naive regarding organisational matters, but I do find myself thinking that there is a deeper issue here to do with how we organise ourselves as Christians. You mention the Quakers, and they are well known for doing organisation and decision making differently. Above all, they do not tell others what to believe or how to behave. It seems to me that the Churches' attempts down the centuries to try and control thought and behaviour is a serious problem, and counter to Jesus's teaching on not lording it over others and making them feel the weight of authority. Jesus modelled and taught a supportive and companionable pattern of relating and challenged the power hungry dominating and submissive pattern that was rife in his day, as it is in ours.

  8. Thank you for writing this letter on a subject many see as a "taboo" even in the modern world we now live in. You are to be applauded for such a powerful, yet such a gentle message to the Primates meeting. May mercy love and pity be always in their and our own hearts. Amen.

  9. "Unknown", it may not be you or the Bible that is wrong; just that the way you have been taught to read and interpret the Bible (or at least, a handful of verses) is wrong.

  10. This letter is a blessing from the view of one who is becoming increasingly disillusioned regarding the Anglican Communities toward many worthwhile, socially and fiscally responspnsible congregants. This writing offers a glimmer of "hope".

  11. A true priest, showing love, compassion and undersranding of man and god.

  12. The conclusions drawn in the Report seem inexplicable to me. It is too high a price to pay for Church unity. This riposte echoes my own thoughts in an infinitely more articulate manner.