For many people of my age the BBC series Its a Sin was immensely triggering. It brought back half-submerged memories of that time in the 1980s. HIV, family rejection, friendship. The shared house even reminded me of the eclectic and diverse collection of people I shared a house with on Andover Road in Winchester (you know who you are).
The recent Lambeth Conference has felt a bit like that. A roller-coaster of emotion.
I hate the victimology of much of our culture and in so many ways I lead an immensely privileged life, the total joy of entering the 38th year of life with an utterly beautiful man (I am 57 for the avoidance of doubt), a career protected by equalities legislation in schools and now in a university, simply to be born as a gay person in this time and this place, to work in a friendly, welcoming and inclusive community.
However, I do know what it is like to be rejected by family, to have an actual door slammed in my face, to have to leave a New Year’s lunch and have to search for a place for the night because someone could not face seeing my partner and I together, to not to be invited to family events, to have things said by my closest relatives that should never be said by one human being to another. To be required by the church, by my bishops, for the first years of my ordained life to live apart from my partner, “Well, at least have separate postal addresses.” as one Archdeacon put it. Or, “It’s for your own safety.” as a bishop described it – so much easier to blame other people. I know the effect this all had on my partner and I am ashamed that I put him through it.
So, yes, I was triggered when the partners of same-sex partnered bishops weren’t invited to the Lambeth Conference, when it was the University of Kent that offered them hospitality, when they had to stay long-distances away from their partners, when a friend driving one partner on part of the journey to Lambeth described the anxiety.
And yes when the first version of the Call to Human Dignity was published it was a kick in the stomach; I felt it viscerally. Lambeth 1:10, despite some subtlety in the actual text is a baseline of prejudice; like Section 28 it has a sign value to LGBTQ+ people that is profoundly negative. Whoever put it in the text can have no empathy or understanding for that sign value for us.
But things got better.
I am cautious about this, I want to see what happens next and I still have some problems with what was said.
It does feel that the Holy Spirit was at work, it does seem that we have reached a point where we accept the diversity of our churches. That we are not a church but a fellowship of churches has been firmly stated, that there are no sanctions available or desired by the Archbishop of Canterbury has been clearly said. It does seem that the presence of same-sex partnered bishops and their spouses made a difference, that there has been real encounter.
It is early days and I am nervous and cautious.
So, my concerns:
The claim for ‘validity’ for Lambeth 1:10 and the failure to note its iconic value for LGBTQ+ people. I simply don’t understand what validity means in this context. And in my privileged life I worry for LGBTQ+ siblings in places where their lives are in danger.
My second concern is the affirming bishops statement organised by Jayne Ozanne and which has had more than 170 signatures. What it says is really rather mild. Only two bishops of the Church of England signed, Bishop David Hamid in Europe and Bishop Alan Wilson in this diocese. I wonder if those English bishops, that is to say all of the rest of them, but mostly those I know personally and like and have much respect for, realise how triggering it is for me to see that they have not signed. It hurts. Of course, the politics is complicated. But it feels like the willingness to accept diversity in the Communion does not extend to accepting diversity in the College of Bishops. I think they, you, if you read this, need to explain themselves / yourselves.
It is important to remember the beautiful 1998 statement from affirming bishops following Lambeth 1:10: A Pastoral Statement to Lesbian and Gay Anglicans from Some Member Bishops of the Lambeth Conference
“We apologize for any sense of rejection that has occurred”.
It feels that in England at least we have gone backwards and that bizarrely the Living in Love and Faith process has stifled not encouraged debate.
When I was sent away, not invited, spoken to in humiliating ways by those I loved in my family I was certain they would get over it, I couldn’t believe that they couldn’t. God is good, and they did get over it in just a few years, and came to love my partner Jim and to cherish us. I was barely in my mid twenties for my family to make this journey.
A church, a worldwide communion is a bigger and more, complex thing, of course, than one family, but it is still my family and I have waited for the rest of my working life for the church to make progress.
Is this Lambeth Conference progress? I hope and pray that it is. But I also hope that you understand why I am not quite rejoicing.