Conversion confusion?

There is yet another open letter circulating for people to sign, this time asking Liz Truss, in her capacity as Minister for Women and Equalities to allow religious exemptions from the proposed government ban on conversion therapy.  The open letter is available to read at:

Ministers’ Consultation Response – A Christian perspective (ministersconsultationresponse.com)

There are some errors and confusion in the letter, so what follows is a breakdown of these matters.

The opening paragraph starts by declaring that the authors hold ‘orthodox, historic Christian teaching on sexual ethics.’  Many of the signatories are from free churches and, for them, their definition of orthodox will vary from one church to another.  But for those who are Church of England / Anglican or Methodist the definition of orthodox would imply that they subscribe to the official positions of their respective denominations. In July 2017 the General Synod of the Church of England voted for a ban on conversion therapy.  At the 2021 Methodist conference there was an over whelming vote tor a complete ban on conversion therapy.  How can someone describe themselves as orthodox if they do not subscribe to the agreed position of their denominations?

The use of ‘historic’ rather than ‘traditional’ is interesting. Possibly it is a recognition that traditions develop and evolve?  Subscribing to historic sexual ethics would surely mean believing that contraception was wrong in all circumstances (because the only reason for sexual activity was for procreation), that there was nothing wrong with marital rape (because it was just the husband ‘enjoying his conjugal rights’), that remarriage after divorce was wrong when there was a former spouse still living (because marriage is permanent and only ends in death) etc.  Are those ideas really the sexual ethics for the 21st century?

Paragraph two contains various aspirational statements about ‘We always seek to act in love, with gentleness and respect…’, or ‘never with any form of coercion or control.’.  Let’s hope that is true of every church whose ministers sign this letter. 

In the third paragraph the authors see a possibility that the proposed legislation will impact on the ‘normal practice of religion.’  They give some examples of this and fear they might be criminalised.  The normal practice of religion should not be abusive. Anything that harms others or drives them to suicide should not be a normal practice of religion in any church that calls itself Christian.

Then we get a very confusing paragraph which seems to conflate conversion therapy with someone converting to Christianity.  I think any prosecutor and even the most inexperienced magistrate could tell the difference between someone coming to faith in Jesus for the first time and someone who is undergoing a form of ministry to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

As the supporting material and the evidence submitted to the Equalities committee points out, ‘conversion therapy’ might not be the best term to use, but it is the term that is so widely used that it is recognisable and used for convenience.

Following this is a paragraph on marriage.  This is completely irrelevant to conversion therapy.  Why is it even included?  My best guess is that it acts like a dog-whistle in signalling to people of a particular viewpoint that they need to sign this letter in order ‘to defend marriage’. 

Paragraph six doesn’t really follow on from the paragraph about marriage.  It starts with ‘To urge and assist people to live in this way, far from being harmful, is a kind and merciful act, and of benefit to all.’  I am not sure what the authors mean by ‘this way’. Are they still talking about marriage?  The paragraph goes on the ascribe everything to people’s identity being in their ‘feelings’. 

This sets up the false dichotomy, in the following paragraph, between an emotional state and ‘Christian conversion’.  It seems to be all about someone living an unsuitable ‘lifestyle’.  It would be helpful if the authors showed that they understood the difference between sexual orientation or gender identity and ‘lifestyle’.   

The paragraph goes on to say that ‘It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman.’  Nobody is suggesting it should.  Is this another dog whistle to call the ‘orthodox’ to sign?  Imposing those views on others could be seen as coercion.  Do they teach that ‘male and female’ should be interpreted broadly or do they teach it as a narrow binary?  How is adultery relevant to a discussion of conversion therapy anyway?

Paragraph eight ends with ‘Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.’  I am not sure whether to be more concerned that this is put in the singular, as if there is one and only one Christian understanding of sex and marriage, or whether it is more problematic that the authors think conversion therapy is about sex and marriage, when it is about sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Paragraph nine wants ‘the adoption of an entirely different approach’, but gives no clue as to what the authors think that different approach should look like.

The final paragraph is a mistake, in my opinion.  It invokes the Queen, in her role as ‘defender of the faith’.  In fact, the monarch holds two religious titles – ‘Defender of the Faith’ and ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.  The defender of the faith title was bestowed on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521.  The faith being defended was Roman Catholicism.  This would have implications for anyone ordained who signed this letter, it means understanding that only men can be ordained and those men must be single and celibate for life.  I wonder how many of them are?

The other title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England would suggest that the monarch would be expected to uphold the official position of the Church on this matter.  As mentioned earlier General Synod, the ruling body of the Church of England, voted on this in July 2017 and voted for a complete ban on conversion therapy. 

Quite a confused letter, in my opinion.


Yes Bishop.  Sir Humphrey 2 – Church of England 0

Sometimes great comedy succeeds when it finds true to life characters and situations and takes them to extremes, where we see them differently and find the humour in the situation.  Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the TV programme Yes Minister, are two of those people who have become character classics. 

It is clear that the influence of Sir Humphrey and his mantras of delay and obfuscation are thriving in the upper echelons of the Church of England at the moment.  Except, it is not funny in real life.

For anyone not familiar with the Jim Hacker / Sir Humphrey dynamic, you might like to view

Yes, Minister – Sir Humphrey’s Stalling Technique – YouTube  on creative inertia

“In Due Course, Humphrey …” – YouTube  in the fullness of time

Then look at the minutes of the zoom meeting of the House of Bishops from 24 November  Meeting of the House of Bishops, 24 November 2021 | The Church of England   A grand total of 82 words, including the date, description and mode of meeting.  They ‘were updated…approved the direction of travel… received a series of updates… an update was given to the house…reflections…’   The only definite thing was that ‘the meeting ended in prayer’.   Sir Humphrey would have been so proud.

The level of obfuscation almost makes me wonder what is not being said.  The biggest thing missing is any sort of decision about anything.  As Sir Humphrey memorably put it ‘a decision is only an official decision if it was recorded officially in the minutes by an official’ even allowing that some might have recollections of other decisions being made. 

Sir Humphrey 1 – Church of England 0

Then there are the latest minutes from the Next Steps group about Living in Love and Faith.  These are available to read at LLF Next Steps Group Meeting on 24 November 2021 | The Church of England  Frankly watching Question Time at General Synod was far more informative about what was happening at the Next Steps Group meeting than their minutes. 

The minutes say ‘[T]he group also agreed actions relating to each of the Synod Questions which Bishop Sarah had promised to take to the Next Steps Group.’  To start with there were three questions – 52, 53 and 55 where their written answers were referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps Group.  The supplementary question to question 53 was also referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps group and answering the supplementary to question 55 Bishop Sarah promised to communicate the answers to the matters referred to the Next Steps group.

GENERAL SYNOD (churchofengland.org)  question paper

The supplementary questions can be viewed at General Synod November 2021 – Tuesday 16 November 2021 Afternoon – YouTube from about 3hrs 55 mins.

If it is already in the public domain, why not just say what was discussed and decided?

The obfuscation goes further. 

‘Discernment to Decision Making

The meeting agreed to work on shaping the process of discernment that will begin once the findings of ‘listening to the whole church’ had concluded. A sub-group will be formed to consider this over the coming months. It will draw on a diverse group of people for wisdom and advice.’

There is so much redundant language used here that I can’t work out if the new sub group is the LLF reference group or if the reference group is the ‘diverse group of people for wisdom and advice’. 

Then on Diocesan Synods materials for Living in Love and Faith, according to the minutes the group has just ‘agreed to offer Diocesan Synods a range of materials’, but at Question time at General Synod, in the answer to written question 47 it was stated that these materials would be available at the beginning of December.  Perhaps this is what Sir Humphrey would call ‘in the fullness of time’.  Still waiting.

Delay, contradiction, meaningless phrases and no clear answers.  Yes Bishop.

Sir Humphrey 2 – Church of England 0

For more on Sir Humphrey’s tactics you may like to watch,

Best of Sir Humphrey Appleby – Yes Minister Part 3 – YouTube  especially the part beginning around 5 minutes.

Biblical marriage  – an affirming view

If you had asked me twenty years ago about same sex marriage in church, I would have opposed it.  The reason I would have given was that I thought it was against what the Bible taught. But twenty years ago I didn’t have a theology degree, I hadn’t seriously studied the Bible history, culture and translation issues. I can see looking back that some of what I thought and believed was quite superficial.

Eight types of marriage in the Bible.

I used to believe that Biblical questions of marriage were settled by the Genesis story of creation, particularly the second chapter, but God has so much more to say than that.  We should not mistake God’s first words on a subject with everything the Bible has to say about that subject. Studying the Bible seriously meant finding out that there are many different types of ‘Biblical Marriage’.  There are actually eight different types of marriage in the Bible.

For a start, there is the

1) nuclear family of one man and one woman

It is actually quite difficult to find examples of this in the Bible.  It can even be argued that in Genesis chapter 2 that Adam and Eve were not actually married.  Certainly there is nothing like a marriage ceremony, although verses 24, 25 do use the word wife.  Marriages involve making promises, as the Church of England house of bishops reminded us in their infamous document about mixed sex civil partnerships, there are no promises here. 

This form of marriage was quite different from what we see today.  Marriage was a property transfer; the woman went from being owned by her father to being the property of her husband.  It was a hierarchical and patriarchal relationship, where the man was the head of the house and the wife and any other women in the house had to obey him. 

There were arranged marriages, such as Isaac and Rebekah. This is told in Genesis chapter 24. Abraham sent his servant off to his family to find a suitable bride for his son Isaac.  Rebekah arrived on a camel after a long journey.  There was no ‘You must be tired, have a rest’ or ‘I’ll arrange a meal for you’.  Not even, ‘Hello, I’m Isaac, I’m going to be your husband.’  Instead it was straight off the camel and into his dead mother’s tent for sex.  The point where they consummated the ‘relationship’ was considered the point when she became his property.

What is far more common in the Bible is polygamy.

2) a man and several wives

This is the most common type of marriage found in the Bible.  Based on reading the Bible alone, anyone would conclude that this was the preferred form of Biblical marriage.  David and Solomon had hundreds of wives and this large number of wives was seen as a sign of God’s blessing on them.  It seemed like the more wives the better. 

3) A man and his dead brother’s wife (Levirate marriage). 

Levirate marriage is described in Genesis 38.6 – 10. This is where if a man died without children, his brother had to marry the widow and have children with her in his dead brother’s name.  This was enforced polygamy.  The idea behind it was that if a man had died without heirs to carry on the family name, then he would be forever written out of the family genealogy.  In a way it would be like losing eternal life, from a Jewish perspective. 

Similarly, if a woman was barren then the husband would not have heirs to perpetuate his name. 

There were also forced marriages such as:

4) a rapist and his victim Genesis 38.6 – 10. 

If a man raped a woman, he was forced to marry her.  She could refuse, but if she did, nobody else was likely to marry her, so how was she to live?  In Biblical times it was impossible for a woman to live independently.  Unless she came from a rich family, essentially her choices were to starve or go into sex work. 

From a modern perspective this is shocking and would be seen as an anti-women law, but in Biblical times this was seen as a way of making sure that a woman was provided for, for the rest of her life.  By contemporary standards forcing a woman to marry her rapist would be seen as the last thing she could be expected to want.  In a patriarchal society this may have been the only survival option open to her.

In some cases it would have been possible, in a situation where a father refused permission for a man to marry his daughter, that if he raped the daughter then the father could not refuse permission to marry her because the law required it. 

5) male soldiers and female prisoners of war. 

This is mandated in Numbers 31. 1 – 18 and Deuteronomy 21. 11 – 14

Women who taken as trophies of war were forced to marry the conquering soldiers.  They did not have the option to refuse.  Again it could be argued that if these women did not have a man to provide for them that they would be destitute and starve.  Marriage was just a way of sharing out the responsibility for providing for the women taken as war trophies. 

We could use a modern lens to look at this and see what would amount to a war crime, by contemporary standards.  Seeing it through the standards and norms of the time could allow a more humane interpretation of providing for the women and children. 

6) a male slave and female slave.

This is shown in Exodus 21.4. Slaves were property and owners could force them to get married.  A female slave was then subject to having sex with her husband as well as her master.  This was often done as a reward to a favoured, usually male, slave or for the breeding of the next generation of slaves to replenish the workforce.  Women were considered to be property and this type marriage was simply seen as a property transfer of assets.

7) a man and a woman and the woman’s property such as female slaves

This can be found in Genesis chapter 16.  If a woman had any property, for example if she was a widow and had property from her first marriage, then when she remarried everything became the property of her new husband.  A woman would not have had a concubine, but she may have had servant women or slave women and they became the property of the new husband as well.  This meant that the husband has sexual rights over all the women who came as collateral to the marriage. 

Children were property too.  Sons were the most valued, but there was little distinction between sons born to a wife and those born to women the father was not married to.  All that really mattered was paternity. 

We can see this emphasis on paternity in

8) a man and a wife (wives) and concubines

We can see this in the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16.1 – 4.  At that point Sarah has been barren and unable to provide an heir for Abraham.  Genesis 16.4 describes ‘Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.’

This same situation is seen in the story of Jacob.  He had two wives, Rachel and Leah, but also had children by their slave girls Zilpah and Bilhal.  This lengthy story is told in Genesis 29.31 to 30.24, giving birth to twelve sons and one daughter.

Culture and tradition

Having a large household was expensive, so by the time of the New Testament, when the Jewish people lived under Roman occupation, few could afford to have more than one wife and all the extra children.  Times were hard and one wife only became the norm due to economic necessity.  It also fitted in with the culture of the Roman occupiers, where monogamy was the usual form of marriage.

In 1 Timothy 3 we are told the qualities that are needed for someone to be a bishop in the early church and in verse 2 it includes the condition that he be ‘the husband of but one wife’. That simple verse, however, could be understood in more than one way.  If a bishop was only allowed one wife – was it to be understood as one at a time or only one in total? 

These were times when many women died in childbirth.  If a man’s wife died and he married again, would this rule him out of high office in the church?  There was a time when that question was the really hot button controversy in the church.  Eventually it seems to have been settled on ‘one at a time only’. 

In the new Christian faith, marriage did not have the importance that it had in the Jewish faith.  There are many reasons for this, such as an expectation that the world would end soon, but also a different understanding of eternal life.  For followers of Jesus eternal life was no longer seen through being part of a family tree, but as being part of the eternal life promised by Christ.  Marriage ended in death.  This matter was addressed by Jesus in Matthew chapter 22 verses 23 – 32.

Paul urged everyone to remain single if they could.  If they couldn’t then they could get married, but being single was the higher calling.  Marriage was a concession for this life alone, once we die then marriage is no more.

A broad view of marriage

Marriage in the Bible does not conform to the pattern that is preached in many Christian churches.  The idea that marriage in only for ne man and one woman does not stand up to scrutiny.  By the end of the first book of the Bible we have seen six different types of marriage alone. 

There were certain priorities for marriage in Biblical times, principally having children and being part of the unbroken family lineage. 

Why gender and sexuality is an Anglican problem

Anglicanism, uniquely among the main Christian denominations in England, has not been able to make any progress on matters of sexuality and gender because of the way that these matters are treated nationally.  I will not consider Roman Catholicism here, because matters there are treated either globally from the Vatican or locally from a particular bishop.

In the Baptist church, the church model is congregationalism.  Individual congregations have a great deal of freedom in what they choose to believe and practise.  They come together in the Baptist union as an overarching model, but are independent of each other.  For example, if one congregation chooses to take a particular stance on the ministry of women, then it does not have to consider the impact on the Baptist congregation in the next village or their views. 

All Baptist churches in England have the right to register as premises for same sex marriages and are legally allowed to perform those weddings. In practice not many Baptist churches have decided to register, but whether or not a congregation chooses to do so would not be seen as a schismatic act.

Methodist churches have a different structure and work in circuits and districts.  Major decisions are taken by the annual Methodist conference.  Some delegates are elected to participate for one year, some for three years.  The chair of the conference changes annually.  This prevents the build-up on power by certain individuals, as does the fact that the laity places at Conference outnumber the clergy places.

When the 2021 annual conference decided to allow Methodist churches to perform same sex marriages in their churches, they did it in a way that moved forward by respecting conscience.  There had been a working party, the Marriage and Relations taskforce, that produced a report – God In Love Unites Us – available at The 2019 Marriage and Relationships report (methodist.org.uk)  This document was written to reflect the mind of the church, that the present position was no longer tenable, so it was written for the middle ground, looking at compromise and ways to move forward together. 

Each district was asked to study the report and the proposed resolutions and vote if they were in favour or not.  29 out of 30 districts voted in favour.  The annual conference passed the change.  It also passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy.  It is now up to each Methodist church or group of churches to decide if they wish to register to conduct same sex marriages.  They can decide as they wish, but no church is forced to do something it votes not to do.  Likewise the Methodist structure means that each church has a designated person to conduct marriages, who may be a lay person.  Conscience is respected, but movement forward can happen where it is wanted.

The Anglican church has taken a different approach.  It has been producing documents and resolutions and having working parties for around 50 years and is nowhere near a way forward.  Reading the major reports in sequence, it is very obvious how the material has become increasingly polarised.  The compromise positions of material like the Osborne report are missing from new material which favours the ‘some people think this and some people think that’ approach in more recent material.

By documenting position A and position Z and trying to show both sides of a debate, the middle position is lost.  Most people are not at position A or Z, but somewhere between B and Y.  The Church of England is moving away from the exploration of compromise positions or ones that will allow those of different views to move forward together.  The extremes will never be able to work together, let alone agree on something.

This perpetuation of polarised views just prolongs the debate and makes schismatic options more likely.  People feel they need to defend their position because the alternative is so unacceptably extreme in their view.  It is an all or nothing approach.  No other denomination has polarised the debate as the Anglican church has done, to the Church of England’s cost. 

The latest, Living in Love and Faith has taken the polarised approach too.  Each ‘side’ will find things that they find totally unacceptable and therefore are triggered to defend their views, and because of that they are not willing to find common ground or compromise. 

The Next Steps group of bishops has announced there will be a new resource entitled ‘The Gift of the Church’ to be published in September 2022.  Let’s hope those producing it can follow the lead of their Methodist colleagues and publish a less polarised document that does represent the mind of the church and allows us to move forward.  They could start by reading God in Love Unites Us.

Why inclusion is an Anglican problem

I was at a church talk earlier this week about inclusion, based on the work of Inclusive Church.  The church where the talk was being given was particularly  concerned with certain aspects of inclusion, such as hearing and sight loss, the provision of wheelchair accessible toilets, or even toilets in general, as well as provision for those who are neurodiverse.  It touched on visibility, use of websites, disability conference, resources etc.  All very helpful and with a lot of useful discussion and support.  Even ethnicity and women did not create a ripple.  Then someone mentioned sexuality…

The problem was not that those present had a problem with people having different sexualities, but they knew that if the church wanted to make moves towards being more visibly inclusive that they would get push back and opposition from other people and even other local churches who were opposed.  This is a peculiarly Anglican problem.  Denominations like the Baptists or the United Reform Church have a congregational understanding of many issues anyway and would see it as an internal matter.  The Methodists have agreed that there are some issues decided by their annual conference and then the individual circuits and churches can decide exactly how to proceed for themselves. 

Anglicanism does not accept that level of diversity.  It can certainly be argued that congregationalism is not an Anglican way of doing things, so there should be uniformity in what is done and taught.  Except that the Church of England has already made some very large exceptions to that already, where individual congregations can vote to diversify on certain matters.  For example, those with alternative episcopal oversight because they do not accept women priests or those who espouse male headship under the bishop of Maidstone.  Before that whether or not to allow the remarriage of those who had been divorced was left to the individual member of clergy who had a conscience opt out. 

There is already a great diversity of worship styles, from those who do not wear vestments and have a monthly communion service to those who have full robed choirs and clergy with several masses each week, and a whole spectrum in between.

Unfortunately, reasoned debate on inclusion and diversity in being hampered by an almost default belief in certain Anglican circles that somehow ‘inclusion’ is a secret codeword for ‘gay rights’ and a move towards inclusion would put them on a slippery slope to same sex marriage in church.  Consequently there is resistance to even the idea that a church should be moving towards more visible inclusion.

Inclusion is Biblical.  Nobody throws away their Bible to be inclusive.  It is about studying the Bible, particularly the ministry and teachings of Jesus and the early church.  Jesus went out of the temple to meet and eat with the marginalised where they were.  The early church went beyond the narrow confines of the Jewish people and admitted gentiles.  They instituted a new form of admission – baptism – that was open to anyone.  No longer was initiation to the faith just for men through circumcision.  Those who could not live up to the purity codes of Judaism could find a home in their faith in Jesus.

It is time that the contemporary church in this country caught up with the early church and recognised that the great commission was for everyone.  Inclusion is about everyone, not just those who have different sexualities.  If Samaritans could be included along with gentile widows, so can many of our excluded and marginalised groups.  Frankly, some in the Church of England need to stop trying to fight a non existent enemy.

Let’s see a church that truly wants to be inclusive.  One that is open and safe.  Not one that is obsessed with sexuality as the sole test of some sort of ideological purity.

How safe is your church?

Sunday October 10th is the Church of England’s first Safeguarding Sunday.  Some would consider this to be long overdue.    Giving a particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar for a specific theme is a way of signalling that the Church of England takes an issue seriously.  It sends a message of ‘pay attention to this’.

Unfortunately this message is too little and should have been done a long time ago.  It is the reality that many people do not feel safe in their places of worship.  Not just people who are LGBTQ+, but people who are vulnerable in other ways.  Women can have a particular vulnerability when male headship is preached and some domestic abuse is ‘justified’ by reference to the Bible.  It is true that ‘Bad Theology Kills’.

Feeling unsafe in a church starts with the preaching and goes through a lack of transparency to exclusion and othering.  How a church sees itself is fundamental to how it sees the church members and the community it serves.  Where a church embraces something like ‘faithful remnant’ theology or a theology that prioritises some people’s status in God above others, then it is a short step to treating some people as less than others and starts a slippery slope to abusive behaviour and language.

There are churches where the preaching is that being LGBTQ+ is a sin.  Preaching that as a certainty, rather than acknowledging the range of views on the subject can lead to the situation where anyone who is LGBTQ+ in that church has to adopt the ‘single and celibate’ position in order to remain in that church, albeit at the level of being tolerated rather than being fully part of the church.  Forcing people who are not called to celibacy to be single and celibate for life is harmful.  As human beings, made in the image of a loving Creator God, we are called to love.  Indeed ‘God is love’ but denying us the experience of loving others means it is an easy step to not loving yourself.  In Matthew 22.39 Jesus gave his second commandment of love, that we should ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.  If you are not allowed to love your neighbour because you are being taught that your capacity for love is a sin, then you cannot love yourself as God intended. 

Some churches can say that they welcome all people into their communities, but their idea of welcoming people who are LGBTQ+ is to encourage them to ‘put their sexuality under obedience to God’, in other words ‘to give up their gay lifestyle and go back to being straight’.  Also known as conversion therapy. 

Conversion therapy needs to be banned by the government right now.  No more delays and consultations and certainly no religious exemptions.  The government has shown no hesitation in banning other harmful practices that are ‘justified’ on religious grounds, such as female genital mutilation.  Just because the harm is being done by Christians should not cause the government to hesitate or prevaricate. The recently published Copper report – available here The Cooper Report 2021 – Ozanne Foundation – has legal experts showing the government how to introduce the necessary legislation for a ban. 

But women are also at risk from bad theology. The recently published book The Bible doesn’t Tell Me So by Helen Paynter shows how selective and out of context Bible quotes are used to abuse women.   It shows that way that domestic abuse is ‘justified’ as ‘wives submitting to your husband’ with no understanding of the Biblical teaching to husbands on how they should treat their wives.  The theology of ‘no divorce’ is used to tell wives that they must not leave an abusive husband.  The Bible is rarely used to tell husbands that they must not be violent with their wives. 

Similarly a theology of male headship can be used to disempower women in a church.  It can justify patriarchal attitudes in church that would not be tolerated in a work place.  The line between patriarchy and misogyny can be a very thin line indeed.

The church needs to do better.  It needs to be a place where all people can feel safe.  It has to tackle bad, abusive theology and be willing to follow Jesus to create God’s kingdom on Earth, for all God’s people. 

Resources for Safeguarding Sunday can be found at  Support Safeguarding Sunday | The Church of England

Well, they didn’t actually say that, but…

In employment law there is an idea of ‘constructive dismissal’. This is where someone is not actually fired, but their working life is made so intolerably bad that they are forced to leave their job.  This can be bullying in the workplace, changes in working hours or increased workload or constant criticism and undermining or many other causes that make a job unbearable.

Under employment law there are remedies available to anyone in the situation, usually a compensation payment.  However an employment tribunal may make orders about changes in practice in an organisation or order someone to be reinstated to their job or other remedies.  You can’t just force someone out of their job – we have laws to protect people from that sort of behaviour.  Except in our places of worship.

Somehow the very places that proclaim on the door that ‘All are welcome’ often prove to be the least welcoming places.  Indeed they often prove to be the most judgemental and condemnatory places.  Somehow people may be welcome to walk through the front door and listen to the preaching and donate money, but if they want to be part of the family of faith then they have to somehow become just like everyone else, part of the collective mindset.  God help you if you are different.

This means when we are at our place of worship that we have to hide who we are and cannot bring our whole authentic self to our relationship with God.  We know what will happen if we do.  God will not reject us, but the faith family almost certainly will.

Sometimes, it is explicit – being told to go back to being straight or leave, but most of the time it is more subtle.  The words are not spoken, but we are told that our lifestyle means that we are not allowed to work with children or young people, or told that we have to give up our role in leadership or told that we have abandoned God and forsaken our sacred Scriptures.  Once the faith leadership have made up their mind that we are no longer one of the ‘in crowd’ then somehow those we had thought to be our friends can remarkably disappear.  Nobody will stand with us when we are seen to be marginalised.

Why should we stay where we are not wanted?  Where the ‘welcome’ we received at first is shown to be hollow, if we want to stay we have to change and conform. 

But it is never God who makes us feel unwelcome and rejected.  God never wants us to leave, but we do anyway.  How can we fight the injustice of those who claim God is on their side?  We have no protection in law.

We suffer ‘constructive dismissal’ from our places of worship with no redress available.  We can whistle blow and tell our side of the story, but the other side of the story is that they never actually said the words telling us to go, just criticised, demoted, excluded and marginalised. 

No wonder LGBTQ+ people of faith are under represented in faith communities.  We can read our Scriptures and say our prayers and find our own faith groups in our own community.  God is everywhere but sometimes we have to leave our place of worship to find God for ourselves. 

Why the Bible needs windows

I have been reading Torah Queeries, edited by Gregg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser and David Shneer.  In Judaism, the Torah, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, is read in its totality every year.  The material is broken up into weekly sections of Torah, and there are additional portions for holidays such as Passover.  This book has commentaries on each of the weekly portions by rabbis and academics, taking a queer perspective.

One of the fascinating things about reading Jewish material is how the approach to Scripture is completely different from that of certain sections of Christianity.  In Judaism, the meanings of Torah are inexhaustible.  There is an infinite number of meanings and so it speaks to each individual and to each time and always has new depths of meaning to explore. In Judaism there is no concept of having ‘the right’ interpretation of scripture – there is no single right meaning. 

Even though Judaism and Christianity share Scriptures, how those are understood and interpreted is fundamentally different.  Different in a way that would make some Christians very uncomfortable.  After all, how can they understand ‘The Word of God’ if there are infinite meanings? 

An even more difficult question for some Christians would be ‘how would they know if what they understand the Bible to mean is wrong’?  No, the answer is not to go to the minister and get the ‘official answer’, the answer is windows.

Allow me to explain, starting with a quote from Menachem Creditor commenting on Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18.1 – 20.26).

Most mornings, in order to help me decide what to wear, I look out the window, thus engaging with the world as it is, grounding my decision in the context of the outside world.

I remember learning during a midrash class at the Jewish Theological Seminary that, if I were a ‘real’ rabbi, I would not have looked out the window to help me make a crucial decision.  Instead of drawing on the world around me, I would have taken a volume of Jewish text from the shelf and poured over its pages in order to truly know what was going on in the outside world. 

We test our understanding against reality.  Torah might say what is suitable for a rabbi to wear or not wear, but we need the reality of a window to make the right choice now.  We may make a different choice tomorrow – do we need that raincoat?

Christians have been very reluctant to use windows to help determine reality, often preferring interpretations of The Word and anything that conflicts with that is a result of sin and the brokenness of the world. Sometimes that means that we teach what is wrong and call it ‘from God’.  Let me give an illustration of that.

Joshua chapter 10 was used for centuries to teach that the sun went round the Earth.  The idea that the sun would stop in the heavens seemed incontrovertible proof that the Earth was the centre and everything orbited around it.  It took literally centuries of careful, daily astronomical measurements to finally convince some Christian authorities that this interpretation did not match reality.  Eventually the weight of data became indisputable.  The effect of this was twofold.  It meant that the church had to teach a different model of the way that the universe was structured, with the Earth no longer at the centre.  It also meant that there had to be a different way of interpreting scripture that did not take the literal surface meaning as true.  If this passage of the Bible was to be consistent with the reality of the universe, then it had to be understood at a deeper level. 

For some this means that there is an inconsistency between the way that descriptions of the universe are understood in the book of Joshua and the way it is understood elsewhere, for example in the book of Genesis.  Reading Genesis chapters 1 and 2 in the literal way gives the age of the Earth as just over 6000 years old.  The window of scientific evidence gives an age of billions of years. Yet despite the scientific evidence, some are reluctant to look for the deeper interpretation approach that was needed for the book of Joshua. 

‘How old is the Earth’ is as much a question of science as a question of Biblical interpretation.

A reality window check is harder in terms of ethics-based interpretations. For example, the question of being left-handed.  In contemporary society left handedness is simply seen as part pf life’s rich variety, with no ethical judgement.  Provision is routinely made for those who are left-handed, by providing appropriate scissors, golf clubs etc.  But that has not always been the case.  Being left-handed was once regarded as being a sign that someone was ‘marked with the sign of the devil’.  Nowadays we find ideas like that ridiculous or insulting.  But they were based on Biblical interpretation that was normative for being right-handed.  Mistaking what is common with what is mandatory is a common religious ethical mistake.  Just because most people are right-handed does not mean that everyone has to be.

We need to have ways of checking our understanding of the Bible to make sure that we do no harm.  We cannot impose beliefs on other people when those beliefs do not match reality.

Are you on Diocesan Synod?

Did you know that you have the right to ask two questions at each synod?  When the notice of business for the meeting gets sent out, you are allowed to send in two written questions in advance of the meeting.  These get a written answer and you can ask a supplementary question at the actual meeting.  This is a way that Diocesan Synod members can ask for information and hold diocesan officials to account. 

I show the Leicester notice of business for our next meeting so you can see what this looks like.  I also have some possible questions you can ask.  Every diocese is different and you may have better questions for your local context.  In my experience, people rarely ask questions at Diocesan Synod, but if we want radical change then that starts with raising our voices.

If possible, please share the questions and answers from your Diocesan Synod with this group.

Possible diocesan synod questions with links can be downloaded below.

Reclaiming Lambeth I.10

When I was choosing the name for this site, one thing that was never in doubt was the use of Queer.  There was discussion about other letters and whether to use a + but Q was always going to be part of this.  It is not exactly how I would define myself, but the word fits for those who choose to use it about me or about themselves. 

But it was not always like that.  The use of the word Queer has a long history, from a term of abuse and repression to the reclaiming and ownership of the word by the community.

Now it is time for those who are Christian and especially Anglican to reclaim something else too – the 1998 Lambeth resolution I.10.

Ironically it was archbishop Justin Welby who has shown us the way to start doing this.  Now, in the interests of full transparency, I am not archbishop Justin’s greatest fan.  I probably wouldn’t make the top million on that one, but here he has done something that I can applaud.

On February 26th Nigerian archbishop Henry C Ndukuba issued a statement, in response to events in American churches, in that statement he described homosexuality and homosexual relationships in very negative terms.  A pdf of the statement can be read here:

Church-of-Nigerias-Position-on-the-Recent-Developments-in-ACNA-February-2021-.pdf (thinkinganglicans.org.uk) but I would advise against it.  I include the link for completeness.

Archbishop Justin’s response can be read in full here:

Archbishop of Canterbury criticises Primate of Nigeria | Thinking Anglicans

The important parts are two paragraphs in the middle of the statement

I completely disagree with and condemn this language. It is unacceptable.It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks.

I have written privately to His Grace The Archbishop to make clear that this language is incompatible with the agreed teaching of the Anglican Communion (expressed most clearly, albeit in unsuitable language for today, in paragraphs c and d of resolution I.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998). This resolution both restated a traditional view of Christian marriage and was clear in its condemnation of homophobic actions or words. It affirmed that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”

This is the first time I have seen Lambeth I.10 used affirmingly like this by a bishop, and when it is the Archbishop of Canterbury it shows a shift is happening.  It may be a small shift, but a welcome one.  A policy statement that has been used to oppress LGBTQI+ Christians around the world for 23 years now has precedent to use as something positive.  So – let’s start to reclaim it.

The full resolution and supporting documents can be accessed here  Section I.10 – Human Sexuality (anglicancommunion.org)

Lambeth conference resolutions are not binding on provinces in the Anglican communion, but they do carry weight.  The Church of England has never chosen to adopt or ratify Lambeth I.10, but the attitudes in it have been used against us for too long.  We have been treated as if this resolution were entirely negative. 

Archbishop Justin used paragraphs c and d in his argument, even expressing the idea that the language used was unsuitable.  Paragraph c is already something that we can reclaim as positive.  We are loved by God and are full members of the body of Christ.  I know too many Christians who have been told that their sexual orientation and gender identity and unacceptable to God.  Let us reclaim this idea which is, after all, an orthodox Anglican belief.  Paragraph c says:

recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

Paragraph d should come with a trigger warning.  It does get to the affirming material after some negativity.  It says:

while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

Ministry should be always pastoral and sensitive.  Unfortunately, what many of us experience is the exact opposite.  This resolution says what we should receive and what we should expect from the Anglican churches we belong to. 

In time we can work to reclaim other sections relating to marriage, relationships and blessings.  But for now, we must insist that the church abides by its own rules.  We have to start somewhere and this is as good a place to start as any.