Safeguarding, gay bishops and the Lambeth Conference.

Safeguarding is the thing that is very much on my mind at the moment. The other thing that is on my mind is the issue of gay bishops at the next Lambeth Conference. While I was fact-checking my previous blog Gay bishops, legal discrimination and the Lambeth Conference, available here, I was reminded of the exorcism incident at the 1998 Lambeth conference.

For those who are not familiar with that incident, Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma of Enugu, Nigeria attempted to exorcise the “homosexual demons” from the Reverend Richard Kirker, leader of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. [The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has now been renamed OneBodyOneFaith].  Kirker’s response to the attempted exorcism was “May God bless you, sir, and deliver you from your prejudice against homosexuality.” Information taken from the available here.

Further information can be found at the BBC archive here.

A full account of the exorcism incident can be found in chapter 8 of Stephen Bates’ book A Church at war: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

a church at war    Available to purchase here.

At the following Lambeth Conference in 2008, the only openly gay bishop – Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal church in the United States – was not invited to attend. He did visit the UK that year, he had a new book to promote called In the Eye of the Storm.

in the eye of the storm   Available to purchase here.

One of the things I found particularly moving in this book is the account that Gene Robinson and his partner Mark had to wear bulletproof vests for Robinson’s consecration as bishop because they had received death threats from other Christians.

There have been gay bishops at previous Lambeth Conferences, but they have not been open about their sexuality, but have remained in the closet. Much safer there, I am sure.

Rt Revd Mary Glasspool, is the second openly gay bishop, and so far the only lesbian bishop, in the Anglican communion. This means that for the first time, there will be openly gay bishops at the Lambeth Conference. Who is responsible for their safety? Who will make sure that they won’t be facing an exorcism on the way to breakfast or checking that they won’t have to sit through a call for repentance and giving up ‘their gay lifestyle’ at morning prayer or being told that ‘God hates them’ or they are ‘an abomination’ etc as they find a seat at a seminar?

Conferences in the UK usually start with a statement about safe space and respecting others. Will anyone make that expectation clear or will we have more of the usual ‘looking forward to some interesting debates’ anglobabble?  The bishops will be there at Justin Welby’s invitation, so he has a duty of care for them. How seriously will he take that responsibility when he has already shown himself willing to discriminate against the same bishops?

Nor should we forget that there is an openly gay bishop in the church of England. This was widely reported in 2016 when the bishop of Grantham came out in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.  This can be read here.

My memory of that was that he was in a civil partnership, but fact checking for this article, I could not find a reference that explicitly stated that. My memory may be incorrect on that point. The only references I found were similar to those in the Guardian that refer to a long term, and celibate, partner. Will the bishop of Grantham’s partner be invited to the Lambeth Conference or not? They are not married, so they do not fall foul of the Resolution I.10 ‘standard’ as outlined by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon here.

As a general question, would the civil partner of an English bishop be invited or not? It was December 2012 when the House of Bishops concluded that there was no impediment to those in a civil partnership being ordained bishop. This is set out in the updated, 2013, CHOOSING BISHOPS – THE EQUALITY ACT 2010 (REVISED) GS Misc 1044 , which can be accessed here. 

So far we are still waiting. By way of a contrast, it was decided in July 2014 that women could be ordained bishops and the first female bishop was appointed later the same year. After over six years, we are still waiting for someone in a civil partnership to be ordained bishop. There is still time before July 2020 for that to happen. Would their civil partner be invited or not?

The Lambeth Conference website does not have any information about safeguarding. It does not even state who has responsibility for safeguarding. It has a page where we can ‘meet the team’ but no way to contact them to ask.  I would like to raise safeguarding with the team putting the conference together. Knowing the history of the conference and the way that gay bishops have been treated in the past, safeguarding them needs to be on their agenda.

Gay bishops, legal discrimination and the Lambeth Conference.

There has been a lot of recent media coverage of the treatment of bishops who are in same sex marriages and the way that their spouses have not been invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

mary glasspool
Rt Revd. Mary Glasspool, an assistant Bishop in the Episcopal diocese of New York, had this to say about the letter Archbishop Justin Welby sent to her to ‘outvite’ her spouse of 31 years, Becki Sander.

bishop kevin robertson
The Canadian suffragan bishop, Rt Revd Kevin Robertson who is the Area Bishop for York-Scarborough in the Diocese of Toronto is married to Mohan Sharma.
Bishop Kevin was interviewed by the Church Times. The interview is accessible here.

So far, two married bishops and two outvitations.

bishop thomas brown
However the Episcopal Church in the United States has very recently elected Revd Thomas Brown to be the next bishop of Maine. He is in a same sex marriage as well, being married to Revd Thomas Mousin. Assuming that his election is confirmed by the other Episcopal dioceses, he is due to be consecrated as a bishop in June this year. This will give the Anglican communion a third bishop in a same sex marriage. Should we assume that he will also be told that his husband will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference? A  report on the election can be read here.

Between now and the start of the Lambeth conference on July 22nd 2020, how many other bishops will be elected who have same-sex partners? What will the status of their partners be?

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon tried to explain in his blog that ‘I need to clarify a misunderstanding that has arisen. Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies.’ The full text of his blog can be accessed here.   The text of Resolution I.10 can be found here.

Dr Idowu-Fearon has made it clear that ‘the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.’ There are two elements to this and somehow it is only the second part that seems to provoke outvitations to legal spouses. No bishop who has been divorced and remarried has had their invitation rescinded, nor have previously married spouses been left out. Only those in same sex marriages have been treated in this way. Treating those in a same sex marriage differently from those in an opposite sex marriage is discrimination.

In previous Lambeth Conferences there has been a programme for the bishops and a separate programme for their spouses. This year, for the first time, there is a joint programme for the bishops together with their spouses. The Lambeth Conference website has a FAQ section and one of the questions is ‘Why is it a joint conference?’ Their answer is:
‘The joint conference is in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry. The intention is for every spouse to develop their ministry through their participation in the conference. There is recognition that fellowship will be a key aspect for spouses.’
Full list of questions available here.

Is there a touch of irony in the phrase ‘every spouse’? Surely, if the role of the episcopal spouse is so vital, then it is defeating the purpose of the conference to exclude some of the spouses. Unless there is a subtext that the conference only sees those in opposite sex marriages as spouses and wants to make a point that marriage is only affirmed between a man and a woman.

It has been questioned whether this discriminatory treatment is legal in this country. The Lambeth Conference is a charity that is registered in the UK, charity number 1121679. This means that the Lambeth Conference is subject to UK law, specifically the 2010 Equality Act. The Equality Act allows some exemptions (Schedule 23 paragraph 2) and it looks like the Lambeth Conference comes under this, so it would be legal to discriminate. However, if this were challenged, they would have to show that excluding same sex spouses is necessary to comply with ‘the doctrine of the Organisation’ or ‘the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’. While the religious conviction part might be true worldwide, I doubt it is the case in the UK. I think that, unfortunately, only the two bishops or their same sex spouses would have the legal standing to bring a case to test this legally.

The question of same sex marriage is not contained in any of the creeds nor is it in any of the authorised liturgies of the Church of England which means that Lambeth resolution I.10 does not have the status of doctrine. Lambeth resolutions are not mandatory and have to be adopted by each province individually. By specifically relying on Lambeth I.10, Dr Idowu-Fearon may be ruling out an exemption based on doctrine, because he is showing that the basis of the exclusion is something other than doctrine.

Lambeth I.10 is very much at the forefront of GAFCON literature. In 2008, at the first GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, they issued the Jerusalem Statement. Anyone wishing to attend subsequent GAFCON conferences has had to agree to this Statement. Section 8 of the Jerusalem Statement declares that:
8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
Full text of the Jerusalem statement can be accessed here. 

What we appear to be seeing in the preparations for Lambeth 2020 is GAFCON inspired ideology, in line with their priorities and structured to idealise opposite sex marriage. This is not in accordance with the equality values of the English people that the Church of England is established to serve.

In order to be able to be registered as a charity, it is necessary to show that the organisation has ‘public benefit’. I checked out the Lambeth Conference’s statement of public benefit with the charity commission website. The third and final paragraph of the public benefit statement says:
‘Most people are likely to become disciples of Jesus if Christians live a Christ like life amongst them, share the good news of Jesus, demonstrate God’s love and prayerfully expect the Spirit’s power to transform individuals, communities and whole nations.’

I fail to see how the exclusion of same sex spouses is living a Christ like life and I seriously doubt this will encourage anyone in this country to become a disciple of Jesus.
I would like to know how those organising the 2020 Lambeth Conference will live up to their own public benefit statement.

Peace be with you – and the Living in Love and Faith process.

Last November, I went to the Transforming Theology conference at Cambridge University, organised by Alex Clare-Young, who has been named as a new member of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) Co-ordinating group.
One of the speakers, Ph.D. student Kenneth Wilkinson-Roberts, gave a talk on peace studies and applied this to the Church of England’s Shared Regional Conversation process and its strategy of good disagreement. I was very taken with the ideas at the time and I am starting to see some of this approach in the LLF process.
Good disagreement polarises the debate, it encourages a move to more extreme positions, because there is a commitment that ‘both sides of the debate must be heard’. One effect of this is that anyone who wants their voice to be heard must be at either end of the debate and so the more moderate voices do not get heard. Another big effect of good disagreement is that it makes people solidify their views, by emphasising the differences between people’s positions and does not allow for the development of a range of more nuanced views.
At last week’s General Synod presentation on LLF, it was announced that the new approach would move away from good disagreement and would now be ‘appreciative disagreement’ which does allow for more nuanced views and emphasises understanding other points of view.
One positive effect of a peace studies approach is that it brings the discussion towards the centre and away from the silos at the extremes. If this marginalises some of the toxic views that are currently being expressed, then I welcome this. Some extreme opinions are being given a platform that is totally undeserved by the number of people holding those extreme views.
I hope that this move towards the centre will help those with power in the Church of England to realise that the current anti-gay and anti-trans positions, together with a legacy of institutional racism and misogyny have created a toxic brand that the people of England do not want from their national church.
One fear is that after LLF is complete, that it will be like so many reports in the past which have not made any lasting changes. I doubt that LLF will solve all the problems the church has with human sexuality, but if they can permanently change the nature of the debate, then it is something I really welcome.
Dr Eeva John, as the enabling officer of LLF, has the hardest job in the Church of England. Eeva John, may peace be with you.