Church of England delays decision on same-sex marriage and LGBT+ rights until 2022 despite admitting it ‘continues to hurt’ queer people

Church of England LGBT+ resources

The Church of England has vowed to consider its stance on LGBT+ rights issues such as same-sex marriage by 2022 in a major new publication – but critics have accused it of being all talk, no action.

Three years in the making, the Church of England has published a set of resources titled Living in Love and Faith, exploring LGBT+ issues including “identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”.

But the materials have been criticised for admitting the ongoing harm to the LGBT+ community by the Church of England without implementing any changes.

In the foreword for the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) book, the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell apologised for “the huge damage and hurt” inflicted on the LGBT+ community by the church.

They added: “We have caused, and continue to cause, hurt and unnecessary suffering. For such acts, each of us, and the church collectively, should be deeply ashamed and repentant.

“As archbishops, we are personally very sorry where we have contributed to this.”

Testimonials from LGBT+ Church of England members featured in the book include a bigender person who was told by her church that she must “get rid of this sinful side” of her, a gay woman who found Christianity and became celibate and a gay man who was told to “find a good woman and get married”.

But despite the apology and the admission that the Church of England continues to cause pain for queer people, the resources seem only to advocate for more “listening and learning”, rather than action.

Church of England LGBT+ rights group ‘is not very diverse’.

Currently, the Church of England does not perform same-sex marriages and refuses to bless same-sex civil marriages. LGBT+ clergy members are allowed to be in relationships but not to have sex, while many queer Christians have reported parishes that are unwelcoming, in some cases leading to spiritual or emotional abuse.

However the church has not promised any changes will be forthcoming, only that LGBT+ issues will be considered.

The plan moving forward is to “enable bishops, dioceses, deaneries and local church communities to explore the resources together from the beginning of 2021″.

But it will not be until 2022 that “the materials will move to discernment, decision-making and if necessary, synodical processes”, led by the LLF Next Steps group. 

The Next Steps group will be led by the bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who admitted that the group was “made up of bishops, so by its very nature is not diverse”.

The church has remained vague about what decisions will actually be made in two years time.

Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation which works with religious organisations around the world to support LGBT+ people, said in a statement: “I welcome the publication of the long-awaited LLF resource, which was borne out of a promise by the Archbishops for a ‘radical new Christian inclusion’.

“Whether the resource delivers this promise has yet to be seen, however it is a necessary step in the arduous journey to the church understanding that ‘love is love’.”

However, she added: “What we do know is that it tells peoples’ stories and encourages churches who have not already done so to engage with this issue.

“For those of us whose lived experience knows the damage that some of these teachings cause, I urge great caution.

“The Church of England must not excuse or legitimise homophobia in any form, no matter how civilly it is expressed. Our priority must always be to safeguard, particularly LGBT+ youth in our care.

“It is hard to understand why a document that recognises the harm caused by some church teaching does not learn from this and immediately implement urgent changes.”

Just five out of 39 people involved in the project are openly LGBT+.

Of the group of 39 involved in the project, just five were openly LGBT+. The project’s coordinating group of 17 people included just two out LGBT+ members.

At a press briefing on the launch of the LLF resources, the Church of England’s Dr Eeva John insisted: “There are five people that are out LGBT+, but I just want to also emphasise that that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the only LGBT+ members in the group.”

In fact, the bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth, who led the LLF coordinating group, told BBC Radio 4 that during the three years of working on the project he never “enquired” about the sexuality of bishops who were members of the group.

How can we encourage others to be true to themselves if we don’t model it ourselves?

Jayne Ozanne told PinkNews: “We have made repeated calls for more LGBT+ people to be involved with LLF, the fact there are several senior religious leaders involved who may be gay but are not out belies the whole problem the Church of England has with openness and transparency in this complex area – how can we encourage others to be true to themselves if we don’t model it ourselves?”

Reverend Giles Goddard, who is the gay vicar of St John’s church in Waterloo, was one of the two openly LGBT+ members of the coordinating group.

Goddard told BBC Radio 4: “It was certainly challenging, it was difficult, and in an ideal world there would have been more.

“But what I felt was that we were being listened to. I felt very much that my voice was important, and I was glad of that.

He added that he hopes the project will be the “groundwork” for actual change.

“There’s nothing in the Church of England’s documents or anything that I can point at on the floor of Synod and say, ‘Look, here is a truly Christian understanding of what it means to be gay, or what it means to be trans, or what it means to be intersex.’

“Now there will be, and it’ll be part of the life of the Church of England. And I hope, therefore, that we can have better conversations about how we can live together… I think it’s an intent to do something different.”

The resources are centred on a 480-page book, broken into five parts; the first sets questions “about human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage”, the second makes observations about today’s society and its relationship with these issues, the third interprets them from a Christian perspective, the fourth looks at what it means to be “Christlike”.

The final section lays out conversations between people involved in the project discussing their differing viewpoints.

Alongside the book, the “learning hub” includes a series of short films, podcasts and a course which can be completed by church groups who want to engage with the resources.