Church of England facing LGBTQ+ ‘safeguarding’ crisis due to internal homophobia
Gay evangelical Jayne Ozanne has said the Church of England is facing a safeguarding crisis for LGBTQ+ youth, and hopes her high-profile resignation from the General Synod will lead to significant action.
Speaking to PinkNews, the campaigner said recent discussions at the Church’s national assembly – where the topic of same-sex blessings was debated – “shocked a lot of people” because the “level of homophobic abuse was so obvious”.
She went on to say: “People have now finally started to wake up to what it must be like for young LGBTQ+ people in some churches, and they are finally beginning to realise we really are facing a safeguarding issue that nobody’s wanted to prioritise before.”
A spokesperson for the Church of England told PinkNews it is “committed to respecting differences of opinion” among its members.
“For many, the move to introduce blessings for same-sex couples in the Church of England is greatly welcome. We know also that for some it is a step far too far, and for others it doesn’t go far enough,” they said.
“There are many on both sides of the debate who feel very hurt, which the General Synod has acknowledged, while lamenting and repenting of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and of the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church.
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“While deep differences exist across the church, we are committed to respecting and living with differences of opinion and with positions that are held in good conscience, consistent with our Anglican identity.”
Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, a former government adviser and conversion therapy survivor, quit the General Synod with immediate effect last week.
The decision to step aside came after the Church of England voted – begrudgingly in her words – to trial blessing services for same-sex couples.
“The cost of being involved in this really abusive debate has been personally very high and I couldn’t see things changing,” she said.
“I chose to stay until we had secured some concrete next step, which I believe we did this week.
“But it’s a very small, begrudging step and it doesn’t address the core issue [in the Church], which is whether sex outside marriage is a salvation issue.”
While Ozanne had been mulling over the decision to step aside for more than a year, her resignation was prompted by recent events that confirmed to her that she “can no longer, in all conscience, stay in an institution which continues to condone the abuse of [LGBTQ+] people”.
At the beginning of November, she attended a meeting at Lambeth Palace – the official residence of the archbishop of Canterbury – with other campaigners involved in the Church of England’s introduction of same-sex blessings.
Speaking to The Telegraph, she said the meeting left her in “floods of tears” after archbishop Justin Welby opened with a disturbing parallel between gay people and “militia leaders who had killed tens of thousands of people”, where she claimed he said: “If they were not a problem, of course, we wouldn’t be either.”
In her resignation letter to the archbishop, Ozanne wrote that the bishops’ “unity at any cost” agenda is “highly abusive” and constitutes a “major safeguarding failure”.
In response, Welby said he was sorry to see her leave, but respected her decision and would pass on her allegations of abuse to the relevant safeguarding authority.
Although Ozanne sees herself as resilient and knows her role as a campaigner is to “stand against the storm”, she admitted there is “only so much I can stand against” and does not feel there is much more she can do from within the Church.
Instead, she wants to focus her efforts on holding the government to account – such as over the continued lack of a ban on conversion therapy.
In the days following Ozanne’s decision to step away from the General Synod, she has been “bowled over” by the level of support she has received from Christians across the board and the wider LGBTQ+ community.
“I think the general feeling is people are very grateful for the work I’ve done over the years, but they can understand why it’s taken its toll,” she said.
There is concern about who is “going to take up the challenge going forward” but she believes “that one needs to step aside at times and make space for new voices”.
In a message to LGBTQ+ youngsters, who may be part of church communities that do not affirm their identities, she stated: “God loves us passionately.”
She advised young Christians to leave any church that does not affirm their LGBTQ+ identities. If, for some reason, they are unable to do so, they should take steps to protect themselves from harm.
Ozanne noted there are many “wonderful” online spaces as well as inclusive parish churches that will “celebrate and rejoice in who you are”.
And there are people out there who will “understand the challenges you’re facing, who will look to support you, succour you and give you a haven when you need it”, she added.
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