‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’
(1 John 4.18)
The Living in Love and Faith trailer film begins with the words ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’. Some fear that, with LLF, nothing has changed. Perhaps nothing has changed, but something important definitely is changing; namely the way in which the Church of England discusses, and responds to, sexualities and identities. The ways in which LLF differs from previous episcopal teaching documents matters.
Do I think that LLF is perfect, or agree with every sentence it contains? Of course not. I had many difficult experiences during LLF, as well as many positive ones. The process was problematic. This blog is certainly not a defence of the LLF process, or any other process. I note, though, that I’ve yet to take part in any process, in any denomination or organisation, that wasn’t problematic. Processes, in their attempts to systematise lived experiences and lead to a decision or product are, by definition, problematic. I also do understand why many are tired of talking. I wonder, though, whose voices are yet to be heard?
I’d like to take a moment to point out the newness of an Episcopal teaching document that…
– Is built on Pastoral Principles that prioritise safety and authenticity.
– Starts with a clear personal and collective apology from ++ Justin and acknowledges the Church of England’s sinful failure to love LGBTQ+ people. (p.iv)
– Repeatedly and directly acknowledges disagreement amongst bishops, for the first time ever, rather than offering apparently unilateral teaching. (see p.2)
– Pays attention to scripture, history, science, theology, tradition, context, and lived experience throughout. (see pp.30-38)
– Repeatedly questions the status quo and offers new possibilities. (throughout)
– Asks what you think, with a genuine desire to hear answers:
‘we appeal to you to join us in the period of discernment that follows their publication. The timetable for this discernment and decision-making process can be found at http://www.churchofengland.org/LLF.’ (from Bishops Invitation)
I am writing this blog primarily because I have been asked lots of questions about LLF during my time in the LLF process, and chose not to answer them until the teaching documents and resources were released. Here are my answers to some of those questions.
‘If all were a single member, where would the body be?’
(1 Cor. 12.19)
Were you listened to during the LLF project?
Yes. I was always listened to when I spoke. When there was disagreement, I was usually encouraged to respond. I was regularly asked for my opinion. People who might usually disagree with me sat with me at meal tables and listened as I shared my story. Did that mean no compromises? Of course not. I believe that it was essential that this material encompassed a range of views. I do believe, however, that the resulting materials have been positively impacted by the LGBTQ+ people involved.
But didn’t some people get hurt? Why didn’t you just say no?
Yes. It is always very difficult to join a project part way through when others have been hurt. I have enormous respect for those who have been hurt by LLF, some of whom are colleagues, friends, and kin. I can’t comment directly on anything that happened when I was not there, but I do think that it is utterly wrong for anyone to be hurt by the church, ever. However, I was recommended, and encouraged, to participate in the project by some of those who had been hurt by it. Would it have been right to say no, and leave the project with no trans representation? I don’t feel that that is the case.
Were there enough LGBTQ+ people involved in the LLF project?
It’s clear that there could have been more out LGBTQ+ people in the Co-Ordinating Group, particular those who openly identify as lesbian or bisexual. I would point out, however, that there were a lot of people involved with a wide range of identities. I encourage you to have a look at the LLF encounter films, podcasts, and stories which include a wide range of LGBTQ+ people. 2/3 of the people you will meet in the films and the stories that pepper the book identify as LGBTQ+. I believe that those resources are ground-breaking in their breadth, depth and quality, and deserve to be well-used. If those aren’t your cup of tea, have a look at the online library, which includes academic perspectives from queer theory. I feel that it is vital that LGBTQ+ voices are heard in these resources, as well as a wide range of other voices, and I believe that they are.
You’re not a Church of England member, isn’t that a problem?
I was asked to be involved by several members of the Church of England. I believe that it was helpful for the process to include an ecumenical perspective. I also question what is meant by ‘membership’ of the Church of England. I was confirmed in the Church of England in 2010, at the same time as being brought into formal membership of the United Reformed Church (having been an adherent for some years). My confirmation was at a four-way ecumenical church which, at the time, enjoyed ministry from two Church of England priests and one United Reformed Church minister. I have also been a congregation member at a diverse range of churches, including several that are part of the Church of England. I am now a minister in the United Reformed Church, having learnt much about all UK denominations in my discernment and training for ministry. I think that those facts are just one example of the wonderful unity and diversity of Christian denominations.
The United Reformed Church already does equal marriage though, doesn’t it?
No. There is no such thing as equal marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 does not make marriage equal for everyone. Some vital issues remain regarding marriage equality for trans people and for disabled people. Trans people are caused great pain and difficulty by the unnecessary intertwinement of the above act and the Gender Recognition Act, which effects our human rights.
It is also inaccurate to suggest that the URC made a unilateral decision about marriage. The URC did not come to a single mind on same sex marriage. Instead, we enabled individual congregations to make their own decision. The ability and decision to do that is intertwined with our partially congregational identity.
I wish, however, that we had also had processes through which church ministers and members were enabled and encouraged to learn more about the breadth and diversity of LGBTQ+ identities and, as a result, to become more inclusive, accessible, affirming and just. For many LGBTQ+ people ‘in the pews’, that would have had a far greater impact than same sex marriage.
Why more talking, more statements, and no decision? Are you disappointed? Isn’t this just kicking things into the long grass?
I want to stress that same sex marriage is not the only thing required for LGBTQ+ equity and justice in the church. Many churches and many Christians, in many denominations, still treat LGBTQ+ people in horrific ways, and spiritual abuse of LGBTQ+ people is still horrifically common. Simply enabling marriage is not the same thing as changing the way that LGBTQ+ people are treated in the church and, indeed, the world.
I strongly believe that well-facilitated dialogue is as important as decisions. Why? Because I don’t believe that any UK denomination has enabled proper dialogue between LGBTQ+ people and our critics. I have directly witnessed, and experienced, the harm that is being done because of that. I have experienced the way in which that harm increases when decisions are taken without widespread engagement. Marriage is a part of the journey for some LGBTQ+ people. Experiences of oppression, injustice and abuse are, devastatingly, part of the journey for most LGBTQ+ people. Until that is no longer the case, we are not yet equal.
Having said that, it is clear that a decision, or indeed several decisions, will need to follow this period of dialogue and I believe that they will. There is a clear, publicly available timetable for discernment and decision making, which does not equate to kicking decisions into the long grass. It is vital that a wide range of LGBTQ+ people, as well as others, take part in that process of discernment, and do not simply wait until the point of decision making. Yes, LLF is more talking, but it is talking in a different way, a way that will, I hope, enable genuine, much needed change.
So, what now?
We, the LLF groups, have created and compiled a suite of resources that are intended to enable genuine dialogue and discernment about sexuality and gender identity throughout the Church of England.
The Bishops write that:
‘We desire greatly that the whole Church of England will take part in this period of discernment.’ – p.316
You can access the LLF teaching document and all of the resources free of charge at:
I know that some of you who already know what they think about same sex marriage intend to boycott these resources. I understand why, trust me, I am tired too. Could I encourage you, though, to just take a look at the encounter films and online library before you walk away? This is a discussion that LGBTQ+ people need to help shape. If we don’t, others will. Our voices are starting to be heard, and that matters so, so much. Now is not the time to stop speaking out. Whatever you might think of this process, please do not allow it to silence you.
As for me, my part in this process has come to an end with the publication of the LLF document and resources. From here on in, this is about you, how you engage, what you choose to do. I, and many others, will be holding the Next Steps Group and the whole of the Church of England in prayer.
‘In God’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.’
God, our creator and parent, we dare to believe that you created every single one of us in your image, help us to be your body in this divided world.
Jesus, our kin and companion, we dare to believe that you suffered oppression and death with us, help us to find transformative new life.
Spirit, our inspiration and guide, we dare to believe that you move amongst us, even now, help us to move forward in creative and bold new ways.
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we offer this prayer,