Deleted sex scenes from Living in Love and Faith (3)

I’ve explained what these pieces represent, in the first post of the series. So here is another. In terms of trying to condense a huge topic into a few accessible words, this one was the biggest challenge. But I wanted to get across the point that ‘science’ is not neutral, that biological differences have been read in social terms, and that science is contested.

The history of biology 

While ‘sex’ is commonly used for biology and ‘gender’ for social roles, it’s clear from history that things are more complicated. 

Blood has long been seen as a key bodily fluid. In medieval and early modern medicine, it was one of the ‘four humours’, which could cause disease if there was an excess; the amount in the body could be controlled by diet and regulated by bloodletting. Menstrual blood was considered to be the result of women having more spongy flesh which took up more fluid from their diet, and many disorders in women were attributed to menstrual blood accumulating in the wrong place. By the nineteenth century, those arguing against women’s education suggested that too much use of the mind would deprive the womb of the blood needed to make a baby. Ideas about gender roles clearly influenced how biology was seen.

In the early twentieth century, when blood chemistry was still developing as an area of medicine, differences between men’s and women’s blood were noted. On average, women had lower levels of haemoglobin and of calcium. These biological differences were quickly interpreted in social terms. Women’s lower haemoglobin meant they should not exert themselves too much: their lower calcium made them more ‘highly strung’ and less ‘stable’. In England, those interpretations were then used by a 1923 Board of Education report into whether boys and girls should have the same school curriculum. The report was evidence of concern about the risk of ‘physical fatigue and nervous overstrain’ in girls, and it was recommended that they should be set less homework because it was assumed that they would also be doing domestic duties at home. The report drew on the second edition of Dr William Blair Bell’s book The Sex Complex, published in 1921, on the effects of puberty on both sexes, although the authors noted that this was ‘not yet generally accepted by physiologists’. 

Posted in Church of England and gender, Living in Love and Faith | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

LLF and IICSA, revisited (updated 20 November 2020)

Back in October, I blogged for Via Media on the lack of connection between Living in Love and Faith (just published) and IICSA (published in October). I called for the Church of England to ‘connect the dots’: to recognise that the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not a separate topic from the questions around sexuality and gender identity that prompted ‘Living in Love and Faith’.

In that blog post, I asked whether the LLF resources were reviewed by the National Safeguarding Team, as the Archbishop of Canterbury had said they would be “to ensure that they sufficiently address safeguarding issues”. I still don’t know the answer to that. I raised the points made in the IICSA hearings, that not being able to be open about your sexuality contributes to a culture of secrecy which has effects on the reporting of abuse, and that the church has a record of being confused about what is and what is not an appropriate same-sex relationship.

So now LLF is out: does it show evidence of learning from IICSA? The short answer is “No.”

At the July 2019 General Synod, the Bishop of Coventry answered a question about whether LLF would learn from the IICSA hearings by saying that

The purpose of the Living in Love and Faith resources is primarily educational: the plan is for the resources to be widely used by parishes, deaneries, dioceses, the House and College of Bishops and members of General Synod to enable teaching and learning. In this way LLF will demonstrate its learning from the IICSA process by promoting a culture of mutual respect, clarity, openness and transparency across the Church in relation to matters of human identity, sexuality, gender and marriage. It will also provide appropriate correctives to misinformation about human sexuality and identity.” 

There is, however, only one reference to IICSA in the LLF book: a textbox on page 87. This doesn’t engage with IICSA, or “demonstrate its learning” from it. Obviously the final report was only published a month before LLF came out, but as the transcripts of the hearings and an interim report were issued in 2018, and as I had asked questions about the connections between IICSA and LLF throughout the LLF process, I am disappointed to find the following sentence in the p.87 textbox:

“While acknowledging the reality of abuse in the church, it is important that the specific work of theological reflection on IICSA be carried out separately from the Living in Love and Faith project, and, importantly, together with victims, with great pastoral sensitivity and only after the findings of IICSA have been carefully assessed.”

This is not about learning from IICSA. It’s about making a case for separation from it. It suggests a future process of “reflection” at some point in the future. When? By whom?

I am updating this post as a result of reading the published answers to questions to the November 2020 General Synod, just released. In answer to Jayne Ozanne’s question (Q.61) about safeguarding changes made by the House of Bishops to prevent similar situations to that which led to the death of Peter Farquhar, the Bishop of Huddersfield replied that

The Living in Love and Faith work will seek to consult and engage safeguarding perspectives in its ongoing work. 

In answer to a further question (Q.63) about implementing the independent reviewer’s recommendations concerning the same case, the Bishop of London replied

One of the ways in which Bishops will promote implementation of these recommendations is by encouraging the whole church to engage with the LLF resources.

She also replied to Q.65, this time saying that

the LLF Next Steps Group will work collaboratively with the National Safeguarding Team to ensure these lessons are incorporated into both LLF and safeguarding development work.

Does any of that answer my question about whether the National Safeguarding Team saw the LLF materials before publication? No. The message seems to be that, if the whole church (?!) engages with the LLF resources, this will enact the independent reviewer’s recommendations. At the same time, safeguarding perspectives will be brought into the LLF reception process; which is interesting, when one of the common reactions to LLF from the LGBTQI+ community seems to be that people are unhappy about taking part in group discussions because they don’t feel safe.

Finally, the Bishop of Coventry replied to another question (Q.70) in defence of keeping IICSA and LLF apart, just repeating what was said in the LLF book:

these reflections need to be carried out together with victims of sexual abuse (not talking about victims, but with victims) and only after the full published findings of IICSA had been assessed. 

Clear as mud, then. Also, strangely circular. And reflection isn’t enough. On the same day as LLF was published, the House of Bishops met. Their statements never tell us very much, but this one included a reference back to an initiative proposed in September, stating that

The House was then updated by the Bishop of Huddersfield, (Bishop for Safeguarding) and the Director of Safeguarding on a range of safeguarding matters. The House noted and agreed that progress on the Interim Support Scheme must be made by the end of the year. 

This Scheme is envisaged as a pilot project to help survivors of abuse. Progress “must be made”. I like that. Let’s hold them to it.

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Deleted sex scenes from Living in Love and Faith (2)

I’ve explained what these pieces represent, in the first post of the series. So here is another. This one summarises something I have in the ‘online library’ of working papers we wrote during the three years of LLF. That was originally written for a meeting of the College of Bishops. I had chosen the topic because in LLF there isn’t much of a sense of the sexuality of those who identify as women, and also because it meant I could discuss the support of the late nineteenth-century Church of England for a maverick surgeon who was carrying out clitoridectomies in London on girls and women who didn’t fit social expectations of their behaviour. I’ve written a short piece on him for The Conversation. I was trying both to put female sexuality on the agenda, and to illustrate the rather dodgy enthusiasm of the church for what they thought was ‘science’.

The clitoris

Much of what has been written about sexuality seems to start from assuming that the heterosexual man is the norm. This makes the clitoris a problem: is it a version of the penis, or does the penis correspond more to the vagina, something suggested by the word ‘vagina’ itself, which means the scabbard into which a sword is placed? Freud argued that healthy female sexuality was all about transferring the seat of pleasure from the clitoris to the vagina, but for most people with vaginas it is on the clitoris that sexual pleasure usually relies. 

One medical claim to have ‘discovered’ the clitoris was made by Realdus Columbus in 1559. His book, De re anatomica, described a small oblong area which, if touched, caused great pleasure. He gave it a name: “since no one has discerned these projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus.” It was seen as a worrying organ because it suggested that women had no need of men to give them pleasure. In the late 1990s research by the Australian urologist Helen O’Connell demonstrated not only that current medical textbooks gave very little information on this organ, but also that it is far larger than the illustrations suggested; rather than a small oblong, it includes erectile tissue which extends up to 9 cm from the external section.

It is often described as the only organ in the body solely devoted to pleasure, although a study published in 2019 argued that orgasm improves lubrication and vaginal blood flow, and alters the position of the cervix in a way that encourages the motility of sperm. The view that female orgasm somehow improves fertility is not new. In 1671 Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book suggested that the clitoris stimulated a woman’s imagination, which then sent a message to the woman’s ‘spermatic vessels’ to produce ‘seed’. This suggested female orgasm was necessary for conception, but the idea that women have ‘spermatic vessels’ and seed was discredited by the discovery of the ovaries.

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Deleted sex scenes from Living in Love and Faith (1)

When I met the man I went on to marry, I was less than impressed with his bookshelves. However, I observed that he had a copy of Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen. At first I was mildly alarmed, but once I realised the book carried the imprimatur of the President of the Jane Austen Society, I relaxed.

I can’t claim any similar imprimatur but, Reader, I offer you these short pieces. They were written on request for Living in Love and Faith. The rationale was the ongoing lack of history in the book, despite having had a History Thematic Working Group, to which I belonged. I happen to believe that history is important, and that many of the themes of LLF were described in ways that implied that they only emerged in the 1960s or later; that was also true in the facilitated discussions called the ‘Shared Conversations’, in which I took part. I also think that a short, accessible historical example or two can be a good way of engaging people in a discussion. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, because I’m a historian.

I shall be writing a longer piece about history elsewhere and will link to that when it is published. Meanwhile, though… I wrote these pieces but for various reasons, including ‘Comms’, they were not included.

I wrote this first one because it seemed to me that it would be useful to point out that ‘pornography’ isn’t a new phenomenon, but that some features of the modern form are particularly pernicious.

Pornography and history

Defining ‘pornography’ is very difficult, although today it often implies inequity between partners and the objectification of people. There is often no way of knowing whether images from the ancient world which today seem ‘pornographic’ were viewed in the same way at their own time. Sex manuals existed in ancient Greece, among them one attributed to a woman of the fourth century BCE, Philaenis, written ‘for those who wish to lead their life with knowledge gained scientifically’. It included advice on chat-up lines. But is a sex manual ‘pornography”? The Roman poet Ovid’s Art of Love ends by guaranteeing success at love-making to anyone who reads it; he was banished from Rome and the work banned from public libraries, but it survived and was printed in the fifteenth century. 

In both pagan and Christian moralists, only one sexual position – frontal – was seen as ‘natural’, so texts describing anything else, among them the works of Philaenis and Ovid, were denounced as licentious. In 1527 appeared an edition of a book of engravings entitled I modi, in which the poet and satirist Pietro Aretino presented poems to illustrate sixteen images of various sexual positions, modelled by couples from the ancient world such as Venus and Mars. Although the Roman Catholic church destroyed all copies of I Modi, ‘Aretino’s Positions’ became a byword for eroticism, mentioned in many publications from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. However, the message was often a political or satirical one, suggesting that the Italians were morally depraved and ‘we’ weren’t. The pattern of dressing up sexually explicit material by making it look ‘classical’ continued in an eighteenth-century publication from the art dealer Pierre-François Hugues d’Hancarville in which erotic scenes from Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars were illustrated; in one of them, the Roman emperor Tiberius is shown admiring a painting of a sexual scene from Greek myth. 

What changed in the nineteenth century was partly the medium – photography made it possible for images to be shared beyond the literate elite – but also the people involved. A photograph of a real individual, who could be someone you know, is very different from using scenes from myth and history as vehicles for explicit imagery.

So there you have it: an attempt to condense this into the right number of words for a text box. I have written at more length on some of this in a piece I published in a collection of essays edited by Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich, Sexual KnowledgeSexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality.

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Waiting for publication: the week before Living in Love and Faith

Well, there’s quite enough to think about without this. New lockdown for England, all the uncertainties about jobs and furloughs and church buildings to get our heads around, plus awaiting the election results in the US.

But next week, on 9 November, something I’ve been engaged with for a long time now finally gets to be released: Living in Love and Faith (LLF). Publication day has, like so much else, been delayed by the pandemic, but the Church of England as a whole has spent a lot on getting to this point. The cost of the preliminaries, the Shared Conversations, between September 2014 and August 2016, was announced in 2017 as £384,525. The cost of LLF, up to February 2020, was estimated as being £600,000, taken – to quote the response to a General Synod question – from “the diocesan apportionment, an Archbishops’ Council restricted fund, the Church Commissioners, and a grant from a charitable trust. These financial figures do not take into account the very substantial ‘in kind’ contributions of over 40 people to the production of the resources.” 

As one of the “over 40 people”, and one who has blogged here about various aspects of the events in General Synod which led to the LLF process, how am I feeling right now?

Pretty tired, actually. I’ve never been involved in producing an official document of the Church of England before. I suspect this will be my only experience of it. It was far more onerous in terms of time, and far more exhausting in personal terms, than I’d expected. And all this for a series of ‘resources’ which in themselves bring the church no nearer to accepting its LGBTQI+ members on equal terms: able to marry in church, to take on the same roles in congregations as anyone else, and to offer themselves for ordained ministry without having to give assurances of ‘celibacy’. The current state of play blithely ignores the usual understanding of celibacy as a vocation for some (regardless of their sexual orientation) and makes it into the only way of life acceptable for those who are lesbian or gay.

I was invited to take part in the History working group. It wasn’t clear at that point whether we’d be writing sections of the final book – and the target audience for that book shifted around between being one of two (popular/scholarly) or one for a wide audience or one to educate the bishops and other leaders – or whether someone else would summarise our materials and do the writing at the end of the time allocated.

I knew there would be meetings, but not how many: there were meetings of the group, and then full meetings of everyone involved. All were face to face although in our group we’d been very keen to meet online for some of the time. From being part of the initial small group where we had come to know each other, as the months went by I felt the project spinning away from me; in the full-day and residential meetings when we all came together, it was impossible to get a sense of what everyone else in the 40 or so people involved was doing, or why. Papers from other groups were shared on Dropbox but it was impossible for me to read everything, not just because of the amount of material but also because the material kept changing. At formal meetings, “Not everyone has seen this yet” was a common comment. There were even more meetings which meant a significant investment of time in preparation and travel; I spoke to the College of Bishops – the same talk three times, with question time – while other members of the project ran events at General Synod.

Throughout, the seven drafts which LLF passed through were circulated for comment, usually with a week, or even less, of reading time. As the final document is 468 pages, you can imagine how many hours were spent on all these drafts. In comments on one draft, I see that I wrote for one section “I feel I have read so many versions of this that I can’t face another.” At one point, a factual historical error which I’d pointed out wasn’t corrected, so I had to ask for it to be corrected on the next draft (remember, 468 pages – that’s a lot to read). I hope it will not have drifted back to the error version in the final product…

But I haven’t seen the final version of the book: nothing was sent to me after Draft 7, but I was approached for some additional ‘text boxes’. My understanding is that, in fact, these are not being used. More on that when I find out whether or not that’s the case. At the last meeting we had, we saw some of the other resources – the videos of people with a range of sexualities and gender identities – but I’ve not seen any more than that initial batch. There’s a study guide which I was sent for the first time in proof, with only 24 hours to go until its deadline for submission. 

At an initial meeting back in 2017, we’d done the dreaded post-it notes exercise, and had to write down things like “how we’d hope to feel when the document is published”. My personal notes from that day say that people were using words like authentic, honest and kindly, and I was expressing the hope that “everyone can hear their voice” in the final product. It would be interesting now to revisit that exercise, but like all such exercises it was never mentioned again. At the last meeting of the full LLF group, we were instead asked to reflect on what we had learned from being part of LLF. I suppose the post-2017 entries on this blog represent my response to that.

What would I add now on my ‘learning’? This is very personal, but that’s what this blog is about. So… 

  • That some people really like meetings and others don’t.
  • That adding on a time of worship to a meeting doesn’t make you feel better about it all.
  • That it’s very difficult to feel part of things when you’re a lay person not employed by the church: when this started, I knew only a handful of the 40 or so people and some of those were from being on General Synod a very long time ago: I left in 1993. I’ve met some people with whom I’ve made good connections, but often felt I wasn’t part of the general chatter and bonhomie. 
  • That my own feelings of exclusion and not being heard were nothing compared to the way all this could feel to those who are LGBTQI+; required to be the object of discussion at the same time as allegedly being full members of the group doing the discussing.

When I’ve seen the final products of those years of work, I’ll write more.

(updated 5 November to correct the number of pages, when the final version reached me, and 9 November, to show my collapsing copy: no, it isn’t supposed to be loose-leaf)

Posted in Episcopal Teaching Document, Living in Love and Faith, Shared Conversations | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


Here we are in late August at the point in The Time of Covid-19 which may come to be known as The Stopping and Starting. I’m finding it difficult; despite evidence of lower numbers of deaths here from The Thing, the last two weeks have felt more worrying than the previous months. Any illusion of a slow but steady easing of rules as we progress towards a resumption of the Old Normal is slipping away as local lockdowns become more common and quarantine periods are imposed with only a day or so given as notice. Even New Zealand, once proudly free of The Thing, now has cases again. Plus there’s the weather; it makes me realise that what has been manageable in warm dry conditions is going to feel very different when it’s cold, dark and dismal out there. When I’ve aired these feelings in conversation, many have agreed, and have even been grateful that I’ve voiced this so that they know it’s not just them.

Dislocation, in physical terms, is when the ends of your bones are forced out of their normal positions, and your joint is immobilised. And it hurts. I think there’s a mental equivalent, and I had a moment of it last week. We went for tea and cake at a familiar local venue which doesn’t require bookings. Social media had suggested that this venue – which has lots of open-air seating, some of it under a canopy – is well-run and safe. And it is: you have to sanitise and then to give your details to a visored staff member before they’ll lift up the rope and let you in. Ordering is online or you can go in and take a look, using the one-way system. Outside there are arrows and new boundaries between seating areas. It was great: but as I started my cake I had a moment of dislocation. I’ve been to this place so many times, with family and friends. On the surface, it is very, very familiar. Yet so much of it was unfamiliar, and it felt like the remembered place was trying to break through the current reality. I’ve had this feeling before; for example, in going to an academic library where they completely refurbished the familiar reading room and added on a modern extension, and where my many years of knowing the old system kept coming to the surface as I negotiated the new building.

Let’s just dwell for a moment on the booking system, from which that café is mercifully free. One of the aspects of The Time of Covid-19 which I’ve found particularly challenging is the need to plan. Book a table for a meal (for the record, I have eaten out precisely 6 times since March). Book a slot for an English Heritage or National Trust visit (I’ve done more than 6 of those). Book to go to church (so far, not done that). Today on Church Coffee Zoom someone with family members who were shielding was saying how the life of bookings doesn’t work for her, because she never knows if it’s a good day until the day itself. This conversation reminded me of Kathy Charmaz’s book Good Days, Bad Days (1991) which looks at the way perceptions both of time and of the self change as a result of chronic illness.

After several conversations last week, I’m wondering if Charmaz’s work applies to all of us in The Time of Covid-19. Plenty of people are suffering a different kind of ‘dislocation’ as their homes become their offices while they live on Zoom and Teams; their weeks still have structure but what they do is still very different. But many of us have lost our grip on time; the regular commitments which punctuated our weeks have gone and our calendars are empty. The middle days of the week seem particularly difficult to grasp. As for the year, in my town the end of summer is usually marked by a huge, free, music festival on the weekend after the August Bank Holiday. This conveniently happened at the end of our garden. It was an occasion for friends and family to descend on us to join in, and for festival food to replace normal meals for three days. No more.

Time, both week by week and across the annual cycle, has other meanings now. What about Charmaz’s other focus: the self? In another conversation last week, someone said that what she most disliked was that she felt she had become a different person. Specifically, this applied to shopping. From buying bits and pieces as needed, she has been transformed into someone who secures her supermarket delivery or click ‘n’ collect slot and then decides well in advance what she needs and, as soon as one ‘shop’ is complete, she then plans the next one. I identified strongly with what she said. Again, it’s that lack of spontaneity. I know we are very fortunate here in that we aren’t particularly restricted by our incomes in terms of what we can afford; we aren’t relying on food banks. We have a garden and can invite a few people into it. But just because there are other ways that the self can be threatened doesn’t make this one less significant to those who experience it.

One of the punctuating points of my week used to be attending church on Sundays. I’ve posted elsewhere about how I took my mother on a lockdown tour of churches she knew, to see what they were all up to. My mother has since died. At my church, things have now moved; from pre-recorded in people’s homes, to live streaming from the church building. I haven’t been back yet. I thought that my faith needed the Eucharist, and before The Time of Covid-19 I regarded non-eucharistic services as somehow ‘not really worship’. Clearly for some in our congregation this is still their position as, despite the lack of congregational singing (we have organ + cantor + invitation to hum along) and despite the oddity of communion in one kind delivered to your hand by a masked and visored celebrant using gloves and tweezers, they want to go every Sunday.

In terms of time, yes, Sunday is still when I (virtually) go to church, although it may be a service other than the one at ‘my’ church. Last week I went to the church I used to attend in Vienna, because it came up on my Facebook page at breakfast time. I have less sense of the church’s year, because I’m not seeing the liturgical colours every week and Easter wasn’t anything like it usually is, and I may be peeling vegetables while ‘being at church’. I normally go to the Church Coffee Zoom, because although the full screen of people can feel very falsely positive about everything, when we are sent to breakout rooms of 4 or 5 people there may be deeper conversation. Sometimes I go to several online services, maybe fast-forwarding through the hymns. I usually stick around for the sermon, which is how a couple of weeks ago I found the most helpful piece I’ve heard since all this started, by the Bishop of Reading, Olivia Graham.

+Olivia acknowledged the disruption we are feeling and linked the current stage of the pandemic to ordinary time and to the hard work of dying. Her sermon acknowledged instability and looked at how we’ve shifted from the drama of the ‘acute’ stage of this pandemic to the long haul of what she called the ‘dull ordinariness’ of the ‘chronic’. She reminded me that I need to stay as far as I can in the present moment. At some point, I suppose I will be back in the building doing what someone at Church Coffee Zoom referred to as ‘real church’, a label I’d resist. I suspect that here, too, the remembered place will try to break through the current reality, and I’ll feel disoriented and it will hurt. But that is ‘then’, and this is ‘now’, and what matters is what’s important ‘now’.

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Stopping: and starting?

After several years in which it has played a major part in my life, as of 29 April the ‘Living in Love and Faith process’ (LLF) has now officially been put on hold. Those of us on the various working groups were sent the press release when it went live, although the official website has yet to be updated and as of today is still saying ‘The goal is to complete the Living in Love and Faith resources by early 2020.’ We had been told just before Easter that the plan was to pause the project; until then, we had understood that the book would be finished in April with just a little more work to be done on the online resources, such as podcasts and videos of people describing their own faith and experience, some of which we watched at our last meeting in February.

Why the delay? Originally the publication date was focused on the Lambeth Conference – it was to be ‘a gift to Lambeth’, an odd image which to me evoked wrapping paper, bows, and disappointment – but when Lambeth was postponed until Summer 2021, doubts immediately arose about whether it was worth getting the present ready.  Yet despite it being made abundantly clear to us that the whole timetable was being driven by this desire to ‘gift’ LLF to the Anglican Communion, the press release utterly fails to mention the Lambeth Conference, but instead observes that

the Church’s focus is now on ministering to people who are experiencing so many challenges – of bereavement, sickness, isolation, uncertainty about livelihood and fear for what the future holds. That is why we have decided to delay the publication of the resources.

That feels rather odd to me. Yes, that is the focus of the Church of England as well as of other faith communities and of many, many people who would not associate themselves with a faith.

But … while some aspects of Church of England life have been put on hold because of COVID-19, others have not. We imminently expect an announcement about whether the July 2020 General Synod will go ahead (surely not), and about the elections to the next GS which are supposedly in our minds even now as we elect reps for deanery synod at our Annual Parochial Church Meetings. Except we aren’t holding those meetings, and in my diocese the Bishop has extended the deadline for them to the end of October 2020. On hold, but with what for the moment is a firm end date.

Other aspects are not on hold. One of the first comments I saw on the delay to LLF asked whether the bishops had heard of working from home. Indeed, and if all that is needing to be completed are the podcasts then there shouldn’t be any problem in producing these without a physical meeting. The Church of England is clearly managing to maintain other activities by using online methods. Jobs are being advertised and posts filled. Webinars are replacing face-to-face training. BAPs – selection conferences for potential priests – are going ahead by Zoom. PCCs are meeting online. Books are being published, podcasts released, and book discussion groups are happening in parishes. Yes, there’s the problem of inequality of access to internet resources, but also an online discussion can bring in those who have the internet but are housebound or don’t like to go out in the evenings.

So when should we expect the LLF resources? What surprises me in the press release is the absence of any provisional revised timetable. Instead we have

we will monitor the situation to discern when might be the earliest appropriate time to publish the long-awaited LLF resources and thereby launch the process of whole-church engagement

and a comment about the resources coming out

when the time is right.

Am I the only one who feels uneasy about that phrase? Having lived through the debate about ordaining women to the priesthood, in the 1980-90s, it feels worryingly familiar. Who will discern the kairos, the moment of opportunity and rightness, for the rest of us?

The absence of any hoped-for timings contrasts with another delay announced in the last few days, for the review into the serial abuser John Smyth which has been delayed ‘into 2021’. But for this, COVID-19 is not being held responsible; instead, it’s because of the ‘wider than anticipated’ amount of evidence received by the reviewers and the complexity of having several different reviews by different organisations happening at around the same time. Yes, the press release mentions ‘any impact the COVID-19 restrictions may have’, but that is not given as the main reason.

The absence of any movement on LLF is painful, because those of us who will be most affected by the resources’ discussion of the ‘way forward for the Church in relation to questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage’ are also being affected by the ‘so many challenges’ of yesterday’s press release, and in a very specific way. On 17 April the UN Human Rights Office published guidance on their concerns about the impact of the current crisis on LGBTI people. In the UK, the LGBT Foundation has also looked at the impact COVID-19 has on the community and has observed a 30% increase in calls about domestic abuse or violence to its helpline. And then there are the specifically ‘Church of England’ aspects. I know at the moment nobody can get married, in church or elsewhere, but for straight people that’s temporary: what if you are someone who longs to marry your partner in church but can’t because of their sex? What if you are in a marriage which the state supports but your church does not? What if you would simply like your church to bless your civil marriage? What if you are exploring a call to ordination but can’t take it any further without lying about your sexuality? No Zoom selection conference for you…

I really, really want to believe that this is just going to be a short delay and we’ll all get the opportunity in a few months’ time to read and engage with the LLF resources, and to start moving towards testing the mind of the Church of England and then of General Synod for possible change. But I’m not sure I can believe it, not without some intended release date. The ‘challenges’ which some people live with are being seen as more important than those facing others. Something here doesn’t add up: or, it adds up to institutional abuse.


UPDATE: in June it was announced that the resources will be released in November 2020

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Bishops to show us the way

Today, the story trending on Twitter is that Phillip Schofield has come out as gay, at the age of 57. He has spoken movingly and passionately about the damage that concealment was doing to him and said that ‘all you can be in your life is honest with yourself’. He insisted that the timing was his decision; in other words, that he wasn’t doing this to preempt some sort of outing. This made me think once more about the current House of Bishops.

The previous day, I’d happened to hear again Flanders’ and Swann’s A Song of Patriotic Prejudice (1963). If you haven’t heard it, or just haven’t heard it for a long time, it’s worth a listen in the aftermath of the first stage of Brexit, not least for the the ‘Scotsman’ who ‘hasn’t got bishops to show him the way’. In his introduction, Michael Flanders presented it as an attempt to write a national song for England. He said

in the old days, you know the good old days when I was a boy, people didn’t, we didn’t bother in England about nationalism. I mean, nationalism was on its way out. We’d got pretty well everything we wanted. And we didn’t go around saying how marvelous we were – everybody knew that – any more than we bothered to put our names on our stamps. I mean, there’s only two kinds of stamps: English stamps, in sets at the beginning of the album, and foreign stamps all mixed at the other end.

When listening to the song now, its original humour and satire don’t really work. Is it funny, or do the national stereotypes feel so uncomfortable that a laugh isn’t the right response?

That line about bishops feels particularly odd in the fallout after the House of Bishops (un)Pastoral Statement and the minimalist apology from the archbishops, about which I’ve co-written a blog post for Via Media. Is this ‘showing us the way’? It does seem very odd to me that a statement like that could come out of a group who’ve been having sessions on the process of LLF for years now. That word ‘pastoral’ in particular: there have been attempts to suggest that we silly people didn’t understand that ‘pastoral’ has a special technical meaning here and that this somehow exempts the statement from its absence of any sense of understanding the flock to which it is apparently addressed. Well, in that case, how come LLF includes a Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG)? I’ve met them as part of LLF. One of them was a complete star when I had a tearful meltdown during a residential meeting; I say ‘star’ because they made the point that I could just withdraw from the whole process and everyone would fully understand and would thank me for what I had been able to contribute. Hearing that ‘permission’ helped me to stay on.

So, were they involved in issuing something that claimed to be ‘Pastoral’? PAG issued their ‘pastoral principles‘ last year. They are

  • acknowledge prejudice
  • speak into silence
  • address ignorance
  • cast out fear
  • admit hypocrisy
  • pay attention to power

Excellent stuff. These principles have been commended to parishes. ‘Admit hypocrisy’ includes ‘We do not commend intrusive questioning’ – yet the (un)Pastoral Statement states

Members of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter into civil partnerships must expect to be asked for assurances that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.

Issues in Human Sexuality, 1991: the document which states that the laity can, but the clergy can’t, ‘claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships’ (p.45). The report rejected the proposal ‘that bishops should be more rigorous in searching out and exposing clergy who may be in sexually active homophile relationships’ (pp.45-6), mentioned clergy ‘who feel it is their duty to come out, that is, to make known publicly either their orientation or their practice’ (p.46), but had a problem with those ‘who are themselves in active homophile partnerships, and who come out as a matter of personal integrity’ (p.46). So how ‘rigorous’ is that ‘searching out and exposing’ to be? Diocesan Directors of Ordinands currently have to check that those recommended for training will ‘live within the guidelines’ of Issues, shorthand for ‘it’s OK to be gay but only if you’re not “sexually active”‘. With its expectation of ‘asking for assurances’, this new (un)Pastoral Statement is continuing that tradition of asking questions about what goes on in the bedroom. Yet the pastoral principles include ‘We do not commend intrusive questioning’…

And as for bishops showing us the way, the only ‘out’ bishop remains Nicholas Chamberlain, Bishop of Grantham, who is on PAG. When he came out and announced that he was in a relationship, he received hundreds of letters, overwhelmingly supportive. Many people in the Church of England know that he is not the only gay in our village. Outing bishops, as practised just this week in Private Eye, is wrong: the timing must be their decision. But hypocrisy is also wrong. That PAG pastoral principles list, again under ‘Admit hypocrisy’, asked parishes the question

Can it be right that there are situations where people who might wish to be open about their sexual orientation feel forced to dissemble, or when parishes find themselves evading issues of sexuality?

A House and a College of Bishops containing people who conceal their sexuality and yet endorse statements which condemn their own relationships: how does that help us to trust them? Is this the only ‘way’ they will show us?

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How not to be pastoral: the bishops’ new statement on civil partnerships

Once again, it’s all about sex. Whatever we mean by that. A recent article in The Independent headlined ‘The sex-obsessed Church of England is digging its own grave‘ included the comment that the Church is ‘intent not just on digging its own grave but also pausing on the way there to smack itself in the face with the spade’. This was one response to the statement the House of Bishops issued this week giving the official view on civil partnerships and their extension to heterosexual couples. As Ann Reddecliffe has noticed in a thread on Thinking Anglicans, and a fuller blog post discusses, this new document just copies sections of the 2005 guidance on civil partnerships. That too was called a ‘pastoral statement’. Doing a ‘compare and contrast’ between the 2005 and 2020 documents is instructive, and they feel less and less ‘pastoral’ the more one looks at them.

Procreation or the possibility of procreation is very important in the 2020 document. With apparently no recognition that things ever change in the Church of England, as in 2005 the bishops use the 1662 Prayer Book for its summary of what it teaches on marriage; this list puts ‘the procreation of children’ in top place, with ‘a remedy against sin’ and ‘mutual society, help and comfort’ in third place. I am assuming bishops go to weddings, where they would have seen from the 1970s ‘mutual society’ being mentioned first. 

Before saying anything more about the new document, let’s just explore one section where a change has been made from the previous one. I don’t think this change has previously been discussed. In the 2005 version, it occurs in section 2: marriage ‘continues to provide the best context for the raising of children’. In 2020 (section 7) this has become: ‘We believe that [marriage] continues to provide the best context for the raising of children, although it is not the only context that can be of benefit to children, especially where the alternative may be long periods in institutional care.’ Spot the difference?

To me, this change reads like a desperate attempt to insert the ‘pastoral’. But it fails miserably. It reads like somebody has said, at a late stage of drafting, ‘Oh dear, we don’t want this to sound like we think children of an unmarried couple should be taken into care’ and then this was added on. This comes across not as inclusive (a ‘radical new inclusion’ as promised?) but as an insult to those assumed to be ‘second-best’ parents. Unmarried parents; a divorced person raising a child alone; relatives raising a niece, a nephew, a grandchild; a lesbian couple raising the children from a previous marriage which one partner brought to their relationship; a gay couple with a much-wanted, much-loved child conceived by surrogate… and so it goes on. This mealy-mouthed ‘pastoral’ statement tells them that their selfless love ‘can be of benefit’. Well, thanks very much, Church of England. While we’re at it, I think the phrasing here is also pretty insulting to those who work in providing institutional care.

There is much else that is wrong with this Unpastoral Statement. The timing: issued just after we’ve been able to watch the TV summaries of the Church of England hierarchy’s failure to respond appropriately to terrible examples of sexual abuse, and just before the long process of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) publishes its resources for discussion of equal marriage, the nature of sexuality and gender identity. The prurience: the continued assumption that clergy need to pry, so that faced with a couple asking for ‘prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership’ they need to consider this in ‘the light of the circumstances of each case’; is this CP a sexually abstinent ‘friendship’ or something else?

Part of LLF is a Pastoral Advisory Group. Last year it established its ‘pastoral principles‘, stating that these ‘are about encouraging churches to offer a welcome that is Christ-centred, that sees difference as a gift rather than a problem, and that builds trust and models generosity’. Trust? Generosity? Where are these in the Unpastoral Statement?



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Fight the good fight(s): the ordination of women and the human sexuality debate

I was struck recently by how all the celebratory pieces I was reading about the 25th anniversary of women priests were written from the point of view of those women whose vocations to priesthood were doubted (for many centuries) but then eventually recognised. While I could obviously understand why they were celebrating, the ordination of women was not just for women who felt called to ordination! So I offered WATCH (Women and the Church, the group that monitors what has happened since) a piece on how it felt from the point of view of a lay woman and this is the result. It turned out they’d tried to get a lay perspective but hadn’t managed it, so that worked out very well.

I think much of what I wrote is equally applicable to the current debates on human sexuality. For example, in my WATCH piece I wrote: “Yet the assumption of many people, in the church and beyond, was always that I was fighting this fight for myself. And, much as I deplore the language of victory and defeat, of us and them, it was a fight. I remember a televised debate from All Souls, Langham Place in which one speaker argued that women could not be ordained because of menstruation; this sort of approach made it very clear to me that there was far more at stake here than the role of priest.”

Menstruation: now there’s an area where I can contribute personal experience but also a different kind of ‘expertise’, as I wrote my PhD on ancient Greek menstruation. And why was I interested in the topic historically? Because of my particularly bad experiences of my own body… Yes, it’s circular, even if at the time I submitted the PhD thesis (1985) the ‘personal voice’ wasn’t a thing in classical scholarship so at that point I wasn’t going to say just how personal this subject was to me. Looking back, it was never any stirrings of a vocation to priesthood which made me campaign for the ordination of women; it was the theological moment of realising that it was Jesus’ humanity not his maleness that mattered, meshed with the awareness of how women’s embodiment has been systematically trashed throughout western history.

Personal experience comes in many different forms. As a lay woman who didn’t feel any call to priesthood I had a role in the discussion of the ordination of women, and as a cis-het woman I believe I have a role in the discussion of equality for lgbtiq+ people in our churches. In both situations, there has been a long history of exclusion, and even of doubting the full humanity of some people. In both situations, some of us are invested because of who we are: others are allies. But both are needed. Whether we fight for ourselves or for our sisters and our brothers, we fight on. Ah, that language again: I wonder why we are so scared of it? ‘Living in Love and Faith’: let’s lay hold on the ‘life’ part of that title.

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Posted in Church of England and gender, Living in Love and Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments