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Responding to the Lichfield Ad Clerum

Responding to the Lichfield Ad Clerum

May 30, 2018

Lee Gatiss considers a widely reported letter from bishops in Lichfield concerning the church's stance on sexuality and gender.

Lichfield Diocese have issued an Ad Clerum (a letter to the clergy) on 'Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ People' in the Diocese. It is written with some pastoral sensitivity and thoughtfulness, but also reveals some fuzzy thinking.

People of any sexual orientation or gender identity should feel welcomed and cared for in our churches. Jesus was not shy about speaking to people with all kinds of backgrounds and histories and neither should Christians be. The good news of eternal life is for all who repent and believe, whatever their starting point when they first encounter Jesus, who lovingly calls us to leave our old lives and follow him in a new direction.

When it comes to ordained ministry or taking part in baptism or communion, very great difficulty arises where people have active sexual relationships outside marriage, especially where they see those as intrinsic to their identity. The Church of England's position, which Church Society wholeheartedly supports, is that all sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage should be met not with unqualified affirmation or approval but with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. In churches every week we all pray a prayer of confession, repenting of our sins and asking for forgiveness, as we seek to do what pleases God rather than ourselves, and look to him for power to change -- it's what we do.
Transgender people deserve dignity, respect, care, and unconditional welcome in our churches as human beings created by God. Transgenderism, however, is problematic from a Christian perspective because it involves violating the biblical teaching that we should live as members of the sex that God has given to us. The general requirement that ordained people should model Christian truth in the way they live their lives makes it inappropriate for the Church to ordain someone who is going through, or who has gone through gender transition, or who identifies as gender non-binary.

Though there are some things to applaud in the Lichfield Ad Clerum, it is a pity that these things above were not taught clearly in it, at a time when loving clarity on biblical truth has never been more necessary in the church.


Reply from Bishop Rod Thomas to the Bishop of Lichfield's Ad Clerum on 'Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ People' in the Diocese

May 17, 2018

Dear Bishop Michael and members of the Lichfield College of Bishops,

Thank you very much for letting me see an early copy of the new Ad Clerum on 'Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ People' in the Diocese. I very much appreciated the pastoral sensitivity and thoughtfulness with which it was written and, like you, would want to work for a situation where people of any sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcomed and honoured in our churches. We do indeed need to model God's welcome and care for all people and challenge any perception that this is not the case in our churches. Thank you too for all the work that has gone into the listening group.

It is, of course, vital that in our pastoral care we seek to reflect God's goodness as it is revealed to us in Scripture. I thoroughly endorsed your advice that our ethical and theological views should not be concealed, although we all need to tread gently when we express them. You conclude your letter by urging that debates be conducted in a spirit of love, mutual care and respect -- and I trust this will also mark our overall approach to pastoral care.

However, I thought it might be helpful if I outlined a few concerns that arise in relation to the Ad Clerum, since some of these have a clear bearing on the advice I seek to give to clergy in parishes to which I minister. The first of these is connected with the issue of repentance. While I recognise that your Ad Clerum does not seek to deal with contested theological or ethical questions, the expressed doctrinal position of the Church does contain within it important pastoral imperatives. Canon B30 speaks of marriage between a man and a woman as the Lord's provision for 'the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections.' The 1987 General Synod motion, which remains the Church of England's official position, speaks of the need for all sexual relationships outside marriage to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. I do therefore encourage clergy to be compassionate and sensitive in dealing with the issue of repentance, but nevertheless to see it as an important part of their pastoral care.

This issue comes into focus when considering the question of participation in the Sacraments. Your letter mentions the need to let all people know that there is a place at the table for them. As part of the national church, I would fully agree that we want to encourage everyone to participate in the life of the church to the maximum extent possible. However, I wonder whether the reference to 'a place at the table' for all might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion. This understanding would create a tension with the BCP Article 25 distinction between 'worthy' and 'unworthy' participation. One of the practices in many churches is to draw attention to this distinction and to welcome those who have sought to repent and have placed their trust in Christ's atoning work on the cross; it is then up to the individual members of the congregation to decide on their participation. In this respect, the Church of England has always had the practice of 'charitable assumption.'

This approach is, I hope, one which avoids inappropriate 'exclusion' or intrusive questioning. However, there may be some private pastoral discussions where people bring issues to us which require very gentle probing in order to clarify what is involved. These conversations may well provide opportunities for participants to open the Bible together, and can lead to a number of different conclusions. In some cases they might lead to a decision not to participate in Holy Communion for the time being. In others, there might be enthusiasm for further discipleship development (as has often been the case in my own experience with heterosexual couples enquiring about the baptism of their children). In the case of those with concerns over gender identity, we know that a wide range of issues may be involved and in some cases the suggestion of counselling would be appropriate. I do hope that clergy would be supported in the help they try to give in this respect.

Your advice that nobody should be told that sexual orientation or gender identity in itself makes them unsuitable candidates for leadership in the Church is very helpful. Indeed, the way in which people acknowledge some of the challenges they face in these areas and seek to be faithful to God's Word can be great examples of godliness to all of us. That said, I would hope that those offering for ministry of any sort would see their primary identity as in Christ, rather than these aspects of their personhood. Difficulty arises where potential candidates have active sexual relationships outside marriage which are seen as intrinsic to their identity. In these cases, a fuller exploration of the consequences of discipleship may be needed before a teaching ministry can be considered, and again, I do hope that where clergy have to be involved in these difficult decisions, you would regard my support for them as appropriate.

One of the thoughts your Ad Clerum has prompted is that it might be helpful for the Diocese to be informed about some of the approaches taken in the churches to which I offer ministry about the way they seek to welcome LGBT+ people. I will ask them to let me have any information which might be helpful and I will happily pass this on to you.

With continued thanks for the open way you enable me to be involved in the life of the Diocese and every good wish,

+Rod Thomas
Bishop of Maidstone


Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ people/B>

May 9, 2018

To all clergy and licensed lay ministers in the Diocese of Lichfield
You may have heard about initiatives happening nationally in the area of human sexuality and gender identity. We are writing this letter to update you briefly on that work and then to set out how we see the Diocese of Lichfield exemplifying the "radical Christian inclusion founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it" for which our Archbishops have called.

Work is underway at the level of the Church of England nationally on a major new Teaching Document. This is intended to set out a framework for what it means to be human and sexual. It will attend faithfully to holy scripture, acknowledging its authority within the community, tradition and pastoral practice of the Church in the reality of the world. It will also attempt to use God's gifts of reason and wisdom shaped by the Spirit in order to seek and discern the mind of Christ for the Church and the world.

The Teaching Document will be a substantial piece of work drawing in scholars and interested parties from a wide variety of backgrounds; it is intended that it will report in 2020. Meanwhile, a group has been established by the Archbishops, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, on pastoral issues relating to sexuality. This group's remit is to support and advise dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to the Church's current pastoral approach to human sexuality, and the group has seen and endorses this letter. More information on both the Teaching Document and the Pastoral Advisory Group can be found on the Church of England website.

It is already clear that within the Church of England, as in other churches, there is considerable, sometimes passionate, disagreement about the theological and ethical issues involved in these matters. This disagreement is naturally to be found in our own diocese too, and as bishops we are committed to encouraging people with differing views to meet, pray and talk together.

We as bishops have been considering how in the Diocese of Lichfield we engage with people's concerns over issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Bishop Michael has convened a listening group of people with particular interest in these matters, and he is very grateful for the openness with which members of that group have shared their views and experiences with him.

The group consists of a range of people, identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, same-sex attracted, and heterosexual; single and partnered; celibate and married. Some have attended meetings in person, and some have been part of a wider corresponding group. Their feedback has helped to shape this document. And all of us as bishops have experience of listening to people from a wide range of backgrounds talk about these issues, and are committed to continue doing so.

We acknowledge that talking about human sexuality and gender identity in the Church is difficult. It means talking about our lives and the deeply personal loves and attachments that shape them, about our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God and others, and about the core convictions of our faith. These are deep issues affecting us all, whatever our gender or sexual identity. They evoke vulnerability, since these are the places where we take the risk of being open and making ourselves known, where we share our thoughts and joys and pains and desires and where we hope to find understanding, connection and nurture. Moreover, in the Church of England conversations about these matters often bear a weight of pain and distrust caused by past experiences of hurt, exclusion and misunderstanding.

In this letter we address some of the pastoral dimensions of these issues. We do not here discuss contested theological or ethical questions.In particular, in this letter we do not address the issue of blessing same-sex relationships, or of same-sex marriage. Rather, we are writing here about issues faced by all of us as we seek to live alongside others in the Church which is the Body of Christ.

Our basic principle is that all people are welcome in God's Church: everyone has a place at the table. There is no theological problem with simply providing welcome, an extension of the welcome that God continually offers to each of us. This, we believe, is the starting point of that radical Christian inclusion for which the Archbishops have called.

Such radical Christian inclusion brings practical consequences for our local churches and for our Diocese as a whole, and we highlight some of these here:

It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop's Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Those of us with preaching, teaching and pastoral responsibility need continually to be aware of the personal and sensitive nature of these issues. When speaking publicly we are likely to be talking to some who might disagree from a place of deeply held conviction central to their Christian identity. It is not enough simply to preach or teach on such sensitive topics without recognizing that our words may have a deep effect on people's lives, loves and relationships. It is not right to conceal our ethical and theological views, but we all need to tread gently when we express them and be ready to listen sensitively to those for whom our words might be difficult.
Intrusive questioning about someone's sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is almost always inappropriate. It is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith. In our pastoral ministries we may well need to listen to and talk with people about their sexual practices and desires, or their gender identity, if they bring such issues to us. We may also be asked to pray with people who for any reason are troubled by their sexual desires or practices or their gender identity. We need to be highly attentive to people when they approach us asking for counsel and prayers on these deepest aspects of their life. We must be alert to the power relations involved in such prayers and conversations, and the possibility of spiritual or emotional abuse.
We want to make clear that nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord's Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Note that in all cases excommunication is reserved to the diocesan bishop (Canon B16).
We wish to affirm that LGBT+ people can be called to roles of leadership and service in the local church. We very much hope that they, like everyone else, feel encouraged to serve on PCCs, or as churchwardens and worship leaders, for instance, and are supported in exploring vocations to licensed lay and ordained ministries. Nobody should be told that their sexual or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.
Finally, we wish both to acknowledge the great contribution that LGBT+ Christians are making, and have made, to the Church in this diocese, and to highlight the need for mission within the LGBT+ community more broadly. As Archbishop Justin has made clear, the perception that the Church is homophobic and transphobic is harming our mission, especially to young people. We need to challenge this perception by reaching out to LGBT+ people with the good news of God's love, modelling God's welcome and care for all people.
Debates about questions of human sexuality and gender identity in the Church seem likely to continue, and perhaps to grow in intensity, over the coming years. It is important that these debates should be grounded in Scripture, reason and tradition as well as in deep prayer. They must also be conducted with attention to people's experiences and in a spirit of love, mutual care and respect.

We want Lichfield to be a diocese in which people of any sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcomed and honoured in our churches. We want to engage with the developing national work on the Teaching Document and to be guided by the advisory group on pastoral care. And we are always ready to hear any views and experiences on these matters that you wish to share with us.

The Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave
Bishop of Lichfield

The Rt Revd Mark Rylands
Bishop of Shrewsbury

The Rt Revd Geoff Annas
Bishop of Stafford

The Rt Revd Clive Gregory
Bishop of Wolverhampton

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