A diocese in the Church of England has issued a letter to all ministers, stressing that amid disagreement over human sexuality and gender, LGBT people should be welcomed and not questioned about their gender, and should also be encouraged to seek leadership roles within the church.
“We wish to affirm that LGBT+ people can be called to roles of leadership and service in the local church,” the Diocese of Lichfield said earlier in May. “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.”
The bishops of Lichfield, Shrewsbury, Stafford, and Wolverhampton signed the letter and they stated that they are not taking a stance on the blessing of same-sex marriage (the Church of England officially defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman). They admitted that debates over human sexuality and gender identity “seem likely to continue, and perhaps to grow in intensity, over the coming years.”
Rather, they said the purpose of the letter was to address “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,” they stated.
They lamented “the perception that the Church is homophobic and transphobic is harming our mission, especially to young people.”
“Nobody,” they advised, “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.”
The bishops also advised against “intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender,” saying it 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.”
Progressive groups have welcomed the guidance.
“It’s my hope that the work being undertaken by Lichfield diocese, and this clear statement, will send a very strong signal to LGBT+ people that they’re welcomed and valued on equal terms with our brothers and sisters,” said OneBodyOneFaith’s chair of Trustees, Canon Peter Leonard.
Back in July 2017, the General Synod of the CofE officially passed a motion welcoming and affirming transgender people to the church.
“That this Synod, recognizing the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition,” the motion declared.
Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Center, argued during the Synod debate that Britain’s Christian values are being undermined by the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
“To put the Gospel at the heart of a message to the nation on the political good on the common good is what we should do,” Williams said, calling for the church to promote biblical marriage.
“The Bible sets out how now to live in a world that is lost and is hurting.”
The letter by the Diocese of Lichfield was partly shaped by feedback a listening group of people — who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, same-sex attracted, heterosexual; single and partnered; celibate and married — convened by the Rt. Rev. Michael Ipgrave, bishop of Lichfield.
It also notes that the Church of England is currently working on a major new Teaching Document “to set out a framework for what it means to be human and sexual.” The document is expected to be released in 2020. In the meantime, a national pastoral advisory group, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, is addressing pastoral issues relating to sexuality. That group has endorsed the Diocese of Lichfield’s letter.