Belfast Telegraph

Retired bishops are wrong about LGBT report, says head of NI evangelical group

By Lisa Smyth

The leader of a body that represents churches around Northern Ireland has said he is disappointed at the response of a group of retired bishops to a Church of England report on homosexuality.

An open letter written by 14 former church leaders has said that proposed changes to the Church of England's guidance on homosexuality fail to recognise gay people's "authentic voices".

The report, by the House of Bishops, also drew criticism from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement over the suggestion that both gay and straight men and women training to join the priesthood should face the same questions about their lifestyle - a move likened to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The group of retired bishops broke with convention to intervene, in what they described as an "unprecedented move", ahead of a debate at the church's General Synod on Wednesday.

Led by the former bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby, they said: "Our perception is that while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice.

"Our experience would lead us to doubt whether there was an expectation around that canons and doctrinal statements would be changed within any reasonable time-scale, and that focus seems to have taken far more time than it would have done if the authentic voices of lesbian and gay people had been allowed to express the major focus of their hopes."

While they said a change in doctrine was not "realistic", the report's focus upon it meant the church would be on the defensive.

The letter continues: "The result of that focus on the issue of a change in the law is that your call for change of tone and culture, while absolutely right, does not carry conviction.

"Indeed, from the perhaps luxurious perspective of retirement the tone and culture of your document are incredibly familiar - we've been there and talked in that tone of voice, and it prevents calls for a change of culture, of course offered in complete sincerity by you, from ringing true."

Gay members of the church community would feel "deep disappointment" that they were not given a voice.

Other signatories to the letter include the Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth, formerly Bishop of Oxford, and the Rt Rev Roy Williamson, formerly bishop of Bradford and of Southwark.

The church has rejected the claims that its plan would "formalise Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

The term is a reference to the former US military policy between 1994 and 2011 which barred openly gay or bisexual Americans from serving, but did not discriminate against them if they did not disclose their sexuality.

However, Peter Lynas, the Northern Ireland director of Evangelical Alliance, said: "It is disappointing to hear that some former bishops, who really should know better, are seeking to challenge the results of a long listening process run by the Church of England around sexuality.

"After more than two years the church has affirmed no change in the biblical view of marriage between a man and woman, but has agreed to maximum freedom within that and called for a fresh tone of welcome to those from the LGBT community."

Mr Lynas said that listening processes can be helpful, but there is also a danger that they suggest that change will happen, with the presumption by some that it will be in their favour.

He continued: "In this case the Church of England has found a third way between the hard-liners who rejected those who were gay and liberals who were suggesting a move away from the Bible.

"Transformation is at the heart of the gospel and the Church of England remains committed to that."

Mr Lynas said the hope is that the church will continue to pastorally engage in this issue, but that positional discussions will cease as the church should not be continually questioning itself.

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