Changing Attitude Sussex will soon begin a survey of Anglican churches in the Brighton and Hove area, part of the Diocese of Chichester, to produce a ‘Which Church?’ guide concerning attitudes towards those who identify with the LGBT community. The survey will ask the churches to place themselves on a scale of four positions. From the traditional conservative the the most liberal. The positions that the Anglican churches will be able to chose from will be;
1] While openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people are welcomed they would not be permitted to be involved in many positions in the church, and especially lay leadership roles. Leaders and congregation believe the bible teaches that homosexual acts are sinful and it is wrong to be in a gay or lesbian relationship.
2] There is a variety of views on LGBT issues among the congregation, but the church is not comfortable having LGBT people involved in some aspects of the church’s life. Leaders hold to a traditional biblical teaching on sexual orientation but are willing to hold dialogue and explore different interpretations.
3] Openly LGBT people, including those in relationships, can be involved in every aspect of the church’s life including lay leadership roles. The equality and worth of openly LGBT people is implicit, but not explicitly discussed. There are few or no visible signs of involvement of LGBT people and organisations in the church.
4] LGBT people can be fully involved in every aspect of the church’s life, including lay leadership roles. A conscious effort is made specifically to include LGBT people and to affirm the equality and worth of their life and relationships. The church would be willing to make a public declaration of its open character to organisations.
The Bishop of Chichester, Right Reverend Dr John Hind, has said in a press release ‘I consider the proposed survey to be a helpful and appropriate contribution to the process of listening to the experience of gay people, commended to all in the Anglican Communion by the 1998 Lambeth Conference.’
While starting as an initiative in Anglican churches, Changing Attitude Sussex hope to repeat the survey in all Christian denominations across Sussex. It is hoped that if successful it will then extend further to be repeated in other parts of the UK.
I am concerned that while this is intended to be of value, and it surely will be in opening dialogue on such a key issue, it could easily cause divisions within churches. It is unlikely that all individuals in a single local church community will fall under a single statement; the realisation of this may well bring tension to such communities. Even worse, those who identify with the LGBT community (openly or otherwise) may well find that their church community does not accept their orientation, and as such may well feel obliged to relinquish lay leadership roles they may already hold.
This initiative deals with something very real. My hope is that it opens up meaningful dialogue among the Anglican churches of Brighton and Hove. I hope that this is a fruitful exercise that brings honest dialogue. I hope that communities are sensitive to their members.