Letter on welcoming LGBT+ people sparks controversy in the Diocese of Lichfield

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A letter released by bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield regarding the inclusion of LGBT+ people in the Church of England has sparked controversy, leading to debate about what it means to include and honor.  The May 9, 2018 letter, signed by four bishops, reported on the Church of England’s work on a new Teaching Document on human sexuality, set for release in 2020, and on the Diocese of Lichfield’s own work toward “radical Christian inclusion founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it.”

The letter acknowledges the increasing prominence of discussions and debates in the Church over sexuality and seeks to provide a framework for approaching these conversations with pastoral sensitivity and compassion.  The bishops write:

“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.”

In a May 17 rebuttal, Bishop of Maidstone, The Rt. Rev. Rod Thomas responded to the letter and expressed concern that the original letter was too permissive of behavior that makes one unworthy of full participation in the life of the Church, including receiving Communion. He writes:

“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.’”

He continues:

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 . . .”

The letters come at a time when the question of LGBT+ inclusion continues to engender debate in both the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion.  The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil recently voted to change their canons to allow same-sex marriage, six years after Brazil began allowing same-sex civil marriages.

In the United States, the lead up to General Convention 2018 has brought increased attention to the issue of LGBT+ inclusion.  A grassroots organization, All Sacraments for All People (ASAP), is seeking to make same-sex marriage rites available to members of all dioceses in the Episcopal Church.  Currently eight dioceses ban the use of trial rites for same-sex marriages and blessings.

 

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CYNTHIA R FLEMING
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CYNTHIA R FLEMING

I don't believe that it is up to the church or anyone else to decide who is "worthy".

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

I've never understood the need for" New Rites" for same-sex (please, not ss; too reminiscent of the SS). Unless we continue to maintain that "marriage" is the sole right of two heterosexuals (or bisexuals?) Once we've removed the procreative imperative from marriage---in 2018 "creating a family" has so many options ranging from no children to adoptions and many things in-between ---the argument for the heterosexual exclusivity collapses. A hetero-normative sacrament, is out of step with Jesus.

I'm of the opinion that the Wedding at Cana was fundamentally about the consummation of two spirits. I'm of the mind that if Jesus can be a bride, so can I. I'm of the mind that if we spent less time and energy trying to covet God's many blessings for a precious few, we might just find that we are not so entitled after all.

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Professor Christopher Seitz
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Professor Christopher Seitz

Believe you have really got it with this one: If Jesus can be a bride, me too!

But of course Jesus isn't a bride. The church he creates and loves is.

Or maybe you are both Jesus as Bride and also His church.

That would capture a lot of things in one go!

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

I thought the commotion within the progressive wing over this Litchfield notice equally significant. At first, lots of plaudits. Then when it was noted that ss marriage wasn't being endorsed, the tide turned the other direction. Also many progressives didn't like the wording one iota. It was seen as patronizing.

There is a fault line within the progressive wing. If ss marriage is right, then it admits of no slow-go and also no exceptions. Others think individual or parish discretion is OK (for now anyway).

Watch for this fault line to erupt at GC Austin.

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Tom Sramek, Jr.
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Tom Sramek, Jr.

We already have individual discretion. We do not have parish discretion in 8 dioceses.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

And that will be targeted and eliminated at Austin 2018. That is goal #1 and it will be achieved.

BTW, why is it fair for LGBT couples in parishes which say No? How is this full inclusion?

I know several parishes in EDOD where parishes are likely to say No that have plenty of LGBT couples.

Priestly discretion was also never intended to apply to a class of people. It had to do with priestly discretion in respect of the goods of marriage. These are being adapted to "fit" LGBT marriage. See the new rites. How can a priest say No if LGBT couples come to them and fit within the new rites? That should not be permitted if one believes LGBT marriage is now acceptable.

Hence my comment about fault lines.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

Ah, Christopher, we can always count on you to see a cloud within every silver lining...

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Silver lining -- gee, where is that in this story?

If you want to see clouds, just head over to Thinking Anglicans to see how dark the skies got.

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