Letter to General Synod Members before the July Synod

Dear Synod Member,

Thank you for your contribution to the life of our church. I do not underestimate the amount of time that it takes for you to prepare for a Synod meeting, and to give up time for what is a very intense few days. I know too, from my time as a Rural Dean, how much you have to do in relating to meetings of deanery synods and other diocesan structures. So, thank you.

Can I ask you carefully to consider supporting the Diocesan motion put down by Blackburn Diocese, and the Private Member’s Motion sponsored by Jayne Ozanne. Blackburn’s motion (background paper GS 2071A) is the first time anything concerning trans people has ever been debated at Synod. It has huge support from trans people of faith, who I believe are writing to you and telling you from their own experience how very important a liturgical event marking their transition would be for them. The most useful background reading material is that provided by Revd Dr Tina Beardsley which you can find here (http://www.onebodyonefaith.org.uk/blog/blackburn/ ). What Tina doesn’t tell you is the detail of the struggle she had when she transitioned to find acceptance and welcome for her ministry, which has been outstanding, .

Can I ask you to treat with great caution the voices of those who are not trans themselves and who yet presume to know what trans people ought to be feeling or experiencing? In particular Martin Davie’s Latimer Study, Transgender Liturgies?, and Vaughan Roberts’s Transgender. In advocating attempting to dissuade people from transitioning, come what may, they stand against current medical best practice. Such efforts can do more harm than good. Christina recommends reading information from GIRES, the Gender Identity, Research and Education Society (http://www.gires.org.uk/ ).

Again, I hope that you will support Jayne Ozanne’s Private Member’s Motion (background paper GS 2070A) asking Synod to endorse the  January 2017 statement by a number of medical and psychological bodies as well as some campaign groups, which clearly identify what are known as Conversion Therapies as “unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence”. She further asks for the Archbishops’ Council to associate itself with the Statement.

Notwithstanding the right of people who don’t wish to describe themselves as gay or lesbian (which I entirely defend) there is clearly something very concerning about offering scientifically untested and demonstrably ineffective “therapies” to vulnerable people for something that is not a mental illness or a psychological syndrome. That the major medical and psychological bodies in the field have come out so strongly against this being an ethical “treatment” ought to make us content to support this weight of opinion.

Again, I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to listen to those who have survived conversion therapies of various kinds. They are often the kind of thing that young men (mostly) are offered, and the stories of what they suffer; the shame and the humiliation, the intrusion and the spiritual abuse, make these very painful hearing. Here is one example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/realities-of-conversion-therapy_us_582b6cf2e4b01d8a014aea66

The survivor says this:

The first step ― which usually lasted six months ― [is] where they “deconstruct us as a person.” Their tactics still haunt me. Aversion therapy, shock therapy, harassment and occasional physical abuse. Their goal was to get us to hate ourselves for being LGBTQ (most of us were gay, but the entire spectrum was represented), and they knew what they were doing.

This is simply spiritual and psychological abuse, and our church ought to have nothing to do with this kind of activity. There is no version of this kind of “therapy” that can be reliably used and whose results can be repeated or controlled. As the Huffington Post article says: ‘According to Dr. Jack Drescher, a leading specialist and critic of conversion therapy practices, there is not just one set of practices understood to be used in conversion therapy. “People have tried all kinds of things because none them really work”.’ The theoretical basis of all this is unclear and speculative at best, and incoherent and dangerous at worst. Please support Jayne’s motion.

The House of Bishops has also put forward proposals following the rejection of GS 2055; these are in GS Misc 1158. I have two principal concerns about the road map which the bishops are laying out here: first of all, despite their commitment to a “radical new Christian inclusion”, and the promise that groups involved in work on Church of England documentation would be “inclusive”, the proposed membership of  the Pastoral Advisory Group includes only one person who is openly not heterosexual. That is Revd Sam Allberry of Living Out. Members of Living Out have a commitment to celibacy which they believe they are obliged to undertake to be faithful Christians, and which they urge on everyone else who, as they describe it, is “same-sex attracted”. The vast majority of LGBTI+ Christians do not share their perspective.  There is no representative of the mainstream of LGBTI+ Church of England members at all.

Again, on the membership of the Co-ordinating Group for the Teaching Document, the only gay person is Canon Giles Goddard. While Giles is a very experienced General Synod member and is out and partnered, his presence is not, in my view, a sufficient level of representation for LGBTI+/SSA people. Both these committees are, frankly, very largely going to be talking about us without us. This is simply not acceptable any more. There is no one from, for example, OneBodyOneFaith, which represents nearly a thousand members, many of them Anglicans, and no one from Inclusive Church, or the LGBTI Mission.

Again, the timetable for the production of the teaching document is set at 2020. This is nine whole years after the beginning of the Pilling process. We have made no substantial progress in all that time and despite a huge expenditure on the Conversations. You will know that I want to see real progress towards accepting as properly Christian, theological and pastoral positions different from those that are now the official position of the church. I don’t want to see those as the only position, but I believe that other positions can be held with integrity, and should be allowed to be held. Indeed, without moving towards this it is hard to see how “a radical new Christian inclusion” can be achieved.  And it is not as if, in those nine years, those who hold the traditional view as the only acceptable view can be said to have made any progress towards reaffirming their position. We really could do with getting on with this with rather more urgency. Can I ask you to consider making some of these points in the debate on GS Misc 1158?

Thank you for reading this and assuring you of my prayers for you in the run up to and during the time of Synod.

Yours sincerely,


Jeremy Pemberton


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