valuing all of gods children
After months of debate around sexuality and gender, concerning the lives of real LGBTQ+ Christians, there has finally been a step forward. No vague approach with little clarification, but an openly supportive stance to tackle transphobia and gender stereotypes in Church of England schools and wider society.
The Church of England has released its second edition of Valuing All God’s Children, subtitled “Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying”. This is a document with a foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby that actively encourages a child to “choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak [in a dressing up box] without expectation or comment”.
For most, this seems like an issue of common sense and something that shouldn’t even need debating. But for someone like me, a liberal and progressive Christian in the Anglican Church, this is a huge deal. There have been shouts, screams and tears from all over the country over such topics.
The majority of young LGBTQ+ people see the Church as an institutional obstacle, or perhaps even an opponent, in the battle for equality, but I can ensure you this is not the case. There are clergy, bishops and lay people (both LGBTQ+ and allies) all fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ Christians.
The Bible is being read with a new understanding of sexuality and gender, with academic theological arguments being constructed to support LGBTQ+ affirming Christians. Most importantly in recent years, the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia existing in the Church has been recognised and scrutinised.
The report recognises childhood as “a period where we can…explore projects and identities, without having to be bound by the consequences”. It notices that children should be able to explore what they are feeling and their own identity. Most importantly, it seriously condemns any environment that is not safe or judgement-free. Children in schools should feel comfortable to be curious without any judgement or bullying taking place. The report fully and unequivocally respects trans people as Christians and as equal participants in the Church. If a curiosity leads to a permanent need to be identified in a specific way, there is nothing wrong with that. This sets a foundational layer of respect for transgender people and another layer of acceptance for non-conformity within gender expectations. It creates the secure and stable environment in school for all children, something that should have been established years ago.
The Church of England to fully acknowledge that transgender Christians - as well as the rest of the LGBTQ+ community - are “made in the image of God and are loved unconditionally by God” is a huge step forward.
In most churches, there will be a mixture of opinions regarding LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships. Some will still not even acknowledge an LGBTQ+ Christian as a ‘real’ follower of Christ. Having written many previous articles and blog posts concerning religion and sexuality, I have been labelled a ‘sinner’ and even an encourager of the ‘evil, seductive doctrines of the devil’. Being an LGBTQ+ Christian or LGBTQ+ Christian ally has its challenges. On the other hand, many people in church congregations will be LGBTQ+ affirming – whether they are open about it or stay silent is a separate issue. To be Christian but also liberal, progressive and LGBTQ+ affirming seems incongruent to many – but there are Christian LGBTQ+ activists and charities all across the UK.
At Cardiff University where I study, the chaplaincy team prides itself on its inclusivity. Christians of all denominations, traditions and beliefs are welcome at any of their events. Particularly at this chaplaincy, they are undeniably LGBTQ+ affirming. Safe spaces for LGBTQ+ Christians are paramount, but to be a Christian and have a completely inclusive environment is incredibly rare.
The mainstream media has clung to the report. Philip Schofield – national treasure and icon amongst young people – muttered the word “abhorrent” during his This Morning interview with Andrea Williams, a member of the Church’s governing body General Synod. Williams, who also appeared earlier in the day with Piers Morgan, insisted that biblical teachings only allow for biologically male and female identification.
The TV debates exhibited views from all sides of the argument. Piers Morgan, infamous for his controversial and often disrespectful comments, also interviewed Andrea Williams and seemed to agree with many of her statements. Morgan has a history of attacking the LGBTQ+ community, labelling a trans couple’s identities as “hypothetical” earlier this year and, more recently, persistently questioning Caitlyn Jenner about her genitals. For the Church of England’s report to get airtime on a breakfast show was exciting, but then to see the LGBTQ+ community being discussed in such a disgusting manner by Morgan was utterly saddening. Brighter and more optimistic media coverage have included Rev Dr Michael Banner’s contribution to Thought for the Day, insisting that the report is “long overdue” as he reminds the audience that he has to wear a “frock” as part of his role as a priest.
This report heralds a new tone for the Church’s progressive dialogue with the LGBTQ+ community. I hope to see churches across the country become places of safety and sanctuary for all, regardless of sexuality, race, class, gender and ability. However, as much as this report is being complimented and appreciated, we are still part of a Church that categorically will not recognise same-sex marriage. Until this change takes place, LGBTQ+ equality for Christians cannot and will not exist.
Valuing All God’s Children is a defining moment for the Church of England, but it is not a big enough step for a community that still have to fight for the right to be equal.
The full report can be found here.
If this post has stirred any opinions, comments or questions, feel free to contact me via email, Twitter or through my website.