Just love for all – Bishop Paul speaks out against inequality and harm for LGBTI Christians

 Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Revd Paul Bayes speaking at Liverpool Pride, July 2017

Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Revd Paul Bayes speaking at Liverpool Pride, July 2017

LAST MONTH, at the launch of a new charity whose aim is to tackle prejudice and discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and gender in religious organisations, Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes spoke of his 'pain and regret' at the rejection and harm many LGBTI+ people have experienced personally and institutionally from Christians, writes Open Table network coordinator Kieran Bohan:

More than 100 guests, including leading campaigners for LGBTI equality in Christian churches, came together in a place appropriately called 'The Sanctuary', in the shadow of Westminster Abbey in London, to celebrate the Ozanne Foundation achieving charitable status.

The Ozanne Foundation takes its name from its Director Jayne Ozanne, who is a well-known gay evangelical Christian who works to ensure full inclusion of all LGBTI+ Christians at every level of the Church. Its vision is of

a world where all are accepted and equally valued.

and its mission is to

work with religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender in order to celebrate the equality and diversity of all.

 Open Table network co-ordinator Kieran Bohan with Ozanne Foundation director Jayne Ozanne

Open Table network co-ordinator Kieran Bohan with Ozanne Foundation director Jayne Ozanne

Speaking at the launch, the Bishop of Liverpool Rt Revd Paul Bayes, who is the Chair of the new Foundation and a supporter of the Open Table network of ecumenical Christian worship communities, said:

Looking at my own community I say with pain and regret that many in the Christian churches have not offered the love of Christ as freely as our Lord himself asked us to do... we know that many LGBTI+ people have suffered pain and rejection from Christians, personally and institutionally, to the extent that many have left the churches or in some cases have felt compelled to self-harm or even to take their own lives. And this goes on today. We need to do better.

We need to welcome people properly, and to love our friends as God loves them – in short to love people as God made them. We are called radically to affirm and honour all our friends, including of course all our LGBTI+ friends, as beloved children of God. And that will have implications for our policies and stances as churches. If we are to do better, we need to change.

We need then to look intelligently together at what change might look like in the practice of the churches, for example in our approach to those who ask us for recognition and affirmation of their relationship, or in the advice we give to the churches on welcoming and fully including LGBTI+ people in their lives.

He made a commitment on behalf of the Ozanne Foundation to advocate proudly 'for a greater inclusion and equality':

We aim to do so courteously and to engage with those who disagree... we want communities of faith seriously to recognise the need for change in this area of LGBTI+ inclusion and welcome. And we’ll advocate for that consistently and without apology. It’s work which demands patience, but which also calls for a holy impatience... while we are talking, people are suffering. And so we feel called to advocate for inclusion and equality now, and for still greater inclusion and equality in the near future.

The full text of Bishop Paul's speech is available on his blog.

The Ozanne Foundation aims to achieve this through its threefold strategy, to:

  • establish constructive encounters with those of different views,
  • educate people on the social and scientific and theological landscape,
  • empower people to act as advocates for change if they believe that change should come.

Foundation Director Jayne Ozanne explained:

For too long, many have hesitated from speaking out for fear of rejection and alienation by their colleagues. This is particularly true in evangelical churches, where a growing number of younger members are at odds with their leadership over this issue.

You can hear an extract from Jayne's speech along with a slideshow of photos here (thanks to Vicky Brett). It captures the moment when Jayne mentions that she felt called by God to do this, just as the bells of Westminster Abbey rang out for the feast of the Annunciation (1 minute 10 seconds):

Extract from LGBTI Christian campaigner Jayne Ozanne's speech at the launch of the Ozanne Foundation, Monday 9th April 2018
 The cover of Jayne Ozanne's autobiography 'Just Love', to be published in June 2018.

The cover of Jayne Ozanne's autobiography 'Just Love', to be published in June 2018.

Jayne also announced that her new book, Just Love, which charts her own personal story of her struggle to accept her sexuality, will be published in June 2018.

Bishop Paul has become a more outspoken advocate for LGBTI+ Christian since he became Bishop of Liverpool in 2014. In 2015 he attended the seventh birthday of the first Open Table community at St Bride's Liverpool, and charged the community with a mission to give 'the love that you share, and the openness that you manifest' as a gift to the wider church, which struggles to receive it:

God has called you to be people to proclaim his love in a nation and in a church which is moving so quickly in terms of what it thinks and how it acts towards (LGBT people)… that you can have a world where there is legal acceptance and homophobic violence all at once.

In June 2016 Bishop Paul contributed to Journeys In Grace And Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality edited by Jayne Ozanne, which was sent to all members of the Church of England’s governing body, General Synod, as they took part in ‘Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality’. At Bishop Paul’s invitation, we included a brief history of Open Table, which contributed to the community’s growth. Bishop Paul explained why he contributed to the book in a video interview with Christian Today:

I’m trying to listen to LGBT people in my family and in the wider church, and in the wider world, and as a result of that, I’m going to be bringing to our conversations, in my own words, that we should extend the table.

In July 2017 Bishop Paul spoke in the debate calling on the Church of England to oppose ‘conversion therapy’ which seeks to change the orientation or identity of LGBTI people and make them conform to heterosexual and cisgender norms, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such ‘therapy’ is in fact harmful. He began:

As the world listens to us the world needs to hear us say
that LGBTI orientation and identity is not a crime, not a sickness, and  not a sin.

In the same month he became a patron of Liverpool Pride, and told more than 8000 people who had mustered for the march through the city centre:

  • Homophbia is evil and we must oppose it

  • Love is love

  • And (speaking to those in committed relationships, civil partnerships and marriages): Thanks for your faithfulness.

In August 2017 he returned to Open Table and reflected on his experience of being part of Liverpool Pride which, he said, bore witness to:

‘the love that crosses borders and the faithfulness that shines out’.

In media interviews at the Ozanne Foundation launch, Bishop Paul went event further, calling for the Church of England to lose its exemption from UK  equality legislation, and that rejection by the Church of England 'has driven LGBT people to suicide'.

As the coordinator of the Open Table network of ecumenical Christian worship communities, I can say with confidence that we would not have seen such abundant growth without Bishop Paul as an ally and Jayne Ozanne as an advocate. We give thanks for them and their ministry and look forward to exploring with them ways to encounter, educate and empower people in religious communities to bring about 'Just love for all'.