New Year – A New Hope? Maybe‽

Image by Mark Taylor from Pixabay 

Since we last met the world has moved on.  We are in a new year. 

It’s strange, because whether we are in the UK or America, we have both had some horrendous political situations in the last few years.  If you are in the USA, you can write your own political narrative but here in the UK, last year was tumultuous.  We experienced four Chancellors of the Exchequer, three Prime Ministers, two monarchs — all in the one year.  Well to be more accurate, inside a four-month period, and by the end of the year inflation had risen to nearly 11%, having started the year at 5.5%.  The governing Conservative Party always blame the war in Ukraine for the economic woes, and ignore their own culpability, simply that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng added £30-billion to our national debt in the 7 weeks of her Premiership.  Once again, in reality it was shorter than that, because that all happened within a few days of an ill-thought through budget that put the markets, especially pension funds, in a death spiral.  This hugely affected inflation and sharply increased mortgage costs, which the Tories never mention, but will nevertheless affect all mortgage-holders for years.

So, coming to the end of last year, many of us were not looking back on 2022 with any great fondness – and many will be saying “Good riddance”.  Our political leaders here in the UK, had failed abjectly.  Boris Johnson had demonstrated how to lie to Parliament and the people almost every time he opened his mouth to speak.  He even sent out his own ministers to lie on his behalf.  He was followed by possibly the most inept and inexperienced Prime Minister we’ve ever had – the aforementioned Liz Truss, who was thankfully also our shortest-serving Prime Minister.

The prevalence of lying in Parliament in recent years has been very concerning, because it further breaks peoples trust of politicians. (And that sentence was written before the furore around Nadhim Zahawi —the current, as I write this, Tory party chairman — and Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, arose.)  I have heard really good journalists (yes, some still exist!) along with fact checking companies complain about the regular failure of Government ministers to correct misinformation they quoted in Parliament.  You have grades of both misinformation and disinformation.  Misinformation = accidental/unintentional/careless spreading of wrong information which should be corrected at the first opportunity, once made aware of the error.  If Misinformation is not corrected once it is pointed out, it then becomes Disinformation. Disinformation = deliberate spreading of wrong information.  If you want some examples of good fact-checking companies, I’d look at FullFact, Reality Check from the BBC, and Channel Four News FactCheck, all for UK readers, along with PolitiFact – for those in the USA. Then of course there is our old favourite Snopes! Actually there are many more, but you do the searching! A couple of days ago I was pleased to find this fascinating website set up by the journalist Peter Oborne, where he has chronologically listed the lies told by Boris Johnson, Truss and Sunak, and their respective ministers (obviously mainly Johnson):   The main chronological listings are displayed at

From a Christian perspective, lies are unacceptable in all but a very small number of situations.  As Christians we should want to be respected as people for whom the truth is vital and a part of what makes us who we are.  However, in politics you kind of expect lies from time to time – we shouldn’t, but we have grown used to it.

In the recent past lies were less frequent, but over the last few decades we have seen the growing acceptance that lies are acceptable.  Nevertheless, God calls us to uphold higher standards, so for Christians working in Parliament — whatever the party, life these days must be tough, because for certain politicians’ truth and lies have no personal meaning or relevance.  Tell the people what you think they want to hear.  Maybe we ought to be praying for our leaders more often.

For a bit of fun before we get into the areas I want to talk about this time, there has been a fair bit of chat in the Press recently about the ChatGBT AI bot, because of how it can write essays and answer questions for you – the concerns being about how it will be misused by anyone who needs to write something.  Obviously this is very concerning for teachers and exam bodies – how do you know this was authentically written by the student?  Has the student really attained the knowledge level they claim. What are the dangers if a person has not learned the material, obtains a qualification, and yet, gets a job as a result of that fraudulent qualification? A little earlier, I tried it out on three questions, and decided to be intentionally provocative — to see how it responded.  I asked about two of the three themes I cover today, along with an overarching one: “Does the Bible permit people to be gay?” which you already know where I stand!  If you are interested, you can download the results here (Dropbox) or here (GoogleDocs).  With its style of “on the one hand, but on the other” (failing to make clear it’s stance),  it clearly isn’t ready to take over my blog – thank goodness!

So, since the New Year we have had two stories that have a direct impact on the LGBTQ+ community, well, in fact, three really.  I feel I must reign in some of my cynicism with the third one because instinctively I feel it is there as a sop to counter some of the antagonism generated by the second one!  As I write this, I feel a mixed set of emotions.  I want to try and be fair and objective, but I find it difficult not to think there is some deliberate obstruction, digging in of heels, and hoping that by delaying things it will go away and someone else will be the one to work through the issues.

In both the main stories there are bona fide concerns.  There are also very real fears – fears of what would happen if change occurred.  And I can fully understand that.  So, if you haven’t guessed, the divisive issues I want to take a look at are: 1) the Bishops of the Church of England refusing to allow Gay people to marry in an Anglican church; 2) The UK Government refusal to send the recently passed Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill for Royal Assent; and 3) the proposal of UK Gov agreement to ban all forms of Conversion Therapy.

So let’s take the first one where we were told that gay couples would not be allowed to get married in an Anglican Church, but would be offered “prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for God’s blessing” following a civil marriage or recognition of a permanent partnership.  In addition, clergy in same-sex relationships, are no longer required to remain celibate.  In my heart I was disappointed, because I wanted them to go much further, and offer to marry gay couples in church.  However, the pragmatic and positive part of myself realised that this is at least a step forward and shows the direction of travel — it could have been a lot worse with a retrenchment at the previously held position.  My huge concern is that it might take another ten years for the church to be willing to marry gay couples, and how many more people will be hurt in the meantime?  And is that justifiable? 

We know that the bishops have a much wider perspective than I do and will have not just been looking at how their decisions affect the church in England, but also what the implications are for the Anglican Communion across the globe.  In North America the Anglican church is further forward (but just as split!), but in Africa and Asia, the church is very conservative.  For example, the church in Africa very much sees homosexuality as something the “white man” brought to Africa, along with Colonialisation.  There is a failure to recognise that what we recognise today as homosexuality was recorded in African history prior to Colonialisation.  (And browse some of those other links on that page – so long as you end up back here! 😊)  In talking with African Asylum seekers, we hear stories of gay and bi young men being attacked or threatened by relatives because of their orientation.  Others tell of being forced to marry by their families, because being gay isn’t acceptable.  Yet others must keep their gender/sexuality secret within churches, because of the trouble they would be in if it were known.  They might only face ostracism from the church, but there could also be other more serious repercussions.  These experiences can occur in countries even where the national government “officially” accepts homosexuality.  In many of these countries at the local, community level, there is real hostility towards LGBTQ+ people, so you need to keep your head down.

I think it is fair to say that most African churches see the English churches as “apostate” because they say it has abandoned Scriptural teaching and forsaken God in its gradual acceptance of homosexuality.  There is a growing pressure by conservative elements within Anglicanism to withdraw from the Anglican Communion and join the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, so Archbishop Justin Welby is trying hard to hold the whole Anglican Communion together and draw them forward as a block.  He doesn’t want the church to split and will struggle as hard as he can, to prevent it.  GAFCON sees this latest step as a “struggle to fight and repel this false teaching” and that they (GAFCON) are the natural protectors of Biblical Truth.  Once again browse their website and get a better understanding of what they stand for.  Obviously, I wholly disagree with their theology and stance – and much of what they say on that page.

Archbishop Justin has a horrible job, bordering on impossible, but over the years I believe he has done a great job of holding the church together.  He and some other Bishops will have long-standing personal friendships with Bishops and others in Africa and in other places, so on a personal basis, they will be wrestling with how far they can go.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but believe the Anglican Church will eventually split.  My feeling is that the Anglican bishops are potentially worsening the hurt, even though I fully understand their understanding that Biblical teaching encourages us to seek unity.  However, unity can only work if all parties want it, and, it is clear that large sections of the Anglican Communion do not want unity, if LGBTQ+ people are to be included.

In reporting the issue, the Christian press talked about a capitulation and a fudge, and that “nobody is happy”.  In a sense that is right, but the problem I have is that if “prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for God’s blessing” for same‑sex couples can be offered following a civil marriage or partnership, that is tacitly agreeing and recognising that being LGBTQ+ is not sinful and against God’s intent for us.  After all, you wouldn’t offer a blessing on behaviour deemed sinful. 

It was only last year that the Lambeth Conference agreed that whilst Lambeth Resolution 1.10 exists, it would not be enforced, or applied, anywhere. If you remember from my earlier Blog, this Resolution was passed at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and held that marriage was “between a man and a woman”, and that same-sex relationships were unscriptural. So, if we have moved to the point where gay relationships are not sinful, why not go all the way and offer marriage?

As if to reinforce that remark, the bishops, through Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, issued an apology, saying: “Both personally and on behalf of my fellow bishops I would like to express our deep sorrow and grief at the way LGBTQI+ people and those they love have been treated by the Church which, most of all, ought to recognise everyone as precious and created in the image of God.

“We are deeply sorry and ashamed and want to take this opportunity to begin again in the spirit of repentance which our faith teaches us”.

If being homosexual were still regarded as a sinful choice, you wouldn’t issue an apology like that, so whilst we might have reached a significant milestone, it doesn’t go far enough or quickly enough, at least for most of, if not all those readers of this blog, and all those other folk across the world who identify as being somewhere within the community.  People are still being harmed in the name of God and Jesus the Son, and so many have been harmed in the past eighty years since homosexuality became an issue within the church, that real action towards bringing God’s Grace and healing to this community, needs to be sought as a matter of urgency.

In Justin Welby’s conversation with Sandi Toksvig, the broadcaster, a couple of days ago, he reportedly conceded that progress on same-sex marriage in the Church of England “if it happens at all, will be glacial”. If you aren’t directly impacted (i.e. if you are straight and married), any progress might be okay, but if you are impacted, that really isn’t good enough. I can understand the desire to strive for unity, but if you can actually see the body count ticking upwards, not just here in the UK, but in the whole of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, more really needs to be done. The hurt won’t just be felt by the individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, but by their friends and families, who may resolve to walk away from a church that grows increasingly irrelevant and ignorant of what LGBTQ+ people feel and face, as they are told they are not as important as others.

Seeking unity is great, and scriptural, but if that unity continues to be at the root, of the pain and damage to so many people, what is that unity worth?  It looks awful from the outside – it also runs counter to the teachings of scripture, where Matthew, talking about Jesus says “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Paul writes to the Galatians saying: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Each time the Anglican Church defers on offering marriage to the community, it hurts and angers them more, and I think this is one of those times when Jesus would set aside the ideal for the sake of those being repeatedly damaged — those who love Jesus but are made to feel devalued and second-class by His church. Yes, a split will have dreadful repercussions, but is it really right for, as Sandi Toksvig said “… opposing factions of the worldwide Anglican Communion [to be], held together at the expense of the human rights of the LGBT+ community.”

I would also have liked the bishops to have published a list of the resources they used as part of their decision-making process.  Why?  So many Christians are lazy and don’t work through difficult issues, simply relying on what their leaders tell them — its human nature.  In this instance, there are a sizable group of Christians who state that the Bible says marriage can only be between a man and a woman.  So, it would be helpful for many, who are questioning, or open to engagement with the issues, to understand why others take a differing view.  For myself, I have Resources pages on this site, focussing on General LGBTQ+ issues as well as Trans Resources, showing some of the material I have read or watched that helped me work through the issue.  There are 108 bishops, so each one must have a similar (but smaller!) list, for and against, so it can’t be beyond the whit of the Anglican Church to have put together a list of the most commonly cited resources, which need to include both academic papers and easily understood books, papers and media.  This would deflect some of the more lazy and ignorant criticism from right wing evangelicalism that claims we are simply pandering to “the spirit of the age”, and “political correctness”.

Right, go and get a drink before we look at the next block!

So, what about that Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill?  Why is the bill so important?  Currently, in the United Kingdom, for a person to be recognised as having a gender different to that shown on their birth certificate, they must obtain a psychiatric report confirming the applicant’s gender identity dysphoria.  However, in 2019 the World Health Organisation endorsed the 11th iteration of the International Classification of Diseases which came into effect globally on the 1st January 2022.  In this document they say: “Gender incongruence has been moved out of the “Mental and behavioural disorders” chapter and into the new “Conditions related to sexual health” chapter. This reflects current knowledge that trans-related and gender diverse identities are not conditions of mental ill-health, and that classifying them as such can cause enormous stigma.”  

Trans* people are therefore concerned that if they are still required to produce a psychiatric report, it reinforces the false notion that this is a mental health condition, rather than a matter of sexual health

The primary aim of the bill was to enable the applicant to amend their birth/adoption certificate, get married or form a civil partnership in their new affirmed gender, and have it on your death certificate when you die.  The bill also reduced the age from which they could apply from 18yrs, to 16yrs old.  What else can you do at 16yrs in Scotland?  Read about everything else you can do, here — it’s fascinating.  It also agreed to reduce the time applicants had to live as their acquired gender to three months rather than two years, or six months if aged 16 or 17, prior to receiving the legal change.

The opposition to the bill in Scotland was largely fought on women’s safety grounds.  As Christians and as a society we must do all we can to ensure women are safe, but I’m not sure that this Bill does much to make women less safe in real terms, even if there may be a minute theoretical risk.  The main areas of concern I have, are with regard to women’s refuges, and prison transfers from male to female prisons.  Looking at other areas like changing rooms and toilet areas, I fail to see what effect it will have, because no-one presents a Gender Recognition Certificate, or birth certificate, or any other document, when you go to a sports centre or toilet area.  If you have a predatory male, they are as much of a danger today, as they would be in the future under new legislation.  Once again, I think it ought to be possible to resolve the difficult areas, but unfortunately my impression is that some people don’t like those who are trans* and want to find anything they can to make life difficult, and that is not an attitude that is acceptable for the sincere Christian. 

There seems to be a lot of politics going on.  To Nicola Sturgeon’s credit, she and the Scottish Government have been working on this for six years.  They have talked with and listened to the LGBTQ+ community at length.  They have met many times with religious interest groups of all faiths and canvassed the views of the public.  I remember sending in my own form several years ago.  I am less happy that her response to Westminster’s attitude was to link it to the Independence debate.  On the other hand I was dismayed by Keir Starmer who indicated he was against it, saying he was unhappy with the reduction of age to 16 years old.  His response was disingenuous because this legislation has been in the works for 6 years, and his own Scottish Labour Party had been involved in its formulation and passage through the Parliament.  However, Gillian Keegan the Education Secretary disagrees that 16yrs is too young.  She commented that her personal view was that 16 wasn’t too young, but that “we have to be very sensitive to children”.

As a party, the Tories are in such a complete mess with multiple parties and factions at war with each other, and within this climate they chose to block this legislation and treat it as a political football.  Like Keir Starmer they seem to have been paying no attention to what has been happening in Scotland and decided to block the bill by invoking Section 35 of the Scotland Act.  The grounds most frequently cited are in regard to the Equality Law, but I’m not sure quite what the problem is.  Clearly there must be something, but it all seems a bit woolly currently.

By way of perspective, over 30 countries and regions across the world have a self-declaration system, I understand, starting with Argentina in 2012.   Over a quarter of a billion people now live in areas where you can self-declare, and the UK already accepts the GRC’s from those countries.  Ireland, which is fairly comparable to the UK, brought in the system in 2015 and in their first two years they had an additional total of 277 people, which is a small number in the scheme of things.  Thank you to Guardian’s “Today in Focus” podcast “Why is Scotland’s gender reform bill so contentious?” for those stats.  Listen to the whole thing here.

The final area I want to look at is Conversion Therapy.  I’ve written a lot of words about this over the months, but finally the UK Government have confirmed that they intend to bring in a total ban on CT that also includes trans* people.  In the past they got cold feet about that, but now it seems their tune is changing.  I ought to be celebrating, but this Government are so cynical and untrustworthy that until the Bill has been passed, I will remain cautious.  I am particularly cynical because it was announced so shortly after the Section 35 ruling, so it sounds like a sop to the trans* community.  Another reason for caution is that we are not that far from a General Election, so it could be one of those bills that takes its time passing through the Parliamentary stages and then gets dumped at the end when the election is called and they have to rush important legislation through Parliament before it is closed while the Election takes place.  Regardless, CT must be stopped because the damage it does is inexcusable and runs totally counter to the teachings of the Bible.

As I finish, I want to mention that as I am on the mailing list of Stonewall, they sent me a newsletter last week, and in that was a link to a video about CT.  I wondered whether to include it, but felt in the end, it was right.  If you have been through CT of any sort, please give it a miss as I don’t want to trigger bad memories.  This is really an educational tool directed at those of us who haven’t, and for those who still think Conversion Therapy may be appropriate.  You can see a depiction of what CT is really like, here.  Parts of it reminded me of the experiences Vicky Beeching described in “Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame” where she described forced healings/exorcism in her teenaged years.  If you haven’t read it, correct that mistake!  However, I have read and heard many other people echoing identical experiences, so the video depicts a very typical experience, and we need to stop it, because it deeply troubles Jesus, and makes him weep for the victims.