Oxford letter sparks clergy backlash over inclusion

A LETTER from the four bishops in the Diocese of Oxford calling for ‘inclusion and respect’ has sparked a backlash from clergy in the diocese.

Over 100 serving clergy, along with 54 incumbents, lay members and retired clergy have written to the four Oxford bishops.

The Oxford bishops wrote to clergy in October commending five principles of love and respect recently endorsed by Lichfield Diocese.

The letter, known as an Ad Clerum [to the clergy], explained that ‘it is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them’.

It makes it clear that ‘nobody should be told that their sexual orientation or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church’ and affirms that LGBTI+ people are called to roles of leadership and service in the local church.

However, while the signatories of the clergy letter published this week say they ‘know of no church among our number which sees this as an obstacle to faithful discipleship’, they explain that ‘in discussing leadership in the local church, the letter seeks to suggest that this should mean acceptance into leadership of those who identify themselves as LGBTI+’.

The original Oxford letter also explains that ‘intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is inappropriate,’ saying that ‘it is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith’.

It makes clear ‘that nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity’.

However, the signatories disagree.

“Such indiscriminate participation seems to be inconsistent with the witness of Scripture: for the early Christians, these sacraments were only for those of the household of faith,” they added.

The signatories say that they ‘are not here simply stating an aversion to change’, but are ‘convinced that failing to hold the Bible’s teaching out to everyone, including those who identify as LGBTI+, is to show a lack of that very love the letter urges us to exhibit’.

They explain that if the Oxford bishops are unwilling to advocate that marriage is between a man and a woman, then they will be asking them ‘to recognise the seriousness of the difference’ between them.

They believe that ‘advocacy of same-sex sexual intimacy is either an expression of the love of God or it creates an obstacle to people entering the kingdom of God’ and believe that ‘it cannot be both’.

“The situation is serious. If not addressed, we would all struggle to support the leadership of our bishops in this matter and a number of our churches may want to seek alternative means of receiving episcopal ministry,” they said.

The Rev Will Pearson-Gee,
Rector of Buckingham, told us that the bishops ‘appear to think that very few clergy disagree with them’.

“We keep on hearing expressions like ‘only a handful …’. This letter clearly demonstrates that way more than a handful take issue with them and their revisionist agenda,” he said.