Thirdly, I’ve signed because the church must be a place of compassion and love. The Quakers (who have often been a long way ahead of the C of E in matters of justice, including their acceptance of homosexual people) are known as the Society of Friends. This is how St John sees the church gathered in the upper room, where disciples are set fee to love one another in a way that echoes God’s eternal love for them. Human pain and suffering have a particular claim on our compassion. And we shouldn’t make any mistake about the suffering and pain many gay people around the world experience. I include in this gay clergy and other ministers in the Church of England who, in an ecclesiastical culture perceived to be hostile, live in real fear of being found out. The Primates have a special responsibility to make sure that our churches are communities of hospitality and friendship that do not collude with hypocrisy. They, we all, have that calling because this is how God himself is always reaching out towards each of us. It’s a great deal harder to act hospitably than to uphold simple binaries that banish the non-approved from acceptance. This truly is ‘tough love’.
I hope that this letter will not come across as trouble-stirring or polemical. It’s meant to be firm but eirenic in tone. It would be great if it helped give the Primates confidence as they debate human sexuality, if it helped them to know that every step they take, however tentative, towards changing entrenched attitudes and welcoming gay Christians into their communities will be warmly and gratefully supported. The first step, maybe, is to recognise that just as with female ordination, there will be differences of view among the Primates and this needs to be respected. (I’m not sure that it altogether is, yet.) As Justin Welby has said, in grown-up communities there must always be room for ‘deep disagreement’.
But our letter is looking for much more than this. We’re looking for a deep change of hearts and minds. We use the word ‘repentance’. That’s undeniably a strong word, but nothing is less is called for in the face of any great wrong we have committed. I am pretty confident that in decades to come, we as churches shall be saying we are deeply sorry for the way we have mistreated and oppressed gay people in the past. So why not say it now? That would make the Anglican Communion a place of hope and sanctuary for LGBTI people across the world.