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Senior Anglicans call for repentance over sexual discrimination

Signatories of open letter to archbishops say LGBTI members of Church of England have been ‘ignored and vilified for too long’

More than 100 senior members of the Church of England have publicly called for repentance over sexual discrimination before a critical summit of world leaders that could split the Anglican community.

One serving and eight retired bishops, more than 20 deans, two MPs and senior lay figures have signed an open letter to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, which calls on the church to repent and apologise.

The signatories say the church’s acceptance and promotion of discrimination against LGBTI people has caused pain and rejection. LGBTI members of the church had been “ignored and even vilified for too long”, they say.

The letter was made public the day before all 38 leaders of the worldwide Anglican communion are to meet in Canterbury for a week-long summit centred on the issue of sexuality, which has caused bitter and possibly irreparable splits within the church for the past 20 years.

The meeting, called by archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is a last-ditch attempt to refashion the Anglican communion as a loose alliance rather than adherents to a common doctrine. The move is designed to help the church push beyond the issue of sexuality to matters such as religious violence and climate change.

But the leaders of six African provinces are expected to walk out in opposition to any interpretation of the scriptures that could lead to greater acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, causing a de facto split between conservatives and liberals.

The letter, which calls on the English archbishops “to take an unequivocal message” to the meeting, is likely to fuel tensions and increase the chances of a walkout.

Many liberal Anglicans in the UK and elsewhere, horrified by the deeply homophobic and retrograde stance of conservative churches in sub-Saharan Africa, believe that a split is inevitable and preferable to continued infighting and paralysis.

The letter was coordinated by Jayne Ozanne, a former conservative evangelical who came out as gay last year, who said the church had no excuse for its failure to care for LGBTI members.

The church was “increasingly perceived as irredeemably ‘anti-gay’ by an increasing number of people who simply don’t understand why the church continues to discriminate, nor why it is allowed to do so,” she said.

Another prominent lesbian Anglican, Vicky Beeching, said: “Social and religious attitudes are shifting among young people. Many cannot morally align themselves with a church that perpetuates LGBT discrimination. If we want to ensure the future life of our church, this issue needs urgent attention and great pastoral sensitivity. To see the church repent of its damaging attitudes would help many young people feel a reconnection with it.”

The dean of St Paul’s, David Ison, said that the personal cost had often been forgotten in the bitter debate within the church over sexuality. “Our discussions are actually about the lives of sisters and brothers who have often been rejected and victimised on the grounds of their sexuality.”

Among the letter’s signatories are Jeremy Pemberton, a priest who fought and lost an employment tribunal against the church over his homosexuality last year, and Jeffrey John, a gay priest whose appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 threatened to split the church. He withdrew before he could take up the post and later became dean of St Albans.

Archbishops from conservative churches in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Congo are expected to walk out of this week’s summit within a day or two of its opening on Monday. “It’s 90% likely that the six will walk out. If we get past Tuesday, we’ll be doing well,” a senior Anglican source told the Guardian.