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Church of England 'not listening to gay Christians', say retired bishops

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Media captionThe former Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Peter Selby, said some gay Christians felt betrayed

Fourteen retired bishops have accused Church of England leaders of not listening to the voices of gay Christians.

The bishops said in an open letter that a new report on the Church's stance on homsexuality tells of gay people's pain, but has no "authentic voices".

The former bishop of Worcester said some people felt "betrayed".

The letter comes ahead of a debate at the general synod on Wednesday, which includes the issue of gay marriage.

The Church published an official report on sexuality last month after three years of "shared conversations" with the LGBT community and other Christians.

The report maintained the position that marriage in church should remain the lifelong union of a man and a woman.

The Church said the point of the conversations had not been "to change the view of participants or to seek to change the views of others, but rather to recognise Jesus in the face, story and view of those with whom they disagree".

The process involved Church of England clergy and lay people holding private discussions around the country about their attitudes to sexuality.

Last month a House of Bishops report said the Church should not change its opposition to same-sex marriage but should adopt a "fresh tone and culture of welcome and support" for gay people.

The report added that there was "little support" for changing the Church's teaching on marriage, that it was between one man and one woman.

'Tone and culture'

The intervention from the former bishops, via their open letter, is seen as unusual.

The retired bishops, including former bishops of Oxford, Leicester and Newcastle, said sexuality had been a "long-standing source of concern and contention".

The letter to serving bishops said: "Our perception is that while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in [the House of Bishops] report, we do not hear its authentic voice.

"The result of that focus on the issue of a change in the law is that your call for a change in tone and culture, while absolutely right, does not carry conviction."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The general synod will debate sexuality in the Church on Wednesday

One of the signatories to the letter is the former Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Peter Selby.

He said: "The people who entered those conversations who were gay or lesbian, or had had various difficult experiences in their lives because of their sexuality, they entered those conversations knowing that they would have to reveal themselves in a circumstance in which that might carry a price in terms of their life and their career.

"They feel that what's come out here is a betrayal in the specific sense.

"All sorts of ideas are in this report about what they would have wanted, which I don't think are accurate."

'Backwards or 'settled'?

Synod member Jayne Ozanne, who helped organise the letter, criticised the lack of a gay voice on the committee that created the report.

She told BBC Breakfast: "Sadly, I think we have gone backwards actually. You have got a whole community of people that feel terribly hurt - they feel they have been unheard.

"It's extraordinary how they wrote about us without us."

But Ed Shaw from the Christian charity Living Out, who took part in the "shared conversation" process, said Church leaders had come to a "good conclusion".

"I think the Church of England has carefully listened," he said, "I think the Church has also come to the settled view [of] what Christians have always believed down the centuries [and] what most Christians believe around this world is right and good for people like myself."

'Take-note debate'

The general synod will debate the issue on Wednesday.

It will hold a "take-note" debate, meaning synod is not asked formally to approve or reject the policy.

Some members of synod have said they are hoping to vote against it.

A Church of England spokesman said: "The 'take-note' debate at synod will be an opportunity for those with differing opinions on this issue to have their views aired."

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