Playing the Victim

by Charlie Bell

The Revd Dr Charlie BellThe Revd Dr Charlie Bell is a Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, assistant curate at St John the Divine, Kennington, and a consultant to the LLF Implementation Pastoral Guidance Working Group.

In this article, first published in ViaMedia.news, he concludes: “It’s time – in fact, it’s well beyond time – for our leaders to practise what they preach. We’ve been hung out to dry quite long enough.”

Playing the Victim

There is often a very British reticence to ‘victimhood’. Whether it’s the stereotype of the stiff upper lip, or the willingness to ‘keep calm and carry on’, we are not known as a nation of victims. ‘Stop whingeing and get on with it’, as my school teachers used to say – and in the main, we do. ‘Playing the victim’ gets us less sympathy, and is far more likely to make us enemies.

It has been interesting, then, to see the pernicious and yet all-pervasive narrative of victimhood seeping its way through some parts of the Church of England in recent months. In the wake of the bishops of the Church putting forward a proposal that removes the impediment to us blessing a same-sex couple in the same way that we might bless a car or a plant pot, many of those for whom this would apparently be the ‘one step too far’ moral outrage have turned up the volume on their campaign to tell bishops about just how hurt they are by the whole thing.

It remains surprising, of course, that there are people who cannot bear the idea of compromise and who appear to believe that agreeing to disagree on whether we can bless other people’s relationships will destroy the very foundations of their Christian faith. It’s important to distinguish, I think, between those who hold to this view quite genuinely, however bizarre many of us might find it, and those who are weaponizing it in a last gasp as they see their iron grip on power falter.  The former group are those whose worries and fears need to be listened to – and insofar as they are genuine, addressed. The latter – through their campaign – are doing their best, inadvertently, to ensure that this will not be the case.

Not a day seems to go by without yet another asinine and misleading ‘question’ or statement being released on the Church of England Evangelical Council’s Twitter feed. To save the delicate stomachs of some readers who would prefer not to trawl through the whole thing, here are some highlights. We have been told (several times) that the bishops are ‘denying’ the faith ‘due to cultural pressure’; we have had some very bizarre selective scriptural quotes from Revelation; we have had the usual claptrap about the fact that something legal advice specifically states is not a change of doctrine is, in fact, a change of doctrine; we’ve heard nonsense about how the changes coming are ‘theologically compromised and pastorally confusing’; and that old chestnut, the ‘lifestyle’ choice, is back with a vengeance. None of this is new – much of it is dishonest.

Yet whilst these repeated tropes are tiresome and often – quite frankly – silly, the worst to come out of the campaign is the barefaced attempt to present those who are attempting to roll back Synod’s decision as ‘victims’. Let’s be absolutely clear about this suggestion – it is utterly ridiculous, and not only ridiculous, but insulting. For years there has been a conservative stranglehold on the policies of the Church of England, with bishops apparently too scared to say what they really think until they leave office, and a tacit acceptance that unity is quite reasonably built on the backs of queer people. At last, that wicked, immoral consensus is crumbling. It is staggering how shameless those who have fought against any liberation for queer people are now being.

We are told that the introduction of voluntary, opt-in prayers of blessing are an existential threat to those who choose not to offer them. We are told that it is unacceptable that those who say LGBTQI people should be celibate will now have to admit to it. We are told that any compromise position, any opportunity to offer anything whatsoever to queer people, is an act of victimisation towards conservative evangelicals. We are told that it is imperative that queer clergy must not be sexually intimate and must be punished if they are, and that this is the red line. Blithe nonsense about cancel culture abounds; misrepresentation of facts, and of the reality of power structures, is front and centre. It is scandalous. As a recent Tweet from the CEEC campaign stated, apparently without irony, ‘we are for respecting people, even when we disagree on theological conclusions’ – perhaps it’s time to put that into action, folks.

The thing is, the Church of England and its hierarchy should be willing and able to challenge this ratcheting up of confected terror, rather than imbibe it and be scared by it. The Church of England has produced something rather valuable in the Pastoral Principles, yet there seems to be precious little recognition of how these relate to this recent campaign. There is little point having these principles written down if they are not going to be put into practice – and it is about time some leadership was shown and people held to account. Yet as ever it is queer people who are told to calm down and have warmer hearts.

The apology to LGBTQI people from the House of Bishops is not worth the paper it’s written on if nobody is willing to stand up for us. Since the Synod vote, little to no comment has been made on how those of us who are LGBT face discrimination on a constant basis from wider society, let alone from the Church. LGBT people face genuine and real oppression and are openly victimised, targeted and discriminated against. Trans people are murdered across the world, year by year. Gay young people in parts of sub-Saharan Africa are taken out of their homes and killed. I do not understand why there is such an oppressive and overwhelming silence on this issue. If we’re looking for real victims in all of this, a good place to start – for example – would be the queer folk of Uganda. Yet a month’s wait for anything – at all – to come out of Lambeth (and there is still nothing out of the Anglican Communion Office or GAFCON) in response to the Archbishop of Uganda’s blasphemous support for criminalization of LGBTQI people is hardly the ‘speaking into silence’ that the Pastoral Principles demand. It’s simply not good enough, and if this is the trajectory, then the feigned apology is nothing more than an insult.

Those who are promoting the CEEC campaign and its messages need to take a long, hard look at themselves. A false narrative of victimhood – a genuine ‘playing the victim’ – is not only a tactic that flies directly in the face of the Pastoral Principles, but one that flies directly in the face of our belonging to Jesus Christ. And the leaders of our Church need to step up and speak into what is going on here, instead of running scared. Doing so behind closed doors is not enough – we are being publicly attacked day after day, and there is nothing whatsoever being said to support us.

Queer people have put up with ‘just getting on with it’ for too long – and we’re being taken advantage of. Just because we don’t constantly play the victim doesn’t mean we’re not hurting. Many – most – of us are. We’re living in a Church that tolerates and doesn’t love us, and now we’re living in a Church that is willing to tacitly accept that – once again – we’re the problem. We still do not matter – we are still an ‘issue’.

It’s time – in fact, it’s well beyond time – for our leaders to practise what they preach. We’ve been hung out to dry quite long enough.

This article originally appeared on the ViaMedia.news website on 11 June 2023 and is republished here by kind permission of the author and publisher. The original article is to be found here: https://viamedia.news/2023/06/11/playing-the-victim/.