A Friend has had her appointment as a Churches Together in England president blocked because she is in a same-sex marriage
Quakers have expressed their deep sadness and anger that a Friend has had her appointment as a Churches Together in England (CTE) president blocked because she is in a same-sex marriage.
The plans to appoint Quaker nominee Hannah Brock Womack for the Fourth Presidency Group – out of six presidency groups – were derailed because not all denominations in membership of CTE would accept a president who is married to someone of the same sex.
Hannah Brock Womack told the Friend that she was ‘sad’ about the decision and had ‘moments of anger’ but was ‘trying to look for the opportunities’. Although the Fourth Presidency Group supported her appointment – with only one church abstaining – the larger Member Churches of CTE’s Enabling Group said it came to ‘a clear mind, by a substantial majority’ and asked her ‘not to exercise’ her appointment.
A statement said: ‘For the sake of our ecumenical unity at present, we request that the Fourth Presidency Group show restraint by not exercising the office of their Presidential appointment. We acknowledge the pain and sadness that this will provoke.’
Although Hannah Brock Womack remains the fourth president, she will not be able to take her place alongside the other CTE presidents when they gather. Instead, the fourth chair will be left empty as a symbol of the work still to be done to find unity.
Hannah Brock Womack, who Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) described as ‘an active Quaker’ and a ‘young, radical peace activist’, told the Friend that she was ‘shocked but not surprised’. However, she said she felt ‘tenacious’ and ‘upheld’ enough to stay involved. She will still convene the Fourth Presidency Group meetings and said that ‘one of the good things to come out of the conflict is that it has brought the Fourth Presidency Group together and we now have quarterly meetings’. She added: ‘We are now embarking on conversations about sexuality within CTE as a direct result; this is no longer an issue to be brushed under the carpet. I feel really supported by Quakers and the Fourth Presidency Group. I could walk away, but I feel I have to stay in this strange hinterland position to show solidarity with other friends who have had much worse experiences in other churches.’
Speaking in the Church Times, Hannah Brock Womack said about the empty chair: ‘For me, it is a symbol of pain and separation, but it is also means that they are not ignoring it. It is better than pretending that we don’t exist.’ She added: ‘The presidents at the moment are all older men, and I was really looking forward to bringing a different voice… I bring other things that are not represented in the group: I am a peace activist, a climate activist. Quaker leaders are not clergy…That approach is not going to be there now, which is sad.’
Mark Lilley, Quaker representative to CTE Enabling Group and clerk of Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR), said: ‘The grief this situation is causing Friends cannot be underestimated by other churches. Work must be done to heal the pain through creative conversations about our differences. We are confident that the ecumenical movement will continue to serve as a model of cooperation and mutual understanding that recognises the unique gifts of each member.’
Paul Parker, recording clerk for BYM, called it ‘a deeply sad decision’. He said: ‘Quakers in Britain value the fact that CTE seeks to encompass the wide diversity among Christians in England. It is important to us that the Quaker voice is heard in discussions between churches. As Quakers, we are called to answer that of God in everyone. We recognise the inherent worth of each person. That leads us to welcome all committed same-sex relationships as equally as committed opposite-sex relationships. We value equally all people, regardless of sexuality or other defining characteristics. These characteristics are not the right way to decide if someone is right to serve as our CTE president.’
Meanwhile, other Quakers reacted angrily to the news with calls on social media to break with CTE. Several members of the Quaker Lesbian Group (QLG) said they were ‘appalled’ at the decision, such as Laura Fulcher, who argued that this ‘narrow’ view of Christianity ‘has led to many gay Christians feeling distraught and rejected’. Deirdre Haslam, another QLG member, said ‘the continuing prejudice of various so-called Christian churches towards same-sex unions… just demonstrates, to me, how far we still have to go in our struggles for recognition by certain religious groups’. Meanwhile, Rosie Adamson-Clark and Chris Smith, from Bolton Meeting, told the Friend: ‘As a same-sex couple who were the first to marry in the country in our Quaker Meeting house, we support Hannah in standing up for her right to be proudly who she is and fulfil an important role. Quakers campaigned for fifty years for equality of marriage… to give in to such bigotry would set us back fifty years.’
However, Yvonne Estop-Wood and Zem Moffatt, co-clerks of the Quaker Gender and Sexual Diversity Community (QGSDC) said that they were ‘saddened to witness this discrimination’ but ‘we continue to uphold those leaders in Christian denominations still wrestling in good faith with the concept of equal marriage’. They added: ‘We hope that Hannah’s continued dignified service in [Churches Together] will be a beacon of charity and hope for others.’
CTE issued a statement saying: ‘An ongoing process of discussion, listening and prayer has begun.’
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