Tapping Into Love – Democratising Evangelism

By the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

my-name-is-paul

Last week the General Synod met to address a wide-ranging agenda which included listening to victims and survivors of abuse, debating the Church’s approach to climate change, to appropriate investment in (or disinvestment from) energy companies, to nuclear weapons, and a large raft of legislative business. In and among all this a debate on evangelism, built around the final report of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group, was squeezed out and will be debated at a future Synod, hopefully and presumably in February 2019.
This was a pity, not least for those of us who had prepared for the debate and had written the report on which it was to be based.
I need to declare an interest in all this, as I served as vice-chair of the Evangelism Task Group (ETG), under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I’m so glad to have been asked to serve on the ETG and to have worked with an outstanding group of colleagues from all traditions, whose presence on the group at different times blessed the whole Church. I thank God for every single one of them, and I thank God that in our Church there is a place at the table for them all, for as long as they wish to stay in the room, or to re-enter the room if they’ve left it, so that wisdom and grace may abound.
The motion on evangelism which the Synod hoped to debate asked the national officers of the Church to continue their work of resourcing and supporting Christians in their sharing of the good news of Jesus. This was an excellent thing, as far as I was concerned. I served for six years as the National Mission and Evangelism Adviser in our Church of England, and I am proud to have done so and to have tried to make a difference from that position. I continue to value the work of national officers and of the new and expanded Evangelism and Discipleship Team. So I would have supported the Synod motion.
But as I have reflected on the non-debate, and on the undebated motion, I find myself worrying that it might have deceived the Church into believing that the responsibility for evangelism lies solely with Church House teams and officers and diocesan staff, as if without nationally smart ideas no evangelism can be expected to take place.
It is not so. Evangelism is simple if you do it, as Archbishop Moon Hing said to the Synod from his own experience in Asia. Evangelism happens when people talk. It happens when people talk. Evangelism cannot be delegated upwards. It takes place between friends, across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, when Christians listen to the ones they know and talk to them about Jesus.
Evangelism, the sharing of good news, happens most especially when there is love; that is when the redemptive love of Jesus is shared by people who have been redeemed, and who (you might say) love large.
Outstandingly the most significant single example of commending the faith in recent memory is the sermon preached by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church at the Royal Wedding. Bishop Michael communicated his humanity and he told the couple, and 1,900 million people besides, that there was power in love, and that Christians were people committed to redemptive love and to justice.
As the Archbishop of York said at the Synod, this came as welcome news to the world. Millions of people did not know that Christian preachers could be human, and they did not know that the Christian faith was about love. Repeatedly in newspapers and magazines Bishop Curry’s message was described as “unorthodox”. Since then, preachers have been invited to be like Bishop Curry. I agree that we should be like Bishop Curry, if that means we communicate who we are as beloved children of God (not pretending to be who he is!) and talk about the love that has made us beloved. As the man said, there’s power in love.
Evangelism is a long, churchy word, and love is a short, everyday one. Evangelism is a blah blah word and love is a real word. I’m afraid people expect blah blah from church people. They don’t expect Christians to talk about love. They think it’s unorthodox. That is a sadness and an indictment of course, but let’s not be too gloomy. We beat ourselves up too much as it is. Instead, let’s look on the bright side;  when we talk about the power of love then people are surprised and they want to hear it. People are glad that love is real. Isn’t that great?
The Washington Post was one of hundreds among the media that reported positively on Bishop Curry’s sermon. This is what they said:
“Based on social media, the reaction to Curry’s sermon showed that it was incredibly well-received, especially by black Americans. But emphasizing the power of love seemed to resonate across countries, races and even political views perhaps because such a unifying message is rarely shared so prominently. And it also possibly connected because the current times are politically divisive, and even violent.
 
Curry spoke for an alternative:
 
“Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way,” he said. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.”
 
There is a lot to take away from Saturday’s ceremony, and there will be numerous pieces reflecting on it. But the component of the day that had the greatest potential to connect is that hate will never be an effective approach to righting societal ills. Therefore, tapping into love is worth a try.”
Tapping into love is worth a try, the love that’s “unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive”; as we would say the unique love of Christ that saves the world. Churches that speak of this love are like sprinkler systems on a parched lawn. Suddenly the dry and brown grass becomes green again. Suddenly the dry, harsh, misrepresented, half-forgotten Christian narrative makes sense again. Suddenly the ones on the edge of things realise that they are included. Love makes things work. Love large; love is big. Dante hit the bullseye when he said that it is love that moves the sun and the other stars. Love is as big as it gets. In short God is love, and Jesus is the word of God. As Brian Zahnd puts it, Jesus is what God has to say.
But we must, must, must be clear; if we live as Jesus people and say what God has to say, if we tap into love as the way God is, then people will expect to see love as the way we are.
In his Presidential Address at the recent Synod the Archbishop of York specifically and explicitly reminded the Church that its leaders have committed it to a radical new Christian inclusion. Each of those four words matters. No one of them cancels out the other three. Together they speak of a deeply rooted and refreshed welcome within a changed and changing world. Together they speak of love. There’s power in love.
Becoming a community marked by radical Chrisian inclusion has not been postponed until 2020, or even till next week. Our Archbishops have called us to it now, today, this moment, this breath; this welcome. There will be no evangelism without it. If it’s not radical, not new, not Christian, not inclusion, then it’s not good enough.
In my own Diocese we have a rule of life and each person who commits to it will be committed to prayer and to reading scripture and to living justice and to generosity, but they will also be committed to bringing one friend into the conscious company of Jesus each year. Talking to one, listening to one, bringing one. If that happens it will be because of love, radical, new, Christian, inclusive love, and where that is seen there will be evangelism. There’s power in love.
Can we then democratise evangelism, a radical, new, Christian, inclusive evangelism? Between friends and across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, can we speak of the love that is for all, of the power of love to embrace and to bless and to redeem the world? Can we tap into Jesus’ love? It’s worth a try.

 

Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. Mobile email.
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Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England | 2 Comments

Episcopally Led and Synodically Managed

by Dr Meg Warner, Theologian, Lecturer and Member of General Synod

Meg Warner

In the most moving session of the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England (York, 7-11 July) a survivor of church-related sexual abuse spoke about her experience of reporting the abuse, about the support organisation to which she had turned for care and advice (see details below), and about her more recent work with that same support organisation, helping others who have been sexually abused by clergy. Her presentation was engaging, challenging, and harrowing.

In his introduction to the debate that followed the Bishop of Bath of Wells noted that the final report of IICSA on the handling of sexual abuse claims in a number of institutions including the Church of England was not due to be delivered until 2020. Nevertheless, he said, improving the experience of those survivors of church-related sexual abuse who were brave enough to report their abuse was so urgent that synod ought not to wait, but should begin to take action immediately.

The synod went on to vote overwhelmingly in favour of the motion before it, endorsing priorities for action and calling on the House of Bishops and Archbishops’ Council ‘to ensure that the plan of action is implemented as a matter of priority’.

Here was a good example of synod in action. The bishops and the business committee brought a matter before synod, synod listened and voted.

This debate, however, and particularly the Bishop of Bath Wells’ comments about the 2020 IICSA report,  threw into sharp relief the decision of Business Committee (no doubt supported by the House of Bishops) that the topic of human sexuality will not be included in the agenda of synod before the Episcopal Teaching Document (recently titled ‘Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage’) is published in – wait for it – 2020.

This decision was made despite the fact that more than one Private Members Motion on the subject has attracted the requisite number of signatures to be presented to the synod for debate. It was made despite the fact that provisional synod dates for November that have been in synod members’ diaries for months have been declared unnecessary. It was made despite the fact that the House of Bishops has decided to take no action on the clear request of synod in July 2017 that they sponsor the development of liturgy for welcoming trans people. It was also made despite the fact that this current synod will be prorogued following the July 2020 synod and a new synod, many members of which will not have participated in this synod’s shared conversations, will be formed in November.

LGBTI+ Christians are hurting, and the response of the church has often, if anything, added to their injury. It is absolutely the case that the need of survivors of clergy sexual abuse is urgent, but the need of LGBTI+ Christians is urgent too. By 2020 many more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and otherwise queer Christians, many of them young, will have left the Church of England. Some of them will have self-harmed or committed suicide because their church tells them that their identity is unacceptable to God.

Nevertheless, the business committee will not bring this matter before synod before 2020. The synod will have no further opportunity to listen, and nor will it be seen to be listening.

The House of Bishops and the business committee have either not learned the lesson of the synod’s snub of the House of Bishops in its rejection of February 2017’s take-note debate, or they have learned it only too well, and reasoned that it is not safe to allow the synod to get its hand on this particular subject.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that synod is being very, very carefully managed, so as not to allow it to get too close to controversial issues. These are being deftly kicked into the long grass or, as one synod member put it during the business agenda debate at the beginning of synod, kicked like a can along a road. Either way, synod is not being let loose on them.

General Synod, at its best, is a dynamic and responsible decision maker. We saw that in this synod with a spirited debate on the relative merits of engagement with and disinvestment from energy companies. The Diocese of Oxford had campaigned widely prior to synod, and won much support for its proposed amendment in favour of disinvestment. Synod, however, heard an extraordinary and compelling account of the success of the NIBs and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group in their engagement strategy, so that even before the conclusion of the unusually strong speeches it became apparent to most that many synod members had changed their minds and that the amendment would fail, as it did decisively.

In the investment debate, and even more so in the safeguarding debate, we saw the power of stories to change hearts and minds, especially where the lives of vulnerable people are at stake. The stories of LGBTI+ people will not be heard again by this synod. More’s the pity.

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Meg Warner, Sexual abuse | 3 Comments

Conventional Thinking At Its Best…

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham

Rosie Haarper

It could be so different.

The Royal Wedding will be remembered for many things. If you are a ‘Hello’ magazine reader the dresses might be the thing. If you are interested in young talent then the fabulous cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is certainly one to watch. Most people in church the day after were talking about Michael Curry and his sermon.

What we didn’t realise was that we got the mild version. At the opening Eucharist of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church we were treated to the Full Monty! We had warmth and humour and of course passion, and he covered a lot of ground, but the take-home message for me was when he described a process we all know so well.

In Curry speak the question was ‘How do we help our folk to throw themselves into the arms of Jesus?’

We usually name that in a less florid way as discipleship. As church leaders tend to do, they got a working group together -at Atlanta airport no less! They worked and worked until finally, said Curry, ‘we realised something. We didn’t need to come up with a new program for the Church. We got programs and there’s nothing wrong, but we don’t need a new program. We don’t need a new program. No. We realised that – wait a minute, we don’t have to do any thing new!

He went on to quote Jesus in Matthew: ‘ “The scribe who is fit for the kingdom goes into their treasure box and pulls out something old that becomes something new.” And we realised that we already have what we need in the tradition of the church going back centuries.’

This, I must confess, was music to my ears.

I’m living with the feeling that as a Church in England we have lost our nerve. Lost our confidence in the treasure we have inherited, and are putting all our money and energy into new programmes rather than breathing new life into the riches of our treasure box.

The scariest aspect of this is that our Crown Jewels are the local parishes. It is there that the life-long relationships are built far more deeply than within the more transient inner city communities. It is there that you road test your faith in real life, because the person sitting next to you in the pew will probably be your neighbour and teach your children at the local school.

There were in fact lots of reasons to love that opening Eucharist. It was inclusive in ways that we haven’t begun to tackle. Musically it was extraordinary. There were traditional hymn tunes but they have given up singing words that are nonsense, so the treasure of great tunes have new life breathed into it with sharp and relevant new words. There was a Latino music group, more folk than worship song and culturally spot on. The language was completely free of the generic ‘man’ and the liturgy moved from English to Spanish in a simple and unforced way. The order of service was entirely paperless -you just took along your iPad or phone and you could have French, Spanish or English.

Worship is simply so much more vibrant when the whole body of Christ is free to belong and engage. It was the first time for many years that I felt that the very concept of a ‘service’ wasn’t terminally ill.

After all that diversity it came as a serious wake up call to go to a seminar run by the Center for Anglican Communion Studies on racism. It is, like safeguarding, like the way we treat LGBTI people, like the everyday sexism in the church, an issue about which we say all the right things, and then nothing changes. Here the take-out sentence was ‘Racism is a spiritual problem – we have been spiritually malformed.’

Frankly I have been saying this for a long time now about our response to survivors in the CofE. We have been trying to solve a spiritual problem with structural solutions. It’s really the same point that Michael Curry was making. We don’t need more anti-racism programmes, we need transformational change of heart. We need our hearts, not the lawyers to tell us how to respond in a loving way to those we have damaged, and it seems to me we are a long way off that yet.

Some of the racism conversation was shocking and served as a warning for us in our own  country which is undoubtedly becoming more racist.

’We black folk go to church as a matter of survival, said one contributor. ‘ We have this President, we have police we no longer trust not to be violent towards us, and we experience far more overt and gratuitous verbal and physical racism. We need to go to church because even if no-one else is listening, at least God is listening.’

It is extraordinary how early we internalise this stuff.

There was a classic piece of research. It was run with 5 year old children- both black and white. They were given two dolls, one white and one black and asked to say which one was pretty, which one was good, where did their parents live -and so on. Both black and white children ascribed all the good, positive qualities to the white doll and the bad ones to the black doll.

The Church is made up of the same people as the community, so we transport our prejudice, even when it is unacknowledged or unknown, into our relationships. Where are the black leaders in the CofE either lay or ordained? John Sentamu has ticked that box but it doesn’t let us off the hook, especially as far a black women leaders are concerned.

It is indeed a spiritual problem. A very simple one.

God looked at what he had created and saw that it was good. That gives us absolutely no wriggle room to leave anyone on the fringe. Not someone who is gay, not someone who has been abused, not someone who is black.

The CofE have just kicked the debate about the full inclusion of LGBTI people into the long grass. What is really wrong is that there has to be a debate at all. It’s as if we are saying: This is our party and we will consider whether you might get an invitation. Terms and conditions apply.

In fact it is God’s party and everyone is invited on a completely equal basis.

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, James Woodward, Rosie Harper, Social Justice | 3 Comments

Are We Truly a Church “Of the People”?

by the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

 

Jeremy Morris

With the Grenfell inquiry under way, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) about to resume its hearings, the ongoing Windrush controversy, and the aftermath of the report of the Gosport Independent Panel – to name but some current stories – once respected or even ‘cherished’ institutions (here local government, the Church, the Home Office, the NHS) remain under scrutiny and criticism for having failed people.

It’s probably true that every situation is different.  In the case of the Windrush scandal, a specific political agenda on immigration forced the pace on a policy originally designed to deal with illegal migrants, and in the process trampled on common sense and natural justice.  In the case of incidents dealt with by IICSA, naiveté and the unwillingness to raise difficult questions with colleagues often conspired with ineffective or inadequate processes and – of course crucially – unscrupulous individuals to perpetuate a cycle of abuse and collusion.

But in all these cases, what emerges is nonetheless a common, cultural theme – people who are failed at so many levels or in so many ways experience those in authority as distant, as ‘other’, ignorant often of the real conditions in which people live and struggle, and unconcerned about them.

It’s particularly distressing, for those of us who are supposed to be ministers of the Gospel, to think that this is how people see the Church.  Of course, the Church isn’t the clergy – it’s everyone, and not just those who think they are members (I’m reminded of those challenging words of Augustine, “in the ineffable foreknowledge of God many who seem to be outside are within: while many who seem to be within are outside”).  And that’s got to be right – indeed, we have to reverse the common assumption that to join the clergy is to ‘enter the Church’.  So those who are visibly and identifiably representatives of the Church, in a paid role perhaps, or at least a role with managerial responsibility, should be those we think of in the last breath as ‘the Church’, rather than the first.

And, again, we can say that the Church is a mixture of the divine and the human – the divine, as Jesus’s body in the world, a means of grace, a vehicle for the Word, or however we might articulate the idea, and the human, as the sheer messy, confused, sinning, and constantly failing stuff of humanity.  But these considerations do not affect – well, in fact they underline – the thought that it’s especially a matter of concern if the Church, the body of Christ, which in Vatican II parlance is ‘the whole people of God’, is spoken of and regarded as something set apart from those who make up its members.

When– as a young man – I was influenced a lot by the work of Marxist or New left historians such as E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill, I found the distinction between ‘institutions for’ and ‘institutions of’ useful.  To be ‘for’ is obviously not the same as to be ‘of’.  Middle class philanthropy was ‘for’ the working class, but it did not originate with the people and emerge from them – it was not ‘of’ the working class.  Trade unions were both ‘for’ and ‘of’ the working class.  Certain kinds of right-wing organization, so it was argued, might very well be ‘of’ the working class, but were not obviously ‘for’ them.

It’s easy to see how the Church is an organization for people.  It exists to serve them, to bring the light of the Gospel to them, to feed them spiritually, and materially if necessary, to nurture them through life from birth through marriage and human relationships to death, to teach them, to support them, and so on.  If it is too narrow or sectarian in its understanding, it becomes an institution for some people – it sets itself too restricted a goal, too unambitious a sense of the scope of God’s love.  Therefore we ought to say the Church is a Church for the people.  The Church exists to serve everyone; no one is automatically excluded from the scope of God’s love.

But the Church should also be of the people.  It should not be set apart from them, or set over them, or aloof from their lives and their concerns.  It needs to be right down amongst them, indeed composed of them and emerging from them.  It needs to live with them and amongst them, because it is, or should be, them.  Of course that doesn’t exclude the rich and famous, the middle class professionals (like me, obviously), because these are all people too, and the Church is also there for them, though it is plainly of them anyway.  But it cannot be the Church for the people realistically if it is only a Church of some people, or at least of a certain kind of person.

Anglicans in particular like to pride themselves on being there for everyone, and it’s true that having the parish system, and having resident clergy in areas of deprivation as well as wealth is a step – perhaps a big one – towards being a Church of the people.  But let’s no fool ourselves about that.  The Church of England might be spread over the country, but it’s spread incredibly thin in places, almost to vanishing point.

And of course it’s not easy to be of the people, not least because the Church is a complex institution and it needs theologians, educators, financial managers, specialists in a wide range of fields including mission, safeguarding, human resources, law, architecture, and overseers (bishops), and almost invariably these people are recruited from the educated and financially secure.  We want competent, experienced and well-trained people in key positions – but that means, if we’re not careful, we’re caught up in the cycle of affluence, education and opportunity that facilitates the rise of a few but excludes the many.  Try how we might – we have a system of lay involvement in decision-making, we have programmes of positive or affirmative action, we try to deal fairly and firmly with those who manipulate or abuse our systems – we plainly fail time and again to do much more than nod in the direction of opening the arms of the Church to all.

So what’s to be done?  Lots of practical things have to be done – a whole programme of them, in fact.  So full steam ahead on all fronts!

But there’s always something more fundamental than practical action, and that’s our conviction in the Lord who was ‘despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’.  The Jesus who emerged from the people, and who suffered and was broken as a common criminal, is also the Lord in his Church: in him, all human life is offered up to God, and the God who loves all people is therefore of all people as well as for all people.

We should look in the mirror, as a Church, and hope we see Jesus looking back at us.  If we don’t, we’re in trouble.

 

Posted in Church of England, Jeremy Morris, Social Justice | 3 Comments

Synod Goes Nuclear

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

In its almost fifty year history, there have been just a tiny number of occasions when the General Synod of the Church of England has been able to host the debate that the rest of society, including the political establishment, has been failing to have. Faith in the City is perhaps the best remembered example, when a well written and deeply researched report challenged both church and society to respond to the increasing impoverishment of both our inner cities and our outer estates. From that same era, with the Cold War between East and West still raging, and MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, as the basis for our defence policies, came a report entitled “The Church and the Bomb”. Both were highly controversial at the time, the Church being accused of meddling in politics by those who disagreed with the thrust of the reports, yet their fates were almost complete opposites. Faith in the City helped inspire a generation of responses to poverty, by both church organisations and wider society. By contrast, almost any attempt during the intervening decades to even discuss nuclear weapons has been at best ignored. So I’m delighted that space has been set aside next weekend for a serious Synod debate about this long neglected, but vitally important, topic. 

I’m a pragmatist at heart. If, on the balance of the evidence, our possession of nuclear weapons makes the risk of war much lower, and markedly reduces the likelihood that others will use such similar armaments as they possess, then I would consider them both moral to possess and a justifiable expenditure of the large amounts of the money we pay in our taxes for them. Given the risks such weapons present, and their huge cost at a time when money is short for many important other causes, I would have expected the arguments to be set out with similar seriousness and frequency to that with which we determine and revise our national position on matters from health and education to who runs our trains. Yet the silence has been deafening.

 

In fact it has been more than just silence. When the House of Bishops suggested, in the midst of a Pastoral Letter ahead of the 2015 General Election, that parties should debate their stance on Britain’s possession of nuclear arms, the response of many in the media and political world seemed to be that anyone doing so must be both a confirmed abolitionist and deeply unpatriotic. It was a reaction that first shocked me, and then convinced me that the need for a proper, informed debate was more urgent than ever.

 

Moreover, I was left with a feeling that perhaps the reason why nuclear weapons are not debated in public is because their justification is not actually about the defence of the realm at all, but something more visceral and far less worthy. In a Britain that has now long lost its Empire, and which struggles to keep up with the pace of development and growth in much of the rest of the world, do we cling to our bomb as some kind of status symbol; that in possession of this horrific armament, if in nothing else, we remain high in the Premier League?

So I’m looking forward to a reasoned and well argued Synod debate. One where the best of arguments around the role of nuclear weapons in both the world and in Britain’s armoury will be deployed and tested. One where the Church of England can show that, irrespective of the particular views of individual members on the subject, we are all passionate about the wellbeing of our country and its role for good in the world. Which is, after all, what true patriotism is about.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Social Justice | 6 Comments

Trumped Up Charges That Have Shamed America.

by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Director of Lay Training, Diocese of Leeds

hayley

As Refugee Week drew to a close Trump’s immigration policy precipitated the removal of children from their parents, caging them in concrete and wire holds with nothing but a foil blanket to clutch in their terror and bewilderment. Any foster carer or adoptive parent can tell you how distraught young children are at being taken from their primary care-giver – there is no sound as distressing as the cries of desolation and terror when a child experiences the psychic tear of abandonment. Meanwhile their mothers wept inconsolably and one father – separated from his wife and child – committed suicide. It was traumatizing to simply watch such horrors taking place in a supposedly civilised nation.  Thankfully, a visit to All Hallows, Hyde Park in Leeds provided a welcome antidote to the poison threatening to overwhelm us all with its inhumane actions.

Whilst Trumpian cries of “these aren’t people, these are animals” heralded a worrying call back to base tribalism, the sermon preached by Nigel Greenwood from St Chad’s, was a welcome recall to the crux of our inclusive faith. Yes, that’s right, our inclusive faith.

For adherents to Trump’s understanding of Christianity seem to be at odds with a basic reading of the Old Testament which lists well over 100 references to sojourners, aliens, and strangers amongst the guidance given God’s people on how to treat ‘the other’.   These three words are important in this debate for they cover so much of what is happening right now on planet earth. ‘Sojourners’ are travelling from one place to another – they may or may not know where they are going to settle but, for now, they need to pass through your country. In Job 31:32 we read ‘But no sojourner had to lodge in the street, For I have opened my doors to the traveler.’ Hashtag, FAIL.

As for ‘the Alien’, these are people so far removed from our own heritage or way of life that they appear to be, well, alien to us, but what do the scriptures teach? “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:7). Yes, that’s right, all Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity…) are birthed from these scriptures which categorically call us to loving our neighbour, even the ‘aliens’ amongst us and we are reminded in no uncertain terms that we too are perceived as ‘aliens’ to others. Again, hashtag, FAIL.

The word ‘stranger’ is used over one hundred times with the scriptures repeatedly admonishing us to include, feed, house and protect them. Amongst the wonderful couplets the Old Testament is known for, the second verse immediately reverses the text by reminding us that we, too, are considered to be sojourners, aliens and strangers in this world, as we follow a spiritual path to a Kingdom that has no border control.

This is evident in the way that the Vicar and congregation at All Hallows life out their faith. They had just received an accolade: “Improving Community Relations Prize 2018” from the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum at their Eid Celebrations who wrote:

Places of faith are increasingly under scrutiny as religion becomes something blamed for many of the ills in society.

However our next winner is a faith leader who is committed to building rapport will all communities and a real example to faith leaders from the Muslim community.

For many years his establishment has been a sanctuary for people experiencing injustice. Upset by the way in which many of our fellow human beings have been treated, and by the way in which they have not been offered hospitality and support when they have needed it, they play a significant part in seeking justice for people coming to the UK hoping for asylum and who then found themselves held in detention centres.

They have provided support in all sorts of ways to people seeking safety – in doing so learning that journeying together is the best way to share God’s love in this situation and that one person cannot do it alone.

With others in the Hyde Park area, they work for justice, reconciliation and to inspire hope – working with people coming from a variety of backgrounds, ages and lifestyles, and celebrating the diversity in our communities.

For living up to the values captured in their strap line of “Loving, Living and Learning”, the winner of the Improving Community Relations Award is…

Reverend Heston and All Hallows Church

All Hallows and their Muslim friends remind us that throughout the scriptures of all major world religions there are texts calling us to hospitality, support of the homeless, those who find themselves in a strange land, often desperate to escape the persecution, war or famine from which they are fleeing. The Old Testament begins with:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34

While the New Testament reinforces ‘there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.’ Colossians 3:11. We could add here our own ‘otherings’: black, gay, Asian, mother, Pakistani, female, child, transgender, unemployed, working class, male youth, a conservative politician…the list goes on.

Nigel preached that ‘an inclusive church is built upon an open and welcoming congregation where all God’s people are treated with warmth, dignity and respect in a way which reflects God’s own unconditional love for everyone – where people are not subject to discrimination, not just accepted but appreciated, valued and cherished for who they are regardless of superficial considerations’ [italics mine]. Not tolerated, cherished

Nigel echoes the words of The Great Commission in Matthew where Jesus challenged those who claimed to love God without caring for ‘others’ that they would be superseded by those who were not even adherents of the faith; ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:35 + 40).  Are we entering the age in which this becomes our reality?

Believers and unbelievers alike agree on one thing; do unto others as you would have done unto you; we can only hope, pray and encourage our sisters and brothers in Christ that at some point the people of faith in America find their unified voice and challenge the distortion of our ancient and life-giving scriptures to sanction the abuse of power and oppression of various peoples, using their influence in the corridors of power and legal systems to set these captives free, reuniting those who have been recklessly torn apart from those who gave them life, to those who even now, are weeping for them.

All Bible quotes from the New King James version of the Bible.

Posted in Church of England, Hayley Matthews, Social Justice | Leave a comment

For the Love of God….

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Author of Just Love

The scream

‘Once bitten, twice shy’ or so the old saying goes.

Typically, it means that when someone has let you down once you’re rightly wary of trusting them again.

And yet of course, that’s precisely what we in the Church of England are being asked to do – trust that the House of Bishops will this time really hear what is being said about the impact of its teaching on the LGBTI community, trust that this time they will actually act, trust that this time they will come off the razor wire fence that they have become so adapt at balancing on.  In a nutshell, trust that this time they will actually decide whether someone like me can love and be loved, can have that love blessed and can use the gifts that God has gifted me with in ordained service to His Church.

After having tangible proof that the bishops have consistently failed to do any of this with their last, now discredited, report – which the General Synod voted down in February 2017 – we are now being asked to put all future debates on hold until they have had a second attempt at another document.

Of course this is the same group of mostly straight men that talk about being Christ-like and yet so many have a less than honest approach of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, who talk about being courageous and confident yet most cannot be brave enough to state what they really think in public, and who pretend that they are upholding the “precious gift of unity” yet know full well that we are far from being one and that it is LGBTI Christians who bear the brunt of their indecision, and have to leave.

No matter that so many of us suffer mental anguish and trauma, that many of us still struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings of self-hate.  We are just a few – and we therefore don’t really matter.  Our presence is not that missed.

Even when some of us pay the ultimate price, the Church just looks away and continues to stumble proudly on.   There seems no real desire to stop, listen and learn – it’s just all too inconvenient.

Shame on us all.

No wonder the nation looks at the Church with horror and sees a hypocritical edifice of hollow words and false smiles.   People constantly wringing their hands and offering meaningless platitudes.

And whilst those in authority pontificate and procrastinate real people’s lives continue to be ruined.

More worryingly, young peoples’ lives continue to be put at risk. This is a safeguarding issue of immediate importance, as they are exposed to teachings that will scar them for life.   But few want to see it as such, and many instead accuse us of emotional blackmail.

You think I exaggerate?

Well you try living with the fact that you are constantly told that God does not bless your yearning for love.  That we must pay a sacrificial price for the way we have been created – a price not of our choosing but mandated to us by an institution who has stubbornly chosen to interpret scripture in a way that shows no love or mercy but places burdens on us we cannot carry.

Some of us are told we are abominations, that it would have been better if we had in fact died than choose the path we are now on.  They tell us we must repent and be transformed or face the heavy hand of discipline – which for many of us results in us being removed from any form of service or use of our gifts and talents, and for some bars us from the sacraments and even from church membership.  I know of one lady who was barred from even making coffee in her church, another who was told that the only thing she could do was clean the toilets – which she obediently did.

Who then is being Christ-like?

In order to find happiness, love and acceptance – many of us will try to seek ever more desperate ways of securing our healing.  We will put ourselves through all forms of prayer ministry, deliverance ministry, fasting and penances.  We will bare our souls to strangers, some will even bare their bodies and suffer physical degradation and pain – each attempt becoming ever more desperate.

Of course, when each course of action fails – which it nearly always does – we are left to carry the shame and frustration of wondering why God is not answering our heartfelt prayers.  What have we done wrong? What hidden sin have we not confessed?  Why didn’t we have enough faith? The blame is always left at our door, and we are the ones who are left to carry alone our shame and self-hate.

It is demeaning, humiliating and utterly exhausting.

I should know, I’ve been through it all – as I recount in my memoir, “Just Love“.

Countless others have too – if you’re in any doubt, read Vicky Beeching’s “Undivided”.

Many are still going through it, right now – today, tomorrow and each day up to the time in which the powers that be finally decide to act.

Indeed, since the publication of my memoir, Just Love, I have been inundated with many heart-breaking stories from LGBTI Christians about the way they too have been treated by their churches.  Their pain is raw, their experiences real, their anger palpable.

Of course, many will eventually give up and find their only option is to leave.  But be under no disillusionment – they will more often than not have to leave not just their church, but their family, their closest friends, their support group and their peers.

Their act of bravery, a step into freedom, will come at an extremely heavy cost – which for many will then prove too much.  They will be cast out and berated by their church elders, their family and friends. There is no return.  It is a one-way step.

Others will try to settle down and conform. They will marry “in faith” and live a life that is a lie, which will build an inner scream that inevitably – one day – will become so loud that it will find a way of being heard, be it through physical or mental breakdown.

Indeed, one such lady has just written to me about the trauma she is going through:

“I still experience repeated sexual trauma as I try and do what I believe the Church would have me do and stay committed and giving in my marriage.  In coming out there is a sense very much I’ve been wrong and have betrayed my husband in it all, but no recognition that being gay in this context can be a deeply painful situation itself.  I face suicidal feelings daily as I try and fit the straight mould I feel I owe to my husband who I love dearly.”

The horror and cruelty we put young (and not so young) LGBTI Christians through is one of the greatest evils of our generation. I say this advisedly, as it is done in the name of love by those we love yet it leads to destruction and hate.

So I make a plea – please church leaders, wherever you are, look at your fruit!  Are you seeing lives that are flourishing? Does your teaching lead to life or death?  Is your theology placing burdens on people they cannot carry?

Many of course will refuse to admit what is plain and true for everyone else to see.

So, I ask, again, who is it who needs teaching?  Who is it who needs to learn?  Who is the subject and who the object?

For those who have ears to hear – please hear the cries of a community in deep and ongoing pain.  And once you have heard, please act immediately – do not wait for more lives to be ruined.

You do not need a teaching document to tell you how to respond.

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 2 Comments