“Calm Down Dear…” – Love and Anger in the Church

By the Rt Revd Paul Bayes,  Bishop of Liverpool


“That’s what politics is about, Philip; love and anger.”
Neil Kinnock to Philip Gould, 1992

“That constant humiliation to survive. If you’re not angry about it, what kind of person are you?”
Ken Loach, 2016

“Don’t mourn, organise!”
Joe Hill (to a friend before he was executed), 1915

What motivates people to make a difference? What motivates people to return, day after day, in the face of discouragement and misunderstanding and opposition, to make a difference again? And to keep on making a difference until things are different? How do we find the strength inside?

The road to justice and holiness begins from our own front door. If as a Christian I believe I am beloved of God, and if I believe God made me the way I am, then my jumble of emotions, desires, longings and hopes is God-given and capable of redemption. From there the journey begins, the journey to change the world inside and outside. Kieran, one of the leaders of “Open Table”, our LGBT congregation in Liverpool, told me this week of a saying they have there: “Come as you are. Be as you are. Leave differently.”

All this is true. But the Christian tradition has often suspected anger, excluding it from this vision of the whole of life redeemed, expecting disciples to amputate it or repress it or ignore it, at any rate to suspect it and fear it, to regret it and deplore it and certainly not to listen to its voice and amplify its cry. There is a story of one of the saints of early monasticism, in the desert of northern Egypt, who kept a stone in his mouth for many months “until he learned to speak without anger”.

For much of the church and much of the time, to be angry has been the same as to be immature. In such a view anger must be bottled up, we must hedge the heart before we speak; the only thing that matters in our conversation is argument, dispassionate argument. In such a view argument is what makes a difference, argument is what moves and changes people, only argument. After argument there can be no room for feeling, only argument moves the world and the church family along, we were born to argue and then to submit to the better argument. Let’s keep everything cool and cerebral; after all, didn’t Jesus say that the angry would be subject to judgement (Matthew 5:22)? The heart is above all things deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) – so let’s strangle it, in particular shrivel its terrible twin faces of anger and desire.

And yet, and yet. We know that the Bible makes more room for anger (and of course desire) than this. The Lord Jesus does not seem to have been ashamed of his anger, when he cleared the temple or when he healed the man with a withered hand or when he spoke hard and straight truth to the Pharisees (John 2:13ff, Mark 3:1ff, Matthew 23:15ff). The writer of Ephesians was unafraid of anger, and distinguished it clearly from sin (Ephesians 4:26f).

No, anger is not sin – though of course anger is seen in scripture as potentially dangerous and as in need of care. James, echoing a recurrent theme in the Hebrew bible, exhorts his readers to be “slow to anger” as God is slow to anger (James 1:19, Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm and Proverbs passim). But the scriptures make room for the slow heart, for slow and real anger just as much as for passionate desire.

So what motivates people to make a difference? What motivates people to return, day after day, in the face of discouragement and misunderstanding and opposition, to make a difference again? And to keep on making a difference until things are different? Love and anger.

In his marvelous question-and-answer “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” (1985) the Roman Catholic theologian Herbert McCabe writes this:

Q: What is courage?
A: Courage is a disposition of our feelings of aggression which inclines us, characteristically, to face up to and deal with difficulties and dangers for the sake of doing what is good: a courageous person is neither over-aggressive nor timid; is angry about the right things at the right time and is prepared to suffer patiently when it is necessary and even to die for the sake of justice or in witness to the gospel…
Q: How do we exercise the virtue of courage?
A: We exercise the virtue of courage principally in energetic struggle on behalf of the poor and the weak and on every occasion when we have to face hostility and danger for the sake of justice and the gospel.

In short, as McCabe says in his book “On Aquinas“ (2008): “Courage is the virtue by which our aggression is reasonable” (p167). And in every deep and deep-felt conversation in the world and the Church, our aggression needs to be reasonable. Not strangled, but strongly present. And reasonable.

I write this for a purpose – to combat poor practice in the Church. The poor practice is this; that people whose inner and outer lives are deeply impacted by an issue, and who become angry as a result, are discounted precisely because of their anger. This has been the age-old fate of women in the West, and the fate of any oppressed group, and it is the fate of many LGBT people in the Church today. The advice from the men at the top (and they usually are men, and they are always at the top) is the old, infuriating, demeaning advice: “Calm down, dear”.

Calm down, and clam up. Don’t feel what you feel, or at least don’t express it. Behave. Let’s hear an argument, not a cry. Deny your deepest pain, and your deepest love. Instead play our game, our arguments-only game, our game that believes people only really exist from the neck up; calm down, dears, because your game is not legitimate, and we have decided that, and we are always right.

In the face of this old and cold advice I want to offer an even older, warmer, Biblical encouragement to those on the edge in the churches, and in this season to LGBT Christians in particular: be warmly angry, be hot with anger, but do not boil away.
Be warmly angry, but do not boil away. Feel what you feel, and turn the feeling to strength. Don’t mourn, organise. Let the person you are in God speak out, so that your own desires and your own anger become the engine for a just world.

Come as you are. Be as you are. Leave differently. Love differently. Bring your heart’s desire to bear on the life of our community. Make yourself heard, and if people like me act as if we know you better than you know yourself, then set us to rights, tell us the truth, motivate and stir and provoke us to know your anger as you know it.

And then, please, for all our sakes, exercise your courage, the virtue by which your aggression becomes reasonable. And bring your courage to bear on the councils of the church. And share facts and logic and truth and history and perspective, and (yes, of course!) argument. But never lose your anger, even after you’ve let it blow through you as the sun goes down, and refused to allow it to consume you. Bring your next-morning anger, your tempered anger, your reasonable passion, the truth of how you feel, and contribute it to the whole community, which desperately needs to listen to it.
Make a difference. Return, day after day, in the face of discouragement and misunderstanding and opposition, to make a difference again. Keep on making a difference until things are different.

And thank you for bearing with us still, and for enriching our half-awake lives, and for waking us up further. And thank you most of all for the passionate word of Christ that you have received and that you – and only you – can speak forward into our church’s symphony today, a word of the heart, the word of love and anger.

The Rt Revd Paul Bayes is Bishop of Liverpool and has written about his views on same-sex relationships in Journeys In Grace and Truth

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 4 Comments

A Question of Character?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News


I must admit I am worried – really worried.

There appears to be some deep malaise at the heart of Western politics, which many appear to recognise and yet few know how to diagnose let alone cure.

We see it in the current US Presidential Debate, which seems to have descended into some form of X-rated TV reality show, akin to a final show down in a “Celebrity Big Brother” or “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”…save this time there is no Davina, Ant nor Dec to jump in and save the day.

We see it in the after-quakes of the UK Brexit debate, and the various bullish responses from our European Union colleagues.

We hear of it following MEP scuffles in back rooms, or with would-be party leaders who have their offices vandalised.

What on earth is happening?

Where has decorum gone?

Where is common decency and respect?

Call me old-fashioned, but where is honour and virtue?

In an age of 24/7 media we seem to be living in plethora of real-life sitcoms, where enormous egos and highly professionalised spin machines seek to relativize truth and twist the facts to suit their own agendas.

At the heart of all this I fear are some rather dark age-old forces…and yes, I believe they are spiritual.

Their name?

That is the subject for another blog – perhaps next week – but for now I will just ask some obvious questions:

  • Why are Christian Republicans still choosing to stand by a man whose conduct is far from Christian?
  • Why are these same Republicans so blindly set on protecting Trump “at any cost”, despite almost daily revelations that show the true tenure of his character?
  • Why was Diane James unable to secure the moral authority to lead her party, despite being elected by her own party members to do so?
  • Why did Angela Eagle have a brick thrown through her constituency office, and then find herself being forced to stand down from the Labour leadership race?

Indeed, one could almost ask “Why is it that strong women are seen as a “problem” but strong men are seen as “born leaders”?”  Personally I believe there is a link – but to name it would get me labelled sexist.

There-in lies the rub – we are told never to call a spade a spade.  We are told not to label people as being what they undoubtedly are as they might sadly be offended – even if it is the truth.

The Church is a Master at this.  That’s why we seem to live in a slightly Twilight Zone, where the rest of the world looks on and wonders what on earth we’re up to.

So maybe it’s time to just speak the truth?  To cut through the fudge?  To stop the politics and the shenanigans, and say things as they really truly are:

We, the Church, are on the whole found to be institutionally sexist – despite finally allowing women onto the top table.  Yes, we are also institutionally racist, institutionally homophobic and er, yes, largely middle class.  We’re also pretty bad at dealing with disability, especially mental illness. We like to think we are there for everyone – but we want people to join us on our terms, and sadly that just doesn’t cut it in today’s diverse society. The age of deference is dead – a spade is most definitely just a spade!

Now that would be quite a day!  For the Church to actually be seen to lead the way in all truth…not spin it!

Who knows, maybe then we would be seen to have rediscovered our moral character, and maybe people would start listening to what we have to say?

Posted in Church of England, Jayne Ozanne | 3 Comments

The Divine Act of Being Visible

by the Revd Jody Stowell, Vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Harrow Weald


Ever since I was little, I have had the paradoxical desire both to be ‘part of the crowd’ and to be ‘the centre of attention’.  I seemed to be a discombobulating mix of Extrovert and Introvert.  I loved being on stage, taking part in school productions and joining drama classes; acting seemed to draw these conflicting desires together, as the mask of the persona was able to draw the sting out of being the centre of attention and allow me to be visible without the inconvenience of being ‘seen’.  However, ask me to give a talk or debate in class and I was a immediately a hyperventilating blob on the floor.

The last thing I ever thought I would be, is a Vicar, part of whose very job is to be visible, be seen and be authentically herself, and the journey that got me here is another story for another day.

But recently I was given pause to ponder the sometimes excruciating calling of being visible.

Over the last few years I’ve been pretty vocal in the campaign to see women become bishops in the Church of England, but I’ve also had the luxury, as a woman priest, of being in a local context where my day to day ministry is pretty ‘normal’, and I don’t have to think too hard about being a woman and a priest.  But the other day I found myself in a quite different context, where, I was quite literally the only ordained woman present (and I was surprised how weird this felt), where we ‘gentlemen’ were welcomed, and where it clearly made a certain male priest visibly uncomfortable to process down the aisle together, like I might have girl germs, or his standing next to me would somehow mean he would have to accept that I exist. Although there were some who saw my discomfort and were kind to me, which helped, it’s been a while since I’ve had to put up with those kind of shenanigans.

It reminded me of the importance of showing up, of just being present, of being visible, of acting like you have a special remit to exist, even when you’d rather blend into the background.  I didn’t choose to be particularly radical that day, I didn’t choose to be clearly visible and stick out like a sore thumb.

What I did choose, was to show up.

In the Christian faith the call to ‘show up’ is rooted in the theology of the Incarnation.  We have a God who shows up: from the visitations to Hagar, Abraham and Moses, in desert, tent and burning bush, to the womb of Mary and the messiness of childbirth.

It is striking that Christians have a God who not only shows up, but does so first and foremost in the same way as everyone else ‘shows up’.  God’s investment in being human and in being born, validates human presence as a vehicle of expression. We all show up on this planet through the birthing process and this is therefore our remit to show up and more than that, to be counted.  Jesus’ birth is our Christian justification for proclaiming that everyone deserves a voice and an invitation to the table.  There are some in this world who have this as an automatic privilege, the incarnation gives permission to those without this.

I often experience great privilege in my own human experience, I’m white, educated and have a secure home.  But in the situation I experienced above, it took relatively little to start to make me think that I’d made a foolish mistake in turning up, that perhaps I should have known that the invitation was simply a nicety and intended to be declined.  How much more difficult for those whose experience is a much more explicit exclusion.
Jesus of course, crashes the party, uninvited and unwanted. His very presence in our world shows us that there is great power in simply being present in a place.  His unapologetic arrival should give us courage in those spaces where we are unwanted.

Our presence means that people cannot ignore our existence.  Being present means that people have to deal with the reality and not the imagined or perceived person.
Outside of the church, as Christians, this can mean being invested in showing up at places where ‘God’ is a dirty word.  To be present in certain political arenas which would rather have religion as a privatised activity.  To speak into issues of food poverty, disability allowance and financial inclusion as if we had a right to.  Our very presence in these places indicates that we believe God is interested in these things.

Within the church, this challenges us both to be those who seek to invite the ‘other’, to look around the room and notice if everyone is ‘people like us’ and change the dynamic, but also to take courage and show up in the places where we suspect we are not fully welcome.  In the church, lack of welcome is still the case for women, even with the reality of women bishops, for BAME people, how much more the case for LGBT+ who quite understandably have no idea where they fit.

As we negotiate our way forward with conversations regarding sexuality in the church, we can’t underestimate the importance of gay people simply being present, as someone recently said to me, to ‘stay in the room’.  For those of us who are not gay, we must not underestimate the courage it takes to show up.

One of the prayers before communion says ‘Be present, be present, Lord Jesus Christ, our Risen High Priest, make yourself known in the breaking of bread’.  Presence and being known sometimes means the wounding, or breaking, of our self.  We have a call, every Christian, to be present in this world and in the Church.  It is sometimes at high cost.  It is always divine.

Picture of a Photo Negative of the Shroud of Turin

Posted in Church of England, Jody Stowell | 1 Comment

Vocations in the Cupboard?

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral


The Church of England is working to increase vocations to ordination by 50%, including making them more diverse. This is most obvious in relation to ethnic origin, where there is a tiny percentage of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic priests, even compared to the rather larger per cent of BAME church members. But it’s also visible in relation to young women, where some of the evangelical churches providing younger male ordinands don’t support women who feel called to leadership and service through ordination because of complementarian views of the role of the sexes based on biblical interpretation not shared by the rest of the Church of England.

There have been efforts to encourage and work for more vocations among BAME people and young women, to redress the imbalance and encourage priestly diversity. Much of the problem comes from inbuilt discrimination in a Church which still allows legal discrimination against women and which has belittled the equal humanity, ministries and gifts of women and ethnic minority people for centuries.

But there’s another area where attitudes to diversity in ministry are unenlightened – in relation to gay people. This is normally hidden; but an article by Vicky Beeching in The Guardian on 5th September opened a window, not only onto the dilemmas facing young gay Christians feeling called to be ordained, but also the unkindness and hostility with which they can be treated. Beeching’s article was honest in expressing doubts, shared by many she knows, about offering for ordination in a Church which tells her that, while committed same-sex celibate relationships are OK, her belief that gay Christians can marry is wrong and is a problem for ordination. If, however, she embraces celibacy then she could be ordained; a policy which, as she points out, is for many ‘a cruel and unhealthy strain on their partnership that straight clergy couples don’t have to face’.

What do you do when you’re gay, don’t feel ‘called’ by God to celibacy, but do feel ‘called’ to offer yourself to the Church for ordained ministry? Does that mean you’ve got it wrong? That’s what was being said to all women feeling a call to priesthood until very recently in the Church’s history. And it was 25 years ago that Issues in Human Sexuality stated that, although the Church’s teaching might not allow it, gay people might in good Christian conscience live in a committed relationship as part of their Christian discipleship – but not if ordained.

That means that a gay, lay person feeling a call to priesthood is in the same position as a Roman Catholic heterosexual, because they have to deny themselves ever having an intimate exclusive relationship if they are to be ordained a priest. That creates either an absolute bar to gay people who are not also called to celibacy offering for ordination, or else a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture in which people don’t tell the truth about who they are and what they do. No wonder gay people feeling called by the Church to explore ordination look at this and wonder what it means for them. They see gay people in partnerships in ministry, some openly and some not, some acknowledging celibacy and others not, and agonise about what they would have to go through, whether they are really able to exercise ministry or not, and the inconsistency of the Church which, if Hilton’s position is strictly followed, would deny ministry to any gay clergy not willing to make a commitment to celibacy, and which for some gay Christians means ending relationships which the Church has allowed them in good conscience to have as lay people.

The blogger Adrian Hilton aka ‘Archbishop Cranmer’ responded to Beeching’s article with a scathing article which belittled her and the dilemma about vocation she exposes, accusing her of ‘selfish obsessions’, ‘wailing in the Guardian’, and being unwilling to accept Christianity’s ‘harsh rigorism’, anguish and sacrifice.

It’s not just that Hilton’s article lacks the compassion which he calls for in his final paragraph. It’s not only that it misrepresents Beeching by using the term ‘selfish ends’, when her article is making a plea, not for her personally, but for all gay Christians who want to serve Jesus Christ and would like – in response to the Church’s need – to have their sense of vocation to priesthood fairly treated, but don’t have confidence that it will be.

Hilton’s article is a good illustration of what Beeching is talking about: although he calls for sacrificial vocation, he doesn’t show the corresponding compassion called for 25 years ago in Issues. He doesn’t seem to understand that gay people not only face a level of public interest in their situation, but that the Church itself has been inconsistent over the issue, and told people to hide their sexuality or their beliefs. The case of Nicholas Chamberlain to which Hilton refers is a case in point: he became a bishop with his situation known privately but not publicly, and didn’t make it public until he feared it would be made so without his consent. He was appointed while not being publicly gay, whereas Jeffrey John who had been honest about his situation by being in a civil partnership and was likewise in a celibate relationship was forced to step down from ordination as a bishop, even though he meets Hilton’s criterion for being able to exercise ministry. How is that going to encourage gay Christians to respond to the Church’s call?

The irony of Hilton using the moniker ‘Cranmer’ is of course that the genuine Archbishop Cranmer got secretly married, breaking his vow of celibacy, and hid his wife in a cupboard when required until his objective of legalising clerical marriage was attained….

That’s why we need a process of growing trust and openness so we can face these things with honesty and compassion. In interfaith dialogue one of the key ways in is to treat your dialogue partners with respect, and to look for the best in what they say rather than look for the worst and how to attack where you disagree.  There are many conservative in theology who are unconditionally compassionate for gay people in the Church, and vice-versa; and such compassion comes, not through duty or in theory, but through empathising with the situation of others.

Most of us will have had to make significant sacrifices in our discipleship of Jesus Christ: if we remember what that meant for us, and the pains they caused us, then we can stand alongside those who grapple with them now. But belittling Christians different from us is no way to encourage a strong and diverse set of vocations for the Church’s ministry.

Posted in Church of England, Dean of St Pauls, Human Sexuality | 5 Comments

The Essence of Being

by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Rector and member of the National Executive for UNITE representing the Faithworkers’ Branch.


Lord Rowan Williams opened Inspire at Magdalen College, Cambridge this Saturday by inviting delegates to consider the two most toxic ways of knowing oneself and being human; first: ‘I know who I am and it’s not you’, second: ‘I know who I am and I don’t need any help from you [to be me]’.

Whichever position we take, whether it be that of a tribal group closure that looks for the differences to be avoided, or an intense independence that is beyond an openness to new perspectives (‘I did it my way’), the movement is that of pushing others away from ourselves, unless they reflect back to us precisely the image we hope to be cultivating for ourselves.

In my visit to the Diocese of Bloemfontein in South Africa some years ago I learned the term ubuntu which translates as ‘I am because you are’.  In other words, I do not exist on my own, I exist only in relation to the other people around me.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the concept as “mean[ing] my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “a person is a person through other people.” It is not “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong.” I participate, I share.”

To be human is essentially to encounter ourselves in relation to others.  Ancient creation mythologies do not refer to the making of humankind singularly with the Christian tradition specifically resting upon the words, ‘And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him”’ (Genesis 2:18, NKJV).  Isolating ourselves as individuals, and, I would suggest, isolating ourselves as people groups, is ‘not good’.

Sadly, in our desire to attain power we often focus on finding ways of subordinating ‘the other’ to ourselves as our ‘helpers’.  We must lead, they must follow.  ‘We’ are the dominant cultural norm, ‘they’ must jettison their cultural norms and take on ours.  ‘I am working hard at ensuring I live well, live aright, therefore if you think or live differently to me, you must be wrong’.  However, the Holy Spirit is the Trinitarian equivalent of just such a ‘helper’ to Jesus, and what does the Holy Spirit do if not to empower Jesus to fulfil His ministry as the Christ? What does the Holy Spirit do but shower God’s people with spiritual gifts in order to build up a diverse group of people into a new kingdom that does not rely on geo-political states to define boundaries and borders, but which shatters previously held religious and cultural ghettos in which ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

To be a ‘helper’ is not to be subservient in any way; to be a ‘helper’ is to enable the other to see themselves in a new light; to become all that they might be; to release their own gifts whether mined in the darkness or the light.  To be a ‘helper’ is to reflect back to the other all that they are and all that they might be.  Of course, one of the problems with this, is just how painful it can be to recognise how we are seen by others.  This is possibly why it is so much easier to return to ‘the tribe’ whether it be an affirming partner, or a political or nationalistic tribe in order to find the image in which we have cast ourselves reflected back positively without ever being challenged, extended, critiqued or indeed explored for consonance and depth.

Consequently, the imageo dei with which we are all endowed becomes shrouded in a hall of mirrors as we pick and choose through which one we wish to be viewed. At times we seriously risk losing an authentic sense of self as we build a self-image that is two-dimensional and cannot risk authentic, intimate, honest connection with the other; the not-like-me; the challenge-to-my-thinking; the stranger; the danger-to-my-status-quo.  In trying to become human on our own terms, we lose our genuine humanity.

In these days where mass migration across the globe affects every locality and continent, encountering the stranger, encountering the ‘not-like-me’ gives us myriad new opportunities to harbinger the kingdom in where we are not divided geographically, politically or along any other tribes of race, religion or cultural norms.  It gives us fresh insight into who we are and who we have been, both as individuals and as people-groups or nation-states.  Our preconceptions – and misconceptions – must be challenged afresh as our minds, our hearts and, dare I say, our spirits are enlarged with all that we did not know until we allowed ‘you’ to help us see ourselves for what we are, as we began to truly know you for who you are.  What a gift that is; a pearl beyond price.

Yet there is a stranger much closer to home, a stranger who we ‘other’ for ourselves and who is perhaps all the more dangerous for that.  The one who has (or seems to have) the power, the great job, the perfect partner, the health, the wealth, the happiness.  The person we ‘other’ from envy, bitterness, hatred; the person we judge as undeserving of that which we ourselves desire.  Why were ‘they’ chosen and not me?  It is this ‘other’ that we deliberately construct as an enemy that destroys the imageo dei within us most profoundly, preventing us from radiating that which connects with others as we refuse to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15).

Genuine human connection exists only between those willing to risk encountering people who will show us our shadow side, dredging up our depths that we might have the opportunity to bring all that sullies our humanity (that which we Christians call ‘sin’) to the surface. Not that we might despise ourselves or lose all hope, but precisely so that we might have hope in bringing all that darkens us to the expansive light of Christ’s love for His all-forgiving, transformative, healing touch; a touch that might well come through those we find most uncomfortable to encounter.

Being human has been packaged into any number of self-help, self-starting, self-reliant ‘life-hacks’ but it will never be the ‘self’ that truly transforms.  We were born out of relationship; we grow and develop in relationships, and as adults continue to become all that we are through relating riskily, readily, intimately and authentically with others.  Then as individuals and as people-groups, we grow ever more confident that whoever we are, and with whomever we are, we share in the profound bond of a common humanity.  It is only from that place that real understanding and a genuine sharing of safe-haven and resources can occur.  Until then, the vast global inequalities and Western protective paranoia with which we live will continue to divide and dehumanise those with whom we are, in fact, inextricably bound.

Picture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a gathering of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation






Posted in Hayley Matthews, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Homophobia, Hugs and Headlines

by Pete Jermey, LGBTI Christian

Last month Justin Welby made some much publicised remarks at the Greenbelt festival about the Church of England’s attitude towards gay relationships. He stated that the church needed to love and embrace everyone, including those who see gay relationships as deeply wrong. This bold statement of inclusion was written up in the press as “hug a homophobe”, but this begs the question – is everyone who opposes same sex relationships homophobic?

This is an easy one. The answer is clearly “no”.

Homophobia can be defined as a fear/hatred of gay people. Whereas it is true that there are a great many Christians who *do* fear or hate gay people, there are also many more who, for example, oppose same sex marriage, but are not afraid or hateful towards gay people.

We all have irrational fears. I am afraid of spiders, snakes and colossal statues. I can remember going swimming as a child and seeing someone in the pool who had a limb missing. I felt fear – it was not something I had seen before and it made me feel uncomfortable. Homophobia is no different to these other fears. Although it may be harder to admit to than a fear of heights or clowns, it is still just a gut reaction to something that unnerves us. Acting out of fear can be a great survival mechanism – staying away from snakes could save my life – but it can also have a very negative impact on the object of our fear. If my mum had organised a petition to have the limbless person banned from the pool it may have made her son more comfortable, but at great cost to the other.

At the time of writing a Christian news website has the headlines “Christian Colleges dominate list of absolute worst for LGBTI students”, “Vicar likens homosexuality to child abuse” and “Leading conservative Anglican says Church of England must split to stop *contagious* gay marriage”. Additionally the site carries the story of the Bishop of Grantham who, although he has embraced the C of E’s requirement of celibacy for gay people, is under fire from some conservatives simply for admitting his orientation.

When this is our reputation amongst Christians, is it any wonder that the world sees the church as homophobic, even evil?

Of course, just because the headlines suggest prevalent aggression towards gay people does not mean there aren’t genuine and rational concerns here. What if you don’t believe LGBTI people can be genuine Christians? What if you do believe being gay to be as grave a sin as abusing children? What if you are worried that homosexuality seems to be spreading as if it is a disease?

Even if the church were able to end homophobia within itself, these concerns would still be there. Ending homophobia will not end the tensions, but there is an alternative. I think the church’s problem with gay people is not one of having irrational fears or genuine concerns, but one of withholding irrational love.

Scripture calls us time and time again to “love the enemy/alien in our midst” (Leviticus 19.33-34, Ruth 1.16-18, Ezekiel 47.21-23, Matt 5.38-48, Matt 25.35-40, Rom 12.9-21, etc), even if to do so is against our best interests – even when it costs us.

This is not the sort of “love” that comes in green ink, with the word “abomination” in CAPITALS, but the sort of love that has a positive impact on the welfare of the individual. This love is perhaps best seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan (which, given the bitter rivalry between Jews and Samaritans, seems perfectly analogous to Christian-LGBTI tension). The Samaritan’s love for the Jew cost him time, money and, almost certainly, reputation. Missing entirely from the tale is the part where the Samaritan berates the Jew for his “bigoted” religious views or the part where the Jew has to lie about his nationality as a prerequisite to receiving mercy. In contrast to that of the Samaritan, the faith of the religious leaders fails to result in mercy and is, therefore, useless. In God’s kingdom mercy is valued more highly than being right.

What if Christians took the call to irrational love seriously enough that Christian colleges were actually the best for LGBTI students, because they were the ones that loved and valued all students? What if theologians who oppose same sex marriage chose their words so as to value LGBTI people, rather than assassinate by connotation? What if the GAFCON chose to believe those who claim to be celibate and gave the benefit of the doubt to the rest of us?

Irrational love isn’t doing your best not to fear/hate someone. Irrational love is feeling those emotions, but helping the person anyway.

Posted in Church of England, Contributor, Human Sexuality, Pete Jermey | 1 Comment

Welcoming Signs

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester


A few weeks ago, in the middle of an afternoon social event for retired clergy and their companions, I noticed a small number of people had wandered out of the house and were standing just outside the front door.  The weather being unusually damp for Manchester(!) the house was fairly packed, but the reason for their exodus was not overcrowding.  This particular group of guests came into that most modern category of social pariahs; they were the smokers.  They had understood, without a word being spoken, that their welcome did not include the ability to light up in my hall, dining room or study.

The notion of “welcome” is rightly finding its way to the centre of current discussions of Anglican theology.  It’s a good, strong and soundly biblical concept.  It takes us well away from the politically fashionable but profoundly unwelcoming notion of “tolerance” – a word that it’s worth remembering the bible uses only occasionally, and then in a deeply negative context.

The verb “welcome” sets up a distinction between its subject, “the welcomer”, and its object, “the one being welcomed”.  In the ubiquitous road signs, “Anytown welcomes careful drivers”, for example, there is a clear sense that the one issuing the welcome is both a separate entity from the one being welcomed and may also determine the limits and boundaries to that welcome.  Yet for Christians, what must come first and be paramount is God’s welcome, made flesh in Christ.  The nails that once held Jesus on the cross now fix God’s “welcome” sign to the doors of heaven, from where none can displace it.  It’s a welcome with no condition attached other than that we accept it and allow both it and him to transform our lives.

The Church, as God’s church, should seek to place no greater limitation on its welcome than Christ himself does.  When we welcome, that welcome is not simply ours but is our attempt to convey God’s own welcome to others.  Moreover, in our initiation liturgy, something beautiful happens.   We say to the newly baptised, “We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you.” From the moment of baptism the ones being welcomed have changed into those who are no longer guests but fully part of the “Body of Christ”.  They are now numbered among all who proclaim and incarnate God’s welcome, not simply the recipients of it.  We cannot claim the right to say to those welcomed in baptism, “This is our house; you are welcome, but only on our terms”, any more than they can demand to impose the same requirement on us.

Yet as we move from the Church as a metaphysical entity to more local expressions, from denominations to house groups, that welcome will necessarily be constrained in various ways.  The particular boundaries to welcome of the Church of England are set out succinctly in the Oaths and Declarations made by clergy prior to taking up any new ministry.  They put forward the delicate balance between our inheritance of faith and the requirement to proclaim it “afresh” in the new and previously unimagined circumstances of each and every generation.  We who must personally make the oaths and subscribe the statements are not required to interpret them in any more specific way.  Much is properly left to our own consciences and integrity, as we are challenged to live out and issue our welcome within our local circumstances.

More locally, we have, in the Diocese of Manchester, churches that offer a particular welcome to those who need or want to worship in languages other than English.  We have churches that hold activities that especially welcome those with dementia.  And of course we have the full range of Anglican churchmanship across the piece.  What our welcome can’t do is offer everything, to everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Some very specific welcomes, for example to those whose names appear on the Sex Offenders Register, may need to be particularly tailored to the most appropriate environments.

These constraints however are entirely missional.  More specifically they are about how we configure ourselves for mission in our own immediate situation, recognising that the missional contexts of others will differ from and, by God’s grace, complement ours.  To this end we might seek to embrace the notion of “mutual flourishing” that respects the welcome that others are able to give to those we do not ourselves reach.

“Welcome” then, is an extremely valuable concept, well worth further exploration.  The key is to remember that it belongs first to God and then to the whole of the baptised.  We may need to tailor it to our specific missional context, but in doing so we do well to keep in mind and in prayer those who are living out God’s welcome in other places, yet are joined in Christ with us.

Cartoon by Peter Steiner – Man Standing At the Gates of Heaven

Posted in Church of England | 2 Comments