A Changing View From Across the Pond…

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

In the church where I preached on the first Sunday after Epiphany there’s a stained glass window dedicated in memory of a former member of the congregation from the nineteenth century. Nothing unusual there, except that this particular notable individual was the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. The church has a number of other memorials too, and a further stained glass window, which honours Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President at the height of the American Civil War.

The city of Richmond, Virginia has changed much over 150 years, and the church now has a congregation that seeks to unite people across the diversity, including ethnic diversity, of a busy modern city. Some small modifications, to respond to some of the emblems of the Confederacy that have become particularly controversial in recent times, have already taken place. But the church is now engaging on a major programme of looking into its history and deciding how its story can appropriately be told, in glass and metal as well as words and song, for the present era. The determination to do the work deeply impressed me.

I’m not going to wade into the battles over how organisations in the USA should handle the legacy of both slavery and the war waged to eradicate it. But I am going to try to let the courage and commitment of my American friends inspire me to think about where there may be visible reminders of the life and beliefs of my own church and society in previous generations, which may give the impression, or even support the fact, that we have not properly repented of our sins.

So, in a diocese where many of our churches, especially our older ones, have walls festooned with memorials to the wealthy and successful of former times, lauding both their virtues and their financial generosity, what changes can we effect to make more, or even equally, visible the lives and contributions of the poor?

And when I look at the many depictions in our stained glass windows of Jesus with blond hair, blue eyes and mildly aristocratic features, I want to ask what we can do to depict our Lord as one of us, with our range of ethnic characteristics, our shapes and sizes, abilities and disabilities. If we can accept the sight of a blond Jesus, we can surely accept a dark skinned Jesus or one in a wheelchair.

And while I’m on about it, how can we show women differently in our church artwork, furniture and fittings? Not simply as mother or martyr but in strength. Exercising leadership independent of their relationships to their men, and engaged in ministries many of which do not depend on a particular view about ordination but could unite us from liberal to conservative.

I’m not pretending to there being a moral equivalence between imagery showing Jesus as Anglo-Saxon, and monuments praising those who fought for the right to keep slaves. But issues raised by the one have made me more acutely aware of the other.

My hunch is that the answer does not lie in obliterating our history. I won’t be casting the first stone at any church window in Virginia or Manchester. We need many of our old images, appropriately interpreted, alongside the others that more fully reflect the people God is calling us to be. And the images we use must reflect the reality of our work and witness. Diverse bodies and faces on windows, walls and church notice boards are not an alternative to our having those faces and bodies in the sanctuary or pulpit, and at the altar, but they can be an encouragement for it and complementary to it.

 

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Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Social Justice | 1 Comment

Ever Felt Like Saying: “I Just Can’t Cope!”?

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

hayley

‘I just can’t cope!”.

Most of us, I’m sure, will have felt like this at some time or other.  Times when we just wanted everything and everyone to go away because we couldn’t cope with all that was going on.  For some those times are fleeting, but for others the litany of suffering that they have to face or live with can seem not just unfair but unbearable.

I recall listening to the mother who had lost her only child and who felt that she simply had no desire to live any longer; to the cancer patient who was told of her diagnosis on the telephone an hour before the police knocked on her door to tell her that her son had been killed in a motorbike accident and all this just a week after her husband had died from cancer. How does one face such unbearable suffering?

I’m left wondering, however, if there isn’t a more pernicious type of ‘not coping’ that many of us are succumbing to?  In June 2017 the NHS published record figures for the use of antidepressants with 64 million prescriptions costing £266 million – a seven-fold increase in twenty-five years!  It is likely that the majority of these people are being prevented from feeling the true depths of their pain by the medication they are taking (although I recognise for some it is about chemical imbalances, and for others it is a good deal more complicated than that). Consequently, many people on anti-depressants may continue living exactly the same life that has been driving them to the depths, medicated to a level that enables them to continue doing the very things that are so often making them truly unhappy.

We are creatures of habit. We stick to what we know even it is killing us. So, we continue working in jobs we cannot bear because we feel we must live in a show-home or a city apartment, or maybe we simply haven’t got the courage or motivation to make the break.  We stay in relationships that drive us to despair for the sake of… there are so many things we could complete that sentence with. We continue to live in a place that is stressful whether that be beside a noisy bottle bank, frightening neighbours or in complete isolation. We completely fail to find time to think, rest, breathe, enjoy a hobby, listen to music, cook. Then throw in a dash of social media – virtual friends making virtual promises with virtual words that are virtually useless when you really need them.

Yes of course there are economic pressures that so many of us face, as well as health challenges or bereavement which can significantly depress us.  But the truth is that this can normally be faced and walked through if the rest of life is “as it should be”.

For many of us, however, it really is not – there are so many tiny little things that mean that every day in a hundred minuscule ways life is not enjoyable, not refreshing, not awe-inspiring, not energising, not worthwhile. And because each of these things seems insignificant in and of itself, we don’t think to change them. We’re fear we’re making a fuss about nothing, surely? Add to these cumulative daily depressants from adverts telling us that we are too fat, too bald, ageing. Or the adverts that tells us we need a new car, more furniture, a bigger house, longer, thicker, blacker eyelashes and enormous eyebrows; more life insurance a fabulous partner, a cruise. Every day in every way we are being told we are not enough just as we are.

Depressing, isn’t it?

I was talking yesterday to a man I’d never met before who – like me – had recovered from life changing cancer treatment some years before. We found we had a number of things in common and one of those was having faced our own mortality. We laughed together as we described our new attitude to life and saw the surprise on fellow diners’ faces. There were so many things we simply didn’t put up with anymore. So many things we had stopped doing, changed, left behind – even people. There were other things we now spent time doing, enjoyed, tried, tested out for the sheer pleasure of it, or challenges we took on that we wouldn’t have dared beforehand. We both felt that we were truly living. We talked about the way facing one’s own death profoundly alters one’s perspective, of how it is almost impossible to feel the same stresses that one felt before because now they seem so insignificant as to be nonsensical.

As a Christian I was struck that despite our faith prior to our near-death experiences we too had succumbed to the culture of being a human doing instead of a human being. That we had placed productivity before relationships which is more than a little ironic for those who worship a God who makes a fairly big deal out of the Sabbath principle, fallow years and years of Jubilee. That we had taken on the mantle of suffering silently through all sorts of mini depressants and stressors instead of changing a single one of them believing ourselves to be doing the right thing.  We had allowed these things to shape our daily lives and in some instances, to define us. Both of us described having allowed ridiculous levels of stress to enter our lives in multiple ways.

Christ’s incarnation as a new born baby reveals a dependence in the divine nature upon external, human contact and context, but the Divine does not allow that to define who He is. Jesus refuses to bow to political and societal pressures in many and varied ways – a good Jewish boy, unmarried? Oi vey! He grows into the fullness of Himself even when His own mother and brothers are saying (and I paraphrase), ‘what on earth are you doing? Have you lost the plot?’ Jesus refuses to submit to a life of mini deaths choosing life time after time after time. He walks through His pain, weeping, crying out, surrendering His body even to death itself yet even death cannot quench the Divine Life that springs up into eternity.

It is a Life that begins when we start actively choosing life in the smallest of ways, in each day, repeatedly. A life free from the drugs that keep us taking another pointless step on the road to nowhere. A life that will sustain us when real tragedy hits, as it surely will. A life that will allow us to die peacefully knowing that we have truly lived.

A life that is divine.

Posted in Church of England, Hayley Mattews | 1 Comment

A Theology of Reception that Pays Attention to People…

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

In 1965 Bishop John Robinson – already famous for his iconoclastic book Honest to God – challenged the Church of England with a call for a ‘New Reformation’.  Claiming the traditional Church had got in the way of people’s experience of God, he argued for a revolution in theology, starting the other way round, that is, with lay people’s experience and beliefs, and building up from there.  Robinson’s book was radical in its day, and saturated with the language of the secular gospel which was fashionable then, but which has not stood the test of time.  He thought that Christianity needed to be radically reworked into something that made sense to a secular age, and that much of its traditional theology was deaf to the new currents of thought running through modern society.  He wanted to see in its place an immanent, human-centred theology, rather than the transcendent, anti-humanist shape he thought it had taken hitherto.

Robinson’s book is a bit like a running commentary on key points of the Protestant Reformation – that’s why he calls for a ‘New Reformation’.  But in all last year’s reflection on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s protest against indulgences I didn’t see any reference to it.  That’s probably a sign that the radical theology Robinson represented has long passed its sell-by date.  From here – at least to me – that 1960s theology looks excessively critical of traditional Christian doctrine, and excessively dependent upon a concept of secular modernity that itself was crying out for criticism.

But perhaps something at least ought to be salvaged from what Robinson was attempting to do.  One of the things that motivated him was a fear that the Church of England as human institution had become an obstacle to belief.  In his terms, this was because its worship, its way of reaching decisions, the narrow social circle from which its leadership mostly came, in fact much of the Church’s cultural baggage, looked out-dated and irrelevant to modern needs.  I’m not convinced by the terms in which Robinson put all this, partly because the Church has changed a bit since then, but more seriously because his idea of what is, or was, ‘relevant’ in the modern world gave too much away to contemporary trends, and was insufficiently attuned to the way the Gospel is a standing challenge to them.

But Robinson was on to something in his suspicion that the Church could be encountered by people as itself an engine of oppression, not liberation.  If ‘relevance’ as he conceived it was problematic as a way of trying to think about what the Church should be like, it doesn’t require much imagination to apply parts of his analysis to current issues.  For many who feel damaged or excluded by the Church, Robinson’s language would surely have some resonance.  The Church is, or can be, an obstacle to the very thing it stands for – personal redemption.

I’m not trying to prop up Robinson’s theology here.  I don’t think that can or should be done now.  But there is usually something to be learnt from those with whom we disagree, and it’s striking to see how Robinson was concerned to try to put ordinary people back at the very centre of the way the Church of England thought about its mission and its message.  To borrow a phrase from another book, this time by Vernon White, he was urging Christians to pay attention to people.  People matter, for Robinson, because Christ came as a person; therefore, as Christ is in everyone, or (if you’d rather) is there for everyone, not one single person can be put out of the Church’s concern.

But this cuts two ways.  First, it has the uncomfortable implication that even in the most distressing and painful episodes – and heaven knows there have been an awful lot of those for the Church of England to reckon with recently – there is always something more to be done, not only for those who have suffered, but also for those who, one way or another, have caused or inflicted that suffering.  I do not think we have, as Christians, even begun to work out how to come to terms with that particular challenge.

But, second, it also suggests that we cannot let people off the hook when they actually are responsible for making decisions.  Institutions are made up of people, after all.  Though we talk understandably about the ‘Establishment’, about a particular class or group, just as we talk about the ‘Church’, in the end that can only be a kind of short-hand for people who occupy particular positions and exercise (or fail to exercise) particular responsibilities.  Paying attention to people doesn’t just mean being nice to all people, but holding people to account.

So even if I can’t follow Robinson’s call for a new Reformation into the sort of revised, ‘bottom up’ theology for which he was calling, I do think his instinct that the Church needed to reconceive or relearn its vocation was essentially correct.  To my mind, you don’t need to revise traditional Christian doctrine to do this.  But we have got to learn again how to start thinking, as Christians, outwards and upwards from the experience of those who have found the Church an obstacle in their lives.  We need a theology of reception, as well as proclamation, and to hear the truth spoken to us from those who see themselves outside the Church, or abandoned by it.

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

Are You Suffering From Spiritual Abuse?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Director of the Ozanne Foundation

Jayne Ozanne (3)

Do you know what Spiritual Abuse is?  Can you define it?  Perhaps more importantly, would you recognise it if you saw it?  Would you be able to guard against it for those in your care?

According to a recent research report commissioned by the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), 74% of respondents to an online survey said they were confident they knew what “spiritual abuse” meant.  Indeed, the report states that the “key characteristics of spiritual abuse identified were coercion and control, manipulation and pressuring of individuals, control through the misuse of religious texts and scripture and providing a ‘divine’ rationale for behaviour.”

The research was carried out by academics at Bournemouth University under Dr Lisa Oakley, who has been the Programme leader for the only undergraduate course in Abuse Studies in the UK based at Manchester Metropolitan University, and as such is the lead academic in this area.

Interestingly, Dr Oakley and her co-author, Justin Humphreys (Executive Director of Safeguarding at CCPAS), are keen to flag at the start of their report that:

“Existing work around this experience (which is characterised by a systematic pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour in a religious context), is still in its infancy, to the extent that there is not currently universal agreement about this as a term.”

The alarming matter though is definition or no definition, nearly two-thirds (1002 out of 1591) of respondents said they had experienced spiritual abuse themselves and yet only a third said that their church or church organisation had a policy that included spiritual abuse.

So twice as many people had experienced spiritual abuse than have a policy to recognise and address it!

This should concern us greatly in an era when the Church is finally learning about the true scale of the damage it has done (and continues to do) through poor safeguarding practices.

The Church it seems now has a choice.

Either it hides behind the excuse that we have yet to properly define spiritual abuse and so we cannot effectively safeguard against it,

or

It works with those who believe they have been victims of spiritual abuse to understand more about what they have experienced, and therefore how it can make the Church safer for others.

I for one would like to see the Church own and champion the issue of Spiritual Abuse, and be a role model to other denominations and religions about how seriously it should be taken.  Whilst the Church of England is indeed a few (small) steps ahead of other denominations, mentions of spiritual abuse are still confined to the appendices of reports, and not brought centre stage.

I also believe that the government needs to recognise Spiritual Abuse as a formal category of harm – particularly with children –  and add it to their current four-fold definition of abuse – physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect.

That way the likes of the Revd Tim Davis could face a proper court for the harm inflicted on vulnerable young teenagers. As the Church Times has reported, Mr Davis, of Christ Church Abingdon, was found guilty on December 28th 2017 under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) 2003 of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority.”

What I found chilling about this particular case was the level of fear that was experienced not just by the victim, but by all those who involved with Mr Davis, which appeared to stop them from coming forward.

His former Assistant curate, the Revd Jitesh Patel gave evidence of Mr Davis’s “anger and the fear that his curate felt as a result”. The victim himself gave evidence that he “found it impossible” to tell Mr Davis that he wanted less contact, and that Mr Davis “became angry” if he did not ring him or respond to his texts.  The mother also gave evidence that “he would be angry if (her son) did not come to an evening service” and the judgement sets out that “she told us that (Mr Davis) would say that he was God’s anointed and a person had died because he did not do something that (Mr Davis) wanted.”

It strikes me that there is one very good indicator that can show us what Spiritual Abuse is – it is where there is paralysing fear, that keeps things hidden and in the dark, and stops people coming forward.

This fear is manipulative, dehumanising and totally overpowering – and more often than not the perpetrator is can be completely unaware of the fact that he is creating such a climate, given that he or she may have little self-awareness and/or emotional intelligence.

Anyone within the church who seeks to engender fear by coercive control, bullying or overpowering behaviour runs a significant risk of being guilty of Spiritual Abuse, whether they are ordained or not.

The challenge to us is that people are often so under the perpetrator’s “spell” and so bound by such fear, that they will rarely come forward of their own accord.  It takes a third party to step in.

That is, unless we get better at naming those we fear, and looking at why we fear them.

So, are there those you know in the church who you fear?  I wonder what might lie behind that?  If it is because you fear their wrath or their anger, then can I suggest that you consider talking to someone in authority about it – your archdeacon or your bishop perhaps?  Particularly as you may not be the only on, but you may be the only one brave enough to do something about it!

The Church should be a place of love – when it becomes a place of fear something has gone terribly wrong, and we need to find the courage and strength to name it for what it is:

Spiritual Abuse.

Posted in Church of England, Jayne Ozanne, Sexual abuse | 2 Comments

A Time to Die…?

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

It’s the beginning of a new year and the script is that we talk about hope. It was a challenging 2017 but things will be ok. New opportunities, fresh blessings, more love and more joy.

So why am I wanting to talk about death? Well, it’s personal and also professional.

It’s personal because I have just booked flights back to Switzerland to go to the funeral of my much loved uncle Albin. He died two days before Christmas, aged 82, gently and peacefully with his family around him. About six years ago his younger brother Otto also died peacefully with his family around him. The difference was that Albin died of old age and dementia, Otto died of a nasty aggressive brain tumour. Albin died ‘naturally’, Otto, being Swiss was able to request and receive the help he needed to die in a dignified and pain-free peaceful way. This merciful intervention in no way changed the fact of his death, and even now the sorrow is hard to bear, but it did cut short the last bitter agonies of the manner of his dying.

It is professional because in the Parish where I work there are a lot of funerals. Mostly the bereaved tell me of the immense kindness of all around; family and friends, Doctors and nurses. They tell of the shock of sudden unexpected death and also the oblique conversations about the use of morphine. They also sometimes tell me of bad deaths. Deaths where there is no way of giving the dying person their final wish: ‘please, dear God, please help me to die.’

Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’

That is pure fatalism and superstition. Even people who would use language such as ‘God has a plan for your life’ don’t actually mean that everything that happens to them from birth to death is controlled. Of course not. We rejoice in our free will, even in the knowledge that we risk miss-using it. That’s part of the deal. Our conception is a risk. We may be born to loving parents, or our mother might have been kidnapped and raped. The will of God? Throughout our lives we make choices and many of them are life and death choices. To smoke or drink or over eat. To enjoy extreme sports, to ride a motorbike. For all those things we choose and we also take responsibility.

When our lives are nearing the end there are now many societies where that degree of both choice and responsibility remains. That is not the case in the UK.

Just when you might think we need our freedom the most the medical profession (by law) take it away from us. Just when you might think that God would most honor the freedom he has given us the Christian community take it away from us. I’m with Hans Küng. If the time comes, and it is necessary for me, I would find it a fulfilment of my life of faith to be able to say to God: ‘Loving Father I thank you for the most wonderful gift of life. The burden of it is now too much for me to bear and so with every ounce of love and gratitude I can muster I give it back to you.’

Posted in Church of England, Rosie Harper, Social Justice | 3 Comments

2018 – A Year for Vigorous & Positive Action…

by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Human Sexuality Group on General Synod

Giles Goddard

I dreamt last night that I had an altercation with the Archbishop of Canterbury. About progress on LGBTI inclusion in the church. I’m not sure what that says about my subconscious – perhaps my mind was preparing for this blog, or perhaps I’m just a little bit sad – but it did prompt me to ask myself what sort of progress, if any, has been made over the past year.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that those of us working for full equality have made a great deal of progress. In February, after much careful planning and close coordination of different groups, Synod voted not to take note of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relations. The vote against the motion came from across the spectrum of church tradition; readers of Via Media were crucial in making it happen.

Full disclosure: I’m Chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group which was a key voice in the opposition. But, whatever my role, I think the significance of that vote is still working its way through the Church of England. It changed the terms of the discussion. No longer, we said, can you talk about us without us. And my experience of our active participation in the Coordination Group for the House of Bishops’ Teaching Document is a sign that the call for change was heard.

The battle is by no means over. I have heard many stories over the past year of continued discrimination on the grounds of human sexuality within the Church, and I am very aware of the reality and determination of the opposition. But I am also sure that we have been helped by the antics of the conservatives.  I am writing this shortly after Roy Moore lost the election in Alabama, despite the support of nearly all the white evangelicals in his state. While I am careful not to claim a direct connection between the bile spewed by Moore and people in the UK, it is clear to me that that some white evangelical views in the UK are on a spectrum with those we hear from Christian supporters of Donald Trump.   Don’t forget that Franklin Graham has been invited to lead a mission in Blackpool.

A member of my church – a young, bright, new Christian – recently attended one of the leading conservative evangelical churches in London; she was, not to put too fine a point on it, repelled. She wondered how that church could consider itself Anglican – her experience of its preaching and teaching were deeply at odds with what she had learnt of the Church of England.  Last week, too, we saw the irregular ordinations by AMiE; the same week as the Alabama elections, a nice coincidence in timing.

What, then, does the future hold? What are my hopes for 2018?

We have a big challenge, as LGBTI Christians in the Church of England. That challenge is the challenge of grace.  One of the biggest reasons I have remained Anglican is because of our particular charism of breadth and inclusion. As LGBTI Christians working hard to help to C of E reform, we have a huge responsibility – to ensure that the grace-filled breadth of the C of E is maintained and strengthened.  Nearly all the most committed members of my congregation – me included – have deep roots within the evangelical tradition. We must celebrate that and work closely with those who wish to see the best of evangelical faith flourish within the church.

And we have a wider responsibility than that – because the Reign of God embraces everyone.  As a former chair of Inclusive Church I am continually challenged. What are those of us who put time and energy into LGBTI inclusion doing, to help ensure that others shut out by the church’s structures are fully welcome?

We also have an infinite responsibility to the whole of humanity, and the planet we live on. Half my extracurricular time is spent on LGBTI work. The other half is on climate change, which is in all sorts of ways already affecting, especially, poor people. Anyone who watched Blue Planet II will be even more aware of the urgency of environmental issues.

So, for 2018, I want to see the movement for inclusion continue to build and continue to deepen, reaching into every corner of the church’s life.

In preparing for this blog I came across a thought-provoking and challenging  article by Daniel José Comacho; ‘How Martin Luther King’s political vision became politically irrelevant.’   I encourage you to read the whole thing; it recalls the radical openness of Dr King’s vision and calls for a renovation of his commitment to re-making society.  Comacho quotes this extract from one of Dr. King’s last speeches:

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

 

Posted in Church of England, Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality | 2 Comments

Spiritual Blindness & its Root of Fear

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News

Jayne Ozanne (3)

Do you believe in Spiritual Blindness?  I must admit, I do.

I define it as something spiritual that happens to people, often because of something that has happened to them in their past, which then stops them seeing what everyone else can see plainly.

Sadly, you can’t rationalise with people when they are like this.

We’ve seen a perfect example of this just this week with the Republican supporters of Judge Moore, who are blaming their fellow Republicans – rather than the conduct of their candidate – for the loss of one of the safest Republican seats in the Senate.

More broadly speaking, we see it at work in the US with the right-wing evangelical supporters of Trump – who believe that despite all the evidence to the contrary, their President is beyond reproach.  They will therefore continue to support him at all cost, believing him to be God’s anointed man for the White House.

And we see it here in the UK when dealing with the issue of sexual abuse and power within the Church.

Perhaps most clearly, though, we see it in the harsh unloving treatment of the LGBTI community by so many self-styled conservative believers.  Despite all the scientific and medical evidence, despite all the heart-wrenching testimonies (and sadly even suicides), despite all the biblical exegesis about our God being a God of Love, who welcomes and embraces all they stand resolute, defiant to the last.

I would like to believe you can talk and discuss things with everyone in the Church – but my personal experience has shown me that not all are seeking a dialogue, but rather an opportunity to “explain” to you why you are wrong and how “clear” the Bible is.  Any alternative view is seen as mistaken at best, and sinful at worst.

I have been reflecting what the root cause is of this irrational blindness.

I believe it stems from a root of fear.  A fear of a God of wrath, a God of anger and a God of judgement.  A God who seems to have mislaid the Gospel of Love.  It is Zeus with his thunderbolt, not Jesus with his open arms on the Cross.

This terror of God – a seed of an image of God planted often in youth, and watered through the years with the tears of unanswered prayers – is not a Godly fear.  It is one that sadly reflects a lack of assurance of the unconditional love of Christ, who gave Himself willingly so that all may have life.

Lest we need reminding, this self-sacrifice was an act of love – indeed, it was the ultimate act of love.  Conceived in love, born of love and lived out in love.  To the very end.

If there is one thing I could shout from the rooftops, it is this – the cross is not a place of fear!

It is a place of awe and wonder of the Amazing Love that is lavished on us all, wretched sinners that we are.

I state this purposefully, words so familiar to so many of us, because I believe it is this foundational belief which seems to be where we actually really disagree.

It has been at the core of my own struggles, replacing a warped image of a God of wrath and anger with a true image of a God of LOVE.  More than that, a God who loves us unconditionally.

As we are so often told, there is nothing that we can ever do that will ever make Him love us more (not even choosing to be celibate!).  Similarly, there is absolutely nothing we can to make Him love us any less (even if we have committed the most heinous of crimes).  That’s what unconditional means.  It’s what Christ showed to us whilst hanging on the cross, and even then showing unconditional love to the man hanging next to him.

If I may, can I suggest you read that last paragraph again, and again, and again – until the enormity of it seeks in?  It has taken me over 40 years to begin to grasp, and I’m still grappling with it on a daily basis.

How can I be so sure of this, of the love of God for me?

Because I know there is NO fear in love – as the Apostle John tells us (1 John 4:18).  We so often quote the second half of this verse, that “perfect love casts out fear”, without understanding the first half.

But where there is fear, then sadly the devil can have a field day!

It is this fear that, when fully grown, can eventually stop us seeing things which are in plain sight.

For instance, it is fear that stops parents admitting that they know their children are gay, even though the evidence is right in front of their eyes from a very early age.  It is this fear that stops us seeing the domestic abuse that is going on amongst our friends, even when we can plainly see the bruises – both physical and emotional.

It is this fear that stops us making certain decisions we know to be right as a Church for fear of the financial implications that they might reap, or the impact on our reputation – not that the latter can get much worse.

The only antidote to fear is of course LOVE.

Does this mean that we have to love those who are spiritually blind?  Well, if we believe we are Christ’s agents of love on this earth, the answer has to be a resounding “Yes!”.

And we then have to trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 14 Comments