Loyalty and Obsession

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

Giles Goddard

As I reflect on the forthcoming Primates’ Meeting two words sound loudly in my head; loyalty and obsession.  I can’t imagine that there is any Anglican, anywhere, who does not recognise the Anglican Communion as flawed and imperfect – but the vast majority of us hang on in there, speaking and preaching and attempting to live out the Gospel despite years and years of frustration and, often, harsh and cruel exclusion.

Because we believe in the possibility of redemption, and we understand that all institutions need to constantly renew themselves in order to flourish. Faithful and loyal Anglicans, spending most of our time working in the vineyard, trying to get on with those around us doing the same.

But it seems to me that conservative evangelicals in the C of E and the Anglican Communion are wrapped in an obsession that has affected their entire relationship with the C of E and the Anglican Communion.  In a statement issued by AMiE after the consecration of Andy Lines, the group said:

“A new generation of Anglican church leaders is being identified, trained and sent out to share the good news of Jesus and bring people together in new local churches. These churches and their ministers require the support and example of missionary bishops who themselves both proclaim and defend the Gospel, and will encourage others to do the same.”

It’s sad. There’s a clear implication that the thousands of Christians working hard and faithfully within the Church of England to witness to the gospel –  including many loyal, faithful conservative evangelicals – are in some sense tainted, their ministry undermined by the very fact of their association with those who believe the gospel calls us to welcome LGBTI people.

It sets up a false dichotomy between ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘inclusion,’ diminishing the Christian call to preach the love of God to, as Desmond Tutu says, ‘all, all, ALL!’, and has fundamentally distracted the C of E from its core mission for decades.

However, the obsession seems to ride a coach and horses through attempts to live and love and learn together. We see it in the behaviour of the primates who have decided to absent themselves from next week’s meeting and set up alternative structures.

We see it in the behaviour of Church of England bishops – particularly the diocesan bishop of Blackburn, recently returned from the GAFCON meeting in Egypt –  who have welcomed the arrival of an AMiE bishop in England. We see it in the behaviour of conservative evangelicals like Jane Patterson who sit on the CNC and at the same time act as trustees for AMiE- affiliated churches. It’s so counterproductive.

I was asked by the Archbishops to be a consultant to the group of bishops charged with putting together a Teaching Document on Human Sexuality. I know that there is a some scepticism about the usefulness of the proposed document. Long grass and fudge has been much in evidence in the comments.

But I am clear that this document has the potential to be a game changer, if  it’s produced with care and carefulness. At the moment we have nothing, within our core documents, which expresses inclusive theology as part of the Anglican deposit of faith. We have not yet formally acknowledged that it is possible to be a loyal and faithful Anglican and at the same time allow the love of God to flow wherever it will.

I have a Muslim friend who, recently, told me how impressed he was by the speed the Church of England changes. Really? I said, doesn’t feel like that to me. But he had a point; things don’t happen overnight.

It’s the loyalty and faithfulness of those of us who seek to help the Church of England to grow into its own fullness of being which enable change to happen. The resistance to change make the process more painful, and distorts the generosity and beauty of the gospel. I wish conservatives would stop obsessing and, instead, work for the growth of the whole body of Christ in all its glorious diversity. I pray for the Primates meeting next week.

 

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Posted in Church of England, Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality | 1 Comment

Is “Sorry” Too Easy a Word?

by Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham

Rosie Haarper

It’s very unsettling when you interrogate something you thought you understood and find you never understood it at all.

I was doing a sort of mental mail merge between Sunday’s gospel reading about forgiveness and the various big fat apologies that the C of E has issued in recent months over the mishandling of abuse and the arrant cruelty towards   -well -anyone who wasn’t uncomplicatedly straight.

I asked myself a perfectly simple question. What exactly is forgiveness? Growing up in a fairly strict evangelical church it was presented to me as a vital but simple concept. There was sin. That was the bad stuff you did or thought. Because God was just there was a consequence to that sin, and because he was loving he wanted to forgive us. The death of Jesus bridged the gap between the justice and the love.

When I was about eight I began to question this. It sprang out of a little family incident. My father had saved up his minute pocket money and bought my mother a very tall dark green glass vase for their wedding anniversary. He wasn’t usually very good at presents, but she loved it. While they were both out at a prayer meeting or bible study or some other holy activity I was playing and accidentally broke the vase. I had already worked out that, specially with Christian parents, the best strategy in such cases was to get in first with deep contrition and beg for their forgiveness. So I confessed to my Dad and I remember to this day watching his face as he controlled the outburst of disappointment, controlled his desire to give me a good telling off that would have been his natural human response, and then put his arm around me and say ‘Darling, don’t worry. Let’s clean it up together.’

My little eight year old mind thought; ‘Is that what God is like?  When I do something wrong does he really want to shout at me and punish me, but somehow he controls it and forgives me instead?’ I wasn’t liking this God very much. It was made worse by the fact that of course I hadn’t meant to break the vase in the first place, but the Pauline teaching that I had already received meant that I was horribly aware that even when I didn’t think I was sinning I probably was. In other words there was something about simply existing, about being human that was of essence sinful. Somehow we need to be forgiven for existing.

This may sound childish and ridiculous, but it’s at the root of a lot of the abusive behavior in the church. It’s how you get a poor little posh boy to accept being beaten week after week simply for masturbating – perfectly natural and normal behavior. (By the way, girls masturbate too and somehow that doesn’t seem to count. But that’s another blog!)

The whole sin and forgiveness script was then for me at that time entirely transactional. And yes, if you get stuck there you run the risk of obsessing about behaviors. Hence it is possible for some people to say it’s OK to be gay so long as you don’t do gay things. Who you are doesn’t matter as much as what you do. Probably the exact opposite of the way Jesus famed it.

Desmond Tutu understood this in a most remarkable way. The matter of forgiveness is relational. It needs to deal with the real people in the room telling the truth. The whole Truth and Reconciliation process was incredibly hard and it was imperfect, but it seems to me that if forgiveness is to mean something that restores relationship and offers a sense of potential freedom from the past then there needs to be truth not a sweeping of difficult things under the carpet.

There is some excellent work done in the field of forgiveness and reconciliation and Archbishop Justin has been at the epicenter with his previous work at Coventry Cathedral, but the way you act inevitably reveals what you really believe and the way the CofE treats survivors of abuse and LGBTI people shows that at heart we are still driven by a transactional theology. Why else could it seem right to pay your debt to the abused person via the insurance company but offer no pastoral support and fail to put into effect the well over 100 recommendations to improve our processes that have come out of repeated inquiries?

The debt has been paid, we should be forgiven!

Why do we still get heartfelt public apologies for the devastatingly cruel ways in which the church has harmed and discriminated against gay people whilst continuing to those very practices?

A survivor’s passing shot, after spending several hours talking through her story, was ‘it’s the theology that did it.’

Even articulating this is bound to get some people angry, but I firmly believe that unless we have the courage to examine our inner drivers, our theology, there is very little hope that we can change our ways and become a church that is safe for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper | 1 Comment

This Love Ain’t Big Enough!

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury

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Someone I know is getting married this month. He is an active sincere Christian and his faith has been nurtured in his local middle-of-the-road parish church; he is from a loving Christian family, and they have been involved in many and varied church activities over the years.

His fiancée is from a large, conservative Evangelical church. He worshipped there often as a teenager and was blessed and nurtured by its teaching and fellowship. He has grown in faith through it. This is the church where they will be married, although he has continued to worship in his family’s church.

One of the reasons for this was because of an incident a few years ago. A member of the church’s youth group he, along with a number of others, was asked to give public statements to the rest of the youth group that he accepted the teaching of this particular church on same-sex relationships. In short, they were required to stand up and repudiate same-sex sexual activity. He naturally felt torn between belonging to a supportive fellowship of young Christians and making a statement he felt was lacking in Christian love. In the end, after talking it through with his parents, he decided to decline to make such a commitment. From that day he said, things were never the same again. Something changed. He was now clearly a second-class member of the group, he said. He was told he could not take any leadership role in the group or in the wider church. And yet he stuck to his principles and refused to compromise (ironically, a lesson about his Christian faith he had been well taught in this very church!). He is a fine young man.

Last week saw the publication in the United States of the “Nashville Statement”[1]. It emerges and is aimed at a different culture than the UK, although it has been signed by two, prominent, same-sex attracted English Anglicans. When I read its long list of fourteen binaries (“we affirm…we deny”), I am reminded of the position in which this English church put this young person and his fellow youth group members. Setting aside the spiritual abuse of requiring young people to make a choice between making a public statement of this nature and their membership of the youth group, what strikes me is the insistence of both groups of drawing boundaries around membership by requiring public statements.

Nashville adds nothing to the debate on sexuality any more than getting a few teenagers to make public statements does; all both do is simply to draw the boundary lines more clearly. What those inside the ‘circle of soundness’ want is to be certain that they are standing in the will of God. Public statements like these reinforce their sense of uprightness. They are a subtle form of works-righteousness, a badge of orthodoxy that will allow those inside the circle to sort the wheat from the chaff, the faithful from the unfaithful, the saved from the lost, despite the clear teaching of Scripture that leaves such things to God.

I’m reading Richard Rohr’s demanding The Divine Dance at the moment and it has caused me to ponder the fundamental nature of God as relationship rather than being. When I look at my own life and behaviour, I’m not always very proud of my choices or my conduct. Sometimes I’m not even proud of my consistency in keeping to my principles. But what Rohr has reminded me of is that, as I stand in relationship with the Trinity, I am free to be foolishly wrong yet am still loved. As such, I can continue to reach out to those who hold to a different view of sexuality knowing that, even if they are right and I am wrong, I need not be afraid of God.

Sadly, I am forced to conclude that those who signed the Nashville Statement cannot say the same, of me or of God. Invested as they are in confidence that they are right, and deeply afraid of the consequence of being wrong, they circle the wagons closer and closer, even excluding many who hold a conservative position on sexuality[2], forever asking fewer and fewer people to make more and more stringent promises. It is self-justifying and fear-driven and, as such, is a false gospel. Believe you are right, by all means. We all believe that. But believe it with humility and be confident that the truth of your claim requires no coercion, nor lines in the sand.

Nashville is not just a place, it’s also the name of a Country and Western Band. One of their greatest hits? This Love ain’t big enough. Enough said.

[1] https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/
[2] https://psychologyandchristianity.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/on-the-nashville-statement/
Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Simon Butler | 1 Comment

In Praise of Activists…

by the Rev Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury 

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Please Note – this article, written by Canon Simon Butler, has been published by him with support of other Via Media contributors. Ms Ozanne has had no say in the content or decision to publish.

The last place you would see me is in a demonstration. There’s something about the crowd mentality that doesn’t sit comfortably. Maybe it’s my inner reserve, or my fear of what others might think. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no coward. I’m happy to make my mark and speak my mind, but my way of working is through the structures. And I’m OK with that.

But I’m full of admiration for the activists, who tirelessly campaign, go the extra mile, write the letters, brief the media, even have the faith and passion to believe that one more action can tip the balance or make the difference. There’s something about believing in a vision of a better world, a fairer, better community, a more Christ-like church, that can drive women and men to passionate engagement, risking the opposition of those with power or who prefer the status quo or their understanding of orthodoxy. Let us now praise famous activists…thank God for you.

One of the amazing things about some activists – and here I come to praise the editor of this particular blog – is the way they make themselves vulnerable and are, often, fools for Christ. Jayne Ozanne has this gift: it is costly and it sometimes makes those of us who prefer the more softly, softly approach very uncomfortable, but for all the right reasons. Jayne has had to bear the brunt of the shadow side of those with whom she disagrees: it has been physically, emotionally and often spiritually taxing. There was, for a while, even a Facebook page devoted to mocking her. Such is, sometimes, the cost of discipleship.

But Jayne does this gospel work for the sake of the people who cannot speak, but who speak to her. She knows, not only in her own life experience of bad religion, but in the life of many who contact her, of the pain and hardship they experience, of the psychological distress – sometimes harm – often godly, loving Christian people wittingly or unwittingly inflict upon those to whom they minister. Often these sisters and brothers cannot see the distress they cause, and so those who suffer have no-one to talk to because they fear their pain will be interpreted as disloyalty to a particular church, minister, friendship group or even Jesus himself. As one of my own congregation ruefully said to me today about a church she used to worship in (prompting this article), “My church preached God’s unconditional love, but then I discovered that in that church love always came with strings attached.”

Jayne’s willingness to take a public stand has meant vulnerable people have found someone to confide in, and, thank God, someone who will speak for them. Despite some far-fetched fear-mongering by some that Jayne’s General Synod Private Member’s Motion on Conversion Therapy was a ‘Trojan horse’ for the outlawing of New Wine, HTB, Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest, many in these movements of the Holy Spirit in the Church of England’s who are members of General Synod voted for Jayne’s motion. They, like her, want to see any abuses of practice or, importantly, church culture, cast out. No one is banning prayer, but prayer must never be coercive or directed to potentially harmful outcomes, even if requested by the one who asks for prayer. The right thing to do is not to pray such prayers, but to pray that God’s will is done in and through a person.

Jayne will hate that I have written this article. But sometimes it’s important to give credit where credit is due. I’m no activist but Jayne gives me courage to be more bold in my own work to see God’s church renewed and reformed. Thank God for you, sister, on behalf of so many you speak for.

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Simon Butler | 3 Comments

Speak Clearly After the Tone…

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

It feels a long time ago, when the February Group of Sessions of the Church of England General Synod discussed a paper from the House of Bishops, which advocated a change in tone over how we speak about LGBT+ people but failed to convince many Synod members that it had itself adopted the new tone for which it called. Yet what the document failed to deliver, the Synod itself immediately began to put in place. Many of the speeches in the debate that rejected the paper exemplified what a new and distinctly more welcoming tone would sound like.

Last week in York, where Synod was gathered for its summer sessions, we saw that tone begin to impact on action. In two debates, over consecutive days, attention was turned first to the practice of “conversion therapy” and then to support for those who have transitioned. Both debates were characterised by the passion, courtesy and good humour that had been heard in February. Beyond this, Synod showed an overarching desire to hear the voices of LGBT+ people, whether expressed directly or through their stories being shared by their friends. And most important of all, we heard from a Synod that wanted decisive change and action now. Members listened to, but clearly rejected, demands that these matters required further study, be it theological or scientific, ahead of any decision.

My guess is that the painstaking work of the Shared Conversations is bearing fruit. In a number of dioceses, groups who first met as part of the Regional Conversations have continued to study, pray and get to know each other better. Meanwhile the vast majority of General Synod members took part in the Conversations of a year ago. We follow a God whose ultimate revelation of himself was not in words on a page, or in commandments inscribed on stone tablets, but in a fully human person. Our Lord met with people face to face, individually and in groups. He built relationships, around which he structured his own conversations, where those on the margins were repeatedly brought to the very centre. Our answers to crucial questions of belief and practice, both then and now, must be grounded in scripture and consistent with its overarching messages. But they cannot ultimately be determined purely by the choices we make of how to interpret a small number of specific texts. Rather they are informed by the relationships we have nurtured with Christians whose journeys have been very different from our own. We do our work relationally, building bridges across difference, because that is precisely how God himself chooses to deal with us.

Synod has set its new tone, and begun to speak compassionately and clearly in the voice it has found. I look forward to hearing what it says next.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 7 Comments

The Elephant Orphanage

by the Right Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

my-name-is-paul

In the middle of the city of Nairobi you can find the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Here baby elephants, rescued from Kenya’s wildlife parks, are nurtured and fed and re-socialised and returned to the wild in a state to communicate and to flourish without going rogue.

elephants

I know this because last week I stood, as part of a group of bishops mostly from North America and Africa, to watch the elephants being fed their milk. I was in Nairobi for the eighth meeting of the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, an informal and unofficial gathering of men and women who have been meeting in one form or another since 2010 for prayer, listening and engagement across some of the divides of the Anglican Communion, geographical and theological. Bishops were present from Canada, Kenya, UK, Ghana, US, South Africa, Tanzania and more. Last year we were in Ghana; next year we hope to be in Canada.

Our trip to the Orphanage came after three days of focused conversations and theological presentations in which we sought to learn from each other and to understand one another’s contexts. This year’s theme was “Harambee” – a word used by Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta as a way of persuading and aligning people; it means something like “all pull together”, “lift together”, “forward together”.

When bishops of the Anglican Communion meet, there will probably be elephants in the room. These elephants certainly get in when major issues of division or concern are ignored or never grasped or shared; for example, issues of global North/South inequality, or issues of human sexuality, or issues of Communion power politics.

These issues are real, and in Nairobi they were named as real, by people sitting at a table and looking into one another’s eyes; not by organisations or committees firing off press releases or generalised anathemas or blogs from a like-minded cyberspace. In the room, the truth was spoken hesitantly, interruptedly, tentatively, gently, in context and in love. And the more this happened, so the clearer the elephants became, and they were smaller than any of us might have thought to start with, until there were just one or two orphans left.

We did not try to starve our elephants to death by pretending that they were unimportant or non-existent. If we had tried that they would have grown and become rogue, as they so often do. Instead we each described them as we saw them, and we paid attention to them in the context of worship and study and mutual affection, in the belief that if we did this they might help us and not trample us. And as far as I could see, that was what happened.

Churches seeks to reflect the love of Christ and they do so imperfectly. In England, in this week of the clear-sighted and sharply critical report into the deeds of Peter Ball and their aftermath, we’ve seen once again the potential for collusion and deceit and confusion that goes with any spiritual authority.

The Church can be a broken and dangerous mirror for the reflection of love and truth, not just through the sins and crimes of a few, but institutionally also. David Ison wrote in Via Media earlier this month, “…bishops can carry a huge weight of expectation, being given an almost messianic level of responsibility for shaping the life of the Church and leading its mission in individual isolation.” When this happens, and still more when bishops collude with it for the sake of power or prestige, then the structures of the Church can become unreal so quickly. Then those structures need to be shaken, and the elephants will gather in the room to shake them. We can hear their trumpeting in our Church of England as we look back to February’s General Synod, and forward to next month’s Synod and beyond it.

And there is no quick fix by which we can avoid all of this. Conversation, shared conversation, continuing Indaba, mutual listening – structures like these are good, but they can all too easily become attempts to keep the elephants safely muzzled (because of course you can never keep them from the room).

But my experience in Kenya (and not only in Kenya) is different from that. It is that a group of people can resist group-think, and stereotyping, and the temptation to spray righteousness all over one another, and can choose instead to welcome and nurture some forlorn and ignored elephants, in the faith that God will use them to feed us too. The elephant orphanage is a very helpful place, truly.

Famously at the height of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco some people came to the Bishop there to tell him to stop ministering to HIV-positive people on the grounds that they were sinners. His response has stood for me as a compass for ministry ever since: “God took the risk of becoming a human being; why can’t you?” Sitting in Nairobi last week I became aware of that response again, and I saw the risk taken, in the eyes of African and North American sisters and brothers, in the room, with the elephants. And I continue to hope that it is here that the future is to be seen, and heard, and lived, and shared.

For details of the Consultations of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, see http://www.anglican.ca/gr/bishopsconsultation/

If you want to foster a real elephant, see https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England, Human Sexuality, Social Justice | Leave a comment

For Grenfell – Where Were You?

by Rev Dr Hayley Matthews, Director of Lay Training, Diocese of Leeds

Hayley Matthews

It took some courage for the Prime Minister to make her apology on Tuesday, for the nation was truly shell-shocked by the Grenfell disaster, and Mrs May’s summary of the situation was a statement we could all agree with.

It’s taken me a full week to find myself able to watch the Panorama film documentation of the Grenfell disaster.  As I wept, it was impossible not to imagine waking to thick black smoked, or worse still, an unendurable, inescapable heat. The palpable shock and grief of the survivors interviewed was devastating as photographs of young, happy children, wisened old men, mothers, grandmothers and vibrant young adults were shared in the vain hope that somehow the fire didn’t reach them or impede their attempts to escape the towering inferno. Who will ever forget the disabled brother told to remain in his flat with a damp towel by the door on the 22nd floor, or his distraught sister?

Yet it wasn’t the scene of the destruction and loss of human life that disturbed me most. I was completely unprepared to see hordes of people on the streets with carrier bags full of clothes, boxes of nappies as shouts of “perishable food is about to arrive, we got manpower but we need women to sort it” reverberating through the crowds.  Hundreds of people spilling out of their homes and businesses to bring what they could, do what they could, share all they had in some cases, with those who had lost everything but the clothes they stood up in.  It was a beautiful sight, people pulling together in the face of human tragedy, a truly empathic response towards those in dire need. What disturbed me, however, was the fact that after waking up to a living hell, survivors were left to fend for themselves, find somewhere to sleep, get up the next morning to nothing but chaos, loss, grief, confusion, the true horror of losing loved ones, all one’s wordly goods and every memory in every form, whether it be photograph, trinket or song.  All irretrievable lost to nothing but the vagaries of the human memory and nobody there to say, ‘here we are.  This is what we are providing for you, this is where you need to go, this is where you can bathe, be clothed, fed, sleep.’  It was nothing short of chaos and had an ‘every man for himself’ feel about it. Nothing was properly planned or organised and I simply fail to believe that there is no disaster plan for every borough of our land never mind our capital city. Why wasn’t it activated for these people? Why was it left to Church Halls, mosques and the local neighbourhood to wade in and sort it out for themselves?

A few days later (yes, days later, I still find that hard to believe) the £5million fund from central government with each survivor receiving an immediate £5000 was met with the derision it deserves.  Perhaps a £5000 payout seems generous to a person living on £72.40 per week but even a minor whiplash victim is better compensated.  As has been rightly pointed out, a far lesser sum would have ensured the building was fire-proof in the first place.  What the survivors needed was a roof over their head, a plan for permanent accommodation and a proper support system in place, not cash, nor to be left wandering around the streets relying upon the charity of their neighbours, wonderful as it was.  It must have been bewildering to find oneself so utterly adrift.  It was one of the rare occasions when the word ‘aftermath’ rose to its full height, squared its shoulders and looked us all in the face.

Aside from the political and organisational questions raised, is the question most being bandied about is ‘where was God in this?’ The Christian faith speaks of a God who is amidst everyone, including alongside those who mourn, those who lie in the burns unit fighting for their lives and those who are traumatised survivors.

Jesus identifies with us in our human suffering most acutely as he hangs from the cross, vilified by the powers that be, turned upon by His own, crucified for doing nothing but good – the Innocent hung out to dry by the high and mighty, religious and political, easy to sacrifice, to silence, or so it seemed.  Yet I would suggest that God is most visible in those who gave from the little that they have, those who chose vocations that put their own lives at risk in order to save others; those who place ethical decisions above parsimonious politicking, for God is in these inhabited, lived out words, attributed to Jesus Himself: ‘”Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25_34-40)

Says it all really – doesn’t it?

 

 

 

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