ReNew and Reject….

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

Giles Goddard

50 years ago the watershed conference at Keele University committed Anglican Evangelicals to working within the Church of England.  Evangelical readers of this blog will know very well how the conference transformed relations with the C of E,  starting a process which is still continuing. The appointment of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury is, partly, a result of the Keele gathering.

Although not without its problems, the relationship between evangelicals and the rest of the church has been fruitful and creative; the mainstreaming (!) of Holy Trinity Brompton and its cousins has brought a new dynamism to the C of  E. Speaking as someone within the Anglican catholic tradition, I hope that the engagement has worked both ways.

In the run-up to the conference, John Stott said, ‘It is a tragic thing…that Evangelicals have a very poor image in the Church as a whole. We have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism… We need to repent and to change.’

It’s nicely ironic that, fifty years on,  the hardline conservative evangelical wing is laying plans to leave the C of E again.  There has been an irregular consecration of a bishop in Jesmond, and preparations are afoot for a parallel structure.

From their point of view, the experiment has failed. It’s not just about sexuality, it’s about leadership more generally.  ReNew, the latest iteration of the GAFCON/AMiA nexus has a statement of faith which is very clear about male headship as well as the indissolubility of marriage (really?) and gender complementarity.  It reads like a document from history.

We’ve been here before, many times. There have been protestant and catholic departures from the C of E. The history of the Dissenting movement in the 17th , 18th and 19th centuries is well known, as is the conversion of John Henry Newman to Rome. It’s hard to see how an organisation like ReNew with its rigorously regressive theological positions will get much traction, and there are many within the C of E who would breathe a sigh of relief if some of our most vocal conservatives moved to pastures new.  Many conservative evangelical churches have already begun to withdraw financially anyway….

Underlying all this is, of course, the vexed question of sexuality.  The question is most pointed in relation to same-sex relationships but ReNew is clear that ANY sex outside marriage is sinful (again, really?).

Readers of this blog do not need the arguments in favour of inclusive Christianity to be rehearsed.  As chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group I was very involved in preparations for the February Synod debate in which Synod voted not to take note of the Bishops’ latest report. It is becoming clear that, both for conservative evangelicals and those of us working for inclusion, that vote was another watershed moment.

We are all working out, collectively, what possible next steps might be taken.  Ultimately those of us who voted not to take note are urgently seeking a way of welcoming LGBTI people, especially vulnerable young people who may have been harmed by the church, into the family of Christ.  There are practical outworkings:  there is a strong desire for an authorised liturgy to be used in the celebration of same-sex relationships and to end the differential treatment of LGBTI ordinands & clergy in relationships.

But there is also a desire not to exacerbate the divisive behaviour of the conservative evangelical wing by pushing for the approval of same-sex marriage too soon. We want a mixed economy, similar to the mixed economy we enjoy liturgically and over other issues such as the remarriage of divorced people.

These are complex times. We are certainly seeing a realignment in English Christianity. At the heart of our shared life is a fundamental question:  who did Jesus come to save?

I am with Desmond Tutu on this. My favourite quote from him is:  ‘I wish I could shut up. But I can’t, and I won’t.’ My second favourite is this: ‘Jesus did not say, “I, if I be lifted up, I will draw some.” Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all, all, all, all, all.” ‘

 

Posted in Church of England, Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality | 3 Comments

A Question of Christian Identity?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News

Jayne Ozanne (3)

Later this week, the University of Chester will host a one-day conference on “Sexuality and Anglican Identities”.  It promises to be an interesting day with speakers offering a wide range of perspectives – from Dr Susannah Cornwall (Exeter University to Dr David Hilborn (St John’s School of Mission in Nottingham).

In promoting the event the project organisers, Dr Paul Middleton and Dr Jessica Keady, note:

G“Sexuality is a divisive issue in the Church today.  For many of those who hold different positions on the presenting issues, Christian identity is at stake.  …While what has been called the Church of England’s via media has been able to accommodate theological and ethical breadth within a broad understanding of Anglican identity (eg The Pilling Report, 2013), in the current environment, various Anglican groups (such as Changing Attitude, GAFCON, Reform etc) call for a more decisive decision to either include or exclude people in same sex relationships.  These groups, for whom sexuality (or more particularly, homosexuality) has become the measure of Anglican faithfulness, create different ways of constructing and understanding Anglican identity.”

Personally, I would argue that this issue actually has very little to do with Anglican identity and everything to do with certain tribes’ definition and understanding of Christian identity.  I make this important distinction as there are many tribes (such as New Wine, the Evangelical Alliance, Spring Harvest) whose first allegiance it seems is not to their denomination but to their tribe.  This is particularly true within the evangelical tradition.  If you doubt this, just look at how many relate to authority – where the recognised tribal leaders hold more influence than the official appointed traditional leader, such as the local bishop.

For many, their sense of identity is and has always been in their allegiance to their Christian brothers and sisters who exhibit certain key traits or have experienced certain spiritual manifestations.  These can be summed up in key catch phrases such as “bible-believing Christians” or “spirit-filled Christians” who have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”.  As such, these descriptors are used to segregate “real Cristians” from those who “just think they are Christians”.  Of course, they would argue this practice is highly biblical as Jesus talks about separating “the sheep from the goats” and “wheat from tares” (although they tend to forget that it is Jesus himself who does this – and not until the final judgement).

A good example of this was when Rowan Williams was announced as the new Archbishop of Canterbury.  I remember clearly that the one single question that most of the Lambeth Partners (a group formed to provide practical support (ie money) for the archbishop) wanted to know was “Is he spirit-filled, Jayne?”  Most had joined the Partnership to support Archbishop George Carey, and as such were senior evangelicals from across the country.  Many were very sceptical at ++Rowan’s appointment, and wanted reassuring.  I remember being deeply angered by these questions and would always respond “Of course he’s spirit-filled!!  Have you read any of his books or heard him preach?!  Can’t you see the gift of wisdom that God has given him?”  But what they wanted to hear from me was that there was tangible proof that he spoke in tongues or exhibited other signs of the Holy Spirit as set out in 1 Corinthians 14.  For without this proof they could not be certain that he was on the right side of the great divide.  As such many left the Partnership.

And therein lies the crux of our problem as a “Church”.  We have a deep fault line that we hardly ever acknowledge or talk about.  One (large) evangelical group passes judgement on another (large but more dispersed) liberal/Anglo-Catholic group.  They assume that because they don’t have a similar experience of God – or at least they don’t believe that they have – they should be “written off” as charlatans and pretenders.  They perceive them as people just in love with tradition and ritual, who don’t have a “personal relationship with Christ” and hence “are in love with religion rather than with the living Lord Jesus”.

The problem doesn’t stop there.  Many within the liberal/anglo-catholic group tend themselves to write off those from the evangelical group for being “narrow minded bigots, who leave their brains at the door”.

Oh, see how we love each other!

Whatever happened to “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others you will be judged”?  Yes, I know this verse is frequently quoted by tribal leaders who say they don’t want to judge individuals – at least it’s regularly quoted to me when I ask whether they think I am going to hell as per Romans 1 for being openly gay.  But, of course they do judge!  They refuse to recognise people like me as being part of their tribe – or indeed any evangelical who “has gone soft” on homosexuality.  Instead many of us are asked to stand down from positions of lay leadership because of the views that we hold.

Be under no doubt, your tribal identity is key.  In fact, it is more than that, it is critical – as you may find yourself on the wrong side of the pearly gates if you get it wrong!  Of course, you’ll also find yourself out in the cold – away from the fellowship of your friends – if you show any form of disagreement.  That form of ostracism is far more difficult and painful to deal with.  You may also not get that promotion you hoped for.

As many know to their cost, it is extremely difficult to stand against your leaders’ teachings if you don’t agree with them – best to keep quiet and keep your thoughts to yourself.  Remember, your leaders must know best because “they are the really spirit-filled ones”.  They know, because they have the Spirit of Discernment, and the Spirit of Wisdom and the Spirit of Counsel.  Of course, “pretend Christians” can’t have the same level of biblical understanding because they aren’t spirit filled – even if they are a bishop!

So, to recap, there are many who believe that to be a “real Christian” (and recognised by your church leaders and friends as a “real Christian”) you must belong to the “right group”.  This means you MUST publicly show that you are prepared to play by your club’s rules – and more importantly, that you are prepared to publicly state that you believe the “right things”.  Hence being asked to sign a Statement of Faith, which increasingly has clauses about beliefs regarding sexuality and same sex relationships in it.

Indeed, your stance on sexuality is key – it is now the defining factor that shows whether you have “conformed to this world” and given in to “liberal pressure”, or whether you’re prepared to “stand firm against the devil” even if this makes you unpopular.  Showing any form of weakness in this area is very dangerous – you cannot afford to be swayed by emotional blackmail of the painful stories of what happens to LGBTI Christians who suffer under their church’s teaching.  Heaven forbid that your heart aches to show compassion and kindness, or that you see the wonderful fruit flowing from a same sex couple in love.

After all, you’re told, didn’t Christ warn this would happen “in the end times”? That people would be ensnared by “false teaching” and would “love the world”?  Ironically, it’s all done “for the sake of the Gospel” – even if that core Gospel message is being horrendously undermined, people excluded from God’s love and a Church labelled homophobic by an incredulous nation who look on in anger and bewilderment.

Oh what a web we weave!

But because we’re Anglicans (and British) we all smile sweetly at each other, and we pretend we get on.  Behind the smiles is that thought that “one day, God will show them we’re right and then they’ll repent..”

And that thought exists on both sides!

I am of the firm belief that this judgemental spirit is one of the greatest dangers to the Christian gospel today.  It turns the Word of God into a lie.  It is a form of spiritual abuse and blindness that cannot be reasoned with or challenged.  It is a fundamentalist belief that “I am right because I am spirit-filled and I KNOW.”  It is harsh, unloving, uncaring and ungodly.  It is even more dangerous because it is preached in the name of love by leaders who are themselves good men and women, but who refuse to recognise that they exhibit a homophobic spirit.  More importantly it refuses to answer the call of the Holy Spirit to show kindness and compassion, and fails to recognise that where there is love there is God.

Only Jesus can touch hardened hearts to the enormity of his love – and for that we need a miracle, and for that we need to pray!

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 19 Comments

Adjectival Insufficiency

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Convocation of Canterbury

presentation1

When I was in full-time theological education, our training was enriched by a number of people who were not pursuing a vocation to ordination but were seeking to equip themselves for some other form of Christian service. One of those people – I forget her name – was taking time out of running a tea shop in Gloucestershire, which she sought to use as a form of Christian service and outreach. I asked her what it was she did and she told me that God was calling her to run what she called ‘a Christian tea shop.’ When I asked her what the difference was between a Christian tea shop and any other tea shop, she talked about it being run on Christian principles.

I tell this story because I have no doubt about her sincerity and the way in which she served God but because, I don’t know about you but, when I go out for a cup of Darjeeling and a slice of Victoria sponge, my first thought is not ‘is this a Christian tea shop?’ but ‘is this a good tea shop’? Equally, when our Church Council needed legal advice, I looked for a good solicitor first, rather than a Christian one. Simply putting ‘Christian’ in front of something does not guarantee that the business is of a high standard or a person is somehow morally superior.

I say this because I’ve been struck by the way in which politicians and others have been attacking Tim Farron, the Christian leader of the Liberal Democrats, during the early days of the General Election campaign. “Can he tell me if he thinks being gay is a sin?”, asked the gay Conservative MP Nigel Evans. Whatever Farron’s personal view is – and he now appears to have made it clear that he doesn’t think gay sex is a sin – I have wondered why it matters, given his very clear admittance that he was wrong to oppose certain liberalising parliamentary votes a decade ago. Speaking to Pink News, Farron has made it clear that he has changed his mind and that, in matters of public policy, he is a supporter of equal marriage.

Part of the problem is the way in which we use the word ‘Christian’. For better or worse, Christians are perceived as those who take the moral high ground, who stand in judgment of others and whose ability to participate in public life is to be questioned because of a perception of where Christians stand on matters of sexual ethics. Tim Farron is clearly an able, gifted and passionate politician but, both within his party and outside, some question his suitability to lead because he is a Christian, and (pause for dramatic music) an Evangelical Christian at that.

Tim Farron’s electoral problem is but a microcosm of the test that the church faces. Whatever the merits of the policies of the Liberal Democrats, many people judge him – and his advisers fear, his Party – through the lens of being seen to be prejudiced or homophobic. Christians face the same challenge. We are no longer listened to by virtue of our inherited status, thanks be to God, but by the way our words and deed match up. For all the talk of being against homophobia, it still remains an endemic problem. If you don’t believe me, ask Jeffrey John.

Archdeacon David Picken, speaking at the On Fire Mission this week, said that “so many things are coming back to bite us from the past in the church. And most of them are to do with a lack of authenticity, a lack of trust and a lack of truth.” Until we face up to that, putting “Christian” in front of anything is likely to make little difference to our missionary effectiveness, even if it makes us feel good about ourselves.

Posted in Church of England, Simon Butler | 2 Comments

Why Should the Devil Have All the Best Tunes (and Words)?

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

My music teacher at secondary school was fond of the saying, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” Under his tutelage, morning assemblies went far beyond the contents of Ancient and Modern, affording us glimpses into how a wider musical repertoire might be employed in our collective worship. Nearly fifty years on, I’m beginning to wonder if his complaint about music applies to vocabulary too. Does the devil have all the best words?

It’s certainly true that the shortest and sharpest messages, the ones that are easiest to get across in a contested situation, are often the most negative or polemical. In last year’s US presidential election, Donald Trump proved adept at consistently applying the same single, simple negative adjective ahead of his uttering the name of whichever rival he wanted to beat at that moment. Each rival had their own personalised pejorative epithet. And they stuck. In Church debates the same techniques apply. Terms such as “Revisionist” and “Homophobe” are regularly thrown around; whilst during recent events in Sheffield the relative subtleties of the “Five Guiding Principles” were drowned out by more visceral cries of sexism or intolerance.

Increasingly, I find the only way to counter this is to seek to set up an equally short and simple vocabulary, but one aimed at helping us value each other and live with difference better. In my last foray for Via Media I sought to develop the notion of “Paradox” as a way of adding to the positive vocabulary. I’d want to invite readers to put their own minds to thinking through a language fit for irenical debate. What does an accessible and tested set of words, that help us engage and differ constructively, look like? And then how can we put those words into our conversation, with Trump-like regularity, in order to develop their meanings and use?

So let me offer one more word by way of example, Solidarity. It’s a term that seems to have been almost exclusively used in UK circles as part of the political rhetoric of the left. Most often it presupposes some common enemy against whole different groups are invited to unite. However, in continental Europe versions of it have borne a wider currency. To stand in solidarity with someone is not to agree with them on everything, indeed the word is predicated on some basic difference for which solidarity is the bridge across the divide. Solidarity takes us far beyond the grudging tolerance that is often all that wider society believes is achievable in the face of disagreement. As a nation, I think that we need the concept of solidarity to take us beyond the polarisation of the 2016 referendum process. We need to accept that we can differ hugely as to the wisdom of leaving the European Union, but it is in all our interests now to do it as well as we possibly can.

When, a few days ago, I attended, robed and received communion at the Chrism Mass presided over by the Bishop of Beverley, nobody imagined that my strong convictions on the full inclusion of women in the Church’s ordained ministry were wavering. What I hoped they recognised was that, just as I had done at the same service last year, I wanted to express my solidarity with a significant cohort of the priests and laity of my diocese. I regularly find myself standing on platforms with the leaders of the other major world faiths represented in Manchester, often as we express our solidarity with one another in favour of some societal good. But sometimes  our solidarity doesn’t require any specific common cause beyond itself. We are people of faith and belief, and that is enough to create the bond.

I don’t imagine for a moment that a single new concept, or the rehabilitation of a somewhat forgotten word, will clear us a path through the deep divisions that continue to face Christian Churches. But I do believe that building a new vocabulary, where the language of peace is at least as strong and clear as that of war, could play a significant role. The devil doesn’t need to have all the best words or tunes.

 

 

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 10 Comments

A Moment in the Tangle

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

my-name-is-paul

“God made the angels to show Him splendour, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But [human beings] He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of [their] mind.[1]

In this Holy Week it’s good to remember that the Church is “the mystical body of [God’s] Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people[2]” as well as a limping, fractious, all-too-human institution. We live always in the “as well as”, between grace and freedom, between reality believed and reality seen, in the light of the resurrection and in the shadow of the cross.

We receive our salvation freely as God works by grace within us, and we work it out with fear and trembling[3], “in the tangle of the mind” as Thomas More puts it in Robert Bolt’s play, quoted at the beginning of this piece. And this short piece is about a moment, an unfinished moment, in the tangle of this bishop’s mind.

In February the General Synod chose not to take note of a report from the House of Bishops that called for maximum freedom under current law and guidance for those in same-sex relationships[4]. After that debate our Archbishops called for a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church[5].

In my own speech in that debate I said this:

“When I go home from here, no matter what the result of this debate, I will seek in Liverpool to ensure maximum freedom under the law for LGBTI people, so that their love as it really exists can be recognised and honoured within the church as it really exists. I have sought to do this since I arrived in Liverpool… And I commit myself to continue to work… to offer maximum freedom within this Church. We will do this in liaison with others. We will not wilfully break the law or flout properly agreed guidance. But our exploration of maximum freedom may carry us to places in relation to law and guidance where we have not previously gone. And all this will happen anyway.”

So after Synod I went home to keep that commitment, and a couple of weeks later I had a conversation at the back of church after a service, the sort of conversation we have more and more often in this changing England.

It’s all very cheerful and happy, as people gather at the back of church, and I’m shaking hands with people and we’re all laughing and talking, and a woman comes up and shakes my hand and says “My daughter is getting married and you won’t marry her in church will you, because her fiancée is a woman”. She’s stating a fact and she’s clearly exasperated because of this fact. And I agree that it’s a fact. So I say “No, I’m afraid we won’t, we can’t under our laws at the moment”, and then I say this: “But we can give her and her partner such a lovely service of welcome and recognition and affirmation”, and the woman smiles and says “Oh, well that’s very good; you mean a service of blessing?”, and I say, “Send me an email and we’ll do what we can”.

In the tangle of the Church’s mind, we are debating what “maximum freedom” might mean, and still more what “radical new Christian inclusion” might mean, and how these meanings might be expressed. Opinions differ on this, to put it mildly.

But I am clear myself that “maximum freedom” does not mean “minimum freedom”, and that “radical new Christian inclusion” does not mean “shallow old unchristian exclusion”.

All the same there’s a tangle. In 2005, speaking only of civil partnerships, eight years before civil same-sex marriage, the House of Bishops had this to say:

”…the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.[6]

And so here I am, at a moment in the tangle, an unfinished moment, working away as a bishop, remembering what this woman said, “Oh, well that’s very good; you mean a service of blessing?”, and looking at this word, “blessing”, and at this phrase, “should not provide”, and at this phrase, “radical Christian inclusion”. Here I am, working away, to offer maximum freedom within the current law.

And as I do so I wonder about blessing. And I reach for a recent book, the book called “Blessing” by Andrew Davison[7]. And I note there the deep richness of meaning in the word, and the freedom from fear as the richness of the word is unpacked. I note the unfolding from scripture, and from the traditions of the Church, of blessing “as thankful recognition” for something received[8], of blessing as expressing a calling, a vocation, a commitment, something offered[9].

And I note the distinction (not Andrew Davison’s distinction, but the Church’s distinction) between blessing as constitutive (consecrating or dedicating a thing or a relationship, spoken to confer a status, solemn, you might say formal) and blessing as invocative (asking for God’s favour in relation to a thing, expressing warmth and approval and affirmation and the belief that this thing should flourish under God, solemn, you might say informal). As Davison says: “Most blessings are likely to be invocative” [10].

Among other resources, this book is helping me to scope the wide and diverse understanding that we have of blessing, the wide and diverse response that the Church makes to the wide and diverse world God made. And for me the heart of this response is to identify the good in the world and to speak well of the world, to speak well to the world, to speak God’s “yes”[11] in the moment now, and in the moments to come. As Andrew Davison says:

When we bless something, someone or somewhere, we are in some way pointing to what it can most truly be; we are directing it to its fulfilment in God[12].

As a bishop I find these distinctions and these expressions of richness most helpful. Because they point to the many ways the Church has of “speaking well[13]”. These many ways illuminate the love of God and offer thankful recognition for things, and for places, and for people who love each other. Many ways of speaking well, that might meet the requirements of love, even within the law we have.

And as I read and think I remember the words of the bishops, and of the Archbishops. And I remember that I want to offer radical new Christian inclusion to those who seek the ministry of this Church. I want to offer maximum freedom to this woman and her daughter and her daughter’s partner, who come to the Church despite all they know of us. They come, because they want to discern and acknowledge the presence and the love of God in this relationship. They come, to receive the prayers of the Church on the love that has entered their family.

And I am determined that we will find a way to meet them there, a way that will speak well of love and of the presence of God. To find a way that will point to the love of God in Jesus Christ, to the love which never fails, in the mystical body, the blessed company of all faithful people. To point to that love within this limping, fractious, all-too-human institution.

And in the tangle of my mind I remember my Synod speech again, and I stand by it. Because our unity matters deeply to me I remain determined that we shall not flout the law, but keep it, until we change it. But I am determined too, as I said in my speech, that our exploration of radical Christian inclusion “may carry us to places in relation to law and guidance where we have not previously gone”.

The Church’s missional life takes form in pastoral moments, and this is one of mine. And these moments, these unfinished moments, my moment, this family’s moment – these moments will be added to all the other pastoral moments of today’s Church as we seek to reflect properly the love of Christ crucified and risen.

And in all these moments, and out of all these moments, the future will unfold; the future which is unknown, but which is shaped by these moments of love requested and love shared, of blessing requested and blessing shared.

And what will that future look like? Well, we’ll discover as we go forward, together.

In his fine book “Crazy Christians”, the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry quotes a spiritual, and I end with it here as we enter the season of the Resurrection, and as we serve God in the tangle of our minds, and as we go forward as a Church. It is a song for me, and for the woman I met, and her daughter and her daughter’s partner, and for all of us who are on the journey, in the tangle:

Got my hands on the gospel plow,

Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now,

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on,

Keep your eyes on that prize, hold on[14].

 

[1] Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”, 1960

[2] Book of Common Prayer, Holy Communion service

[3] Philippians 2:12-13

[4] GS2055, para 22

[5] https://staging.churchofengland.org/media/3878263/abc-and-aby-joint-letter.pdf

[6] “Civil Partnerships – A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England” 2005 (https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2005/07/pr5605.aspx)

[7] Andrew Davison, “Blessing”, Canterbury Press 2014. I’m grateful to Dr. Davison for this book, and also for his helpful advice on the writing of this present piece.

[8] “Blessing”, p.8f

[9] “Blessing”, p12ff

[10] “Blessing”, pp125ff

[11] 2 Cor 1:20

[12] “Blessing”, p47

[13] “Speaking well”, Latin “bene dicere”, you might almost say “benediction”, you might almost say “blessing” (see “Blessing”, p)

[14] Michael Curry, “Crazy Christians”, Morehouse Publishing 2013, p84

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England, Human Sexuality | 9 Comments

Mutual Flourishing & Freight Trains

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

 Hayley Matthews

The announcement didn’t register on my own personal richter scale. I’d heard only good things about the Rt Rev’d Philip North, and had been particularly pleased to see somebody shining a spotlight on the plight of the marginalised working classes.  Well done that man.  Consequently, the storm that followed the announcement of his appointment to become a Diocesan Bishop took me by surprise.  As a woman who has felt rejection almost constantly through near on fifty odd years in the church (so much so that it is still a small delight to be warmly welcomed wholesale anywhere), I was suddenly faced squarely with an image of what it is to be me, or any other woman, or BAME or differently abled or identifying as LGBT within the church played out within the incarnation of ‘the norm’ or ‘the privileged’ .

It was interesting to see the way that different parties handled it; the press, the clergy, the public, the laity, various interest groups. For this was a new thing.  Let’s face it we’re rather used to Jeffrey John being hung out to dry again, and we recount the passive aggressive, duplicitous and disingenuous forms of bullying that take place towards LGBT and female clergy almost as a given, sharing our sorrows with one another as if it were just another part of the cross that we bear.

It was also interesting to note Philip’s (if I may) reactions:

  • He felt personally wounded and was surprised at how hard this hit him.
  • He withdrew from public life, albeit time limited.
  • He questioned his vocation
  • He questioned his place in the church

These are everyday ‘norms’ for those clergy carrying a minority status. The continual cost of being publicly scorned, written viciously to, put down and theologically battered with another’s opinion nearly always plays out in both the physical and mental health of a person, however resilient they are. Needing to find a safe space to get back to oneself and find God amidst the pain of denigration and rejection; hating being a focal point for such anger and hatred that one is taken aback by the force of it.  Wondering if the God who calls us means for us to be on this road, or whether we have run ahead or gone off piste. Wondering how we move ahead and find our place in an organisation that invests heavily in us on the one hand, and then threatens to chew us up and spit us out on the other.

I’ll be honest, my heart went out to him because he was clearly hit like a freight train by the reaction to his appointment, and only those of us who are relentlessly subjected to that can understand just how much it shakes the very foundation of all that one is called to be and to do as a priest in the Church of England, and of how much courage and strength it takes to dust oneself off, gird up one’s loins, lift one’s chin and head back into the fray.  It is costly.

Equally, I’m very glad that the Bishop had this experience. It is one thing to theologically dispute an integrity, but it is quite another to live out the consequences of our theology.  Ironically, through his own theological convictions, the Bishop experienced first-hand the consequences for others of those very same convictions.

For some people those convictions are multi-layered and some clergy face exclusion on more than one identity issue. Women particularly tend to find that there is a cumulative impact of owning more than one ‘label’ (intersectionality). For example, a woman is discriminated against for being female owing to theological or even socio-political economic biases.  Add to that that she is bisexual, for example, which immediately ‘doubles’ her minority status adding to the exclusion she is experiencing.  This can take the form of a wider cohort of people agin her, or those that already are finding more grist for their mill.  Add to that her motherhood, for example, a well-documented form of discrimination faced by professional women the world over, and however gifted, hardworking or however ‘good a fit’ the person might be for her role, she is likely to face unprecedented levels of discrimination, both overt and insidious.

Men, on the other hand, according to research participants[1], tend to find that their ‘maleness’ ameliorated any other minority status’. For example, in contrast to women clergy, male clergy who had children were “cooed over” as being twice as worthy of admiration.  Gay male clergy tend to find that there are cohorts of like-minded clergy that they can affiliate to as men,  which is not afforded to women. And of course, there is the obvious point that you can always hide being gay, but you can’t hide being female.

What is it going to take to enable us all to mutually flourish? For Jeffrey John finally to be consecrated bishop?  For The Rt Rev’d Philip North to set out how he intends to lead a diocese of female and male priests whilst holding to his integrity?  For women and BAME and LGBT and differently-abled priests to be able to be themselves without fearing reprisals or relentless vexatious complainants?  For all to continually grow into the vocation that God called their unique personhood into?

Perhaps we have been missing the point by trying to squeeze the ordained (or the laity for that matter) into restrictive identities that are at times nothing more than antiquated follies that look rather wonderful but are really without substance.  There’s no point having pomegranates embroidered around the hem of your garment[2] if you’re only wearing it to hide who you really are.  Perhaps the point is, that God deliberately calls individuals from many and varied identities and people groups in order that we might learn that God is only and ever consumed with where a person’s heart is, before God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[1] The Revd Dr Hayley Matthews has conducted in-depth research into this matter, which is currently being written up for publishing

[2] Moses is given meticulous detail over the priestly garments to be worn as Aaron and his brothers are prepared to become the first priests for Israel. See Exodus 28:33-35 ref the pomegranates. The whole chapter is dedicated to ‘The Priestly Garments’ and makes for interesting reading.

Posted in Church of England, Hayley Mattews, Human Sexuality, Social Justice | 4 Comments

The Power of Feeling over Thinking

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

David ison 2

I write this on the day that the British Government is triggering Article 50 to take Britain out of the European Union: a day regarded as totemic by many, but for diametrically opposite reasons. There will be many articles, blogs and posts, and will continue to be over the next few years, as we enter the uncharted waters of Brexit: but how many intellectual exchanges will engage with the deeper feelings at work?

The Leave/Remain divide operates at different levels. During the campaign there were many arguments and claims made on both sides (‘the facts that you should know’), the truth of which were disputed; and that argument continues to play out. But underlying such argument, such reasoning and the quest for truth, are the feelings that drove much of the debate and which were very powerful in deciding what people thought.

What many of us will remember about the result of the referendum on 23rd June 2016 is not what we thought about it, but how we felt about it: our emotional response to leaving, and our feelings about the people who responded with a different view. And that conflict of emotion continues, in the way in which ‘Remoaners’ and ‘Brexiteers’ are stereotyped and written off by those on the other side, instead of coming together with those with whom we disagree in order to find the best way forward for our country.

The reality is that we’re not rational people, though we may try hard to be. We are whole people, and until we acknowledge and work with our feelings as well as our thoughts we won’t be able to address the underlying issues. Until Remainers respond to the desire for change by those voting Leave, especially those who feel excluded by globalisation and social and economic change, and until Leavers recognise the feelings of loss and fear that Remainers have with regard to an unknown future for their children and wider society, the greater national unity which the Prime Minister aspires to will be unattainable.

And this applies as well to the issues around ordained women and LGBTI people in the Church. We can’t treat these as simply rational matters, problems to be intellectually solved, issues of proclaiming biblical truth or avoiding it. As the practice of Shared Conversations acknowledges, until those on either side (or none) can recognise the power of feelings over what all of us think – and not just over what those on the other side think – we’ll be unable to engage honestly to find an understanding of how to move forward together.

A recent blog on the Via Media site by Martin Seeley highlighted the issue of the interpretation of scripture. But this isn’t simply choosing to negotiate on the principles by which we interpret scripture in order to decide what is true. It involves a whole raft of feelings and loyalties, a commitment to a community who see scripture in a particular way, an emotional commitment which is quite independent of intellectual inquiry. We have an emotional investment in what we believe, and we don’t just change it because the opposing argument is good. As human beings we are social; like a wolf pack we follow the lead of others, and we fear stepping out of line. We won’t be able to really talk about the ways we interpret scripture until we’re honest about the feelings that underly our commitments to them.

After the 1992 vote to allow women to be ordained priest went through, I encountered a number of male clergy who were intellectually accepting of women’s ordination, but joined Forward in Faith because they didn’t want to lose their friends and community – and I also met clergy who had been ostracised by their ‘friends’ because they agreed with the change, and so had in the view of others been disloyal to their community.

And I, along with many others, have discovered that changing my mind in response to arguments both intellectual and emotional about how as an evangelical I should interpret scripture on these issues – and thus how I believe the wider Church should interpret scripture – brings with it the struggle to integrate what I feel emotionally with what I believe intellectually, as well as facing the cost of exclusion by those who are emotionally as well as intellectually wedded to a different view.

At a deanery synod in a village in North Devon twenty years ago which was debating Issues in Human Sexuality, I overheard one lady saying to another: ‘I was just brought up to believe it was disgusting’. And it’s that which we need to get out into the open: the feelings that underly and affect our thinking and our ability to empathise with others, coming out of our own experiences of sex and gender, the need to identify with a group, and the fear of those different from us.

What it feels like to face the prospect of being expelled from your group for having a different view; what it feels like as a woman priest or bishop to have people reject your ministry and be allowed to discriminate against you; how it feels to be gay or transgender and be told there is something deeply wrong with and about you; how it feels to be regarded by many in society as unacceptable in your views; what it feels like to believe you’re being faithful to biblical truth when those outside your constituency (whatever it is) tell you you’re wrong…

As with Brexit, so with the Church: until we listen to one another’s feelings and acknowledge the power of our own, we have little prospect of coming together for the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Church of England, Dean of St Pauls, Human Sexuality, Social Justice | 6 Comments