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In Praise of Activists…

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

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.

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