by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Human Sexuality Group on General Synod
‘There are no problems here, there are simply people’ said the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of last February’s debate at General Synod. Readers of this blog will be well aware of the debate: the Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same-Sex relationships. The debate was only a year ago – feels to me like another eon!
It was, for me, very refreshing to hear the Archbishop moving the conversation forward within the C of E. For too long, LGBTI+ Christians have been seen as a problem to be solved – both by the senior hierarchy within the church and by conservative Christians who have often embraced ethically unacceptable approaches such as conversion therapy.
I’ve been involved in these conversations for over thirty years, during which time the debate has gradually morphed; in the late 1980’s we used to have secret meetings at which people would arrive incognito, with private circulation lists and real fear amongst attenders. Even amongst those who supported us, there was absolutely no doubt that we represented problems to be solved, and there was invariably tension and anger present in the room whenever LGBTI+ issues were discussed.
So the openness and the cross-church engagement which we are now experiencing, and the time and energy going into finding a way forward together – not just among those who want change but also among many who take a conservative position– are very refreshing. And energising.
Today I have a collision of ideas.
The readings set for today are Genesis 17.1-7 and Mark 8.31-38. The liberals among you may need reminding that these are the renaming of Abram to Abraham and the giving of the covenant by God to him and Sarah, and the Markan call for us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.
I have also reread, recently, the wonderful book by Lewis Hyde: The Gift – the ‘classic exploration of the value of giving over receiving.’ It has become clear to me recently that the self-giving love of Jesus at the heart of Christianity is not only right at the heart of our faith but should also be right at the heart of our practice as Christians.
Seems to me that our primary calling is to enable God’s love to be given into the situations in which we find ourselves, so the question we are called to ask is not ‘what’s in this situation for me, how can I benefit from it?’ but ‘what’s in this situation for other people? How can I ensure that they benefit from it? What can I offer them, as a symbol or sign of God’s love for the world?’
In other words, there are no problems here, there are simply people.
So I am starting to wonder, tentatively, if there isn’t the possibility of reframing the current debate over LGBTI+ inclusion. I wonder if there isn’t the possibility of seeing those to whom we are traditionally opposed as a gift. And whether we aren’t called to try to be gifts, ourselves.
Perhaps we, who want change, are offering the gift of encouraging the church to reflect on the nature of a good response to the inclusive challenge of the Gospel. Perhaps those who resist change are offering the gift of encouraging the church to be thankful for the constancy and strength of its traditional witness. And perhaps, together, we can model a generous reflection of God’s self-giving love here in England. Maybe there is the possibility of a mutual exchange of grace.
Pie in the sky? Perhaps. Or perhaps, a faint image of something which might be possible. With God’s help.