by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Member of General Synod (writing in a personal capacity)
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the one thing holding “us” in the Church of England back from making any real progress on matters of sexuality and gender is the constant appeal from those “at the top” to “unity at all costs”.
We see it in the House of Bishops – where many feel that their vows to work to keep the Church “one” stops them from saying what they truly and personally believe.
We see it in the decisions from Lambeth Palace – where it seems acceptable to “sacrifice the few for the sake of the whole” in terms of invitations to Lambeth 2020, again in order to purportedly “keep us one”.
We see it in the wider Anglican Communion – where there is admonishment of any province who would seek to “break ranks” and instead go where they believe the Holy Spirit is leading them, which seems so ironic given we are constantly told that we need to be a prophetic church that listens to what God is telling us to do.
It seems to me that this thing called “unity” is not at all the loving fruit of an intimate relationship, such as that between Jesus and His Father as set out in John 17 or as part of an ‘integral whole’ as in 1 Corinthians 12, but rather a form of power to coerce and control.
Much has been made of the parallel between the Church and the LGBT community in terms of an abusive relationship, where the one in power continues to hit and hurt the more vulnerable party, before then apologising and saying that they are truly sorry and that they really do love the more vulnerable party. When this is in “a union”, such as a marriage, the more vulnerable party normally feels that they have to stay in this abusive situation because of the “vows of unity” that they have made. Indeed, they are normally frequently reminded of these vows by the one in power over them..
This is not unity but abuse.
In fact it is normally called “coercive control” by the mental health professions. It is unhealthy, it is based on fear and has nothing to do with love. It seeks to manipulate and control, at all costs, and is impervious to the harm that it does to the vulnerable party.
So it leads me to ask the question – is “coercive control” alive and kicking in our Church? If so, I fear that this concept of “unity” has become the ultimate Golden Calf.
In the belief that the “truth shall set us free” I suggest we look at the facts:
1. The truth is we are NOT united! It has become patently clear that the Anglican Communion is already split. GAFCON are calling their own conference, ordaining their own bishops, setting up their own churches – and we appear to carry on as if we don’t see or recognise this for what it is.
2. The truth is that there are many churches in the Church of England that are planning and preparing different structures of accountability – as long as they can find a way of taking their pensions with them! They can “see the writing on the wall” and know there is an inevitability that the Church of God – across the world – is moving in a direction that they do not wish to travel.
3. The truth is that two wrongs never make a right! We are told we are unable to change doctrine, even if we know deep down that the Holy Spirit is at work and showing us the past errors of our understanding of Scripture, for fear of reprisals in countries where Christianity is a minority faith. Personally I find this extremely difficult to understand – we are saying that we know that the way we treat the LGBT community is wrong, but we can’t change it because of fear? Because of a greater wrong that is being done?
There is so much else that can be written about the way that this false notion of unity has caused a prison from which few can break free and find true freedom of life, but the starting point has to be to “name it”.
So let’s start calling it out for what it is.
And once we have recognised it for what it is – let us repent of it and ask that the Spirit of Love and Truth will set us free to appreciate true unity when we see it – like between two people who love each other and want to become one in God’s sight!