by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s, Waterloo and LGBT member of the Co-ordinating Group for the Living in Love & Faith Project
I have a strong image whenever I think about the Living in Love and Faith process. I see someone in a field at the edge of a wood, holding out her open hand full of grain. She’s hoping that the deer will emerge from the wood and eat the grain: tentatively they do emerge, quietly, sniffing the air, ready to bolt. She knows that any sudden move will scare them away and the grain will remain uneaten. She sees and senses the approach of the deer, some from the left, some from the right: but she hardly dare breathe, hoping that they’ll come near …
There was a huge bang a few weeks ago, an unexpected explosion, which sent any tentative (progressive) deer bolting back into the undergrowth. The Pastoral Statement cleared the field. Then the apology made a few (conservative) deer lift their heads and prepare to scurry away.
And now, the waiting is happening again, and everyone is jumpy, ready to flee. Not knowing whether the grain will taste of anything; will it be pap, designed to fill without satisfying, or will it be something of real nourishment which enables us to grow?
For example, Jeremy Pemberton’s thoughtful blog here.
‘In the Church of England, after the disaster of the Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops … we now wait for the publication of the resources of Living in Love and Faith – the culmination of a two-year project. My hope is that it will embrace a broad understanding of sexuality and intimacy to enable us to move away from the sterility of the perspectives of Issues in Human Sexuality and most of the reports since. That is my hope; it is, sadly, not my expectation.’
And, on the other hand, numerous questions from across the conservative spectrum about whether the whole LLF process is just a softening up for a future change in policy away from the rigorous position outlined in the Pastoral Statement.
To be on the LLF Co-ordinating Group at the moment feels weird. We review and revise and re-edit the resources, on the basis of feedback from a wide range of people – more or less equally balanced between progressives and conservatives. We are working in the heat of the moment, and yet, because all is not yet ready for publication, we are working away from the public eye.
I think that what is emerging is something which just might do what Jeremy hopes it might. Films which tell real people’s stories, offered to us with vulnerability and trust, from across the spectrum. A book which opens up the variety of human relationships and understandings of sexuality and gender, recognising that we are, as a Church, in an unprecedented situation where there is a strong desire for unity but also deep questions about whether that must also require uniformity.
But I am so close to the process that I fear I may have lost my sense of perspective. And I know that the hinterland to which I am closest, the LBGTI+ community, is tired of waiting, tired of scraps from the table, tired of being fobbed off. LLF is a process; it will involve more talking, more listening, with a clear timetable for some decisions, but the timetable is not quick and any decisions to be made are far from being considered, let alone recommended. Meanwhile, opinion continues to change and more and more Christians accept the possibility of equal marriage.
Many people have said to me – ‘why can’t the Church just change? Why’s it all taking so long?’ To which my reply is that if we were a different Church, we could indeed have just changed a long time ago. If we were a Church made up only of progressive Christians, of people who are relaxed about the diversity of ways in which God created humans, then it would be easy to change. But we aren’t: we are a Church which includes many more conservative Christians, and many of us, including me, were brought to faith within those more conservative churches… and the eye cannot say to the hand, I do not need you.
The deer may scatter, and the grain may go untasted. Which I think would be a heartbreak, for if this whole gruelling process has taught me one thing, it’s this: that the Church is richer for engaging across difference, however uncomfortable that engagement is.
John 17.22-23 speaks to us all:
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Can we imagine a Church which has an honoured place for everyone, on equal terms?
To create such a thing would be a huge challenge – for conservatives, perhaps, even more than progressives. We’d all have to step outside our comfort zones, for the sake of the Gospel.
Dare we even try?