by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News, Member of General Synod and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
It had been a good but frank meeting.
As I rose to leave, I put out my hand and said: “You know, my heart really is to build a bridge between the two sides, that’s my aim and calling.”
The church official looked at me and smiled before adding “Yes, if there’s anyone left to walk across it.”
I left, feeling slightly angered and unsettled by his quip.
On the way home I pondered why I was feeling such disquiet and realised that it was because we had been talking about two completely different bridges. Indeed, I realised that it was this misunderstanding based on a deep fundamental difference that lay at the heart of our discussions regarding the complex issue of sexuality.
It was the perfect illustration.
For the bridge I was talking about was that between the primarily secular LGBT+ community on one side and the Church on the other, whilst the bridge he was talking about was between different parts of the Church that held differing views on sexuality. I was looking at it from an external perspective, he from an internal. It summed up the problem, perfectly.
So much of our internal church politics it seems to me are focused on just that: “internal politics” without any understanding of the people it is affecting in the public at large. Dare I say that this is not “kingdom focused” but rather “unity focused” – and is based on a concept of “unity” that I believe is fundamentally flawed. As I’ve said before on Via Media, unity should never ever be a goal or objective. It is not something you set yourself to forcibly create, but rather it is a by-product, or using biblical language “blessing”, that comes from people who are of one heart and mind over something. The emphasis being on “heart and mind”, people who have chosen to come together willingly over something, not something forced on them.
I am sure I’m not the only one who is really tired of being told: “the reason that senior church leaders don’t want to speak out on this is that they value unity so highly.”
The last time I was told this, I laughed and responded “Humbug! We are not united now – that is a myth! There is no agreement now. People are leaving now, however because they are not leaders of large churches but instead ordinary church goers you just don’t seem to want to take any notice of them. It is a complete fallacy to say that we are “united” when so many people within the church hold such differing and conflicting views, and a certain way of dealing with it is forced on one group against their will.”
But I recognise that my voice, like many others, is not a popular voice and is frequently dismissed or discarded. Of course it’s easy to do so, even popular to do so – especially when you’re on “the inside” holding all the power and surrounded by a group of people who all appear to hold the same opinion (or so you think).
Not long ago I was speaking to a survivor of sexual abuse in the Church who shone a very helpful light on all this by explaining: “You do realise, Jayne, that in the eyes of the institution there are “good survivors” and “bad survivors”?” She is absolutely right. The “good survivors” are the ones who “play their game” and don’t say anything to rock the boat. They are given a seat at the table and are showcased in order for the institution to reassure itself it is “listening” to survivors’ voices, whilst in reality continuing to do what it has always done. The “bad survivors” are those who refuse to play the game, who point out all the inconsistencies and who the institution works hard to silence and dismiss.
So too with those working for equality.
It is a dangerous strategy. For it reflects the imbalance of power and the arrogance at the heart of an institution that believes it can pick and choose who they listen to, and who they will blackball and dismiss.
Yes, bridges are indeed needed, as is the need for people to be able to choose to walk across them. But actually, only the former is ever in our control. We only ever given the tools (if we have the power) to build a bridge, and to do so we need to ensure that it has firm foundations – ones of uncompromised principles. Otherwise the bridge will collapse the moment that it is tested by storms and raging torrents beneath.
However, we can never control who chooses to walk over the bridge afterwards. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But if people do choose to walk over it, it is then we start to see the fruits of something called “true unity”.