by Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s Waterloo and Member of the Co-Ordinating Group for the “Living in Love and Faith” Project
I’ve found the past month surreal, exciting and painful, in more or less equal measure.
Surreal, because two significant (for me) processes have been unrolling at the same time. As part of the Coordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith I was very involved in the preparations for the launch, and the launch itself, and the responses and reactions afterwards. Readers of this blog will be able to imagine how much preparation and thought went into the launch, which was very different to how we had thought it might be, because of COVID. And how much prayer.
At the same time I was, along with much of the rest of the world, watching the unrolling of the USA election process with increasing horror. The attempts by Trump and his camp to subvert due process, to disenfranchise voters (mainly Black voters) and to deny the reality of the USA today was grimly fascinating, and during meetings online I would switch obsessively between the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico and the Zoom call I was on… It all felt quite surreal. It couldn’t happen here, I thought.
Exciting, because I have been relieved by the response to the content of the LLF resources. I have advocated for the LLF process since becoming a member of the Coordinating Group three years ago. I thought it was vital that we, as a church, acknowledge formally the existence in the C of E of committed Christians from across the spectrum of sexuality and gender. And I am convinced that if we are to discuss these matters seriously as a church, we have to collectively do the theological work.
I know that LLF isn’t perfect, but it comes after seven more conventional ‘reports’ over forty years, none of which have gained traction in the C of E. Now, for the first time, many of us can see our faith and our lives reflected in a range of resources produced by the House of Bishops. I have been glad to receive positive responses to the content from many people, and hope that LLF will find its way into the lifeblood of the church as we reflect and learn and engage together.
But it has also been a painful few weeks as the momentum of responses has increased. I don’t need to list to Via Media readers the videos and comments which have emerged. Many of us have been taken aback by the anger and aggressiveness expressed by some: and hurt by the raw nastiness of some of the online comment. Many of us have seen, in some of the responses, an attempt to derail the process at its beginning. It has been hugely disappointing as well as hurtful to many.
I wonder two things. First, I wonder whether the ferocity of some of the reactions – which have, in some cases, produced an equal response – is because for the last three years we have been in semi-purdah, waiting for the publication of the resources. Pressure has been building, and people have been preparing their responses in advance – without knowing what was coming – and so, now, we see an eruption. My hope is that it will become calmer, and I am grateful to the Bishops of London and Coventry for their statement reminding everyone of the need for grace. And also for the Pastoral Principles and the work on creating safe spaces which is at the heart of the LLF course, and being taken on board by the Next Steps Group, chaired by the Bishop of London.
Another hope: that those who have responded so negatively, perhaps before they had had time to really engage with the resources, will find the time to do so – they may be more encouraged than they had expected.
I am grateful for this blog by Fr Thomas Sharp, which acknowledges many of the complexities we are facing
Second, I wonder whether there isn’t a huge amount of fear around. It feels to me as though there is deep fear that a particular, traditional vision of the church may be taken away. And looking back over my involvement in these matters over the past thirty years, I wonder if part of the strength of the conservative reaction is that this is the first time I can remember that the House of Bishops have produced something which truly seeks to affirm the place of LGBTI+ people in the church.
For me, the urgent challenge for us, those who want to see change in the church is, how can this fear be overcome?
We read in John’s Gospel that perfect love casts out fear. This is the opening quote in the trailer film for LLF. It is an expression of hope, as much as an expression of confidence.
My hope for the next few years is that we can find a better way of being church, without the back and forth which so many of us have been involved in for so many years. But it will be a hard and exhausting process for everyone, requiring huge generosity, mutual support and trust and we will only be able to do it with the help and love of Jesus Christ in our hearts.