For loving-kindness sake: an open letter to members of General Synod

Dear friends, synod members,

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God, in Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. He is the source of all reconciliation. Like many people in our church I am tired and weary of the endless debates we have that seem to take energy away from our making Jesus known to our neighbours. When so many don’t know the joy of knowing Jesus these debates weaken our witness to the good news.

How wonderful it would be to say that the recent statement from our bishops could draw a line, at least for the time being, under the debate on gay and lesbian relationships and the place of LGBT people in the church. Sadly I think the report does far from that and further exacerbates the situation, further diminishing our ability to proclaim the gospel.

I urge synod to refuse to take note and receive this report because it fails under its own terms: this report does not demonstrate maximum generosity and it does not change the tone. I ask synod to request that the bishops go away again and seek to do that.

If synod does take note of this report it suggests to the bishops that the work they are going to do on a major new teaching document can use the language and tone of this report. If it does it condemns us to the endless circle of this debate for many years to come.

Few, if any, expected that the bishops would suggest a change in our teaching on marriage or propose liturgical formulas for celebrating gay and lesbian relationships. I take profoundly seriously the reasons of tradition and scripture that are raised against doing so. However, there are a number of problems in this report:

Although it is clear that our bishops hold a variety of views, our church is not, it appears, a safe place yet even for bishops to do this publicly. This report will do nothing to create such a safe space.

The use of the language of ‘same sex attraction’ is deeply disturbing. This language derives from forms of ‘treatment’ of gay and lesbian people that are considered by the many to be damaging and destructive. Some people do self-identify in this way, they are a tiny minority. It is right that this should be acknowledged but they are not the presenting issue. For the vast number of gay and lesbian Christians the freedoms that have been gained over the last generations are signs of the kingdom of God breaking in, the story of gay and lesbian liberation is itself an Exodus. The Scriptures speak powerfully to us of the overwhelming grace of God who has led us to be able to celebrate our lifelong monogamous relationships publicly.

The Shared Conversations have been so important because to listen to another human being is a powerful acknowledgement of that person’s worth. No openly gay or lesbian person was involved in the bishops’ discussions leading to this report. That is a mistake that needs to be addressed. The bishops need to go back to the conversations and include those voices in any document they create.

The report suggests further study of celibacy, the single and even solitary life. These are noble and important vocations in the church. However, they are not the issue here. If the bishops are genuine about showing generosity it needs to be in listening carefully to lesbian and gay people who experience their relationships as Christian marriage. What does it mean to the church that so many people perceive these relationships as marriages? Ironically, at a time when marriage is undermined in so many ways, the Lord may be speaking to us from a place we least expect to hear it.

Each day at Morning Prayer I pray a wonderful translation of the Benedictus which speaks of the ‘loving kindness of the heart of our God’. Dear friends, I don’t expect any change in our church’s teaching, I ask only for maximum generosity, a change of tone and a place at the table. The world is, as we know, a dangerous place, it seems more so now than it did a year ago. This report from the bishops does not make the church a safer place for lesbian and gay people but a more dangerous and more toxic one.

I rejoice in the polity of our church. I have no doubt that God is Lord and that even in these  public debates he is leading us to demonstrate to the world and to the wider church means by which those who profoundly disagree are able to live together; to sit, even, at the one table.

I apologise for not writing, at least to some of you, more personally. That is simply a lack of time on my part. Please know that you are constantly in my prayers as you make these decisions.

 

Your brother in the Lord,

 

Richard

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