Tuesday, 22 November 2016

'Tis most ignobly done

Very reluctantly, I return to a subject about which I have blogged a few times before. I'm provoked to do so by a Sunday morning disturbed by BBC4's Sunday programme. The final item was an interview with a senior bishop and the general secretary of GAFCON (which stands for Global Anglican Future Conference). I gathered that the latter organisation, a sort of international conservative ginger group, had produced a briefing paper for the Church of England bishops who are meeting this week to talk about the Shared Conversations which have been held over the past year and a half to talk about the Church's attitude to same-sex marriage and thus to members of the LGBT community. From the radio interview I learned that this paper had been widely publicised and it named gay clergy and non-clergy and those who were deemed to have transgressed against Lambeth resolution 10:1, a statement about teaching and practice of sexual ethics within the Church.

By now I sense my non-church readers saying, "You what? What are you going on about?" Which I understand. To put it politely it seems arcane and irrelevant. In the end, I forced myself to look at the GAFCON document, and to my mind it is arcane but also distasteful. To put it simply, it creates an easily accessible and well advertised list of gay men and women serving the Church. It is true these folk don't hide their sexuality, but it is the clear intention of the document to expose them to condemning conservative eyes. The Church of England is a surprisingly tolerant church. For example many clergy on the conservative end of the spectrum often failed to wear the prescribed clothes for taking services or to observe the rules about saying services every day in church. But they didn't get into trouble as a result. Church rules change - usually because custom has changed, or because society has changed.

I gather that by the time I read the document its numerous inaccuracies had been corrected or footnoted. Even so, in one footnote about which I knew something the original inaccuracy had merely been amended into an innuendo starting "According to some reports...". A simple look at the organisation in question's would have been enough to confirm its pastoral and supportive nature. I hesitated about whether I should say anything and in the end decided to write to some bishops, in order to make it clear that although my background and theology is, I suspect, near to the tradition of GAFCON, not all of us feel the same about this issue.

Some of what I wrote follows:
"Personally I no longer hold the view I once maintained, I’m ashamed to say, that homosexuality is a sin against nature and against God.  I believe that arose from a too simple reading of the Bible out of its context.  Having witnessed the pain and alienation of LGBT friends both within the family of the Church and on being forced to leave, I don’t believe it was right.  I’m grieved that, having led the way in the decriminalization of homosexuality in the last century, the Church of England nevertheless persists in inflicting its own form of punishment on its homosexual members, I suppose in God’s name.  The damage done to such people (including my friends) is generally severe in its effect and unloving in its intention. 

"I trust you as bishops will dismiss the GAFCON document.  It seems to me inappropriately political, not becoming of a Christian conversation.  It also seems unacceptably personal.  The excuse of it being “evidence” or already being in the public domain is disingenuous.  It appears that even the journalistic courtesy of informing people was not observed.  The speculation concerning individuals’ private lives was far from Christian.  Indeed the whole document seemed above all to lack that most excellent gift of charity.  (I’m aware by the way that lack of charity has not been a one-way street, and appreciate the Archbishops’ wisdom in resisting the impatience of pressure groups from both sides.)

"I simply want to make it clear that not all conservative evangelicals agree with the line which GAFCON represents.  I would like to celebrate, both personally and as a Church, genuine lifelong vows of commitment of heterosexual and homosexual couples.  I want to affirm Christ-like self-giving love."

Let me add my usual final caveat. I am not a theologian. Don't be persuaded on this or any other issue by me. Listen to the still small voice within. It is entirely possible that I may be mistaken, but not, I believe, in upholding the overwhelming imperative of love.