I wonder if I was the only one to notice the irony of the starkly differing messages emanating from Bishopthorpe and Lambeth Palaces during this summer. On the one hand we had the Archbishop of Canterbury extolling the virtues of reconciliation, and the need for us to love each other despite how strongly we may disagree; whilst on the other we had the Archbishop of York saying that he would remove the licence of a Reader –alay person, whose ministry is fully embraced by the parishes he serves – if he chose to convert his long standing civil partnership into a marriage.
Sadly, the latter is an act that will be seen by many – particularly in the LGBT community – as deeply divisive, particularly at a time when many believe we should be looking to build bridges of understanding that strengthen rather than undermine trust and respect. No wonder that so many in society appear bemused by us all… or rather, no wonder that so many have precious little time for an institution that they feel is out of touch, out of date and out of sorts with their hurting LGBTI brothers, sisters and friends.
Of course both of the individuals concerned have the right to say and do whatever they see fit – they are our Archbishops, who are called to be Guardians of the Faith whilst seeking to embody both grace and truth. Forgive me, however, if I voice a murmur of discontent from the “back pews”. Isn’t it about time that we saw these two wonderful men of God working together on this core issue that so deeply divides our Church? Do they not see what a mixed set of messages they are giving to a world that is fast becoming deaf to theirs and the Church’s voice, and therefore to the Gospel? How might this look, I wonder? What actions might we hope they would take to ensure that they are seen to listen to and protect those who feel so marginalised and oppressed, particularly by the Church? I believe the gospels give us some clear examples – primarily that we should always seek to prioritise those who have no voice over those who have the metaphorical microphone. Who might these be?
Well in practice I believe the latter are frequently seen as those who have “all the power” as they have “all the money” – such as the large evangelical churches who tragically threaten to withhold their parish share, or large international lobby groups – who are thought to be driving “the gay agenda”. My reading of scripture says that we should never give favour to the “rich man”, but should instead be looking to honour those who are marginalised and on the fringes. The sad thing about the “Great Fudge” that we are now trying to live with as a Church is that there is so little clarity, consistency or, dareIsay, honesty about what is really going on in our dioceses. Fear keeps too many people from saying what they truly think, or in the case of many of our Christian colleagues – keeps them from having the courage to openly embrace who they are in Christ. Evangelical churches are swift to petition their bishops when they judge someone has broken a particular piece of Canon Law that they want upheld, whilst forgetting that most of them break Canon Law that others hold so dear every Sunday – such as in their choice (or rather lack) of vestments.
This is not to mention the use of unapproved worship by many parts of the church or the side-stepping of vastly differing attitudes towards Confirmations and Infant Baptisms. We have become a Church whereathin veneer of hypocrisy is built into the very fabric of the way our different traditions have learnt to co-exist, where fear of reprisal (such as non-preferment) has silenced truth and where the marginalised are side-lined still further. Would that we could find the courage to speak out, and the grace to admit “we have left undone the things we ought to have done, we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us”.
So what should we do? Perhaps we need to learn to look for the planks in our own eyes instead of seeking out the specks in others’. Maybe we should try and stand in each other’s shoes and imagine what it feels like to be rejected, either for our views or indeed for the way we have been created? Can we try and consider the wider impact of our actions and our words, and in so doing look to extend a hand of loving friendship to those with whom we disagree, just as Christ has done for us?
Published in Church of England Newspaper