Resolutely passionate

NewYearFreshStart

So what will your New Year’s Resolution be? Will you even bother I wonder? Why even think about it when you know you’ll just give them up after a few weeks and settle back down into old habits, which are as familiar as the time-worn Christmas carols you’ve just been singing for the umpteenth time?

Except this year it could just possibly be different.

This year you could chose to do something that will change the very heart of how the gospel is heard and received in our time. You could determine to alter just one tiny little thing that might have a snowball effect, and so create a chain reaction that will – like dominos – knock everything over.

And no, I’m not trying to persuade you to change your mind about a sincere belief that you hold.

I’m talking about something quite different. Very different.

I’m talking about how we chose to see the world – the metaphorical glasses we put on each morning. Of course, many may well already be wearing them – in which case perhaps a little clean might be in order?

It’s just I’ve noticed a worrying trend recently, something that seems to becoming a norm – particularly amongst Anglicans. Maybe I should have more faith, and trust that God is in control – even if we can’t always see him at work. After all, the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn isn’t it?

You see we Brits seem to have a habit, perhaps honed by our politicians, of steering clear of difficult issues that we don’t know the answer to. If you don’t believe me, think of our attitude to immigration, to Syria and to the problems in the NHS. We close our eyes and wish that they would all just “go away”. Disappear. Vanish. For out of sight is out of mind, and quite frankly we’ve too much else on our plate. So we slide the issues silently to one side into the “will someone else please deal with this pile”. It’s like that news story we’d rather not listen to, so we flick the remote and watch another channel instead.

But the problem is that left untouched and in the dark these issues just continue to fester, the sores get deeper until the whole body begins to suffer. They will never “just go away” – indeed they will grow and eventually become life threatening. Like that annoying knocking sound in a car engine, it will become worse and worse until there’s suddenly a loud bang, where the whole vehicle is brought to a shuddering halt.

So, just to be completely clear what I’m talking about – we LGBT Christians are not going away. We’re here to stay. We’re part of the Body of Christ too – just like you. We’ve had enough pain. Enough rejection. Enough judgement. Enough of being slandered as “pedophiles and perverts”. We are your sons and daughters, your neighbours and your friends. We are decent, honourable human beings who just want to be able to live normal lives like you do – we want the joy of being loved, of being chosen, of being desired and adored.

So please don’t “switch channels”! Don’t turn off and pretend that we are someone else’s problem – because we’re not. We all belong to one Body of Christ – as we all share in one baptism, one faith and one hope.

So please, I implore you, make one simple and small New Year’s resolution – decide not to avoid this critical issue. Don’t leave it for others to sort out. If you’re unsure about where you stand – talk to people you trust and discuss it together. Better still – talk to some gay Christians, or contact any of the LGBT Christian groups.

You see, I passionately believe that the greatest evils at work in our Church today are the Twins of Fear – the Fear of the Unknown, and the Fear of Change. It is these fears that keep people locked in their prisons of ignorance and prejudice, where they buy into slanderous stereotypes that demean and dishonor parts of the body, their own body, that they are unfamiliar with. As we know, the only thing that will cast out these fears is the passionate self-sacrificing love that comes from above, which like an antiseptic balm will treat our festering wounds and allow peace once again to reign in our hearts.

So then, what will your New Year’s Resolution be? Might it be to stop side-stepping the difficult questions? Will it be to engage in a debate you have hitherto avoided? Are there hidden fears that you know you need to address? Do you need to clean your glasses so that any smudges are wiped away?

Whatever the issue, can I suggest there is one resolution that is so small and simple, yet has the power to transform us all – ask the Lord of the Passion to give you his Passion for that which you fear the most!

For godly passion transforms us all.

Published in Church of England Newspaper.

Confession Time

I couldn’t help smiling to myself – the little boy of about six stood in front of his younger sister, who he’d obviously just upset, and drawled slowly “Sooorrrryy”. His exasperated mother shook him firmly by the shoulder and loudly whispered “Now say it like you mean it – say it from your heart!”

How often does God want to do the same to us, I wonder? What does it mean for us to truly say we are sorry – to mean it, to feel it, to own it so that we can honestly say that it comes “from the heart”?

It’s of course far easier to apologise for the things we’re conscious of getting wrong, when we have knowingly upset or hurt someone. It’s far more difficult I think to say sorry for things that we have been unknowing perpetrators of – where we have unwittingly inflicted pain and trauma on whole communities. Be it the horrors of the slave trade, sexism within Church or past colonial wrongs – there are countless examples of where a heartfelt apology could do so much to heal old wounds.

But to coin an old phrase – “Sorry” always seems to be the hardest word…

It’s something I too have found great difficulty with. A couple of weeks ago I was confronted by some LGBT Christians as to whether I had publicly repented for being an evangelical! I must admit I was quite taken aback by this, especially given the pain they knew I had been through in “coming out” to my evangelical friends and family.

However, I could see that their question was of deep importance to them, and one that required an answer. What they meant, I think, was had I repented for my part of unwittingly adding to the harm and pain of LGBT Christians given the views I once held – which are so prevalent amongst so many in my “wing” of the Church?

I’ve taken time to reflect on this. My immediate response was that I felt quite hurt to be asked this as I believed myself to be a victim, having sat under teachings that had caused me to reject who I was in Christ. I therefore felt that there was nothing I needed to repent of – save perhaps asking forgiveness of myself for not coming to terms with how God had created me to be earlier.

But they are right of course – I have not actively sought their forgiveness for being part of the church that has sought to deny the humanity of a significant part of our Christian family. Nor have I publicly repented of being so fearful of rejection I that I had failed to challenge those in authority. I’m trying to do my best now, at some cost, but I know that there are hundreds if not thousands who could have been helped if I – and others – had found a voice sooner.

I’m truly sorry for the pain that this has caused, and the way that evangelical churches I have been part of have demeaned and marginalised those who are not born heterosexual. I hope that somehow they can find it in their hearts to forgive me, and know that I am now trying to do all I can to right that wrong.

Interestingly, this was a point that Archbishop Justin also chose to make in front of a packed St Aldate’s in Oxford last month. To an astonished congregation he declared that it was critically important that the Church recognised that it had got things “deeply, deeply wrong” in the past with regards to sexuality, and that it had often treated LGBT community as “sub-human”.

Both he and the authors of the Pilling Report have urged the Church to take steps to repent and say sorry for how they have collectively treated this important part of Christ’s family – but we have yet to see much action.

Saying sorry for the pain the Church has caused and the rejection it has knowingly and unknowingly inflicted is, I believe, a prerequisite for any meaningful Shared Conversation. Without it words will sound like clanging cymbals, where prejudice is seen to speak to angry hearts that are deaf to listen.

What would it take, I wonder, for churches across the land to find a day when they could openly repent of the pain the Church has caused, ask forgiveness for the rejection that it has inflicted and look to embrace the LGBT community that has so bravely continued to worship with dignity and grace in its midst? Then, and only then, might we be able to find a way through all of this.

But we’d have to say sorry from the depths of our hearts – and really mean it!

Published in 

The Stature of Waiting (or… To Act or Not to Act?)

womanwithhourglass

The Apostle James reminds us that faith without works is dead, and in so doing we are enjoined to show our faith by our actions. But is it always right to act? Are there times when it is wiser – and indeed far more challenging to our faith – to hold back, wait and prayerfully trust that God has an even greater plan that he is in the process of unveiling? It is a conundrum I am sure many of us know only too well, and one that appears particularly poignant for those within the House of Bishops – and dare I say even for the occasional Archbishop. When is it right to act and when is it right to just wait, reflect and seemingly “do nothing”? When should we use the power that is vested in us, and when should we cast a seemingly ‘blind eye’?

As Vanstone so eloquently sets out in his magisterial work, The Stature of Waiting, the triumph of the cross is Christ’s willingness to enter into his own period of Passion, where he willingly lets himself be ‘handed over’ by Judas into the final chapter of his life. This – the culmination of his time on earth, where he has already told his disciples he has ‘completed all that his Father has commanded him to do’ – is where he passively allows himself to be subjected to all that ‘the world’ can possibly choose to throw at him. And through it all – he loves. Unconditionally, unboundedly and unceasingly. Why? So that the Son of Man is glorified – and very visibly so, as testified by the soldiers watching him! Who would have believed it – the most powerful man that has ever lived hanging ‘helplessly’ on a tree. Passion, passivity and pain. So then, when should we ourselves choose to act and when should we just learn to ‘be’?

The answer is naturally completely dependent on circumstance. I would offer, however, that there are certain characteristics that will always be present in helping us discern the most appropriate pathway to take. The first is of without doubt – which is the most loving course of action to take? The second – which route requires the most courage? The third, which is the path that leads more people to the foot of the Cross? For people paralysed by fear (one understandable form of inaction) – know that Christ will stand with you as you do or say all that you know is sitting in your heart to do or say. This is particularly true for all those who are still seeking the courage to embrace the truth of who they are. Please know the truth will always set you free, and God will always honour you in this. That said, for people keen to make a stand – who feel led to act, no matter what the cost… can I gently ask – are you sure that this is honestly what God has called you to do?

Are you sure he has told you to act on this particular issue, at this particular time and in this particular way? Difficult questions – which require a level of honesty that not all will be comfortable with. The critical factor, it would seem to me, is that we learn to discern God’s voice above all others – and that we only do what we feel he has specifically called us to do. One thing is clear through it all though … a broken and contrite heart God will never despise, whilst he resists the proud he gives grace to the humble. It all therefore depends so much on the spirit in which we come before him and seek to listen to his will. The next few years will be filled with challenging situations when many will be baying for action, particularly from those in leadership. This will not always be the wisest thing to do. The great challenge will therefore be to discern what God is calling us to do – or not do!

Published in Church of England Newspaper.

A Tale of Two Archbishops

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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

Why I am still an evangelical

Jayne Ozanne

The Oxford English Dictionary has just announced its latest list of words that will be added to its next June 2015 edition. Evidently there are over 500 new words and phrases that have been identified – and defined – this quarter. What I’m always intrigued by is “who gets to decide these definitions?” Who decides where the boundaries fall? What meaning is “right” and what is “wrong”? The same could be said for many of the labels and words that we use within the Christian tradition. One thing I realise is that there is a growing number of “dictionaries” currently in use throughout the Church. These competing editions can depend on geography, and increasingly reflect the language used by each “tribe”- to the point that their use is now a staunch litmus test of tribal membership. Take the word “evangelical”.

This has quite different perceptions depending, for instance, on which side of the Atlantic you are based. It can also have either a positive or a pejorative meaning depending on which church tradition or tribe you are from. Some see evangelicalism as the only form of true Christianity; others see it as a tribe to be avoided at all costs, given what is perceived as having “narrow, judgemental and exclusive tendencies”. These differences do not cause a problem as long as the members of each tribe are in general agreement. But what happens when members of the same tribe seek to apply different definitions to the same word? Who then decides? I am a staunch evangelical. I have been all my life. To be more accurate, I am a fully signed up charismatic evangelical, who is passionate about practising the gifts of the Spirit. Even now, when in the eyes of many I have committed the “unforgiveable sin” of having been in a gay relationship, I still see myself as an ardent evangelical. It is the tribe to which I belong, and the tent in which Christ has placed me.

This will make many readers shift uncomfortably in their seats, and others wonder why on earth I would want to be associated with a group that is regarded as being “out to disown me”. You see, I am an evangelical for the same reason that others see themselves as evangelicals – I have an extremely high regard for scripture, I believe passionately in the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and am ultimately committed to giving my life to spreading the gospel.  So what is all the fuss about? The answer is that many do not believe that my life bears witness to this fact. They believe that I can’t possibly have a “high regard of scripture” if I’m prepared to enter into a relationship with another woman. They probably also believe, but wouldn’t say to my face, that I can’t possibly be having a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ as otherwise I would “know” this is wrong. I should be heavily convicted by the Holy Spirit, as they themselves feel convicted – that it is sinful. As to sharing the gospel, well they are deeply concerned that I am leading others astray by sharing a false gospel, and as such they perceive me as a false prophet.

They believe this is what St Paul mentioned would happen in the End Times, and which Jesus himself warned us to guard against. But if this was true – why then do I see so much fruit in my life? As Jesus said, “Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7). Why does God continue to answer my prayers? Why do I see his power constantly at work in my life; his voice whispering in my inner ear; his healing power touching the lives of people who have been deeply hurt and broken by a Church that has shunned them. I know that some of you will be tempted to stop reading at this point. Please don’t. My plea is that you engage with those who hold views similar to my own and ask them why they hold such a high regard of scripture. Challenge them that if they, like I, believe “that Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35) then how do they reconcile what God is saying through his word? How do they interpret those verses? And then please ask yourself, why do you believe what you do? How long have you spent studying it all? How do you reconcile the fact that the gospel that you believe should be preached is clearly causing so much pain and misery, and is hampering the spread of the gospel?

Please be warned though that to do this requires an open heart and mind – and perhaps most importantly a humble spirit. We need to let go of our fears and trust that God himself will defend his Gospel. We need to release ourselves from the burden of feeling that we are a remnant charged with taking “a last stand”. I passionately believe that God is shaping and moulding us all through this, so that ultimately a re-envisioned Church will arise that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? That God’s Kingdom comes and that his will is done? On earth – today, right now – as it is in Heaven? Where by the way sexuality will no longer be an issue!

Published in Church of England Newspaper