Good Disagreement – Can we Disagree without being Disagreeable?

agree-to-disagree

Today we launch a new section to the AE Website – Good Disagreement – Jayne Ozanne explains….

If there’s one thing we see modelled in Christ, it is the fact that He met His critics head on.  He seems to be in constant dialogue with those who disagreed with Him, appealing time and time again to the greater law of love revealed consistently through scripture, rather than a strict adherence to the actual letter of the law.

That said, one of the things I find quite limiting about the way the Gospels are written down is the fact that they fail to convey the tone with which I believe Jesus would have spoken.  It is often easy to imagine an exasperated voice filled with anger and frustration – which no doubt comes from our own reaction to the situation: “You are like white-washed tombs!”  Always read with such relish by the Gospel reader.  But can we really be sure of how it was uttered? How it was said?

This is our Christ, the perfect embodiment of grace and truth – the Son of Man who is able to manifest fully all the fruits of the Spirit.  I am personally convinced that His tone would always have been one of loving patience and kindness – the same voice which found the strength to cry “Father Forgive” to those who had sought to crucify Him.

As we enter this time of Shared Conversations within the Anglican Church, I believe it will be the tone of these discussions that will mark us out as either a beacon for the world to admire, or a squabbling clique that becomes even more sidelined and marginalized.

To help us reflect on the nature of “Good Disagreement”, we have commissioned the Very Revd David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral to share his thoughts on this critical matter, drawing on his wide range of experience – particularly with inter-faith dialogue.  He raises some key issues which people from all sides will want to engage.

We are keen to enable this to happen, and have set up forums both on a dedicated webpage and on FaceBook for people to leave their thoughts and comments.

Please do join in the conversation – but please do so in a tone that recognises the pain and hurt on both sides.  Thank you.

Shared Conversations go live… get involved!

CofE logoThe Church of England has announced the next stage of its ‘Shared Conversations’ on sexuality which aim to promote greater mutual understanding, reconciliation, and the possibility of developing  ‘good disagreement’ in the Church.

David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, has been preparing the ground for such conversations for the past 2 years and the House of Bishops met for 3 days last year to pilot this conversational approach.

It will now be rolled out in 13 Regions across England over the next 12 months or so before the process comes to General Synod in July 2016.  Each Shared Conversation will last 3 days and have a wide spectrum of views represented.  More importantly, there will also be 2 or 3 LGBTI people from each diocese participating.

Accepting Evangelicals welcomes this new development for the Church of England.  Benny Hazlehurst said, “This process is deeper and more wide ranging than the CofE has ever engaged in before and we pray that good will come out of it for the whole Church.”

Jayne Ozanne said to Christian Today this week that it was critical for the Church to create forums where people of different views could engage “safely” with each other.  “For me, Jesus embodied grace and truth. It is about grace, and understanding the hurt of those who hold a different point of view.  For too long this has been a hot issue, a theological debate which has been a battle of words.  When you embody these words in experience and personal testimony as we see Jesus did, I believe they take on a new meaning and authority.”

Nothing is impossibleFull details and resources for the Conversations have been published on a dedicated website  http://www.sharedconversations.org/ 

Dates for the Regional Conversations can be found here and the Resource books can be downloaded here. 

We would encourage Anglican members of Accepting Evangelicals to offer to take part in these Conversations by writing to their Diocesan Bishop.

 

 

A Woman’s Courage and the House of Bishops…

Coming OutIt takes enormous courage to ‘come out’.

Announcing that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to family, friends and work colleagues is often stressful, frightening and risky.   There are fears of rejection, confrontation or ridicule from those we love, care for, or work with.  It is a step which we should never underestimate.

Yet at the same time, it is a step which also brings huge benefits.  Feelings of liberation, freedom, personal integration, and relief are commonplace.  The liberation of no longer having to live a lie, or exist in the shadows.  The freedom to truly be yourself with others. The relief at having faced up to the fears and conquered them are often overwhelming – even when the revelation has resulted in conflict or rejection from some.

But it still requires courage.

Last month, one of our Patrons, Vicky Beeching took that momentous step. And her ‘coming out’ was not done in a quiet limited way – she came out to the world. In national newspaper articles, TV interviews, Web posts and social media she proclaimVicky Beechinged her sexuality publicly for the first time. If by some chance you missed this – here is the news-breaking article in The Independent and video in The Guardian.

The response has been mixed while many have welcomed her openness and honesty, others have reacted with varying degrees of shock and dismay.  The Christian Post began its response with the words, “Believers throughout the English-speaking world were shocked and saddened to hear that Vicky Beeching, a greatly loved songwriter and worship leader, has announced that she is gay” and advised its readers to be restrained in their reactions, “To lash out at her now in immature ways will only drive her further from the cross, and while it is fine to speak the truth to her in love… praying for the Holy Spirit to convict her of her error is even more important.”

And yet the next morning Vicky tweeted, “Waking up & knowing you can truly be yourself is such a refreshing feeling. Slept better last night than I have in years. #Grateful.”

Through her courage and the strength that God gave her, she had found a new freedom in life and faith – the freedom to be herself after decades of being made to feel she had to live a lie.

Bishops CrossNext week, the Church of England’s College of Bishops meet to talk about sexuality.  They will spend 2 days together with facilitators trying to find a way to have open conversations on the issue.

According to the CofE briefing paper, “Under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, a team of around 20 trained facilitators will support a process of conversations across the Church of England. They will bring the skills necessary to ensure that the process provides a safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed and to keep the conversations to the objective of seeking understanding rather than having any predetermined trajectory.  The process will begin at the meeting of the College of Bishops in September where the bishops will spend two days working in small groups with facilitators.”

These shared conversations are essential for the Church of England, but they will only work if the conversations are truly open and honest.  That will take courage.

There are many Bishops who support same-sex relationships but have been too afraid to say what they really think.  As one diocesan Bishop said to me at General Synod, “Benny, you know what I think, but I’m chicken – I am too afraid to say it!”

There is also a sizeable minority of the Bishops who are gay themselves.  For many of them it is an open secret – one which is only protected by the loyalty and compassion of others which will not ‘out them’ to the world.  How stressful must it be for them to continually keep quiet or deflect the conversation or sign up to statements which strike at the very heart of their being.

If the shared conversations next week are to move the Church forward, there must be a greater honesty, greater courage, and greater grace at work than ever before.

Women are renowned for their moral courage, and although there are no women Bishops in post yet, perhaps the courage of people like Vicky Beeching can inspire and challenge our Bishops to have a more open and honest conversation next week.  It is certainly long overdue.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Benny Hazlehurst

 

Success at Synod

General Synod - July 2014

Over 40 people gathered at General Synod on Monday evening for  the Accepting Evangelicals fringe event.

That in itself was a success.  It had been a very long and emotional day, as the legislation on women bishops was debated and voted through – itself a historic moment for the church – and I secretly wondered how many of the Synod members who had signed up to attend would be too exhausted to come.

I need not have worried.  We actually had more people arrive than we expected, including members of Reform, Anglican Mainstream and a range of church traditions.

Our speakers were David Runcorn and David Ison – Bishop David Gillett had to step down as he is recovering from major emergency surgery (and is making a good recovery) but needs to rest.

David Runcorn is the author of the ‘Including Evangelicals’ section in the recent CofE Report on sexuality – the Pilling Report.  For us this report has marked a watershed, as for the first time, it has recognised the diversity of theological understanding amongst evangelical Anglicans on sexuality.

David Ison , as Dean of St Pauls Cathedral in London is one of the most senior members of the clergy in England.

Both identify themselves as Evangelicals and both spoke passionately and theologically about the need for the Church to continue its journey of understanding on sexuality.  Both argued that the journey is 3-fold – an emotional journey, a hermeneutical journey, and a journey into a new community of faith.

David Ison ended with these words,

“All of us across the church, including the wide variety of Evangelicals and our viewpoints, are indeed on a journey. Wherever we start from, we’re called to grow into Christ: and as we grow closer to him, and are formed more into his likeness, so we grow closer to one another. For all of us, journeying into Christ will make sex and gender less important, and love more vital. We have a vision of a new community in the kingdom of God, and a calling to make that kingdom more of a reality in this fallen world: and the challenge to us is how we are going to build it.”

You can read the script of both speeches by following the links below.  We are extremely grateful to both Davids for giving their time and theological expertise.  The meeting finished with buzz groups around each table and questions to our speakers.  At all times the atmosphere was friendly and enquiring.

The last time we hosted a meeting at General Synod was 10 years ago on the weekend we launched Accepting Evangelicals.  We won’t leave it so long next time – we may even be back next year!

Benny Hazlehurst
Director of Accepting Evangelicals
 
 

For pdf’s of both speeches click the links below:pdf_icon

AE synod address – David Runcorn

AE Synod address – David Ison

 

Justin Welby and that radio phone-in…

Justin Welby - RadioIt is now almost 2 weeks since the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby linked acceptance of same-sex relationships with the murder of Christians in Africa.

“I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed.  We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact” he said.

Asked about why conducting same-sex marriages in the CofE can’t be left to the conscience of individual clergy he said, “Well, why can’t we just do it now? Because, the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic.”

He then finished the interview by reiterating the threat of violence by quoting the attackers, What was said is ‘if we leave a Christian community in this area’…I’m quoting them, this is not obviously something I think…’if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual and so we’re going to kill the Christians’. The mass grave had 369 bodies in it and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country.”

While there was an immediate chorus of disapproval from many commentators, others found themselves stunned into silence at the enormity of the charge. Could it be that by accepting and blessing same-sex relationships, we would be condemning large numbers of Christians to death?

It was not the first time that I had heard of Justin Welby making such a connection.  I was told some days before of him making exactly the same link in an answer to children in a school visit.  Presumably the point had hit home there, and so he thought it was ready to be broadcast on a wider stage, but what played well in a school did not play well in the media.  The echoes of his statements have been reverberating around the UK and indeed the world ever since.

The effect has been felt most keenly in the United States, not least because he appeared to blame the mass grave which he visited on events ‘far, far away in America.’  During his visit there last week, he was asked to clarify his comments and asked to justify the linkage he was making, but without success.

At the bottom of the controversy there appear to be 3 issues at play:

1.   How accurate is the assessment which Justin Welby has given?

There have been many who have questioned the accuracy of the assertion he made.  This has not been helped by the Archbishop refusing to give any more information about the mass grave he was taken to.  Was it is Sudan or Nigeria or perhaps somewhere else?  Who told him that these Christians were killed because of church acceptance of sexuality, and was that true?  Unfortunately, without more information, there is no way to assess the validity of the claim.

The Episcopal Café website in the USA has noted that “secular human rights groups have documented many massacres in Sudan and Nigeria, and attributed none to the actions of gay-friendly churches”.

Similarly on this side of the Atlantic, Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow commented that , “The tone of the Archbishop’s answers seemed to be that we needed to trust him on this because he was right” and also lamented the fact that “He has also said that he won’t provide any evidence to back up what he is saying.”

The sad truth is that mass violence in many parts of Africa is commonplace.  Recent events in both South Sudan and Nigeria have demonstrated this and this month’s anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda is a grim reminder of how far such violence can go.  The reasons for violence are complex and deep rooted.  History, tribal and religious identity, as well as politics, and the actions of political leaders all have their part to play.  At the end of the day, men of violence will always find an excuse to justify their violence, but that does not mean the excuse given is the true cause.

2.   Even if it is true, should we give in to people of violence?

This is always a difficult question.  Our instinct is to protect the vulnerable whatever the cost, and if it were some abstract issue which did not affect the lives of real people, then perhaps we should take a step back, rather than expose others to unnecessary risk.

But attitudes to LGBT people and their relationships are not abstract issues, and indeed, LGBT people also suffer greatly from violence and even murder by those who like to use violence in Africa and elsewhere.  The growth of so-called ‘corrective rape’ against women accused of being lesbians also demonstrates the flimsy nature of such excuses for violence.

Yet the same African Bishops who warn of the danger to Christians if the Church of England blesses same-sex relationships are often the ones who have supported new draconian laws against LGBT people and their support groups.  By doing so, they fuel the atmosphere of suspicion, discrimination and violence against that community while doing little or nothing to challenge the ill conceived fears on sexuality in their own congregations.

The civil rights movement in the USA and elsewhere has always had to face down the threats of those bent on perpetrating violence.  While it is wrong to ignore the threat of violence, it is also wrong to simply bow to its pressure.

3.    How should the church proceed in the light of all this?

The best and most balanced analysis of what Justin Welby should have said is reproduced below.  Sadly, it may well be discounted by many simply because of who wrote it – you can find out who it is by following the link at the end.  It recognizes the dilemma which the Anglican Communion faces, while also making clear statements about the principles on which we must build.

‘So how might the Archbishop have responded differently? Perhaps something like this: “Look, the church must consider many things in discerning whether a change is warranted in our consideration of blessing the marriages of same-sex couples: what scriptures says, how the church’s historical understanding has developed, and our own experience of gay couples’ relationships. We are in the midst of that discernment right now. In addition, we must always be aware that our decisions here in England are being watched by the world’s 80 million Anglicans and their enemies; sometimes being used as an irrational and unwarranted excuse by those enemies for violence against Christians. I have seen the graves of those who have suffered because of these unjust and irrational connections between LGBT people and murder, and it breaks my heart.

Even so, we cannot give in to the violent acts of bullies and must discern and then pursue God’s will for all of God’s children. Violence and murder of Christians is deplorable, but so is violence against and murder of LGBT people. And as the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, permit me to point out, it is not helpful for some of our own Anglican archbishops, bishops and clergy to join in support of anti-gay legislation and rhetoric in their own countries, thereby fueling the hatred and violence against innocent LGBT people, who are being criminalized and murdered for who they are. These are complicated issues, and with God’s guidance, we will discern what is right to say and do.”’

For the author’s name – follow this link

Let us know your thoughts.

Benny Hazlehurst

 

Coming Out at General Synod

General Synod Feb 2014The Church of England’s General Synod met in London this week and took the next steps in dealing with two contentious issues.

The first was legislation to bring women bishops a step closer, unpicking the fiasco of November 2013 when a small number of ‘No’ votes held the church to ransom.  This week however, the vote was decisive and clear.  The next steps of legislation sailed though and actually speeded up the process.  As result we may finally see women bishops early next year.

The second was a presentation on the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality with an opportunity for Synod members to ask questions about the process by which its recommendations are to be considered and implemented.

The Archbishop of Canterbury referred to both these issues in his presidential address.  On the subject of sexuality, he talked of enabling the Church of England to ‘disagree well’ and seek the flourishing of every part of the church – progressive and conservative.  He also echoed previous statements he has made about the dangers of sticking with the current position which refuses to acknowledge or endorse same-sex relationships.

“We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling.  There is great fear among some, here and round the world,  that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes.  This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.”

But the most striking contribution to that debate came in the questions on the Pilling Report, when Canon Simon Butler posed the following question:

“My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don’t have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I’ve always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know this too.

My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as licensed priests, deacons and bishops in the Church rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my personal spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider church I think we will all need to have a clear answer to that question.”

Simon is an evangelical vicar in South London.  Although his sexuality has been known to his friends for some time, this is the first time he has spoken in such a public way at General Synod about it.  His example is both an encouragement and a challenge to church leaders and Bishops to lift the veil of silence and speak openly and truthfully about their sexuality. 

It must have taken considerable courage to make his statement and yet this is the kind of honesty which we need, if we are to have the genuine and open conversations which will lead us all forward ‘in Spirit and in Truth’.

To read the Archbishops address in full, follow this link