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.

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

Good Disagreement – Can we Disagree without being Disagreeable?

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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.

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