In the modern West, in Christianity, faith is still primarily about what people believe and how they behave. A person is in a right standing with God when they acknowledge the validity of certain conceptual truths and by living as God wants. The evolution of Christianity from the first to the third centuries and the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century has now become an existential crisis for Christianity. We have endured thirteen centuries of a new kind of religiosity, Nicene orthodoxy. It is at an end, this doctrinaire belief in theological niceties and certainties, the inherited orthodoxy and traditionalism.
In his latest newsletter, James Alison, the well-known gay Catholic theologian, describes what he has learnt through the process of becoming a source of information for Frédéric Martel, the author of In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. The Church of England has similarities and dissimilarities with the Catholic Church. We do not have a celibate priesthood. We do not describe homosexuality as intrinsically disordered. We do have a problem with systemic abuse. All but one of our lesbian and gay bishops live in the closet. We are having difficulty in processing the place of LGBTI+ people in the Church.
The really big news about invitations to the 2020 Lambeth Conference is that all lesbian and gay bishops are being invited, whether or not they are single or partnered, celibate or “sexually active,” overturning Archbishop Rowan’s refusal to invite Gene Robinson to Lambeth 2008 because he had a spouse. But this time, the spouses of two bishops, one lesbian, one gay, are not being invited. The person to hold to account for this prejudiced injustice is Archbishop Justin, but none of the English LGBTI+ networks, OBOF, the Ozanne Foundation, the General Synod Human Sexuality Group and the LGBTI Mission, has been willing to name the Archbishop and challenge his decision.
My daily faith experience is woven around the always elusive presence in which silence, attention, presence, self-giving, experience, quality, emotions, the unconditional, uncertainty, goodness are ingredients and essences, everywhere. Trusting deeply in what I can’t prove but know is my core, my essence, deep within, touched by, feeling it. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting. The disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable.
The Revd Dr Tina Beardsley has written an article for the Church Times explaining why she recently resigned as one of the five consultants on the Coordinating Group (COG) of the Living in Love and Faith process. Tina argues that not enough attention is being paid to the experiences of LGBTI+ and questions the neutral stance that the LLF process has been taking. When the Archbishops launched Living in Love and Faith, they assured LGBTI+ people that no one is an issue or a problem. Tina’s experience demonstrates how impossibly difficult it is for the church implement the Archbishops’ vision.
This week I discovered that parish ministry for many, lay and ordained, continues to focus on people, their lives and uncertainties, sitting lose to creeds and dogma, but deeply valuing the elusive, the mystery, the not-knowing, the caring, open, energised, playful, deep-down truthiness of lives fuelled by prayer. For me, the idea of being a feral priest, learning a different set of skills and placing trust in the elusive, deeply present God best describes my current experience, where previously the unstated assumption was that I should trust the institution and its leaders.
The question I heard the Church asking long ago in my youth and that I internalised and that continues to haunt me because people are still posing the question, is: “Am I allowed to be who I am, feel what I feel and think what I think?” Am I allowed to be gay, am I allowed to love who I love, am I allowed to feel desire for whom I choose, am I allowed to think outside what still seems to be a narrow, dogmatic, Church-think box?
In his book “Arise My Love . . .”: Mysticism for a New Era, William Johnston says that the mystical author of John’s gospel, after “many years spent in prayerful reflection and profound mystical contemplation . . . under the guidance of the Spirit” achieved a state of non-dualism, able to make no distinction between Jesus the man - the Jesus of history and the Jesus of glory, the Christ of faith, Jesus who had lived on earth in the here and now and Jesus who lives in the non-dual here and now of interior presence and existential essence. My intuition, the internal voice, the Spirit guide in me, has been telling me for a long time that creation is a seamless unity, despite appearance or teachings to the contrary or the commonly held assumptions and mind-set of the institutional church that we live in a dualistic creation.
We can become too easily (and understandably) trapped in the binary, good and evil, us and them, loving God and punitive God dynamic on which the dualistic faith of conservative traditionalist Christians is founded. It’s New Year Resolution time: and for me it’s renewed decision time. Do I – do we – opt for and choose to construct from our interior conviction and from the Biblical evidence – a God of unconditional love who is entirely and unconditionally for creation and evolution and for us, we the diverse human community living on planet earth?
An article about mindfulness in schools in last Sunday’s Observer raised again a persistent question for me. Why isn’t the teaching of meditation or mindfulness a core part of the Church of England’s teaching programme? Teaching meditation ought to be an integral part of life in every parish. It needs to be taught and it needs to be practised, integrated with prayer and worship.