Yesterday I wrote about the environmental crisis facing our global community and the spiritual crisis which I believe is the most important evolutionary event facing Christianity in general and the Church of England in particular.
The most immediate event confronting the C of E is the special meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury from 11-16 January to discuss key issues face to face. According to the Lambeth Palace media statement, issues to be discussed include a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and their approach to the next Lambeth Conference, and are likely to include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality.
We know the issue that has pressured the Archbishop of Canterbury into calling this meeting is human sexuality and the unresolved disagreements and tensions which threaten the future of the Communion. For pro-LGBTI people in England and many other parts of the Communion the specific question is the place of LGBTI people in the Church, and more specifically, recognition of equal marriage and those who enter relationships which are both faithful and sexual.
We also know that the Church of England is still paralysed in attempting to revise its teaching on human sexuality, prolonging the process by engaging in shared conversations which are of value in themselves but are not intended to lead to any particular outcome. The Church fiddles while Rome burns.
Who now constitutes the Church?
It is no longer possible for me to use the word ‘church’ in the context of the Church of England with any clarity about who or what is being identified. When a Church House spokesperson says they are speaking on behalf of the Church when talking about human sexuality, the untruth of this statement is immediately apparent. They may speak on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishops’ Council, or the House of Bishops or they may be outlining a motion debated in The General Synod, but they will certainly not be articulating the views of the majority of those who belong to the C of E and worship in church Sunday by Sunday.
Susannah Clark in a comment posted to Thinking Anglicans on Monday, 28 December 2015 wrote trenchantly that:
“. . when over half the congregations in Church of England pews actually affirm and accept gay and lesbian sexuality - in clear defiance of episcopal dictats and sanctions - there is a really strong case to simply say ‘No, that's not what we believe, and we shall not discipline anyone for implications of being gay and living in gay relationships.’ Half the Church of England now accepts gay and lesbian sexuality - because Church membership is part of a society that has embraced it. And yet we have bizarre statements from 'church spokespeople' that "The Church of England does not accept gay sex, and celibacy would be better."
We can argue over the percentages – my grass roots networks suggest rather more than fifty per cent of church members differ from the teaching of the House of Bishops.
Susannah says a false top-down uniformity is being imposed, resulting in what is an evangelistic disaster as well as being oppressive and discriminatory. It would be far more representative of the reality of everyone's beliefs, if those bishops who accept gay and lesbian sexuality actually came out and dared to be transparent - and represent the conscience and viewpoint of one whole half of the Church. What is lacking is moral leadership.
Susannah believes in honesty and transparency. The Church of England needs to stop being ruthless towards people's diversity and personal consciences when they choose to honour their loved partners, and wish that the Church would publicly honour them too. She says we are not a sect where only one view holds. We are not a fundamentalist church. We are in union and communion with God, in all our diverse consciences and unique identities.
What to expect in 2016?
As we transition from 2015 into 2016, we in the Church of England take with us the unresolved tensions and differences which date from the Global South meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1997, tensions which increased exponentially following Jeffrey John’s failed appointment to Reading in May 2003 and Gene Robinson’s election in June the same year.
Following the introduction of equal marriage in the civil realm and the decision of a number of clergy persons and licensed lay minister to marry, tensions in the Church of England have grown for those affected by the Church’s refusal to countenance equal marriage in church and for clergy. The tension and anger and frustration will only continue to increase in 2016 until something breaks. I can’t see General Synod agreeing a change in teaching and practice at the July 2016 meeting in York when they will engage in their own mutual conversations. Those clergy who have married and those who long to marry know the absolute rightness of making legal the relationship which they know to be holy and blessed in God’s kingdom.
The thought that on 31st December 2016 I might be repeating this blog is potentially very depressing. Fortunately, I am becoming less and less dependent on the Church as institution for validation of my faith, let alone for confirmation that God loves and approves me.
The Church will have disenchanted and disenfranchised even more loving, faithful people if it reaches the end of 2016 without a most profound change of heart and attitude towards radical equality in gender and sexuality.