The House of Bishops released a report on Friday, Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations, to be discussed by the General Synod next month.
In the words of church authorities, it “upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.” The bishops recommend that “The Church of England’s law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church’s doctrine of marriage itself.” The bishops also call for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people and those attracted to people of the same sex throughout the Church of England. They also speak of the need for the Church to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirm the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.
Anger and derision
The report has been received with anger and derision by the member of Changing Attitude’s Facebook group, a network of over 3,000 people. It has angered me and raised the most basic questions about the shocking disparity between my understanding of God, Jesus and Christian faith and the bishop’s idea of God and Biblical teaching and authority.
There is a great danger in allowing ourselves to become unthinkingly locked into the world of the bishops. Their world that has become more divorced from Christian truth and wisdom and from the greater wisdom about LGBTI people held by the majority of people in the UK. New episcopal appointments have had a shocking effect.
The bishops have become infected with a largely conservative evangelical, functional, increasingly fundamentalist mind set, biblically literal, lacking nuance and intelligent exegesis.
The report is shockingly bad from an LGBTI perspective (and the perspective of our families, friends, colleagues and congregations). It contains almost unbelievably specific, dogmatic ideas about God’s intentions in the design of creation and in giving us rules in the Bible which tell us directly how to behave in ways that are going to please “Him” (of course, this God is male), and guide us into living healthy, holy, acceptable lives.
Spirituality and faith don't compute
My spirituality and faith don’t compute with this. It is a huge and increasingly intractable problem for me. I don’t know this God on which the bishops construct their thinking about the place of LGBTI people in creation. (Of course, they’re not even capable of thinking about bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the document.) I know about their teaching and mindset, of course – it’s what I grew up with and was initially inducted into, but I was already deconstructing and rejecting it in heart and mind as a teenager. I knew creation didn’t work according to this literal model and as a gay man who had no doubts about my identity, I knew that the church’s use of the Bible and the way it interpreted The Word of God was more than deeply flawed – it was simply wrong.
The world I live in and experience is in basic, spiritual respects different from the world of every bishop who have given their assent to this report. The world, creation, the universe, and all that humankind is learning to see (and has been learning to see throughout the evolution of our species), is now seen holistically, holographically, and integrally. This universe, this creation, is for me totally congruent with the wisdom and teaching of Jesus and unpleasantly incongruent with the mindset and teaching of Jesus as presented by the House of Bishops.
The bishops’ unhealthy God
The bishops’ document is so wounding because it is based on such an unhealthy idea of God’s will not only for LGBTI people but for the whole of humankind and human flourishing. This is thanks to their flawed teaching, specifically in this instance about marriage, but more generally and critically, about what a holy, healthy, Godly, spiritual, Jesus-following people might look like. This is why people are rejecting the teaching and ministry of the Christian church. It doesn’t compute. It’s unhealthy and prejudiced and un-Godly.
We, by which I mean anyone who is drawn to a different path, we have to escape from the world of the bishops. Many of us are on the way there, some just setting out, some so far down the road to freedom from episcopal toxicity that it’s safer to engage with other networks and wisdoms.
This document is in serious danger of drawing us back into the unhealthy, addictive world of conservative evangelicals, the HTB-modelled, Renewal and Reform packaged, ignorant-of-the-God-of-unconditional-love mentality that lies behind this report, embedded now in the minds of the hierarchy.
We HAVE to live from a healthier, more holistic, integrated, holy, deeply authentic place of love, justice, creativity, imagination, depth and truth, in our selves, our hearts and souls and bodies, our relationships, our spirituality, our praying - and our engagement with the church. We HAVE to engage the church from our place, not the bishops’ place.
This blog was inspired by the book I am currently reading: The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit by Joseph Chilton Pearce. Pearce quotes from Maen Wan Ho, a reader in biology at the Open University, who wrote The Entangled Universe in Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures, published in 2000. The first extract may or may not make sense out of context. I think the second will make absolute sense.
The visible body just happens to be where the wave function of the organism (a human being) is most dense. Invisible quantum waves are spreading out from each of us and permeating into all other organisms. At the same time, each of us has the waves of every other organism entangled within our own make up . . . We are participants in the creation drama that is constantly unfolding. We are constantly co-creating and re-creating ourselves and other organisms in the universe, shaping our common futures, making our dreams come true, and realising our potentials and ideals.
And in the following paragraph, also quoting Maen Wan Ho:
More and more, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, today’s universities and professional societies guard their knowledge. Collusively, the university biology curriculum . . . map out domains of the known and the knowable; they distinguish required from forbidden knowledge, subtly punishing the trespassers with rejection and oblivion. Universities and academies, well within the boundaries of given disciplines . . . , determine who is permitted to know and just what it is that he or she may know.