The Church Times Christmas edition published four letters hostile to the Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition recently published by the House of Bishops. The letters were written by the Revd Dr Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, the Archdeacon of Hastings, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, Director Church Society, and the Revd David Baker. Comments posted on two threads on the Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook blog justifiably expressed anger and disgust at the content of these letters.
Many of the links to news items posted to the group are bad news stories about conservative Christians opposed not simply to equality in the Christian Church for LGBTI+ people but to our essential premise that our identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people is as essential and God-given as the heterosexual identity of the majority.
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. Their claim to represent original, Biblical, orthodox, traditional, as-it-was-from-the-beginning Christian faith and truth is simple and direct. It is hard to challenge from a nuanced, subtle, reflective, spiritually contemplative tradition.
I assert that both positions are human constructs, though conservatives would vehemently deny this, and radical progressives might be reluctant to support my assertion. As the Church Times letters and the reactions to them on the Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook Group demonstrate, it’s easy for radical LGBTI Christians to collude in this false binary dynamic. We end up defending ourselves against the conservative memes and fail to articulate with confidence our own convictions.
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? I have wilfully and deliberately selected elements of my Christian faith traditions and assembled them into a gospel essence that is congruent with my human experience and the kind of God that makes sense to my experience. For me, the core Christian truth is the unconditional love of God and my energy is devoted to a strategy for change that is revolutionary for the Christian Church.
We too easily collude in creating a gospel of appeasement, a gospel of Good Disagreement, Renewal and Reform, Living in Love and Faith. There is nothing wrong with these programmes in themselves – they are virtuous and will result in a degree of moderate progressive change. I understand why the Archbishops and House of Bishops come up with these programmes with their carefully adapted slogans. But for us, we radical LGBTI+ Christian people? Do these programmes inspire and convict us or do they seduce us into a passivity that tolerates prejudice and phobias?
There is no one, true, pure, unadulterated gospel. There are only multiple gospels reflecting the prejudices and norms of different periods in history, different cultures and different Christian traditions that good disagreement seeks to encompass in a programme of more benign tolerance. Christianity is more polytheistic than it likes to admit.
My option is that LGBTI+ people and women and ethnic minorities and members of other faiths and no faith should be valued in the way any and every human being wants to be and should be valued – that is, to live into the conviction that we are unconditionally and intimately and infinitely loved, equally and inclusively.
The global human community and our fragile planet earth have bigger things to worry about than God’s apparent absorption with what people are doing with their gender identities and sexual bits, critical as these elements are for us. It’s time for us as members of our various faith communities to invest time and energy in the transformation of our own lives as sacred members of creation.
The Church of England and the Anglican Communion continue to invest time and resources dealing with the outcomes of a binary model of God and the systemic prejudice that is born from an increasingly archaic model of Christianity. Meanwhile global consciousness wakes up to the news that we may be doomed to a tragic future on planet earth unless we overcome our prejudices and recognise that we are all members of a global community and set about learning how to live creatively and cooperatively together as members of the same, supposedly intelligent, adult species.
Yeah, I know folks – I’m a dreamer, an unrealistic visionary.
I dream of Jesus as an icon of the sacred, holy, intimate, infinite core of unconditional love that my construct believes is the essence, the heart and soul of every human being and of the evolutionary process that has brought us to consciousness and crisis.
This is the gospel I Iive by and immerse myself in and that inspires my contemplative silence every morning.