My suspicion is that talk about the uncertainty of the God experience is more difficult for Christians and within Christian communities now than it was four and five decades ago. How do I come into the presence of God? My question is not well framed. The better question is: How do I become aware of or conscious of God’s always present presence? The presence of the holy, the divine, the infinite, unconditional, utterly loving other is often elusive. It takes me time and the setting aside of deliberate intent to find myself in the presence. And that’s how it happens – finding myself there. I don’t make it happen – can’t make it happen.
My view of what is so dramatically wrong with the Church of England is that it fears teaching people about God, the God of whom Eckhart wrote: “God created all things in such a way that they are not outside himself, as ignorant people falsely imagine. Everything that God creates or does he does or creates in himself, sees or knows in himself, loves in himself.” Mutual Flourishing, Shared Conversations, and Five Guiding Principles are attempts to maintain fundamental, endemic, systemic, un-Godly, un-holy theology and discrimination. Mutual flourishing is a great quality, but a tertiary quality compared with the quality of the divine, holy, ‘isness’ of God, that of God, infinite and unconditional, awe-full and awe inspiring, love pouring out and love immersing, in all of creation and evolution. What I think is really, fundamentally and dramatically wrong about the Church of England is that it’s just not getting God.
I was 24 when Peter Berger published A Rumour of Angels. I think my High Church Anglican religious world was a supernatural world in which God ‘lived’ somewhere other than earth and could be communicated with through prayer and affected emotionally through worship. God could be apologised to in confession and seduced into liking us through sensuous liturgy. I live in a different domain now, the domain of sacred, holy, real presence in the here and now, a domain which has the powerful effect of taking me beyond my mundane, prosaic self and away from a conditionally-loving, judgemental God of heaven and hell, into another realm which is as real both here and now in the present moment and in the infinite elsewhere, in glory and beauty and the infusion of love.
People are identifying recent events as signifying the moment when the Church of England’s version of Christianity is being forced to face up to the expectation from within and outside the church that it must become a genuinely inclusive organisation modelling radical equality in gender and relationships in the context of ministry, practice and teaching. Some predict that a tipping point has been reached. What are the significant events that suggest this might be so?
The outcome of the debate at Synod last week on the Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report was positive from my point of view. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the end of the debate communicated that he knew change had to happen and his awareness was communicated in the statement issued soon after. Subsequently several bishops made statements or issued letters indicating that they also understood the need to think and do things differently. Did the culture and understanding of the bishops and archbishops undergo a sudden conversion? I doubt it.
The debate on Wednesday was utterly wonderful and transformative and the Archbishops’ letter is very responsive to the vote and the energy of the debate. The Archbishops recognise the need for “a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church . . . based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.” Fabulous! But I have some words of caution, echoing the caution already expressed by some on the OneBodyOneFaith Facebook group.
It’s a relief to be at home gazing out at field and clouds after two days of intense experience at the General Synod in London. Synod was extraordinary. I think it was a moment of transformation, after which the House of Bishops’ relationship with sexuality and gender will never be the same. As children we resist with all our will the loss of that original force bubbling up from within us, and this is the will that culture, particularly fundamental Christian cultures, must – and do – break at all costs. As a child we know we are an integral part of the continuum of all things, as Jesus taught and demonstrated. I hope the bishops are going to set out on a path, with all of us, to rediscover that knowing.
One of my gay Nigerian friends was in conversation with me on Facebook this morning. I told him about General Synod and the bishops’ report. He asked me send him the link to the report, which he read swiftly. My friend was confused by one particular part of the report. I told him it means the bishops have a problem, that bishops in Nigeria have a different theology and live in a different social context, a homophobic context according to our values, and the English bishops don't know what to do about them. My friend replied: “After I returned from the hospital, a friend of mine called me to let me know I will be planning his wedding in South Africa. Then my question was why South Africa - why not Nigeria? Why can't I find love here and get married here and be happy here? This guy is a church guy, he grew up in the church and always dream of getting married in the church, now just because he is gay the church rejected him, saying he is demonic.
I am wondering what the outcome of Wednesday’s take note debate on the House of Bishops’ report is going to be. I’m not thinking so much about the result of the vote and whether or not a majority in at least one of the other two houses vote to refuse to take note. I’m wondering whether a change of direction is possible. I’m going to be present outside Church House on Wednesday. I hope I am going to be amongst a host of friends. Together we can make this a day of transformation, both those on General Synod who will speak in the debate and vote at the end, holding an open, positive, creative energy of the deepest hope and trust, and we who will gather outside, bringing our energy into alignment with theirs.
I woke this morning from a dream, feeling deep grief, my heart heaving with sadness. I had gone to sleep having read the letter from fourteen retired bishops who have broken with convention to write an open letter to all bishops in the Church of England because of their concern that the report to be debated on Wednesday “does not allow the authentic voice of LGBT people to be heard or the real theological argument to be advanced [and] will not enable the church to engage credibly with wider society.” As I made notes for this blog, three questions haunted me. Where is the love? Where is God? Where is Jesus? Archbishop Justin repeatedly speaks about the need to talk to the public about Jesus. Which Jesus?, I always want to know. The Jesus that encourages bishops to dissemble, to opt for unity rather than truth and love, the Jesus who prefers bishops to be gatekeepers than windows of light, the Jesus who opts for law rather than grace.