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 1966 David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham from 1984 to 1994, wrote a brief Guide to the Debate about God, exploring the historical perspective as well as appraising developments following the publication of Honest to God in 1963. Jenkins admits that there has always been a debate about God, not only about what He is like but about whether He exists at all. He wanted to explore whether theism really is on the way out and whether any hope of believing in God has to be abandoned as a result of the ‘new theology’. I have returned to David Jenkins’ Guide to the Debate about God this week because he identifies core issues of faith and the ‘experience’ of God with which I have been engaging for over five decades and which I believe are now essential for the Church of England to re-engage with if it is ever to recapture people’s imagination and open hearts and minds to the experience of unconditional love.
Twenty-eight years ago in God’s Truth: Essays to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Honest to God, published in 1988 and edited by Eric James, John Bowden wrote “There is need for vision not only inside the churches but outside them. Vision and a concern actually to make some differences where there is a crying need for change. Honesty is quite manifestly not enough; more people are going to have to do some fighting.” The same concerns haunt me today.