In April 1984 Channel 4 broadcast three one hour long documentary programmes titled Jesus: the Evidence. Three of the issues addressed in the programmes were that Jesus never called himself God in the Gospels; that the titles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (e.g. ‘Son of God’) were not in fact used during his lifetime; that Jesus, as a Jew, was hardly likely to have claimed to be God. I find myself wondering how many Church of England clergy still believe that Jesus thought of himself as divine, the Son of God. How many think that Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives are historically true? How many think the resurrection narratives in the four gospels are accurate historical accounts of an event that happened?
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.
We may think that there is just one version of Christianity that we who are Anglicans share with every denomination and all Christians. Not so - we are living with many versions of Christianity, not just within the variety of denominations, but within each denomination and within the Church of England. Within the church there is an invisible, underground, disconnected, boundary-crossing set of people who are letting go of orthodoxy and dogma. In my dreams this group will reach a critical mass as the reality of the ways in which people are reconfiguring faith becomes more widely known. It’s the great secret of the current decade that dare not speak its name, though it has been emerging for decades.
I experience myself as being 'haunted', 'lured', 'pursued', seduced by folly, over and over and over again. Nothing that can easily be named or described, of course (the ultimate other is far too tender and subtle for that) but the experiences add up to confirmation for me that the ultimate other is after me and, as an ingredient of the pursuit, has ideas about me, totally benign, trustworthy, authentic ideas that flow with unconditional, infinite love. To call them plans would be far too concrete - nothing about the experience of God can ever be that certain - that way danger and madness runs.
It would be good if we were able to live together with our differences, openly and honestly, with our legitimate varieties of belief about sexuality and gender, the authority of Scripture, the nature of God, the core teachings of Jesus, and the differences between realism, myth and metaphor in the Bible. But at the moment we can’t. Intimidation by conservatives who style themselves “orthodox” and “mainstream” is suppressing conversation in the church about issues beyond sexuality and gender and which are ultimately far more important to the radical changes in human awareness and divine truth that we are immersed in and into which some of us are living.