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Hobbling Christ’s Church: Hollowed out Bishops in a House of Betrayal February 9, 2017

Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Life.
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27 January: it’s a date that’s etched permanently in the minds of anyone who has connections with the Jewish community. It is, of course, Holocaust Memorial Day.

But this year, 2017, the date gained a new twist, and it is now etched—perhaps just as permanently—in the minds of the UK’s LGBTI community: it’s the date the Church of England chose to publish its much-vilified report GS 2055: Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations (Full Report, pdf | Press Release). Was the date chosen intentionally, a subtle act of defiance by someone inside the C of E’s communications office, or was it simply a case of crass insensitivity? We shall never know, but the grim irony has certainly not been lost on the Church’s lesbian and gay members  or their families and friends.

The report begins innocuously enough, a gentle and gracious tone, reaching out from “wellsprings of prayer” in gracious humility:

This report is offered from the wellsprings of prayer, careful thought, and, mindful of our calling as bishops, listening, both to the Christian faith as we have received it, and to our Shared Conversations. We affirm the integrity and value of each person affected by what we say here. We recognise our deficiencies and offer this paper with humility. (Preamble)

It acknowledges “the core missiological issue” that is at stake, that was highlighted so well by Canon Mark Russell in his foreword to Amazing Love:

I try to be an evangelist at my local gym. The guys I work out alongside know I am a Christian and they are interested in spiritual things. I would love them to know God’s amazing love in their lives but despite my best efforts they are not church attenders (yet!). When I talk to them about Church they ask me why the Church doesn’t like people who are LGBT…

So also the Bishops:

If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated. No Church that is committed to God’s mission can live comfortably with that situation. (Introduction, para.2, p.2)

They recognise the challenge of holding together the wide range of theological traditions that exist within the Church, but whilst the difficulty for “those holding a conservative view of scripture” is spelt out,

the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises “first order” questions in relation to the heart of the gospel

the difficulty for “others” is reduced to an “imperative to read scripture differently” that “stems from a parallel conviction” — a conviction that, bizarrely, is never spelt out. Nonetheless, the report continues,

It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God that forces us to try to hear the scriptural, theological and missiological arguments of those with whom we disagree profoundly. (Introduction, para.8, p.3)

It is clear by now who has the upper hand, who is hearing but not listening, and it is not long before that opening tone of humility is lost under an avalanche of assertion and legalese:

The House hoped to sustain the atmosphere of careful and respectful listening that had marked the Shared Conversations, but was clear that the current situation requires some clearer assertion of where the Church now finds itself. (Beyond the Shared Conversations, para.14)

Note that phrase: the current situation requires not further exploration but “clearer assertion” — and that is precisely what comes as Canon B 30.1 is drawn upon:

‘The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’ (Beyond…, footnote to para.18, p.5)

Why, one might ask, is the whole Canon relegated to a footnote? Simply this, I venture to suggest: to facilitate a selective reading, a reading that homes in on the description of marriage as being a union “of one man with one woman” but conveniently disregards those parts which describe marriage as “a union permanent and lifelong” which is “for the procreation and nurture of children”.

O my Lord Bishops, what have we here? “Little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage” in a House of Bishops that has already changed the Church of England’s teaching on marriage in order to accommodate heterosexual divorcees (not to mention those heterosexuals who are incapable of procreation). “Our Lord’s teaching” indeed, my Lords, for well you know what our Lord—your Lord and mine—said about divorcees who remarry whilst their spouse is yet alive; and well you know that he did not declare that marriage is for procreation; and equally well you know that he said not one word about same-sex relationships.

But all of this you ignore, set aside, taking hold of the Canon to support a view of marriage as a privilege and a rite that belongs exclusively to heterosexuals, the very people whose adulterous liaisons and promiscuity have brought the institution into such disrepute down the years.

You also know what our Lord says of those who take man-made rules and turn them into doctrines:

He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mark 7.6-7, NRSV)

Terrible words, my Lords; but see what comes next:

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7.24-30, NRSV)

You who know Scripture so well, who live and breathe our Lord’s teachings, know also that this is no accident. Mark did not throw his Gospel together at random. The contrast between the hypocrites with their exclusive teachings and the rank outsider who wins Jesus’ approval could not be made more clear.

An Open Table: Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

An Open Table: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity

This, my Lords, is the contrast between your House of Bishops and the LGBTI members of the Church writ large; and as I sit here writing these words, on the wall facing me hangs a print of Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity, an Open Table inviting the viewer into the table fellowship of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is Church as it should be, for where you see demons, where you see sin, where you see cause for exclusion, our Lord sees the broken, wounded hearts of those who seek only to be welcomed as equals. Our Lord sees faithfulness and resilience, and tears of both joy and sorrow run down his face as he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11.28, NRSV)

Our Lord’s message is welcome. Yours is welcome, but—and that ‘but’ drains all the joy, all the hope, all the expectancy of the Shared Conversations away. It is as if the Syrophoenician woman had met the challenge, given her answer and Jesus had merely patted her on the head like a dog and said, “Of course, dear.”

The “underlying issue at stake”, my Lords, is not so much “faithfulness to God’s word” as faithfulness, period. You choose to honour and dignify unfaithfulness amongst heterosexuals by permitting remarriage of divorcees—in a blatant disregard of both our Lord’s teaching and the Canon you claim to be upholding—whilst refusing any dignity, any honour for the faithfulness of LGBTI people. All your fine words, all your talk of meeting “in a context of prayer and meditation”, all your promise of “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people” rings hollow, rings false in this light: you are Hollowed out Bishops in a House of Betrayal and you are hobbling Christ’s Church.

I urge you, my Lords: look not to the conservatives in your midst but to the faithful in your flock. Be faithful to your calling as Bishops, as Chief Shepherds of the flock, to tend the poor and the lame, to reach out to those on the margins. Do not be exemplars of the hard-hearted Christ before his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, as if the Shared Conversations had never taken place: be rather examples of the transformed Christ who not only heard but listened and went on his way to yet another encounter:

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ (Mark 7. 31-37, NRSV)

No coincidence that this comes next either, my Lords: our Lord heard and listened to the voice of an outsider then went on to give both hearing and speech to a deaf mute. This is what you are being called to do, to give freedom and joy to the LGBTI community who took the risk of the Shared Conversations only to find themselves shut out of the subsequent discussions, rendered deaf and speechless until you—given the opportunity to reset the table and welcome them in—deigned only to offer them further crumbs.

This, my Lords, is not the way of our Lord. You have followed the way of the Scribes and Pharisees by building walls, creating a gated community, planting a hedge around the Law—and worse, the Law which you uphold is not Christ’s Law of Love but man-made law presented as if it were God’s Law.

Faithfulness has never been about following rules but honouring relationships. Take note, therefore, my Lords: not of your report but of our Lord’s calling upon your lives. Be Good Shepherds like Christ himself, who was drawn by love to self-sacrifice, lest you find yourselves face to face with God addressing you as Israel’s False Shepherds of old and saying,

I will take your Shepherd’s Crooks and your fine robes and mitres and give them to others more worthy of my Calling.

Is this the Word of the Lord? May it not be so, my Lord Bishops, may it not be so…

~~~

DLT Books: Affirming LGBTI People and Relationships

DLT Books: Affirming LGBTI People and Relationships

What now for the rest of us?

I, as a lover of books, have but one gift to offer both to and on behalf of my LGBTI friends: read more. Be informed. Equip and renew your minds for the conversations, debates and struggles to come. To that end I give you, courtesy of DLT Books, 50% off their entire sexuality range* with the discount code LGBT50 – simply apply it in the online shopping basket.

All the recent titles are included, as well as all the backlist: 119; Amazing Love; Fierce Imaginings; More Perfect Union, Nomad; Permanent, Faithful, Stable; This Is My Body; and many, many more. Whether you buy them for yourselves, for your Bishops, for your General Synod Reps, they’re yours at half-price throughout this month, February 2017.

Dare to imagine a Church transformed and be ready to play your part.

*eBooks and Print-on-Demand titles excluded.

~~~

For the Avoidance of Doubt…

  1. The views and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. My wonderful wife has not been consulted or collaborated with me in any way whatsoever over what is written here.
  2. I am well aware there are a number of Bishops—diocesans, retired and suffragens—who are actively engaged in reaching out to and supporting the LGBTI community. Those I know of include: +Paul Bayes, Liverpool; +Nick Holtam, Salisbury; +Rachel Treweek, Gloucester; +David Walker, Manchester; +Alan Wilson, Buckingham; and +Ruth Worsley, Taunton. There may be others similarly engaged: I salute you, each and every one, and I apologise to any I have missed out.
  3. I personally fully support the remarriage of divorcees as practiced by the C of E (and the availability of marriage for those who do not wish to or are unable to procreate). I simply raise these issues to highlight the inconsistency of the House of Bishops’ stance on marriage and their selective reading of the Canons.

~~~

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Introducing the next Archdeacon of Wilts November 3, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Life, News.
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The Revd Canon Sue Groom

The Revd Canon Sue Groom, next Archdeacon of Wilts

TODAY it gives me immense pleasure to introduce the next Archdeacon of Wilts, someone most readers of this blog will already know: none other than my wonderful wife, the Revd Canon soon-to-be-Venerable Sue Groom.

Sue’s present dual-role post as Priest-in-Charge of Henlow & Langford and St Albans Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) requires her to give three months notice, so the lovely people of Henlow and Langford haven’t seen the last of us yet: we don’t leave until the end of January 2016; but both of us would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has welcomed us and made our 6+ years here in Bedfordshire so enjoyable and worthwhile — it’s been a genuine privilege to share this part of our lives with you.

Sue’s last service in the Benefice is scheduled for Sunday 31st January, a combined service with the two parishes together at St Andrew’s, Langford, and we’d love to see as many people there as possible: please do join us if you’re in the area. Her licensing as Archdeacon of Wilts is scheduled for Monday 22nd February  at St John’s, Devizes — close to where we’ll be living, a superb location on the Kennet & Avon Canal — followed on Thursday 25th February by a diocesan welcome service for both Sue and the new Bishop of Sherborne at Salisbury Cathedral: look out for more details of these services nearer the time.

The news was announced in both parishes on Sunday 1st November 2015, and further announcements and a press release are being issued today via the official St Albans and Salisbury diocesan news channels; all that remains for me to say now is:

Congratulations Sue!

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Articles/Reports Elsewhere

Epitaph for an Archbishop? For fear of sailing over the edge of the world, he never put out to sea April 7, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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NO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY hasn’t died; but he does seem to be doing a remarkably good job at digging his own grave, at least insofar as establishing good relations with the LGBTI community is concerned. In February — on St Valentine’s Day, to be precise — together with the Archbishop of York he signed off the House of Bishops’ now notorious Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage; last month he appeared to signal an end to the Church of England’s opposition to same sex marriage but offered no lessening or withdrawal of the restrictions placed upon clergy in that Pastoral Guidance; and now this month, in a phone-in on LBC radio (full transcript), he has outlined some of the thinking behind his own resistance to change: if the Church of England recognises same sex marriage, Christians in Africa will die.

This is flat earth thinking at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view), refusing to put out to sea for fear of sailing off the edge of the world — in this case, the refusal to put out to sea being the Archbishop’s resistance to same sex marriage in the Church of England and the edge of the world being Africa and the fear of further atrocities by extremist homophobes.

It’s the kind of slippery slope reasoning typified by the so-called Coalition for Marriage, C4M, driven by their fear of unintended consequences, and the moral equivalent of refusing to offer sanctuary to Jews during the Second World War for fear of Nazi reprisals; of refusing to take a stand against racism in apartheid South Africa for fear of worse oppression; of arguing that women ought not to be educated in the UK for fear of Taliban reprisals in India; or refusing to speak out for Palestinian land rights for fear of Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes — the list could go on and on, as the atrocities surely will, for those whose hearts are full of hate will always find reasons to justify their evil.

The dangers are real: all of these fears have at least some validity, but allowing them to hold sway over our decisions is not the way of Christ, who gave his own life rather than capitulate to prejudice and hate; more than that, who called his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That Christians will die is a given, given by Christ himself, but that does not make the scenes the Archbishop has witnessed any less a tragedy.

Archbishop Justin Welby is a man with a massive heart, a heart for the poor, for the oppressed and the underdog, evidenced most recently by the launch of the Listen to God: Hear the Poor initiative with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. As I noted with reference to the House of Bishops, he is right in what he affirms, but wrong in what he denies: he is right to be appalled and he is right to call us to awareness of possible global consequences; but he is wrong to allow fear of those consequences to counter right action. Refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong paves the way for evildoers to continue with their evil and it can never be the way of Christian thinking or living: to quote Kes (aka Rebel Rev), the priest who asked the question that led to the Archbishop’s remarks, “What Justin said put the power in the hands of the oppressors and those who wield violence.” (Rebel Rev lives up to her name).

But here in the Church of England in England, this leaves us with a deep seated problem: we have an Archbishop who has publicly stated his belief that sexual relations are for marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman, but who also says that there must be no predetermined outcomes to the Church’s ongoing conversations about human sexuality; who has signed off a document — the Pastoral Guidance — that denies his fellow priests the right to follow their conscience but which caters specifically to his own; and the reason the conservative conscience must take priority over the progressive conscience is fear.

Thus we have an Archbishop who perceives himself not as refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong but as refusing to sanction what he believes to be wrong and backing up that refusal for fear of possible consequences elsewhere, exacerbated further by a failure to recognise his attitude as homophobic: homophobia kills; he and the House of Bishops merely hold reservations. He most likely would not recognise this statement, but it is as if he has said, “Let us show solidarity with Africa’s homophobes in the hope that they will see that our homophobia is nicer and moderate their behaviour accordingly.” And that, of course, will never work: instead, Africa’s homophobes will — indeed, do — perceive the Church of England’s position as weakness whilst theirs is strength. Thus holding back on full equality here in England has the very opposite effect to that which ++Justin hopes for: rather than moderate their behaviour, Africa’s homophobes dig in their heels, turn up the heat and expect us to follow their lead.

There can only be one way through such a brick wall and that is enlightenment by God. That enlightenment will come, as it came for me, when those opposed to equal marriage see that their fear and prejudice are groundless. It will come not by our screaming, shouting, denouncements and ad hominem attacks against a man caught between the cliff of conservative resistance and the tide of progressive opinion but rather by our willingness to follow Christ regardless of personal cost, by our willingness to show love, to show the better way.

It will come not by calling for ++Justin Welby’s resignation but by prayerful engagement; by those in favour of equal marriage demonstrating that God is, indeed, with us; that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of LGBTI believers in exactly the same way as in the lives of all other Christians; by showing that God does not condemn but accepts all of us just the way we are, regardless of sexual orientation; and further, that God does not curse but blesses those committed to loving, faithful marital relationships, regardless of gender difference or identity.

Christ’s message is twofold: first of all, he bids us trust in God, fear not, for he is in the boat and it won’t go down; but then comes another storm and another challenge: suddenly he is not in the boat but out there in the storm, inviting us, like Peter, to risk all, to step out of the boat and walk with him among the wind and the waves of uncertainty. It is as if he says, Who dares wins — but not so, for Jesus says, Who loves wins; it is love that conquers fear, it is love that brings courage, it is love that wins.

Pray, then, with me for Archbishop Justin’s eyes to be opened. Pray that he will discover that love which drives out all fear, and in particular drives out his fear of where it might all end, his fear of sailing over the edge of the world — for the world is not flat, as some suppose, and the answer to that question of where it will all end is this: back at home, when we have circumnavigated the globe (not without some adventure, danger and yes, even death, along the way) and returned to safe harbour, to Jesus himself, the one who is Lord of the Church and who is able, more than able, to keep his Church from falling.

And pray too for our brothers and sisters in Africa…

Some Responses and Reactions Elsewhere

Petition by Revd Mark Kenny to @C_of_E’s House of Bishops to rescind their opposition to equal marriage and take back their recent Pastoral Guidance March 10, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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FOLLOWING ON from my recent Open Letter to the House of Bishops, I have signed and wholeheartedly endorse the Revd Mark Kenny’s petition via change.org calling upon the Bishops to:

  • Rescind their opposition to equal marriage
  • Take back their recent Pastoral Guidance
  • Create a Church where all are welcomed

If you share these concerns and haven’t already signed Mark’s petition, please sign it today:

Petition to the Church of England's Bishops by the Revd Mark Kenny

Petition to the Church of England’s Bishops by the Revd Mark Kenny

Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu March 1, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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MY LORD BISHOPS,

Greetings in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your Lord and mine in our common journey of faith: to him be the glory for ever and ever!

I am writing this letter hesitantly because, as a member of a clergy household myself, I am aware of the immense pressure that you live under and of the immense burden of responsibility that you shoulder as the Lords Spiritual in our land: may the Lord give each and every one of you the courage, grace, strength and wisdom you need as you carry out your duties in his service.

First of all, I would like to thank you for all the time and effort that you put into so many different and often conflicting areas of life, especially on matters of injustice here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Thank you, in particular, to those who put their names to the letter recently published in the Mirror newspaper challenging the government over the impact of its welfare reforms; my thanks also for the work that went into producing the Pilgrim Course, which has been well received and appreciated in the parishes I belong to; and for all the other work you carry out, so much of it unseen and unheralded by media attention.

My further thanks for the time, consideration and careful reflection that went into your recent Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: this brings us to my main purpose in writing as I add my voice to the many others expressing concern and dismay over this matter.

I’d like to start by sharing something of my own faith journey: I was brought up as a free-church, conservative evangelical. The Bible, prayer and church were the bedrock of my early life: I read the Bible and prayed daily, more than daily; I attended the Christian Union at school and at college; and I became a Sunday School teacher and a street evangelist whilst still in my teenage years. I knew the Bible better than any of my contemporaries and was referred to as ‘the living concordance’, such was my enthusiasm; and I knew — or rather, believed I knew — what the Bible taught about sexuality. Homosexuality and Christianity were mutually exclusive: to be gay was a lifestyle choice that set a person at odds with Scripture and the revealed will of God. This did not mean that I hated gays: they were no worse sinners than anyone else and I followed the mantra of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I know, then, how some of you and some the churches under your care feel about homosexuality in the Church, for I too once felt that way; and in those days, not surprisingly, I had no dealings with gay people: why would any gay person want to know me, a person who would claim to offer them Christ’s unconditional love whilst simultaneously condemning that which lay at the very core of their being?

That was to change, however, not overnight or by any dramatic experience, but over time as I began to encounter gay people; and not simply gay people but gay Christians; and it became clear that God was as much at work in their lives as mine. Without any sign of repentance for their ‘lifestyle choice’, God was blessing them: the fruit and work of the Holy Spirit was as evident in the lives of gay Christians as it was in the lives of straight Christians!

What was going on? Was God a liar, saying one thing in Scripture yet doing another? Was God the ultimate hypocrite, playing games with people’s lives and sexuality? Surely not! So I revisited the Scriptures and by God’s grace my eyes were opened: it became clear that faithfulness was the key. From beginning to end, from Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden of Eden, through the Law, the Histories and the Prophets and all the way on to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus’ trust in the Garden of Gethsemane and beyond into the book of Revelation, God’s call to his people has been to be faithful: faithful to God, faithful to our neighbours and faithful to one another. God loves faithfulness!

Everything fell into place: the condemnations of same-sex activity that we see in Scripture all represent betrayals of trust. The world of the Bible, of ancient Israel and of the Early Church, was a world where heterosexual relationships formed the bedrock of society, where homosexual activity could only represent a betrayal of trust; and so homosexual behaviour was condemned in the same way as other promiscuous behaviour such as adultery. This, however, is not the world we live in today: today we find ourselves in society where long-term, faithful same-sex partnerships co-exist and thrive alongside straight relationships; and against such relationships there is neither law nor biblical prohibition. Loose living, promiscuity and adultery are out, for all of these betray both human and divine trust; faithfulness is in, for this echoes the very heart of God.

Like St Peter in prayer on the rooftop, who found himself confounded by God’s apparent change of attitude towards the things and people he believed that God had declared unclean, I too was confounded; but also like Peter, seeing God transforming the lives of those whom I once regarded as unclean, I am set free and I ask, “Who am I — who are we, the Church — to deny blessing to those whom God is blessing?”

This, then, has been my journey of understanding and this is why I support equal marriage; this too is why I believe the Church of England should support equal marriage; and this is why I now find myself dismayed by your Lordships’ Pastoral Guidance on the matter when I see you making such a prohibition. Gentlemen, you are the Lords Spiritual: you yourselves commissioned the Pilling Report, which included the following amongst its recommendations:

… we believe that parishes and clergy, who conscientiously believe that celebrating faithful same sex relationships would be pastorally and missiologically the right thing to do, should be supported in doing so. […] Consultation and agreement between clergy and PCC on the policy would be essential, although the decision whether to conduct such a service in individual cases should be for the priest alone. (Pilling, paras 391-2, p.112)

Yet rather than accept that recommendation, rather than offer priests that support, rather than allowing them to follow their conscience, you advise that any prayer with a same-sex married couple should “be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” then state unequivocally that “Services of blessing should not be provided.” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 21).

How did this come to pass? How have you managed to turn that which is supposed to provide pastoral support into a blunt instrument that can only serve to drive a further wedge between the Church of England and LGBT people? How has welcoming a same-sex couple to prayer for their ongoing relationship become an opportunity to berate them for departing from church teaching? For make no mistake about it, that is how such a so-called “pastoral discussion” — no matter how sensitively broached — will be perceived by those on the receiving end. This approach, your Lordships, is a betrayal of trust that flies in the face of all that has gone before, that undermines almost all of your introductory remarks about gay people being children of God, loved and valued as full members of the body of Christ.

In your early paragraphs you cite Part 6 of the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, stating that “The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us” — but then you go on to do precisely that very thing, victimising and diminishing LGBT people by excluding their relationships from the possibility of affirmation or formal recognition by the Church, even going so far as to declare that “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 27).

So you place both gay clergy and gay laity in a double-bind, in a Catch-22 situation, caught out by the Church’s proper teaching that sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage but, when presented by the State with a lawful opportunity to marry, either denied that opportunity altogether (clergy) or denied the opportunity to celebrate that relationship (laity) by the Church.

You cite the Canons in support of your position; but you cite them selectively, for the Church’s Canons in the Thirty Nine Articles (Article XXXII) stipulate quite clearly that the call to the Priesthood within the Anglican tradition is not a call to celibacy: the clergy are free to marry at their discretion. So as the law of the land changes, you override one canon at the expense of another, making that canon which describes marriage as being between a man and woman more important than that which grants clergy freedom to marry, at the same time as denying the validity of state-sanctioned marriage in any case.

Which is it to be, your Lordships? Is the state sanctioned marriage in fact valid, such that it carries sufficient weight to threaten canon law? Or is it invalid, in which case it carries no weight whatsoever and is no different to a civil partnership?

As so often happens in theological disputes, your Lordships, you are right in what you affirm, but wrong in what you deny. You affirm the sanctity of marriage, but deny it to gay people. You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!”

You are right when you say that Jesus affirmed male/female relationships; but you are wrong when you say that by that affirmation he denied same-sex relationships: for you know full well that Jesus did not say a word either for or against such relationships. He did, however, speak of the sanctity of marriage and declared that anyone who divorces and remarries, except in the case of their partner’s unfaithfulness, commits adultery — yet you allow priests discretion over whom they will remarry. Thus you not only pick and choose which aspects of Christ’s teachings you follow, but you make an area in which he gave no specific teaching more important than one in which his teaching is clear. If a priest’s discretion is permitted over remarriage of divorcees, upon what basis is it not permitted over a public act of worship which recognises a same-sex marriage?

A song from Boy George/Culture Club comes to mind and I’ve rewritten the lyrics for you:

You are men of deep conviction,
You are men who surely know
How to tell a contradiction?
You surely know, you surely know!

Your Lordships, you surely know! You surely know how Jesus responded to those whose lives were riddled with such contradiction, the religious leaders of his own day, men who swallowed camels whilst straining at gnats. I appeal to you, do not be like them! Do not say of LGBT people that the Church welcomes them as equals but deny that welcome in what you permit or prohibit!

You speak of ‘facilitated conversations’ but rather than pave the way for them, you make such conversations futile by issuing a statement that reinforces barricades instead of taking them down. You say, “[…] we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.” What, then, is the point of these conversations when you have unanimously predetermined their outcome? Forgive me, my Lords, but I find it difficult to believe your declaration that you are all in agreement on this: was there truly not even one dissenting voice, not one person open to the possibility of change?

More than this, gentlemen, I find your choice of words here less than helpful: the Christian understanding… — what? Is there but one definitive Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage? Do you really set your understanding over and above that of other Christian churches? By all means speak of the Church of England’s traditional understanding, but please do not presume to speak for the entire Christian community!

Your approach to this matter, your analysis of it and your response to it are not the way of Christ, the living door, who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all who will come in. I appeal to you, as a fellow pilgrim on the way: do not close the doors that Christ is opening. Do not seek the way of the law when we are saved by grace: heed the warnings of St Paul, that those who choose to live under the law are obliged to obey the whole law — do not return to slavery but accept the freedom Christ offers!

Listen also to the wisdom of Gamaliel: if what is happening here is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it — in which case you may even find yourselves fighting against God!

At the beginning of this letter, I thanked those of you who spoke out recently about the disastrous impact of the government’s welfare reforms: you protest injustice on the one hand whilst you practice it on the other, for that issue and this are both matters of injustice. Thus we have a government that is pro-equality in one arena but blind to its obligations to the poor, whilst we have a Church leadership that has a clear vision of its obligations to the poor but appears blind to injustice here: can you not see, then, why the media cry out and people castigate the Church as a haven for hypocrites?

May the Lord grant you, the leaders of his Church, the vision of our government to see that equal rights require equal rites; and may the Lord grant our government, the leaders of our nation, the compassion for the poor that you see so clearly.

And may he further grant you, as Bishops in his Church, grace and wisdom to facilitate conversations — as some of you are doing — rather than close them down, and so ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news for all people in all times and situations.

As I draw to a close, the sun is shining in our garden, the sky is no longer weeping; but heaven is weeping, weeping over every lost sheep driven away from the Church by this failure of love. You are the Chief Shepherds appointed over Christ’s Church: I urge you, then, to behave as the Good Shepherd himself and follow where his Spirit is leading to help bring heaven’s tears to an end.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Phil Groom


This letter was notified to the Church of England’s Communications Dept and to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York via twitter at the time of publication here, 1st March 2014. I have also sent it directly to both Archbishops and to the Administrative Secretary to the House of Bishops, Ross Gillson, with a covering letter inviting individual responses as well as a formal — and hopefully open — response from the House. If and when such responses are forthcoming, they too will be posted here.


For further reading, reflection and information

There is, of course, much more out there: these are simply a few links to material that I personally have found most helpful and interesting…

If God does not withhold blessing from gay people, upon what basis does the church? January 18, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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3 comments
The Blog of Kevin, 17/1/2013: Plucking Blackberries

The Blog of Kevin, 17/1/2013: Plucking Blackberries

FROM THE BLOG OF KEVIN, Plucking Blackberries:

Where I see genuine love, commitment, and a desire for a covenant relationship, I see God. Where I see people who love God, who serve God, who God speaks to and through as much as the next person, I see God. And to deny them equal status, to keep them at the edge like women at the synagogue, is wrong. If God does not withhold his Holy Spirit from gay Christians, how can we withhold anything?

It’s the same question the early church faced when the challenge was whether or not Gentiles could be baptised:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

— Acts 10: 44-48, NRSV

Who amongst us dares argue with the Holy Spirit? Wake up, O Christians!

Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
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8 comments
Your Church Wedding: The Official C of E Wedding Planner

Want to get married in the Church of England? Sorry, straights only…

MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.

To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.

In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, “Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”

What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?

And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.

What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!

What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.

Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.

So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.

Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

And what a party that will be!


Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.


Women Bishops: Over 13,000 petition signatures call for action whilst Synod dithers November 26, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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HOW LONG, O LORD?

As of this morning, across the four petitions noted over the weekend by Thinking Anglicans — Women Bishops: online petitions — there are now more than 13,000 signatures calling for action in response to General Synod’s failure to ratify its draft legislation for women bishops:

And the official response of the Church of England? Silence and Synod deferred. Yes, a number of bishops have blogged their dismay, but as yet, only silence from those who are in a position to move things along.

To quote Sir Tony Baldry, Second Church Estates Commissioner, from his session answering questions in parliament, this issue “cannot be parked, and work needs to be done urgently to try to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible.”

On Saturday the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, described the decision to delay Synod as “extraordinary”, resembling “a bad case of loss of nerve”:

In Tuesday’s backwash, there was an ominous symptom of attitude in the church that needs examining. We were told that General Synod will not now meet in February but only in July 2013. This is extraordinary. When the nation is in crisis, Parliament is summoned within days to consider it and guide those who have to make rapid decisions in life-threatening situations. When the Church of England is in its gravest crisis for decades, the Synod postpones its next meeting and decides that it will be sufficient to meet in 8 months’ time.

This looks like a bad case of loss of nerve. It’s as if we are in denial that the situation is as serious and urgent as it is. This is how it’s being perceived in the nation. Most significant at a time of trial, it looks like a failure of governance. There is a big reputational risk here. Just when you want your governing body to be there and exercise its proper authority, it vanishes like the Cheshire Cat into the thicket not to be seen again till the sun comes out next summer. I urge the Synod to meet in the next few weeks to show both church and nation that it has noticed what is happening and is doing something about it.

— Female Bishops: on not letting it go

And today, news has emerged of a strong warning to the Archbishops from William Fittall, General Synod’s Secretary General, in which he is reported to state:

Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.

— Failure to vote in women Bishops risks ‘constitutional crisis’ in Church

Enough dithering, my Lord Bishops: Synod must be recalled sooner not later. Please do not keep us hanging in limbo; the period for quiet reflection is over: it’s now time for action. Failure to respond will only result in further pressure as those campaigning for Bishops to removed from the House of Lords grow in number and measures to enforce equality legislation become increasingly likely. Please don’t wait to be pushed: take a lead.

Thank you.

Dear Bishops, Synod is broken: have you got the message yet? November 23, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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2 comments

THANK YOU to everyone who has signed my petition, No Confidence in General Synod: Calling for an Urgent Review: 50 signatures in the first 24 hours and still gathering momentum, approaching 90 as I write. I’m aiming for 500+.

All the distress notwithstanding, the more I reflect on this situation, the more I think the way things have panned out is actually for the best. Daron Medway hits the nail on the head in this twitter exchange:

Not so much a tragedy, then, as an opportunity; but in the meantime, Synod is broken and thousands of people, men and women alike, feel severely bruised and battered by that discovery. We have a voting system that is not fit for purpose — but which can be fixed very simply without compromising on the two-thirds majority principle: 2/3 majority overall backed by a simple majority in all three houses. This retains the 2/3 majority protocol but ensures that a minority can’t hold the whole of Synod hostage yet still allows a majority objection in any single house to veto a motion.

All we need, Right Reverend gentlemen — yes, that’s you I’m speaking to, your Bishopnesses — is for you to make it happen. Call an emergency session or whatever it is you have to do, and fix it. Don’t faff about: just “get with the programme” as a certain other gentleman has expressed it, and mend the broken pipe before it floods us all with despair. In the meantime, I look forward to the day I can address a paragraph such as this to “Right Reverend ladies and gentlemen.”

If my little petition isn’t enough to persuade you that urgent action is needed, please see these other petitions:

Thank you.

The Church of England and Women Bishops: Is General Synod fit for purpose? November 21, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
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2 comments

AFTER THIS WEEK’S DEBACLE in General Synod in which a minority within the House of Laity were allowed to hold sway over the proceedings by blocking draft legislation for women bishops in the Church of England, I find myself asking, quite simply, is General Synod fit for purpose?

How can a governing body that repeatedly fails to ratify the clear wishes of the vast majority of its members be regarded as fit for purpose? Upon what basis does the Church of England continue to allow the tail to wag the dog?

To the majority in the House of Laity who voted in favour of the legislation: I salute you – thank you. But I must nonetheless ask how we have reached the point where the wishes of that majority are so easily undermined? The decision of the House of Laity does not represent the laity at large, and this is fundamentally wrong: a vociferous minority have infiltrated the House and thus done away with the possibility of true lay representation within Synod itself.

I therefore, as a lay member of the Church of England, hereby lodge a vote of no confidence in General Synod until such time as it can bring its affairs into order by effecting a genuinely democratic voting system that gives a fair and proper representation to its members in place of the current inequitable system.

I call upon the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops to conduct an urgent review into the rules of governance in Synod to correct this grossly unfair system; and if the matter is not resolved before his enthronement, I further call upon Archbishop Designate the Rt Revd Justin Welby to make addressing this inequitable situation one of his first priorities following his installation at Canterbury.

If you are with me on this, please sign this petition:

Thank you.

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