Reflecting on the Shared Conversations, parts 1 and 2

By Ed Shaw

 

Spare a prayer for the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England. For the last two years the shared conversation process has given them a good excuse to resist any pressure to express their own views on human sexuality publicly – an excuse which most (if not all) of them have gratefully used.

But now the ball is in their court. The recently completed conversations have increased the pressure for changes to apostolic teaching on gender, sexuality and marriage. The LGBTI Mission have already called for the House of Bishops “…to bring forward bold proposals that enable the Church of England to move towards LGBTI equality…” whilst setting out a series of significant changes that could largely be carried out without Synodical approval.

There will be huge pressure over the next few months for our leaders to come up with something that can (at the very least) be portrayed as first steps in the direction of a full acceptance of the LGBTI Mission’s more ambitious long-term goals.

As a participant in all three rounds of the shared conversation process I want to encourage our Church’s leaders to reflect carefully on the pain and prejudice LGBTI members of the Church of England (like myself) have experienced. They have heard our voices and I hope they recognise the need for the Church of England to repent of the genuine homophobia of the past and any current discrimination purely on the basis of sexual orientation. I trust they will respond positively to the call for us all to be building churches where everyone can experience both the love of our Father God in heaven and that of a genuine family life here on earth.

But I also I also want to call on them to listen again to voices tragically under-represented in the shared conversation process. The voices of Moses, Jesus and Paul in our Bibles. The voices of Augustine, Cranmer and Hooker in our tradition. The voices of Barth, Bonhoeffer, and John Paul II from the worldwide church. The Church of England could be about to depart (in, of course, small, little Anglican steps) from an understanding of gender, sexuality and marriage shared by the vast majority of Christian believers, for the vast majority of time, in the vast majority of places.

The unity of the prophets, apostles, teachers and martyrs of the past should not be ignored just to lessen our cultural discomfort today. Indeed, we need to recognise that the church has always grown most effectively when its message has most differed from that of the world around us.

We need to be praying that our archbishops and bishops do what Jesus calls all Christians to do: repent and believe. Repent of the wrong ways in which LGBTI church members have been treated in the past and believe in the right ways that gender, sexuality and marriage have been defined by scripture and tradition throughout the worldwide church’s history.

Ed Shaw represents the Diocese of Bristol on General Synod and is on the editorial team of www.livingout.org

 

By Jayne Ozanne

 

A week on, and I still feel completely overwhelmed by the experience.

It was arguably the most important thing that General Synod has had the courage and discipline to undergo – and certainly one of the most difficult. Was it worth it? Most definitely, yes! Was it painful? Absolutely – especially for those of us who found ourselves the subject of it all.

Yes of course it was also difficult for those not from the LGBTI community, particularly those who hold differing views to my own. However, I need to be honest and say that I doubt that they will have suffered the frequent flash backs, the painful reminders of rejection and judgement, and the deep anger of hearing views expounded that have nearly claimed so many lives, including my own.

So what was the point of it all?

Firstly, what it was not. The Shared Conversations process was not about trying to change anyone’s minds. It was not a debate about who is right and who is wrong, nor was it meant to be a full presentation of all the views that exist on the subject. Anyone who thinks that these were its aims will have been disappointed – and will have, sadly, missed the whole purpose of the exercise.

It was about making “the issue” real and human. It was about giving body and substance to the debate so that we could more fully understand and appreciate each other, and hopefully grow in love and respect for each other – fellow members of the Body of Christ.

It was incarnational. The “word made flesh”, so to speak.

Something deeply profound happened in Synod during these precious two days – we started to birth a new relational way of interacting with each other, and so allowing the Holy Spirit to speak. Professor Robert Song, one of the three theologians who spoke in the first plenary session, put it extremely well when he challenged us to reflect on whether the pain we were all experiencing was that of “divorce” or “childbirth”? I firmly believe it is the latter – that as the unhelpful stereotypes we have held of each other are broken down, we are at last coming to see the Christ in each other.

The Shared Conversations helped evangelicals understand that they neither have the monopoly on believing in the importance of scripture nor on how it is interpreted; liberals began to realise that not all evangelicals are narrow minded; and Anglo-Catholics began to appreciate that many cherish liturgy, space and sacrament. We all, thank God, started to become vulnerable and real with each other – well most of us did.

Some sadly were not able to participate as they had been asked not to do so if they couldn’t commit to the whole process, which many of us thought unfortunate. A few chose to boycott the conversations on principle and go home – meaning their views were left unaired and unheard. A few others decided to become onlookers, staying on campus in order to “bolster their troops”. One or two decided to “participate” of sorts, bringing their highly defended views on scripture and doctrine but not it seemed themselves, and so failed to engage with the fact that whilst others held just as strong but differing views they were at least willing to listen, share and engage.

However, a far greater number – I’d even dare to say the vast majority – sat and talked, shared, listened, prayed and even cried together.

I myself was overwhelmed by the love and concern that so many Synod members showed me – most of whom I did not know. All seemed so keen to try and hold us and protect us, recognising how deeply traumatic this must have been. The love and care present was tangible, beautiful and sacramental. It’s the first time I have truly felt the Synod work with deep compassion and gentleness.

It gives me hope.

For whatever the future holds, whatever the Synod may or may not decide, I know that the Spirit of God is at work within us. He will continue to show us the way – and the fruit will be there for all to see.