Hokey Cokey

The Church of England is enjoying a period of reflection as it prepares new teaching and pastoral documents on human sexuality.

Inevitably, this means that various sides of the debate are enjoying some ecclesiastical Hokey Cokey. Some are putting their left foot in. Others are putting their right foot in. In, out, in out, everything's being shaken all about...

At the beginning of May, the Diocese of Lichfield issued a statement saying they welcomed and honoured LGTB+ people. OK, we know where Lichfield stands then. They recognise there's a national debate, but they are pretty clear where they want that debate to end up. Lichfield is inclusive. Left foot in.

The conservative evangelical Bishop of Maidstone (who, despite his title, isn't limited to Kent, but works with conservative evangelical churches across the country who for various reasons don't feel comfortable with their geographical episcopal oversight) responded to this. Right foot in.

Of the responses to that response, I rather liked the Dean of St Paul's article on the ViaMedia site. It's an endorsement of the Lichfield principals, (in again, shaking it all about) but with a very reasoned take down of why Bishop Rod's blog really won't do as an Anglican attitude.

I can't do better than David Ison.

However, as I read all of this, I was reminded of an episode in one of my curacies...

A very prominent woman in that church, a very evangelical lady at that, had clearly been told that if she had a criticism to make, she must first present a positive before launching into anything negative. So rather than saying, "You need to lose about twenty pounds because you really have let yourself go", she'd say, "You do have a lovely smile, and you need to lose about twenty pounds because you really have let yourself go."

The upshot of this was that if you saw her heading toward you at the end of a church service, most people would run away, or try to get into deep conversation with anyone else quickly. We all knew we were about to get fake-complimented. And then hit - and often, hit hard. The compliment was never real; it was there because she had been told that it was right to present a positive before launching into anything negative - and the negative was the real reason she was coming to speak...

Bishop Rod's blog is full of this technique.

Almost every sentence is "Praise for what you have said...however criticism because gay people."
Here's an example:
This issue comes into focus when considering the question of participation in the Sacraments. Your letter mentions the need to let all people know that there is a place at the table for them. As part of the national church, I would fully agree that we want to encourage everyone to participate in the life of the church to the maximum extent possible. However, I wonder whether the reference to ‘a place at the table’ for all might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion. 
That is to say - Of course you are right to say LGBT+ plus people should play a full part in church life - HOWEVER - Communion for gay people? Really?

Hmmm.

May I gently say that gay people in the church know this technique really well. We know it so well that we naturally filter out the first part of what Bishop Rod says. Think of it as a sort of theological gaydar. It may be that he means some of what he says, but frankly our entire experience is - he's seeking us out at the end of the service in order to say the second thing. So most of us are already running away or desperately finding someone else to get into deep conversation with because we know what's coming before he gets here.

Isn't that sad?

We don't want to be special. We don't want not to repent when everyone else should. We don't want not to grow spiritually when everyone else does. We don't want not to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church when everyone else does - but we're so used to anything positive just being the preamble to the real stuff, the actual point of the conversation, that we struggle to believe the positive and we've assumed the negative and either been overwhelmed by it or so angered by it we've already tuned it out.

Bishop Rod's response is reprehensible because he shows no sign of understanding what it means to be a minority in the church; he shows no understanding of what a minority in the church regularly experience; he shows no understanding of what a minority have to go through again and again in order to try to belong; and Bishop Rod's response is reprehensible because he perpetuates all the worst behaviour a minority have had to endure for too, too many years.

Fake praise. Real hurt.

Gay people will never be equal in the church - we will always be a minority. And that's as it should be. But we could be treated as equally human.

What might help that happen? Well we could start with the current period of reflection within the Church of England and its upcoming teaching and pastoral documents gaining a slightly greater degree of honesty and theological rigour than the Hokey Cokey.

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