such a pain

The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a bit of a torrid time recently on LGBTI+ issues.

Publicity around the Lambeth Conference next year is going a bit awry; Justin Welby's very well-publicised debacle over rescinded invitations to same-sex spouses of gay bishops is the unwanted gift that keeps giving.

This week the Archbishop was reported in The Times as saying:
“I had to take what is a really difficult and painful decision to say, in order for the conference to be as representative as possible and get all the bishops there and not have the risk of some provinces not coming because they felt I was pushing the envelope too far, that I couldn’t ask all the spouses.”
Goodness, we feel your pain.
It must be extraordinarily hard to be a straight, white, male, married bishop in the Church today.

The Twitter response has been creative.

Here are three:


I do feel a bit of sympathy for him. Being part of the Living in Love and Faith project (the House of Bishops commission on Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage) is an interesting journey. I am meeting some amazing people - people I would naturally want to meet, people I thought I would naturally want to avoid, people who I am finding inspiring and who are making me think, people I wouldn't have thought I'd like but who I am discovering are (of course) just wonderful...BUT also, I have encountered repeated examples of what can only be described as institutionalised homophobia. That there are serious heroes of faith helping to battle these things is terrific; that these moments exist at all is not.

My sympathy for the Archbishop is that I do wonder if, being cocooned inside the remarkable world of Lambeth Palace, there came a moment when he stopped noticing those moments. 

This after all is the man who, in February 2017 called for a 'radical new Christian inclusion' saying 'there are no problems here, there are simply people'. That feels a long way away from the same man's words in this week's Times, where he describes himself being in a 'lose-lose situation'. 

Where are the people now? Where the problem?

I have sat in Living in Love and Faith meetings where no people were discussed; only problems. There has to be a better way. And, of course, there is.

One day, someone will realise that the concept of all people being made equal in God's image isn't a rhetorical concept, to be quickly agreed to and then moved on from. It will become what it ought to be: the centre of our understanding in all our disagreements. People are people. Made by God, loved by God, inexpressibly varied and valuable. A struggle for equality is not about achieving rights for people like me, it is about achieving the recognition of the full made-in-the-image-of-God humanity of all people. If I can't fight another's fight, I have no business being on this battle front. Equality isn't about being selfish. It's about seeing Jesus in every person.

When I was to be ordained priest, 24 years ago, in the Church in Wales, I asked my bishop if I could invite a friend I had studied with in England to come to the service. He said yes. My friend had already been ordained priest. She had been my tutorial partner at college. 

But in Wales, women were not yet ordained as priests, and a couple of days later, my bishop called me and changed his mind. No, it was better she did not come - or she came but only as a deacon, which he presumed would not be acceptable. So I replied, if my friends were not welcome, I did not feel welcome either. And my bishop immediately postponed my ordination as priest, with no new date offered.

Fortunately for me, there are always serious heroes of faith helping to battle these things. One such was bishop in the neighbouring diocese. It probably didn't hurt that he had previously taught at the university where I trained, and my tutorial partner had been one of his students. Well, he stepped in and I was priested six months later, just before Christmas, with my friend participating. 

We don't just fight our own battles. We fight every single one till every single person is seen to be who they are - a fully equal child of God, deeply loved, indescribably precious, wonderfully human. 

One response to the Archbishop's dilemma in the Letters pages of the Times takes the spirit of this equality and finds a gloriously servant-hearted way forward for Justin to adopt:
Single bishops, straight and gay married bishops all treated alike. No discrimination. Everyone the same. 

Such a pain to have to think about people, rather than problems. Such a pain to have to value everyone. Such a pain to have to love. Such a pain...

It's the beginning of Holy Week, and there's just something gnawing away at me that keeps on wanting to suggest that (for some reason) following Jesus might not be a pain-free experience...
But if we are indeed following Jesus, it will somehow also be glorious.

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