Writing about the Church of England’s new report on living in love and faith was never going to be easy, and the aftermath of the reports about child sex abuse in my own church and the Roman Catholic Church make it no easier; but they make it necessary. At the most basic level, churches which freak out about people in faithful and loving gay and lesbian marriages and then cover up child sex abuse by priests and cardinals have their priorities wrong. It gives the public the impression of a set of churches obsessed by sex for the wrong reasons, and that’s one reason ‘living in love and faith’ is so important. It encourages a discussion about how churches approach trans, gay and lesbian people.
Whatever St Paul meant, or did not mean by the passages which get trotted out every time this subject is raised, gay, trans and lesbian people exist and are not going to vanish. What should you do if you so identify and also identify as a Christian? If you have a call to celibacy, the problem does not go away, as others peoples’ reactions to you may make you feel unwelcome. How must that feel when you know God is love? And no, I am not talking about lust or sex, I am talking about that type of love which means people make sacrifices for each other and want to make a life long commitment.
The new report asks us all as Christians to think again about whether we evidence our faith in the ways we relate to those whose sexuality is different from that which the church has traditionally accepted. ‘The Church wants to ensure that it offers pastoral care to all people, especially in the context of changing perspectives on gender, identity and sexuality.’ To those raising their hands in horror, stop and moment and think – are you sure that closing our minds on this issue is the wise or the Christian thing to do?
Few things were, or indeed are, more characteristics of Judaism than its dietary requirements. It never occurred to those running the church in Jerusalem that Gentiles should be accommodated by remaining as they were when they became Christians. Even when Paul said God had said it was okay, the Church refused to accept it and there had to be a discussion. By contrast, what Jesus had to say about sex was not much, and the idea that we should not even discuss it seems well, narrow-minded.
I am sure there are many saying that this is whatever the church equivalent of #fakenews is, and that the Church is simply going to go all ‘woke’. If so, it’s an odd way to go about it, encouraging a real discussion. There are study groups to go with the online material, and I am part of one, and looking forward to it. I am one of those strange creatures who really believes it when she says she is in favour of freedom of discussion because good ideas drive out bad, and the truth wins over lies. The one thing that is always clear is that no Christian should object to others querying her views, or be afraid to air her views because of others.
It is clear many among the first Christians objected very strongly to what Paul was teaching about the dietary laws. It is clear many modern Christians object very strongly to women priests/ gay marriage / gay priests etc, etc. It is also clear that many modern Christians find these positions objectionable and would call those holding them ‘bigots’. Divergences like this are not to be healed easily, and will never be healed until all parties respect the other enough to listen – and to hear out a case to which they may, themselves, violently object. Jesus never said that being a Christian was going to be easy, but then she who hates her sister or brother should first set that right before worshipping. This, God willing, is a step in that direction.