It was a hard week, last week. If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar. But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage. Since then a number of things have happened. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.
Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.
One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.
The letter says
‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’
There was something of an echo of a vision in this. I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please. You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life. The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this
Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.
That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly. So I was delighted. It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.
However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us. At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church. The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject. Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture. Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?
Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2
‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)
This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31. That really does make this an authoritative text for many. It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality. Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.
So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward. But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.
I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme. That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music. I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber. Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism. He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman. But he’s best known for his hymns. The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’
It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours. We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.
direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.