Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Oxford writes to his clergy on same-sex marriage

From the Diocese of Oxford website: Bishop John writes to clergy on same-sex marriage.

In a letter to the clergy in the Diocese of Oxford today (26 February 2014), Bishop John writes about the recent statement by the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage.

“This is a very difficult part of the letter to get right. I know that what I write will be unacceptable to gay clergy who despair of the Church of England, and to conservatives who will see compromise looming. But I can’t not write about the Pastoral Letter and Appendix on Same Sex Marriage which emerged recently. I wish I could talk individually to everyone in order to engage properly and personally, but we all know this is impossible. I sit amongst many different loyalties and seek to honour as many of them as possible.

“First I apologise for the tone of the letter (or rather the Appendix). It was written by committee and that is always bad news. This is a deeply personal issue, indeed a visceral one, and every word and inference is capable of harm. I hope it’s common ground that we are part of a Church which is called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people. Nor have we listened well to those whose voice has not been heard, including the experience of those called to celibacy, those in committed same sex relationships, and clergy who have lovingly and sensitively ministered to gay couples over the years.

“It was never going to be likely that the House of Bishops would change two thousand years of teaching during a day in February at Church House Westminster. The intention was to respond to a new legal situation in the context of a longer conversation in the Church about an issue which has theological, biblical, ethical, missiological and ecclesiological implications. This longer conversation is what the Pilling report has asked us to do and to which the College of Bishops is committed.

“The House was also aware of a huge level of interest and concern from other parts of the Anglican Communion, and from other denominations and faith traditions. The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.

“The resulting letter and appendix is supposed to be a holding statement on the logical position of the House in the new situation, given the Church’s history and teaching – while the longer conversation goes on. The fact that this was done in a way which has caused dismay is a source of huge regret to me but that’s back to my first point above.

“The longer conversation is one on which David Porter, the Archbishop’s Adviser on Reconciliation, is to give advice in three or four months, having worked on the task with a well-chosen group.

“I appreciate that some are unwilling to participate in this process on the grounds that they believe the scriptural position is perfectly clear and ‘facilitated conversation’ can only mean an intention to change, while conversely others will be wary because they believe that to have participated in a process that didn’t in the end change anything might expose them to adverse treatment by bishops and/or others. Nevertheless, I dare to ask that we do enter the conversation with integrity and trust because we do need to seek God’s mind and heart, and we can’t do this without all of us being round the table and being honest with each other.

“I also know that many will be reluctant to examine the biblical material yet again. But the Bible is our core authority and issues of both exegesis and hermeneutical method are crucial. Let me be absolutely honest here. I don’t expect that many people will change their mind through this biblical exploration. I hope some might, because we must have the highest loyalty to truth, but in reality I don’t expect many to change their basic position.

“What I do very much hope, however, is that we can get to a point where we can respect the integrity of the biblical interpretation of others. I hope we can come to understand deeply why others take a different view, and to respect that conviction even though we disagree, perhaps profoundly. None of us is taking a cavalier attitude to biblical authority, but thoughtful, honest people can thoughtfully, honestly disagree.

“The task then becomes twofold: to discover how much we can agree on, and to learn how to disagree well on what we can’t agree on. Archbishop Justin often uses that phrase ‘disagree well’. So then the third question becomes whether we want to affirm that spectrum of honest belief or detach ourselves from it. I dearly want to keep intact the range and scale of the Church of England’s theology, and we will be grievously hurt by the loss of any from the richness of our calling and our reach in the nation’s life.

“As you will know from my statement EQUAL MARRIAGE LEGISLATION Dec 2012 I have been very happy to affirm civil partnerships as a positive development which gives same sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples. As that statement says, such relationships ‘are capable of the same level of love, permanence and loyalty as marriage, and I believe God delights in such qualities’.

“Nevertheless I believe that to say that civil partnership is the same thing as marriage is a category confusion. To use a musical image, nature has its ‘theme and variations’, both part of the music, but not the same thing. I have therefore looked for different ways of recognising two different patterns of relationship. I realise that that puts me at odds with most people on both ‘sides’ of the argument! And society has largely gone past that argument now anyway. The issue has become same sex marriage, though some may still want to opt for a form of civil partnership.

“So where do we end up? That’s just the point – we don’t know. The Pilling Report urges us to talk, and although it makes at least one recommendation about the recognition of a same sex relationship in a public service, its main recommendation is to talk and listen so that God may be heard. And that voice of God will undoubtedly be a gracious, gentle and challenging voice, just as I trust our conversations with each other will be marked by humility and grace.

“It’s quite clear that these conversations take place in a wider context of deep sexual confusion in society with everyone making up their own script, and the result is much chaos and pain. We have a responsibility to model something better in the way we handle principle and practice, disagreement and hope.

“As I wrote at the start, I’m sorry that the attempt by the House of Bishops to hold the ancient borders while the conversation goes on has proved so divisive in itself. The train crash was probably inevitable; the only question was when, where and involving how many. But be sure of this – there will be no witch-hunts in this diocese. We are seeking to live as God’s people, in God’s world, in God’s way. And we do that best as we stand shoulder to shoulder and look together at the cross, and at its heart see an empty tomb.”

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dr.primrose
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dr.primrose

“The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.”

Well, back to the argument of we can’t have same-sex marriage in the church because it will cause death and rape in Africa.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.”

It would be interesting to attempt to understand what this means. “There’s a lot of rape in Africa, so you can see why they feel the need to kill gays”? “Africa has real problems, so you gays should shut up and be grateful”? “There’s a lot of rape in Africa, so how dare we challenge them”? What?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“But the Bible is our core authority …” Oh, is it now? When was *that* agreed?

“But be sure of this – there will be no witch-hunts in this diocese.” Straw man. It isn’t about “witch-hunts,” but about how the ban on same-sex marriage will be enforced. Grateful as we are to hear that the ducking stool is out, which courts and legislation is the bishop planning to use?

james lodwick
Guest
james lodwick

As an openly gay Anglican priest I find the Bishop of Oxford’s statement one of the more intelligent ones coming from the Church of England’s House of Bishops. If nothing else the Bishop evinces a strong desire for honest conversation which I find commendable. But I think he is right that society, and likely even the C. of E. as a whole, have already moved quite beyond where the bishops are. The Church has a lot of “catch-up” to do, and we gay Anglicans are getting more impatient about the timidly slow pace, all the more when our brothers and… Read more »

Nathaniel Brown
Guest
Nathaniel Brown

The last paragraph is not bad, and I may be wrong, but all I really see here is regret that things got stirred up, not leadership.

Thank GOD for ECUSA.

Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

Inequality is still inequality. The issue is not same-sex marriage but marriage equality, opening marriage up to all couples regardless of the legal sex of the spouses.

The register office will look much better to many same-sex couples rather than a religious body which insists on treating them as second-class members. Secularism as well as some more enlightened religious bodies win.

A theology written by straight–or at least pretending-to-be straight–white males has many problems.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Father David
Guest
Father David

The Bishop of Oxford writes:- “It was never likely that the House of Bishops would change two thousand years of teaching in a day in February at Church House, Westminster.” Why not? As they were not so reluctant to change two thousand years of teaching in a single day at Church House Westminster in November 1992 when it came to the ordination of women to the priesthood. Similarly they were keen in a single day to hasten the process of extending the episcopate to women when rules were changed to enable the Church of England to have women bishops as… Read more »

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

This is much the most generous and candid of the diocesan messages we have seen so far. Because of that it is also the bravest; John Pritchard really takes a risk by telling us what he is thinking. I am grateful for that. For myself, the centre of gravity in all this has, however, shifted. In time past I might have been happy to recognise the “integrity of the biblical interpretation of others”. That aim leads us towards the “good disagreement” of the AbC. However, I am more and more persuaded that traditional Christian exegesis of the Scriptures, and in… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Jeremy P I completely agree with you and I too am very grateful.

Fr David – you know very well the decision to ordained women priests was not made in a day. The first debates began in the midst of the social changes after the 1WW! It has been painfully, painfully slow.

Father David
Guest
Father David

David Runcorn, I’m sure that you equally know well that the Church has been discussing homosexuality for the past 2000 years and, much worse, the Church has also been persecuting Gays for the last 2000 years.

Stuart, Devon
Guest
Stuart, Devon

This recent Lexington column on the effective campaign for marriage equality in the US may be worth a look: http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21595464-what-victorious-gay-marriage-campaigners-can-teach-others-heads-and-hearts Reading some comments here on TA, I sometimes wonder what’s the objective: actual progress, or a warming sense of outrage at the lack of it? The Bishop of Oxford has written frankly and thoughtfully. Within the collective responsibility of the HoB he has gone further than any other bishop so far in accepting the faults in the Valentine’s Day statement, providing reassurance that he won’t pursue people for breaches of it and opening up the prospect of change ahead. Should… Read more »

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

If African bishops amid corpses and rape are that exercised about a report in the C of E I despair!

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.” This is either a displacement activity or a wilful refusal to engage with the very real and serious problems at home. There’s something almost pathological about that. In either case it should not be encouraged. Yes, the Bishop of Oxford’s statement is the kindest today, at least it takes real people’s feelings into account. Nevertheless, Jeremy Pemberton is right. Being anti gay… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“I know that those holding to traditional Christian teaching in this country speak against homophobia. They have not yet grasped how their biblical position feeds the wrongdoing they say they oppose.” Jeremy Pemberton

This might excuse those unable to link two ideas together without the aid of pictures, but it’s hardly an advertisement for the level of intelligence of the members of the House of Bishops. A less charitable view is that they are perfectly capable of grasping and have grasped how their position feeds violence elsewhere but prefer to appear that they haven’t.

So much for ‘episcopally led’.

Father David
Guest
Father David

A great contrast in approaching this thorny issue is shewn in the opposite responses in what has been written by the Bishop of Oxford and the Bishop of Dorking. It is difficult to see how any progress can be made when the episcopal leadership sends out such diametrically opposed messages. To put one’s hope and trust in facilitated conversations is surely just whistling in the dark.

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest
Spirit of Vatican II

Sugaring the pill? And the pill is biblical fundamentalism? A broader theological vision is needed, not only on this front.

Father David
Guest
Father David

A great contrast in approaching this thorny issue is shewn in the opposite responses in what has been written by the Bishop of Oxford and the Bishop of Dorking. It is difficult to see how any progress can be made when the episcopal leadership sends out such diametrically opposed messages. To put one’s hope and trust in facilitated conversations is surely just whistling in the dark.

Stephen Morgan
Guest
Stephen Morgan

The statement from Oxford is, I suppose, a slight improvement on the others so far, Norwich and Dorking go and stand in the corner! but we still get the manipulative nonsense about ‘rape and corpses’ when discussing the wider Anglican Communion. One wonders what the bishop would have to say to the 200 gays outed on the front page of a prominent Ugandan tabloid newspaper yesterday? The one thing he gets right is that society, (and most of the Church of England) has moved on, leaving the bishops with their ‘quadruple locks’ and their ‘pastoral statements’ floundering in its wake.… Read more »

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

While I deeply sympathise with posters’ anger and hurt at the House of Bishop’s Pastoral Statement, I agree with Stuart and others that many responses to the Bishop of Oxford’s letter are ungenerous. As Stuart says, he has written ‘frankly and thoughtfully’ and has shown leadership. This is an improvement on my own diocesan who reportedly ‘invited’ those of his clergy in civil partnerships to meet him but has refused to make any public statement – which doesn’t show much leadership. What is now clear is the huge pressure that GAFCON and the African bishops are exerting on the two… Read more »

The Revd Dr John Bunyan
Guest
The Revd Dr John Bunyan

A liberal Anglican, I for one agree wholeheartedly with the Bishop of Oxford, I believe he speaks for many in the Church, and I hope what he says will be read very thoughtfully by many.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Am I wrong in thinking that, even the eirenic attitude of the Bishop of Oxford (who has said more in favour of LGBT people than most other bishops, except perhaps the Bishop of Buckingham) cannot hide the fact that the Church of England is more afraid of offending the Gafcon Primates, than it is of seeking justice for intrinsically gay people in its own backyard? I think the fear of appearing to be on the side of tolerance, rather than condemnation – which is what the Primates of Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya seem to regard as the message of the… Read more »

David Beadle
Guest
David Beadle

Whilst Bishop John’s statement may not be perfect (and he is human, after all), I agree with those stating that he should be commended for a real attempt at a gracious and pastoral statement. Still, I was very surprised by this claim: “The resulting letter and appendix is supposed to be a holding statement on the logical position of the House in the new situation, given the Church’s history and teaching – while the longer conversation goes on.” Is this actually the case? If so, why does neither the Archbishops’ letter nor the Valentine’s Day statement say this? Why is… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

I fear that many of the responses here to the Bishop of Oxford’s statement here evince what I can only call an hermaneutic of suspicion. Less euphemistically, they are at times ungenerous, unreflective, and ungracious. I confess I am a little surprised to find myself so warmly in agreement with the Bishop of Oxford. I think the tone of his letter, as much as its content, makes it a very welcome intervention indeed. Certainly it compares very favourably with some of the statements issued by his peers in the House of Bishops. I am prepared to assume that Bishop John… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Anyone who read the statement earlier may wish to note that there has been a change to the link made towards the end of the letter, and the correct 2012 document is now linked. (This was an error in the original.)

The corrected link is http://www.oxford.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/EQUAL-MARRIAGE-LEGISLATION-Dec-2012.pdf

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I think we’re not criticising the Bishop of Oxford (he wrote well from within the context he finds himself), but the fact that African heads of churches appear to be more concerned about Pilling than about rape and murder in their own countries. The questions is what weight the CoE should give that concern when they start the new round of conversations. And yes, we welcome the new conversations, or better, we will welcome them once it becomes clear that they include gay people and are not just about gay people. That nevertheless cannot distract from the fact that we… Read more »

John Wirenius
Guest
John Wirenius

You know, I drafted a fairly long response to this, and then deleted without posting. I tried to give credit where due to the Bishop for his eirenic tone, and good intentions, and then had to stop. Because it’s all too, too wearisome and familiar. The expression of “real repentance” for past treatment of GLBT, and the assurance that they will be loved and accepted. This time. In some unspecified manner stopping short of equality, of course. Meanwhile, equally of course, the violence against them–state violence, sanctioned by the Anglican churches there, as well as mob violence– in Nigeria and… Read more »

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

“Gays, we love you. We care about you. But your very presence is hurting our African neighbors. Look how they suffer so! That’s why we’re seating you here at a separate table behind the potted palm tree.”

I seem to remember a similar line of reasoning from half a century ago that we couldn’t end segregation laws and extend voting rights because of something about Hungarian corpses behind the Iron Curtain.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Jeremy P said, “I can’t accept any more that the different exegetical positions are equally worthy of respect.”

I completely agree.

And yet when I made that point on another thread–that those who cling to biblical literalism need to be shown the flaws in that position–people objected that I was being intellectually arrogant.

Let us be clear: Literalism has immense costs.

We cannot make peace with dehumanizing ideologies–and if those dehumanizing ideologies claim biblical authority, that makes them all the worse.

For the sake of the Church, such claims must be strongly refuted, including on hermeneutical grounds.

Stephen Morgan
Guest
Stephen Morgan

“seeing the Mother Church fritter away its legitimacy in the face of this violence by keeping in with its proponents is sad.’ It’s not just sad, it’s outrageous. I agree entirely about it all being too ‘wearisome and familiar.’ I seem to remember hearing in 1998 about ‘listening to gay people and their experiences’ and here we are 16 years later about to embark on another two years of ‘facilitated conversations.’ Although judging by the latest GAFCON statement there’s going to have to be a great deal of facilitating before we get down to any kind of conversation. And the… Read more »

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

To this American of a certain age, all these excuses and justifications for keeping one population just a wee bit less equal than the rest of humanity sound like “deja vu all over again” to quote a famous baseball player who had a way with words. And that includes the appeals to Scripture.

Arbitrary discrimination remains arbitrary and unjust no matter how finely it’s parsed, no matter how old and revered the text, and no matter whose feelings are hurt.

Jonathan MacGillivray
Guest
Jonathan MacGillivray

I think the Bishop of Oxford should be supported and publicly thanked for writing a properly pastoral letter to his diocese and clergy – so unlike the original HoB document that purported to be such but which in practice was little more than intra-church political posturing. The relentless rise of Biblical fundamentalism is influencing so much of our common life in the Body of Christ so that even reasonably intellligent, pastorally-minded clergy (and bishops) behave in one way with their fellow human beings but then make grandstanding postures on a wider stage. The Church seems to forget that pastoral care… Read more »

Sam
Guest
Sam

John Wirenius – I think it’s possible to hold both positions, no? It’s possible to commend the bishop for doing his best and still to be appalled that he isn’t doing better.

But in response to your last sentence, I couldn’t agree more. I wish the Church of England could say that sanctioning violence and persecution of gay people is also damaging to the Anglican Communion.

Pluralist
Guest

What’s happened here? How is this for being non-commital on the statement he’s supposed to represent?
http://www.salisbury.anglican.org/news/bishops-pastoral-guidance-same-sex-marriage

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy, “And yet when I made that point on another thread–that those who cling to biblical literalism need to be shown the flaws in that position–people objected that I was being intellectually arrogant.” I think rather than “people” you mean me. And I hope I did not say that you were intellectually arrogant for what you believe. The thread then was completely different. It was about how to encourage people in a parish setting to change their minds. It was not about bishops who ought to know better and who are charged with creating the official position of the church.… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I think this bishop captures his dilemma well. What we would say is that had they actually engaged properly with us as we begged, year after year, then this scandal and the humiliation of denying us our full place in the Church would be over. Even now, I understand these facilitated conversations are being planned without us. I am convinced that the meaningful conversations these guys need to have is within their own community of bishops, the gay men there MUST start to find their voice and if they cannot find a safe place to do that within their college,… Read more »

John
Guest
John

I think this piece by the bishop of Oxford is a decent effort and registers the seriousness of the issues with some empathy.

On the other hand, we hear a lot in various contexts, including TA, of the Church Catholic. In this case, it’s time to hear more of the Church Protestant. I very much hope that courageous gay priests will follow their consciences, and personally I will support them to the utmost. I also am absolutely certain – I feel a prophetic fit coming on – that the collective bishopric will lose big on this issue.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.” Here, Welby and Pritchard echo this 2010 bleat from Rowan Williams: “a bitterness and anger arises these days from the sense that someone else is taking up the decisions, just as they always did … that someone makes a decision about gay bishops in the United States and we’re the ones who have to have our churches burned by local fanatics.” The… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Martin,
has it already been decided that the facilitated conversations will exclude us yet again?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“I’m sure that you equally know well that the Church has been discussing homosexuality for the past 2000 years”

No, Father David, I do not “know” that at all. I *dispute* it. I’m tired of this ennui-bedraggled “Oh we’ve discussed homosexuality FOR-EVER” complaint, especially when it comes from those who STILL will not concede ***immutable homosexual orientation*** (nevermind it’s only been conceptualized for ~100 years or so).

Can you PLEASE get it into your brain-pan that medieval interpretations of a condemnation of “sodomy” do NOT constitute “discussing homosexuality”? Please???

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Sorry, if my post was unclear.

My understanding is that the design group tasked to put these together working with the Archbishops reconciliation person is a gay free zone.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Who will be setting the discussion questions for the facilitated conversations and what are they likely to be?

Father David
Guest
Father David

Why not add some photographs to brighten up your T A Blog? Cranmer, for example, currently has a lovely photo of the Bishop of Oxford carrying his shepherd’s crook in front of a flock of bemused looking sheep. A picture or twain would certainly be a welcome addition to all the solid text.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Father David – having a list of questions sounds more like an interrogation than a conversation. More important will be the extent to which people will be able to trust one another to tell their stories honestly and frankly. That is particularly important if people are being asked to share experiences of intimacy which belong to others as well as themselves. What will be interesting is whether there will be space for exploring christian experiences of heterosexuality – first sexual experiences, number of partners, and what becoming “one flesh” means in the context of texts like 1 Corinthians 6:16. One… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Erika said, “The thread then was completely different. It was about how to encourage people in a parish setting to change their minds. It was not about bishops who ought to know better and who are charged with creating the official position of the church.”

I’m not sure that the distinction is valid.

If literal exegesis were rare in the pews, it would be rare in the House of Bishops as well.

Bishops will feel themselves free to cast literalism aside only when they know that the CofE, generally speaking, forswears it.

Simon R
Guest
Simon R

This is probably one of the most thoughtful episcopal letters I have read on the subject. It demonstrates a sustained and honest wrestling with the difficulties. For that I’m very grateful. But it worries me that a diocesan Bishop is so theologically sloppy about where our core authority lies and how Anglicans discern ‘truth.’ We are not Lutherans and ‘Sola Scriptura’ is not our motto. We appeal equally to scripture, tradition and reason – and that’s where the impasse will emerge in any facilitated conversation. The Church of England is no longer of one mind about how you discern the… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

Mark, if there are no questions to be set how on earth are the facilitated conversations going to arrive at any answers?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy, maybe it depends on what we mean by literalism. Do you think – and this is a genuine question, I’m trying to grapple with this – do you think there is a difference between believing in the main myths of Christianity literally without believing that every word in the bible is literal truth? I don’t think that a literal belief in the major Christian stories of virgin birth, incarnation and resurrection is in the same category of reading bibles with “the words of our Lord in red”. But even among those we label literalists people who chose which bit… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Carey is, surely, an Open Evangelical: he passionately supports the ordination of women — to the extent that he called opposition “a most serious heresy”!

That’s been the problem: even the most “liberal” evangelicals have taken a homophobic stance. This is now changing, but it’s taken far too long. Why?

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Um – we Anglicans don’t actually ‘appeal equally to scripture, tradition, and reason’ – or if we do, we didn’t learn it from Richard Hooker, who saw tradition and reason as lesser authorities, though still important.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

My good friend Erika says ‘the real question is whether people read the bible as a tool to wield against others or as an instruction for themselves’. I think there needs to be a middle ground somewhere between these binary options, Erika – don’t you? After all, if the only legitimate way of reading the Bible was as instruction for ourselves, clergy and lay readers would never get up into a pulpit, and the church would never take positions on anything – even social justice issues. Those of us who are pastors are charged with the responsibility of guiding people… Read more »