Thinking Anglicans

Reflections on the Shared Conversations

Updated again Monday evening

Last month Rachel Mann wrote on her blog about Shared Conversations’ and the place of LGBTI people in the C of E.

‘When are the shared conversations starting and who’s going to be involved?’

…I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this (by church standards!) imminent process in the past couple of weeks. While this fact is no doubt a symptom of my need to get out more, my rumination is also unsurprising. Like pretty much every LGBT person who has chosen to stick around within the church I am profoundly conscious of the extent to which ‘we’ have been treated as something to be talked about, as an issue. So there’s a part of me that’s intrigued by the possibility that we might be talked to. Really talked to.

And, yet, the Pilling Report was also, supposedly, part of a process of being talked to and with. As someone who conversed at length with members of the Pilling Committee I’m not especially convinced I was listened to. It would not be beyond the possibility that I might be the kind of person who was asked to participate in the upcoming conversations. (And I suspect there will be a goodly number of people who – as much out of a desire to know what this process will involve – will be keen to participate.) And yet that previous experience has made me suspicious of the whole process.

In some respects it feels like the world is changing fast. The number of ‘coming outs’ recently, including Vicky Beeching, has hopefully left some church people thinking, ‘are there actually any straight people in the church?’ (;-D). However, the treatment of Jeremy Pemberton and the patchy nature of support for LGBT people in the C of E should give pause. As someone said to me recently, ‘We live in a bubble in Manchester diocese.’ It is a place where – more or less – LGBT lay and ordained can thrive and feel supported. You don’t have to travel too far outside the bounds of the city to experience a quite different reality.

Why am I suspicious about the ‘shared conversation’ process? Partly because ‘conversations’ have been going on in one form or another since at least the Consultations of the ‘70s. And yet it’s not clear that the C of E institution qua institution has shifted that much.

However, I am more concerned about whether the conversations will truly be conversations. The notion of ‘conversation’ includes the meanings of a ‘turning together’ or a ‘changing together’ as well as a living amongst or dwelling together. It is a mesmerizing possibility, but given things like the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement (aka The Valentine’s Day Massacre) it’s difficult for those of us who have been traditionally excluded from welcome in the church to trust that those with power, privilege and authority will genuinely place their privilege at risk of conversion, of conversation.

I believe that, in conversation, a mutual conversion to one other is certainly possible and I guess many of us would still be willing to give it a go. But we’d better hope God is around to give all participants a reality check, a regular kick in the shins.

This week Accepting Evangelicals has published A Woman’s Courage and the House of Bishops…. This discusses the case of Vicky Beeching who is a Patron of AE. But it then goes on to discuss the meeting next week of the College of Bishops:

…Next week, the Church of England’s College of Bishops meet to talk about sexuality. They will spend 2 days together with facilitators trying to find a way to have open conversations on the issue.

According to the CofE briefing paper, “Under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, a team of around 20 trained facilitators will support a process of conversations across the Church of England. They will bring the skills necessary to ensure that the process provides a safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed and to keep the conversations to the objective of seeking understanding rather than having any predetermined trajectory. The process will begin at the meeting of the College of Bishops in September where the bishops will spend two days working in small groups with facilitators.”

These shared conversations are essential for the Church of England, but they will only work if the conversations are truly open and honest. That will take courage.
There are many Bishops who support same-sex relationships but have been too afraid to say what they really think. As one diocesan Bishop said to me at General Synod, “Benny, you know what I think, but I’m chicken – I am too afraid to say it!”

There is also a sizeable minority of the Bishops who are gay themselves. For many of them it is an open secret – one which is only protected by the loyalty and compassion of others which will not ‘out them’ to the world. How stressful must it be for them to continually keep quiet or deflect the conversation or sign up to statements which strike at the very heart of their being.

If the shared conversations next week are to move the Church forward, there must be a greater honesty, greater courage, and greater grace at work than ever before.
Women are renowned for their moral courage, and although there are no women Bishops in post yet, perhaps the courage of people like Vicky Beeching can inspire and challenge our Bishops to have a more open and honest conversation next week. It is certainly long overdue.

Update
The Church Times carries a news report on the forthcoming meeting, see Bishop ‘not optimistic’ on eve of shared conversations by Madeleine Davies.

This article has now been replaced by a new one reporting on the recorded interview published on 15 September, but it still contains the remarks quoted below.

…On Tuesday, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said: “It won’t be an easy conversation – more difficult than that on women bishops – but we are absolutely going with this. . . It is clear that the facilitated conversations over women bishops did make a difference in terms of helping people understand each other better.”

He was, however, “not optimistic about the outcomes. Archbishop Justin has broached the concept of ‘good disagreement’. I don’t think we know what that might look like. There is a huge polarity between those who want the C of E to hold to its historic understanding of marriage – and not to change its canonical and liturgical formulae – and those who want the C of E to embrace total equal treatment, expressed in a change in relation to doctrine, marriage, and pastoral practice. Some are looking for a ‘two integrities’ approach – personally, I can’t see the Church holding together on that kind of basis.”

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John
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John

People have to be careful what they say. Bishop Pete is entirely within his rights to say: ‘Some are looking for a ‘two integrities’ approach – personally, I can’t see the Church holding together on that kind of basis’. But he shouldn’t have said it.

James Byron
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James Byron

Personally, I’m glad to know where bishops stand. 🙂

If Broadbent doesn’t support “two integrities,” though, if he wants to be constructive, it’s incumbent on him to suggest a realistic alternative.

He does, I hope, agree that ‘Issues …’ and its attempts to get lesbian and gay Anglicans to suppress their sexuality for life, are unsustainable. That being so, what does he think ought to replace it?

Cynthia
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Cynthia

I think Bishop Pete is right that there can’t really be “two integrities.” That’s a construct that I believe only the English can manage to hold, sounds so polite and respectful in the abstract, horrifically untenable in reality. Already, holding the “traditionalist marriage” position (in quotes because marriage in the Bible is sketchy) position in the established church in a country where equal marriage is the law of the land, is highly problematic. Of course, in the US and in TEC we hold a variety of positions. We don’t call them integrities. Federal, state, and local governments are separate from… Read more »

Simon R
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Simon R

I can’t help thinking, after reading Pete Broadbent’s characteristically candid and realistic comments in today’s Church Times, on the day when Ian Paisley has died, that we should always be careful of shouting ‘Never, never, never’ to the possibility that a way forward can be found. If bitter political (and religious) enemies can find a way of sharing power in the cauldron of Northern Ireland, it gives me some hope that, in time, facilitated conversations may bring us to something more than two integrities.

rjb
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rjb

Both Rachel Mann and the Bishop of Willesden, in their different ways, seem to be looking at this issue as a matter of two irreconcilably opposed extremes. Rachel thinks that LGBTI people in the church (whose views are apparently all more-or-less identical with her own) aren’t being listened to; Pete Broadbent is willing to listen politely but already knows what his opponents are going to say doesn’t believe anything will come of it all anyway. In fact, of course, there is a broad spectrum of opinion within the C of E between these two extremes, including evangelicals who are much… Read more »

Chris H
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Chris H

RJB, I think the attitude of victory or defeat demonstrated in his piece shows the bishop was paying attention to what happened in TEC where it was very much a “winner take all” attitude. The “conversation” was about the straights learning how evil they’ve been to gays and how TEC has changed and they better change too, or follow other conservatives out. I’ve never heard of anyone one on the GLBTI of the conversation saying, “the conservatives are right about _____ and we should listen to them.” In order for both sides to stay together it has to be a… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Cynthia, I agree about “two integrities” being a mess, but what realistic alternative is there? In England, even open evangelicals are, by and large, dead set against any liberalization of the church’s position on marriage and sexuality. They bankroll the church, and can’t be ignored. TEC has, de facto, “two integrities,” which has caused its own problems (as South Carolina will attest!). If the CofE enshrines it in legislation, it might just work at holding the church together, as it held together over equal ordination. The alternative is schism. That may, ultimately, be necessary, but as testified by TEC having… Read more »

Geoff
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‘I’ve never heard of anyone one on the GLBTI of the conversation saying, “the conservatives are right about _____ and we should listen to them.”‘ I can’t parse this: if we’re using “conservative,” as is now usual, to mean “negative on gay issues,” then of course we wouldn’t expect them to say such a thing. But if we’re talking about anything else, then of course gays and lesbians will fall on any side of any issue like any other Anglican. The foregoing phrasing makes it sound like there are opposing blocs of “GLBTIs” and “conservatives”. (Indeed, I know some GLBTI… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“what happened in TEC where it was very much a “winner take all” attitude.” Winner take all? Actually, we call that JUSTICE. Because we have Martin Luther King who showed us that separate is unequal. Because you can’t simultaneously say “yes, we’re all created in the image of God” while also saying “but you LGBT people have to accept less dignity…” It may be unkind to say that “you’re not a Christian” to someone who is a homophobe, but I would like to remind the homophobes that people suffer for bigotry. Homophobia may or may not be unChristian, but it… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“The British are much better at civility to people they don’t like than Americans” Have you spent much time in England or working with English people? I think you’ll find that they are just as bad and just as good as all other human beings. In communication, Americans tend to be more direct. Some of the English I’ve worked with deal with conflict passive aggressively. I do not find the passive aggressive approach any more “civil.” Homophobia is insidious. It robs people of their well being. It is a blasphemy against God’s beautiful and diverse Creation. There is very good… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Winner takes all? We’re talking about perfectly ordinary people who want to be treated the same as everyone else! I genuinely don’t know what people think will happen. Look at the figures. About half of evangelicals now support lgbg equality. The divide hasn’t been between liberals and conservatives for a long time. It is now right in the evangelical churches. We can dig our heels in a little longer or we can find a formula that reflects where the church is at. But let’s not pretend that there’s some cosmic battle against evil going on. It’s nothing more than more… Read more »

Simon Dawson
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Simon Dawson

There seems to be a flow in the CofE towards accepting that the “Two Integrities” approach to LGB issues and gay marriage is the best way forward. We can’t get consensus so let’s agree that both sides are equally right. But is this a good way forward, and is there a proper theological argument for accepting two integrities within one church, or is it a way of avoiding having to address the issue properly. If we look back to equally contentious issues such as slavery, those opposed to slavery were met by many Christians arguing that slavery was perfectly acceptable… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Simon, your example of slavery would hold true if gay equality was still a civil question. We cannot accept two integrities in law. But in all social development there is a period where the old and the new overlap and where both are seen as equally possible moral choices. There is no problem with letting both run side by side in the church until the old is genuinely no longer required because it has become obvious to everyone that it is immoral. If we allowed both options in the church now, we would probably have half our churches truly welcoming… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Erika describes “two integrities” perfectly. Even the most liberal, open-minded evangelical leaders — men like Pete Broadbent, Ian Paul, Tom Wright, Nicky Gumbel — remain convinced that the traditional position is right. They’re not about to change their minds anytime soon, if ever, and neither will millions of other evangelicals. Given that evangelicals pay the bills in the Church of England, they get to call the shots. They *may*, with great reluctance, be persuaded to tolerate “two integrities,” and even that’ll be an uphill struggle. At present, there’s zero chance they’ll be persuaded to embrace what they believe to be… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

James, as Geoff said earlier, people are liberal and open minded about some issues but not on others. The people you name here have all been open minded and supportive of women priests, but they are all completely closed on same sex equality. Ian Paul said only last week that he would prefer to see the church break up than give any ground, and Pete Broadbent has also consistently argued against Two Integrities (which is nothing more than a posh term for “living side by side in tolerance”). That you keep calling them open minded wouldn’t be so harmful if… Read more »

John
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John

I am glad that some common sense seems to have re-entered the debate. But I wonder if it is true that ‘millions’ of evangelicals are sticking to/will stick to the traditional position. If memory serves,52% of lay C of E people accept gay/equal marriage. That figure is bound to go up. It would also be interesting to know what the figure is for those who, whichever side they are on, do not regard this as a church-splitting issue. It’s bound to be higher again (very considerably higher, I would think). So there may be a disconnect between evangelical leaders such… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
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Laurie Roberts

But while the religious establishments, commentators and ‘holy people think it is a shame’, in the real world people young and old suffer.

http://www.thegailygrind.com/2014/09/11/gay-teen-commits-suicide-outed-harassed-catholic-school-officials/

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/church_that_canceled_funeral_because_deceased_was_gay_gets_hundreds_of_negative_reviews_in_24_hours

Will my comment even be allowed to be seen here I wonder ?

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Erika and James, Thanks for you comments. Yes I understand the real difficulties of aiming for the church to officially accept gay marriage. But as you say, we are in a period of transition. If we accept “two integrities” now is there a danger that we lock the debate at a halfway stage, and remove the pressure to go further? Look at Laurie Roberts posting below (15sep 1036, especially the first link). Are we really going to accept that such opposition to gay relationships is a position that some people can hold within the church, a position with the same… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Laurie, you don’t have to look to Colombia and the USA for shocking examples of the effect the church teaching has on lgbt people. Only this week I heard of a young woman who told her church that she was gay and was told she could only be baptised if she promised to remain celibate and if she did not support marriage equality. This may not be official CoE theology, but it is what is happening in churches all over the country, where everyone is free to determine their own ideas of what treatment “God doesn’t like gay sex” is… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon, it’s also a question of what is possible. Two Integrities weren’t invented because we thought they were a lovely principle, but because they were the only way of getting women priests through 20 years ago, and keeping the concept was the only way of getting women bishops through this year. Having said that – I’m not actually sure what “getting through” means in terms of lgbt equality. Does anyone know what the process is? Do we need a 2/3 majority in all Houses etc. to allow the church to change its Canons so priests can marry gay couples? What… Read more »

John
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John

Laurie, We are talking about ‘the real world’- the world of the UK. The things you cite are frightful, but we can’t do much about them. We MAY be able to do something about the church in the UK, where some of the problems (priests who want to marry, priests being disciplined if they do marry, provision of services, etc.) are immediate. The process is incremental – that’s the only way it can be. As for the possible unwisdom of ‘two integrities’ (or whatever), here too there’s no other way. As for Erika’s young woman, one hears such stories all… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

That is terrible, Erika. My heart goes out to her.

And I feel so powerless- she must feel utterly without agency or a sense of a way forward.

I just can’t find this terrible bullying behaviour in the gospel or in Christ in our hearts.

Meanwhile the terrible oppression of poor people and sinful government policies go unremarked.

Imagine a an MP or Minister having to forswear wicked bedroom-tax and other anti-poor polices before being baptised !

Will this comment see the light of day even ?

Will pope Francis show the way forward ?

James Byron
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James Byron

Erika, their minds are closed on this (as they’re also closed on equal ordination, only in favor) ’cause they can’t find a way to read the Bible to affirm LGB relationships. They may be wrong, but if they can be persuaded, it’ll take a very long time indeed. Even if 40% of evangelicals in the pews do affirm gay relationships, they’re not the ones in power, and not the ones who’d be voting through a withholding of parish shares. According to many bishops anecdotally, it would take only a few rich evangelical congregations closing the purse strings to bankrupt their… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

James, if they cannot read the bible in a pro-gay fashion when other evangelicals can, they are not open. By definition. And I wouldn’t be so sure about the parish share votes. Parish shares are voted by the PCC and the PCC is elected by the APCM. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that a hardline view will prevail in enough churches to make a real impact on the finances of the CoE. Especially not if no-one tries to force one view on the CoE but accepts that conservative churches will remain conservative. There is a momentum in… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“In communication, Americans tend to be more direct.”

In my experience the English put a higher value on unanimity for the sake of apparent agreement or harmony. Which of course can lead to self-censorship, pressure for conformity, and the illusion of unanimity.

Certainly the UK lacks as deep a tradition of associational life, public debate, and citizen engagement. Americans’ readiness to build associations was an early and distinguishing feature of the United States (q.v. de Tocqueville), and it influenced TEC’s governing structure.

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

‘Surely we should look more to the positives, because (a) they can be built on, and (b) they’re good for morale.’ Posted by: John on Monday, 15 September 2014 at 12:37pm BST I would very much like to hear more of these ‘positives’, John. I do not what you are referring to – but would like to know. Please start – and keep them coming. ‘The process is incremental.’ It is so slow that people are dying as the ‘process’ grinds on, as my quoted urls show. Others are dying of old age, after decades of waiting, hoping. I have… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

This is nearer to ‘home’.

And in a country with a huge christian history and tradition.

http://www.thejournal.ie/gay-teachers-homophobia-1319137-Sep2014/

You decide.

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

John has issued a challenge for more ‘positives’.

Here we are :

http://thegrio.com/2014/09/11/black-churches-gays/

Is a thread needed, editors ?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“I have lost all faith in the church of england and its bishops.”

All too understandable. It is hard to take the church seriously when it persists in trying to make an “honoured place” for people who discriminate.

John
Guest
John

‘Look more’ doesn’t mean ‘look exclusively at’. It wasn’t a ‘challenge’: rather, an attempt to advocate attitudes that are likely to be more productive. One has a life. There are many demands. I try to help. I also attend a C of E church which isn’t remotely homophobic. There are many such churches. They are better (in this respect, as in others) than their leaders. I certainly believe that more C of E bishops should attempt to model themselves upon their betters. They are playing with fire – and certainly endangering their authority. Many are too stupid or too arrogant… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

Thank you John. That is very helpful, to me. Here is something, both positive and negative -as so often with lgbt things. http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2014/08/mennonite-pastor-under-scrutiny-for-presiding-over-same-sex-wedding/ Here is the dynamic, as I perceive it so often. Someone lgbt or supportive does / ‘puts in’ something real good- and then it is countered or punished, or suppressed by some Other with the clout, to hurt ordinary folk. When I lay out my gay life in its various aspects before Christ, our Lady or the Spirit, I find I don’t get that kick back at all. In God that dynamic is nullified ! Isn’t that… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“TEC has, de facto, “two integrities,” which has caused its own problems (as South Carolina will attest!)” James, South Carolina does not represent two integrities. South Carolina is about schism, and schismatics who have aligned themselves with human rights violators in Nigeria and Uganda. Note that SC has two dioceses and not all in the SC diocese left TEC, but the leader did, and thus the schismatic spotlight. Culturally, South Carolina would certainly top out the list most homophobic regions in the US. The moral problem of “two integrities,” is that the traditionalists are asking vulnerable people to carry a… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Laurie,

Many thanks. We are old Internet friends, are we not? Peace be with you. I certainly believe in grace.

John.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Cynthia, TEC leaves equal treatment to the discretion of bishops and rectors. LGBT episcopalians have no “right” to equality; receiving it depends on the goodwill of others. If a bishop says, “I don’t ordain gays, get out my diocese,” they have no recourse, a situation unimaginable if it was on the basis of race. This laissez-faire approach is what led to the toleration of Mark Lawrence, which led in its turn to the S.C. secession I agree with everything you say about the wrongs of “two integrities,” but if the alternative isn’t viable, it’s the best chance the Church of… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

What Cynthia said. All of it !

especially :

‘the traditionalists are asking vulnerable people to carry a heavy burden, while they carry none’

John
Guest
John

I have to say that I think Cynthia is completely wrong. At the moment, in the C of E we have ‘one integrity’ – the traditionalist one. This ‘one integrity’ produces much injustice and reinforces bigotry. It is, however, to some degree and in various ways less than absolute (many churches, as I keep pointing out, are completely non-homophobic, many PCCs advertise vacancies with wording such as ‘we welcome applicants irrespective of gender or sexual orientation’, ‘Issues’ allowed the possibility that homosexual activity between lay persons might be justifiable,’equal marriage’ is now law, a majority of lay opinion now accepts… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I’m not exactly clear on where I’m “wrong.” John is advocating for two integrities, on the basis that finally including the LGBT integrity would be an improvement. Is that the gist?

It probably would be an improvement, but it wouldn’t be justice for all. And the ones who suffer most are the most vulnerable. But alas, I can’t argue that inclusion of a “second integrity” wouldn’t be progress. It just seems a bit late for those solutions that compromise justice.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“Cynthia, TEC leaves equal treatment to the discretion of bishops and rectors. LGBT episcopalians have no “right” to equality; receiving it depends on the goodwill of others. If a bishop says, “I don’t ordain gays, get out my diocese,” they have no recourse, a situation unimaginable if it was on the basis of race.” Actually, I think that was the situation on race in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s unthinkable now. I agree, it’s messy in TEC, and there isn’t full justice yet. The national policies are almost there, equal marriage is likely to pass in 2015… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Cynthia,
if I understand you correctly, you wouldn’t mind a messy outcome for the CoE as long as it wasn’t policy?
So it’s not the actual situation that concerns you so much, because you say that TEC is also messy and that true justice takes time, but the process?

John
Guest
John

Of course it wouldn’t be ‘justice for all’, Cynthia. But here in England within the C of E we have a specific situation and a specific set of problems. Some of us are trying to achieve progress on these problems, thereby effecting real improvement in real people’s lives: repeated parrotings that it wouldn’t be ‘justice for all’ and consequent strivings for world-wide, universal, possibly cosmic justice are absolutely guranteed to achieve no progress whatsoever.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Erika, I do think that progress is messy. MLK said something to the effect that you can make a law preventing a man from lynching me, but you can’t make a law forcing him to love me. Thus, the first step towards a just church is a just policy. It’s really important that the national church get justice right. But you can’t legislate love, so at the local levels there’s space. Some would say not enough, others would say too much. Beyond the policy level, I don’t quite see how it plays out in CoE. In TEC, we call our… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“[R]epeated parrotings that it wouldn’t be ‘justice for all’ and consequent strivings for world-wide, universal, possibly cosmic justice are absolutely guranteed to achieve no progress whatsoever.” John, this is plain wrong. I think you seriously misunderstand how public debates are won, and how progress is made. We cannot compromise with ourselves. If we ask for 65 percent of what we want, we might get 30. People should be free to demand 110 percent. Cynthia and people like her should put forward a vision of a just and tolerant church, so that everyone will understand what the goals are, and what… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“People should be free to demand 110 percent. Cynthia and people like her should put forward a vision of a just and tolerant church, so that everyone will understand what the goals are, and what the vision is, and how miserably the present Church of England is falling short of it. There’s a word for people who give us a strong vision of how the world should be, and how far it has to go. They are called prophets.” Wow. In the US we have such a powerful witness in our prophet, MLK. He and his family also supported gay… Read more »

Laurie Roberts
Guest
Laurie Roberts

Thank you ,John. I have only just seen your nice comment of Tuesday.

A good surprise, to discover all of a sudden.

I think we must be, John. But forgive me, I have been experiencing memory problems for a while now; and so am left in a tricky position socially. I am hoping for help with it (NHS wise).

Meanwhile, I know God knows.

As we both experience grace then that is Good.