Posted in Church of England, Living in Love and Faith

Living in love and faith – and peace, with justice

Along with a number of episcopal colleagues, I have been sent a letter recently concerning the Living in Love and Faith process on which the Church of England has just embarked.

The letter comes in response to the video produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council, and released on the same day as the LLF materials, and also to a video produced by the group calling themselves Christian Concern. Suffice to say of Christian Concern that I do not wish to associate myself with them even so far as to link with their video, and I will not discuss it further. The letter writers, along with many others, are deeply distressed by the videos, and I fully understand why. The CEEC production sets out an uncompromisingly conservative view of sexual ethics, and includes discussion of possible schism within or from the Church of England if its teaching were to include further recognition of same-sex relationships.

The LLF resources have been produced to “encourage and enable engagement and learning”. It seems to me that the CEEC production has taken up one of the possible range of meanings of the word “engage”: to engage the enemy, to begin the battle. Viewing the video, it feels to me like a call to arms. That is not the sort of engagement that the LLF process is about. It seems quite reasonable to me that those who identify as LGBTIQ+ should feel as if they are under attack. CEEC’s attack may be couched in polite terms, but it clearly invites its viewers into combat – and where there’s a battle, there’s an enemy, even if you don’t name them directly.

So what happens next? There has been a pre-emptive attack, a theological initial salvo: how to respond? The writers of the letter seem to me to be trying to enlist to their side. I think they’re going about things the wrong way.

Firstly, and speaking personally, this feels more like the press gang than an invitation from friends. The letter sets up a binary choice: either publicly declare that you agree with our position, or we’ll walk away from the process. But you don’t build an alliance by making a public challenge to a certain group of people to join with you – or else. That’s important not just for me personally, but because it leads to the second, much more fundamental problem. By looking to recruit to its side in this way, the writers of the letter are accepting the terms of the debate on the grounds that the CEEC video proposes. Everyone is either an ally or an enemy in the battle to be fought: the question is who has the strongest army.

Enough of the military language: I will not be recruited, because I refuse to see this process as a fight. LLF invites us to listen to one another at depth, to hear each other’s stories as well as sharing our understandings of scripture and tradition and contemporary society. To take all of this and let it become a battleground would be a tragedy – more than that, it would be a sin.

What I will do my best to achieve is this: I will try as hard as I can to keep the LLF space safe for all. LGBTIQ+ people are much the most vulnerable, so I will particularly try to ensure that they are able to participate in this process to the full. That will involve listening to the voices of those who are not as safe, privileged or powerful as I am, and using what power I have to remove barriers that might prevent them speaking confidently for themselves. It will involve being mindful of the intersection of safeguarding and safety. I will call out the language of conflict, or of other abuses of power, wherever I see it, and seek always to bring our conversations back into the place that LLF has tried to create: one in which we are living together in love and in faith, seeking as God’s people together to discern the movement of the Spirit.