“…so that we may fulfil all things from love rather than from the fear of Him…”
Where to start a blog for Changing Attitude? I have been reading a book published 40 years ago. Having run out of new books to read, I casually opened With Love to the Church by Monica Furlong. A second hand copy has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for years. Monica was one of the first patrons of Changing Attitude until her early death. I have been astonished by her prophetic vision and courage.
I was 20 when the book was published. She wrote soon after John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, had published Honest to God; the Lady Chatterley trial and the outrage of many bishops was a recent memory; Harry Williams was beginning to explore his own faith in his published writings.
With Love to the Church expresses all that inspired me in the 1960s to be a passionate Christian. Monica Furlong articulated 40 years ago a vision which led in 1995 to the formation of Changing Attitude. It stands as a testimony to our vision for the Church of England and the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within our Anglican Communion. Our Communion – we will not let it be hijacked by those who wish to exclude us.
A few quotations from Monica Furlong can set the agenda for this blog. Monica speaks into the present, although she was writing and reacting to her experience of the Church of England in 1965:
“This is the old fear …. that truth will not prevail, that the moral structure of a nation is so fragile that it needs elaborate defences. Christians, it seems to me, have to choose between the safety of ‘morals’ and the danger of love. It is my own belief that Christ’s teaching was principally about the latter, but that if you do teach men and women to love God and love their neighbours then morals take care of themselves.”
“Love must be a process of learning to be vulnerable – to one another, to ideas, to knowledge, to the arts, even to the injuries which the forces of evil constantly try to inflict. It is impossible to love without getting hurt, if only because the loveless may be incapable of responding to love. This is what is meant about taking up the cross and following Christ. Being a Christian means believing that love overcomes lovelessness, though at a cost.” P78
I am a Christian because I believe I have been called by the God who risked all for love in the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. I am called to follow the same path and to attempt in my fallible way to love in as risky, vulnerable and sacrificial way as I am able. The capacity to be vulnerable in love is rooted in my practice of prayer and meditation. No other source is able to sustain such a risky endeavour.
Those who support Changing Attitude and engage in our work through the diocesan groups attempt the same path. We set out to change church attitudes not only towards LGBT people, but to the call of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
We live in a world in which fear is rampant – fear of the economic crisis into which we have been plunged, fear of the destructive effects of Global Warming, fear of terrorism, of difference, loss of power and control, fear of intimacy. Monica writes:
“The roots of such fears which choke love like weeds need repeated examination. Partly they spring from failures in loving within the family and within society; partly, also, from horror of the body and its desires which the Church has done much to encourage. The exaggerated emphasis on the sinfulness of sexual intercourse has led many sensitive people to a terror of any situation where they might lose control. This in turn leads in some cases to a fear of the opposite sex, or a dislike of even the briefest and most casual physical contact.”
“Yet to be comforted, to be assured that we are valuable and important, we need to be touched. We need our hands to be shaken, our cheeks to be kissed, our shoulders to be embraced, with the quick sympathy and affection of friendship or of kinship.”
Monica Furlong reminds us of human needs which are so basic, essential and holy – safe, gentle touch, a warm embrace, a kiss, the intimacy of another body, a person who trusts themselves to us in love.
This is the work of Changing Attitude, the goal to which we aspire. To achieve our goal means changing church attitudes towards LGBT people so that we can be blessed and affirmed for the faithful, intimate, loving relationships we create. Monica Furlong is just one of the many prophetic, faithful Christians whose life and writings inspire us.