Wednesday 15 July 2009

Living, Praying and Worshipping outside the box

Reactions to the passage of Resolution D025 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Anaheim have been predictable. They come from people living within particular boxes labelled traditional or orthodox or Bible-believing Christian. These are not boxes into which I fit. Nor do many of the supporters of Changing Attitude, of the Episcopal Church, the Church of Canada or members of other churches that make up the Anglican Communion.

My images of God, of the way in which God is present in creation, the nature of human sexuality, my experience of contemplative prayer, my understanding of human identity, of authority and power as exercised by the church and bishops, are radically different from the way in which the church operates in the England.

Despite ‘Fresh Expressions’ the church continues to be trapped in norms and traditions which represent tribal interests – Calvinism, conservative evangelicalism, Anglo-Catholicism, liberalism, etc. I am frustrated by the failure of imagination and the fear of freedom to risk and adventure which inhibits the church and makes it reactionary and out of touch, not only with the majority in our society but with God.

I find it difficult to respond to Resolution D025 and the Private Members Motion at General Synod asking Synod to ‘…express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America.’

It is so obvious to me that the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England is a good thing. It is obvious that one day, every society will grant full dignity and human rights to LGBT people. It is obvious that the Church of England consecrates gay priests and bishops. What the Episcopal Church has done in passing D025 is simply recovering what was lost in B033 and restating the obvious.

The Church of England is not losing members in this country because it is not faithful to old formularies and to a conservative interpretation of scripture. It is losing contact with society and church attendance is falling because the church maintains prejudices against women and LGBT people and fails to help people explore their innate spiritual awareness. They turn to other practices and new age experiences instead, to older and newer wisdoms.

Those who condemn the members of General Convention of The Episcopal Church for passing D025 and those members of General Synod who have signed the GS PMM are followers of a dying tradition. They look to the past in the wrong way, wanting to secure themselves in old boxes, old traditions rather than responding to the dramatic changes in our culture and seeking to respond to God there.

The majority of people in the UK have responded to traditional churches by walking out of the box. Conservatives believe they have the answer because their congregations are growing. Conservatives are never going to persuade the majority of people that the role of women is different from and inferior to men. Nor will they convince people that LGBT people are less equal than heterosexuals in the sight of God.

People look for spiritual paths which deepen in them honesty, truth, integrity, genuine love and compassion. There are all sorts of whacky seekers around and whacky spiritualities and discerning the healthy from the misguided is always critical. The Christian tradition is an essential ingredient in keeping us faithful to the loving God who has expressed himself in creation and in the life of Jesus Christ. So is openness to the new thing God is doing in creation.

The church, sadly, so often doesn’t get it. Those who become bishops don’t get it. They become enslaved to the system and structures, to ‘the way we do things’. Congregations don’t get it. Individual Christians don’t get it. It is so hard to think and pray, live and act outside the box.

People have been claiming to be in or out of communion with TEC for six years now. The PPM wants to declare that the CofE be in communion with ACNA. Will the motion make a difference to the connection between the church and the majority of people in this country and their spirituality? Nope.

Over 100 members of General Synod have signed the motion and want to be in communion with a schismatic church which is a fragile coalition of extremes drawn together by opposition to the ordination of women and lesbian and gay bishops and to prophetic social and spiritual movements in the church. Seven bishops have signed it. Forty diocesan bishops on General Synod haven’t signed it.

The reactionary groups consume the creative energy of the church and divert attention from those places where the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in creation. Changing Attitude is among those movements which are genuinely and creatively proclaiming the gospel and inspiring liminal people to hold the faith and live sacrificially and passionately into Christ outside the box.

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