Thursday 25 March 2010

Changing Attitude’s meta-narrative

The trustees of Changing Attitude met last Saturday and devoted the final forty minutes to a conversation about what I called in my report to the trustees: ‘Changing Attitude’s meta-narrative’. This is an expansion of my original paper, integrating comments from the discussion.

I would like Changing Attitude to tell a more positive ‘meta-narrative’ and I have been puzzling over this a lot in recent months. I have been searching for something deeper and more embracing than the desire for an inclusive church or justice for LGBT people or ‘back to Hooker’.

Changing Attitude has been habitually reactive or defensive in working for change, reacting to conservative initiatives and defending ourselves against accusations and falsehoods. We are also constantly being pushed into a dualistic dynamic, though this is changing.

I am searching for a focus on being healthy and holy – living as mature people, adult, emotionally literate (Rowan Williams used the phrase in an article in the Guardian recently) in contrast to the sin/guilt/redemption/heaven/hell, dualistic, us and them, Christian/Moslem/Jewish/Buddhist dynamic which we still inhabit.

I have a prophetic urge to move to a new phase, creating a more comprehensive description of what is of essence to us as gay-affirming, inclusive Christians. I dream of a bigger vision to match the coherent conservative sin/redemption account, a theology which I believe to be dangerous for the health and future humankind and our planet, let alone our ‘salvation’. This may be too ambitious, but I am fed up with being trapped by conservatives in a narrative which is unhealthy for people and destructive of creation and human relationships and trust.

Our present ways of thinking in the church are dualistic, based on confrontation and competing claims to exclusive truth, not only in relation to different faith communities but between different Christian churches and within the denominations themselves.

From this dualistic, competitive starting point, I have been challenged to move to a different awareness of God – awareness that God is one and creation is one. Progressive Christians are searching for a meta-narrative that describes the unity of creation and the unity of God. We are striving to let go of the dynamic of conflict with those who disagree with our theology of human sexuality. We can be critical and analytical of each other’s positions but we do not need to engage in a competitive dualism.

Time and energy is absorbed in the futile conflicts over human sexuality. We could live together in greater harmony, harnessing the energy of creation, divine energy, to build communities of cosmic consciousness, gathering those who can trust in their own spiritual experience of the spirit within to work in co-creative ways.

We are in a state of emergency within the Anglican Communion. At the same time we as living in an environmental and financial crisis of global proportions. Both are symptomatic of a much deeper problem, the state of our consciousness, how we think about ourselves and conceive our world. We need to be aware of our interconnectedness and live into a new paradigm, living sustainably in harmony with nature and each other and the living universe, birthing a global culture that will endeavour to bring well-being to every form of life on earth.

The trustees of Changing Attitude are among those hungry to become catalysts for change, agents of transformation in God’s creation. This led us to think about healthier ways to be spiritual, a concept that Western Christianity does not always understand and therefore has difficulty encouraging.

The disapproval of human sexual diversity expressed by church authorities leads to a constricting vision and a negative effect on emotional and spiritual health and well-being. Intuitively, we yearn for truth, beauty, goodness, love, but the church invites us to suppress or repress our innate holiness. We are challenge to work with a holistic model of being healthy that affirms our human integrity. To be a healthy person is to be integrating physical, emotional, spiritual and relational dimensions of health.

In Changing Attitude, we believe that to be on a spiritual path, exploring and deepening our relationship with God, is of the essence. Only then can we grow towards being healthy people, people of integrity.

How do we become absorbed in such unhealthy ways of being in the first place? All children internalise the values of their parents, extended family, school, church, society and culture. Human beings are not free in the sense that we all inherit from our childhood and upbringing an embedded mindset that reinforces cultural and religious values. The process is mostly unconscious, and blessed are those who are gifted with or develop an ability to examine what has been internalised. The capacity to reflect on and explore our internalised assumptions and prejudices is an essential ingredient of the path to healthier living.

Tragically the church tends to reinforce the wounds and traumas of childhood by modelling God as a bad parent who infantilises us. There is a huge need for an expansive vision of God who is utterly trustworthy, absolutely the good parent ‘par excellence’. A good parent God could never do the things the Church does to us: encouraging us into dualistic ways of thinking so that we demonise and exclude one another and those we perceive to be ‘different’. A reforming voice is needed that will challenge the church when it projects its prejudices and fears onto LGBT people.

How do we become more healthy? For Christians, prayer and meditation are of the essence. Times of individual or corporate silence, reflection and meditation deepen our connection to ourselves, each other and God. Meditating opens us to a matrix of awareness and relationships which can bring a new consciousness into being. It helps us become aware of the relationship between our inner and outer worlds, a consciousness which can begin to embody the changes we dream of. Transforming our own attitudes through personal reflection and work on self-transformation are essential as we work for change in the church.

Heart-centered awareness underpins our prayer and meditation, involving both rational and non rational consciousness. Without this there can be no true, just and lasting peace in our world.

Deep trust is an ingredient of heart-centered awareness because trust enables us to take the creative risks which are necessary for a just peace, whether personal or societal. To be hopeful ‘we need to do hopeful things', highlighting the connection between hope and action. Without hope it is impossible to continue to be motivated in the demanding struggle for justice in the church. Maintaining hope depends both on inner resources and outer actions.

Factors which have brought about dramatic changes in our perception of our place in creation include the image of our fragile planet seen from space; globalisation, including the telecommunications and the internet; the separation of sexual pleasure and intimacy from reproduction and insights derived from the human sciences, psychology and psychotherapy.

Many of the deep seated beliefs at the heart of each religion need to be challenged. Cooperative thinking is required between Christians and members other faith traditions as well as those working from a secular perspective. Major global problems arise from what people believe or are brought up to believe. Those which run counter to humanist values of peace, justice and equality need to be reframed.

Religions turn the deepest revelations about holiness and justice into norms, hierarchies and rules. The institutional model of relationships is habitually formal rather than spiritual. We live with a model of salvation which derives from Augustine rather than Origen. A growing theological shift is occurring that many people seem to be aware of, albeit unconsciously. We should try to reclaim and reframe the Scriptures which so often have been used against us.

The integrity and health of LGBT Christian people can be difficult to maintain when church authorities repeatedly criticise and deny us. Our challenge is to help LGBT people realise their vision and encourage their faith in their self-worth and in God who loves and cherishes us infinitely.

Networking is a powerful agent of social change. Change is born at the grassroots and networks bring energy to this source of potentially radical change. The power to forge our future lies with ordinary people, with their inventiveness and enthusiasm, who pool their ideas, resources and energy. This is the new force that is able to re-shape world opinion and bring about change. Networks operate through a synergistic process, and result in outcomes that are greater than the sum of the contributing parts. New and more fluid structures are evolving in society and Changing Attitude supporters and local groups need to be connected locally with those who share our transforming vision.

The process of listening in depth, of awareness, openness, and a sense of being guided by the questions rather than the solutions, become tools for transformation.
Significant seismic shifts are having a ripple effect throughout the Anglican Communion. If we choose, Changing Attitude has the opportunity to seize this moment, a paradigm shift from the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant to Jesus’ ministry of baptism into the New Covenant. Today, society appears to lead in areas where the Church was once the bearer of conscience and creative change.

The new scientific-spirituality paradigm, which is so meaningful to many people outside the Church hardly affects those within the Church. We live in a dynamic, ever-changing universe in which 'everything flows, nothing stays still'. Our work requires us to let go of certainties and be less attached to particular outcomes a greater vision of God and creation.

The most comprehensive and lasting peace, whether in the church or the secular world, requires that 'all the voices come to the table' so that a solution can emerge which does not leave some participants as victors and others as vanquished. Changing Attitude must work collaboratively with individuals and other organizations, mutually empowering one another and helping each of us to fulfill more of our potential.


  1. Well Colin - "I have a dream" - you and I use a completely different language but can I say that that was the most refreshing thing I've read on the subject in a long time. I read of love, kindness and inegrity on this site; in comparison, some of the recent postings on the Fulcrum site just drip with barely-suppressed hatred - I do hope some of its contributors are able to overcome their spiritual sickness.

    Good luck with your prophetic urge and your meta-narrative (whatever one of those is)! :-)

    Laurence Cunnington

  2. We really need to move is becoming self-evident that the self-destruction of Roman Catholic Church and the disgustingly lashing out of "conservatives" in my country that this change is already under way. We just need to be good to one another, and to admit that we don't know all there is to our Creator. That would be a start.

  3. What a marvelous post. So honest and heartfelt, I could actually feel the passion, energy and compassion.

    So much of what you have described, I have also been experiencing and have been describing as a "paradigm shift".

    This "shift" is not easy and quite painful to be honest.

    Well done Colin Coward, you won me over.

  4. The difference between right and wrong...mabye part instinct, part learned, part experienced but it seems rather clear to me in this (I stumbled upon again today):

    “ That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn. ”

    — Talmud, Shabbat 31a, the "Great Principle

  5. Honest, I don´t know how ANYONE can learn personal integrity solely in a vacuum...all the teaching, understanding in the world isn´t going to deliver REALITY and self-understanding without going out and LIVING...that of course may require some bravery and a TRUST in God that I can, in fact, FLY (at live at full throttle) followed by the responsible ability to be able to do some selfsearching along the way and be able to say...sorry, or I canged my mind, or I can do better than that...por favor Dios (Help)!

  6. "How do we become more healthy?" You can begin by taking a disciplined attitude against giving in to homosexual inclinations. Whether you call it sin or not, these are self-destructive spiritually and physically.

  7. Yeah Anonymous, the disciplined attitude of my two homosexual friends as lovers for thirty years is evident in the care one gives the other in the rest home here in my hometown.

    Self-destructive spiritually? As you Brits would say "Tosh". As we Americans would say "Bullshit".

  8. There are exceptions to everything, but it is extremely rare for homosexuals to be faithful even when they've been living together for a long time. As one writer put it: "For twenty years, I thought there was something wrong with me. Dozens of well-meaning people assured me that there was a whole, different world of homosexual men out there, a world that for some reason I could never find, a world of God-fearing, straight-acting, monogamy-believing, and fidelity-practicing homosexuals. They assured me that they themselves knew personally (for a fact and for real) that such men existed. They themselves knew such men (or at least had heard tell of them from those who did). And I believed it, although as the years passed it got harder and harder. Then I got a personal computer and a subscription to AOL. "O.K.," I reasoned, "morally conservative homosexuals are obviously shy and skittish and fearful of sudden movements. They don't like bars and bathhouses. Neither do I. They don't attend Dignity meetings or Metropolitan Community Church services because the gay 'churches' are really bathhouses masquerading as houses of worship. But there is no reason a morally conservative homosexual cannot subscribe to AOL and submit a profile. If I can do it, anyone can do it." So I did it. I wrote a profile describing myself as a conservative Catholic (comme ci, comme ça) who loved classical music and theater and good books and scintillating conversation about all of the above. I said I wanted very much to meet other like-minded homosexuals for the purposes of friendship and romance. I tried to be as clear as I knew how. I was not interested in one night stands. And within minutes of placing the profile, I got my first response. It consisted of three words: "How many inches?" My experience of looking for love on AOL went downhill rapidly from there."

  9. But that is plain daft. Do you seriously think heterosexual online encounters are any different?

    Mind you, quite why I am bothering to reply to something which is clearly a pre-prepared cit and paste is another matter. There are longstanding and faithful gay couples - like me and my partner

  10. "There are longstanding and faithful gay couples - like me and my partner" Indeed, there are several in the UK. Among heteros,about 85% are faithful.

  11. Oh please, everyone, we know that every intelligent conversation will be trolled by a one-track narrow minded Anonymous who always writes the same tosh and never every manages a productive conversation. And we keep allowing them to derail every thread by replying!

    Colin, I share your vision but I do have a fundamental problem. How can you be part of a pressure group created to change people's minds when you can no longer engage in the mind numbing nonsense that is the de facto baseline of the debate?

    A while ago, when this topic first came up, I decided not to get involved in those silly arguments and not to allow our opponents to set the framework of the conversation. The result has been that I have pretty much opted out of the conversation altogether - because there IS no intelligent conversation outside these parameters. It cannot be had. People who move away from the narrow framework automatically move away from the topic.
    And so I end up just living, just worshipping, just focusing on God and my neighbour.... but in doings so, I no longer engage where Changing Attitude needs to engage. I experience that as a gain as well as a loss – and I don’t know how to resolve the paradox.

  12. Erika, thanks for the comment - you set me a challenge that I will try and respond to in a near-future post! How do we do more as Christians and members of the church than 'just living, just worshipping, just focusing on God and neighbour'. These things are of the essence, but your 'just' indicates that more is desired. It's a paradox, and one faced in the context on mind-numbing nonsense and bishops, some of whom who are wilfully ingorant, dishonest and prejudiced.

  13. What is really mind-numbing is this absolute refusal to focus on neighbor in the sense of not promoting attitudes and behaviors that are shortening people's lives by the MILLIONS. If you were to search the Internet to prove the proposition that those practicing homosexual behavior are living lives as healthy as people in general, you wouldn't come up with anything. If you searched it to prove that they are suffering horribly because of this behavior, far beyond heterosexuals, you'd find a mountain of material higher than Ben Nevis! Will you PLEASE wake up?!!

  14. How to respond to Anonymous bearing in mind Erika's previous comment? Ignore him or her? I drafted 2 replies last night and didn't post them. What the person writes is untrue, there is no logic, and if he or she purports to be a Christian, then I don't recognise abusive, dishonest comments as Christian.

    Changing Attitude focuses on our neighbours all the time, in our local parish and diocese, in other Anglican groups and networks, in other parts of the Anglican Communion, in the instruments of Communion and in the different groups which work either for or against full LGBT inclusion.

    I have come to a focus on the way in which the theology which I suspect Anonymous wants to defend habitually creates the behaviour he/she decries - abuse of children in the Catholic church and abuse of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion.

  15. Abusive? Dishonest? It's time you started changing your attitude. All right, I'll address the two concerns you mentioned. The abuse of children in the Catholic Church is done against postpubescent males in 80% of the cases. The abuse of LGBT in the Anglican Communion? There is already full inclusion, except for the behavior, which is a form of slow-motion mutual suicide. The people should be loved, but why should that behavior be affirmed?