Monday 19 April 2010

Working for change in contemplative and activist ways

In a recent comment posted on the blog, Erika Baker, contact person for Changing Attitude in the diocese of Bath and Wells, posed a question that I promised to respond to: “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?”

Erika said she had decided neither to get involved in futile arguments nor to allow opponents to set the framework of the conversation. Because there is little intelligent conversation to be had outside the a narrow set of parameters, she has pretty much opted out of the conversation altogether, no longer engaging where Changing Attitude needs to engage.

She ends up “just living, just worshipping, just focusing on God and my neighbour” but in doing experiences gain as well as a loss – and doesn’t know how to resolve the paradox.

I suspect Erika’s experience is common to many. Certainly it is shared by some of the people who I was on a 48 hour silent retreat with this weekend at Abbey House in Glastonbury.

I think that living, worshipping and focusing on God and neighbour are not “justs” - they are the essence. If 599 Changing Attitude supporters are focusing on self, God and neighbour in depth and ‘just’ one is engaging in the conversation, I doubt that our work would necessarily be any less effective.

Having said that, I think that being and doing are both important and of great value, but some may be called to ‘be’ and others to ‘do’, and some to both, and some to one or other at different periods of life.

In truth, the conversation about human sexuality in the Church of England is apparently going nowhere right now, especially for those LGBT Christians who experience a strong connection with God, friends and neighbours, and in the depth of their own heart and soul (though possibly they feel less connected when they step inside a church building or engage with their parish priest and local congregation, let alone bishop or diocesan structures).

We are being held by the church in a conversation that feels futile and which many of us are outgrowing. We are trapped in a dynamic which is spiritually and emotionally unhealthy for us and in truth, for those Anglican leaders and the 40million majority they claim to represent. They do not, as they imagine, represent pure Christian truth and orthodoxy. For a start, the leave no room for those called to leave home and family, security and safety, to journey into the wilderness to encounter God, sometimes in agonizing silence and sometimes in the most profound, loving presence.

I am consciously trying out new possibilities, new options for Changing Attitude, at the moment. One possibility is that we have been doing ourselves a disservice by engaging too much with the arguments and obsessions of those who oppose the full inclusion of LGBT people.

Those who ‘just’ live, worship, focus on God and neighbour, may be effecting changes in church attitudes just as powerfully as those who engage in conversation, dialogue and argument for change. I believe that change is ultimately most effective when generated from the grassroots, and not just by the grassroot activists but by those who ‘just’ are as fully and prayerfully themselves as possible.

The path to God in the depths of our heart and soul is not easy. It can be so much easier to live anywhere else but in the present moment and inside our own thoughts and feelings. Those who claim to be right because they lead majorities and experience dramatic growth in numbers and can interpret the Bible more accurately than anyone else are in truth fools.

Without calling others fools (because that would be to diminish their humanity and denigrate that which is of God in them), Changing Attitude supporters have somehow to live where we are, as we are, knowing that we often experience a profound relationship with God. Prayerfully and patiently we can demonstrate our truth and faith to other members of the Anglican Communion. One day, they will wake up, open their eyes, and see us for who we truly are.

Colin Coward


  1. A earlier comment was eaten here...but it looks like this is going through...test.

  2. Thank you, Colin.
    I find your post very affirming and helpful.

    And yet.... there still IS a role for Changing Attitude and I'd still like to participate in an active capacity that goes beyond affirming other lgbt people in the diocese. The question for me is what a more mature participation could look like.