Monday 4 October 2010

How to make a difference - but first, examples of dysfunction and abuse in the Church

In my post on Saturday about the existence of gay Primates and bishops I accused the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of being infected by a culture of fear, secrecy, bigotry, intimidation, abuse, dishonesty and collusion – quite a list! I argued that the Church is going to be healthier and more Christian the more it is able to be transparent, open and honest.

I was made aware last week of the dysfunctional workings of the Crown Nominations Commission. Leaks about the deliberations of the Commission have wounded individual priests who were not asked in advance whether they wished to be nominated but who learnt subsequently that they had been rejected. None of us likes to feel rejected, especially when we are rejected in our absence with no opportunity to speak for ourselves.

I also learnt about a priest whose appointment as an incumbent was about to be announced when the diocesan bishop intervened at the last moment and vetoed the appointment – because the priest is gay. LGBT clergy can experience rejection after rejection and never know for sure whether they were not appointed because another candidate had clearly superior gifts or because of their sexuality. These rejections play on your mind – is my sexuality the reason that I have been rejected – again – and this is even more true if you have been open and honest and taken risks. So resentment against the Church and bishops builds together with a feeling that it is better to join the ranks of those who dissemble, hiding their sexuality and their partner.

The corrupting, corrosive influence of dishonesty and secrecy impinges everywhere in the life of our Church, a fear driven by a group estimated in the UK at 1.5% of the population in the latest Social Attitudes survey (though I suspect the survey underestimates the total, certainly in the House of Bishops). Forward in Faith is an organisation in which a far higher percentage of its membership than the national population is gay (not sure about lesbians). It is also one of the most homophobic environments in which to be gay, in deep denial about the sexuality of its gay priests. It isn’t surprising that it behaves corporately in such a negative, defensive way. There is a sickness at the core of this group from its leadership down which denies that gay men form a significant percentage of its membership. Being gay is not an impediment to being a Christian, a priest, a bishop, but in my view, being misogynistic, dishonest, less than your true self, is an impediment.

Let me turn to another example – the presence of lobby groups at the Primates meetings in Dromantine and Dar Es Salaam. There is a world of difference between being present to report on the meeting and to socialise with Primates and organising an operations centre in close proximity or even in the same hotel where briefing papers can be written and distributed and strategy meetings held – with conservative Primates. Ask ++Rowan and other Primates who were present about the corrosive effect of these Primates and individuals from Anglican Mainstream England and VirtueOnline USA on the trust and atmosphere inside the meeting.

What about the refusal to receive communion alongside other Primates or the refusal to attend Lambeth, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion or the Primates meeting? Isn’t this absence a denial of Christian friendship and charity, a refusal to acknowledge another’s humanity? Isn’t this utterly basic to our identity in Christ? Sadly not. Conservatives stay away because those they want to eradicate from the Communion were invited and dared to attend. It’s happening again as preparations are made for the Primates meeting in Dublin in January 2011. These threats are utterly, totally unchristian. We should not be intimidated by them and name them accurately, as actions which corrupt the life of the Church.

Yet another example – I was told by someone who chanced on them that conservative evangelicals in the English House of Bishops meet separately in the course of HoB meetings at which they discuss strategies designed to undermine and challenge the Archbishops and the mind of the House (except that there isn’t a Mind of the House but 5 or more competing sub-sets of bishops). Other groups of self-interested bishops may meet, for all I know, but this developing pattern further undermines the coherence and integrity of the House.

One bishop, not a member of the House, Alan Wilson of Buckingham, who describes himself as the most junior of the junior (no Alan, I’m more lowly and insignificant than you!) wrote on Facebook that he sees the problem exactly and it's not about the ethics of sexual identity but our own integrity as a Church. Bishops are supposed to care for the wellbeing of the Church and any organisation that loses touch with its own values threatens its own credibility. The ethics of lying are pretty simple (thou shalt not bear false witness).

How do we work towards changing this culture of secrecy and dishonesty? I maintain that it is corrosive of healthy church life, together with the behaviour of closeted LGBT people and the impact of lobby groups which are unhealthily obsessed with other people’s sexuality.

Take small steps
There are many small ways in which we can be doing something that changes the dynamic of our church life. Becoming aware, having courage to initiate conversations, remembering to question what doesn’t feel right, learning to listen to your inner voice.

Getting the current state of affairs into a better perspective, ++Rowan, ++John, House of Bishops, General Synod, would be a dramatically significant first step. The behaviour of many in the Communion (independent of their views about homosexuality) is a disgrace which is infecting and corrupting the Church.

Build relationships
Create networks, relationships and friendships at every level of church life – and across difference – don’t allow others to marginalise us in their attempt to portray themselves as victims. It’s more difficult to be secretive, to organise conspiracies and to project onto others when you are in relationship with people rather than in denial of their presence and when you allow a holy light to shine on the encounters.

Well, obviously, for a gay activist, prayer comes first, 7am every morning! Pray openly, reflectively, trustingly, quietly attentive, yearning and listening to the loving, gentle, tender, intimate presence of God in your heart and soul. Trust – trust God, trust God’s infinite variety and complexity and simplicity in creation. Tune in to your own experience of God and trust, and pray for imagination, vision and enlightenment.

Colin Coward

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1 comment:

  1. So all of the bishops of the Church of England are not members of the House of Bishops of the Church of England?

    I guess things are very different here in the New World!

    Of course here in Mexico we only have 5 bishops. One of whom is a certain Primate.