by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury and Vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea
As I write, we are preparing to meet at General Synod for the last time before the elections this summer. Everyone is acutely aware that, among the ‘to do’ items for the incoming General Synod in November, will be the “what next” for the Living in Love & Faith Project. Across the church, people will be preparing to stand and vote with their view about how far the Church should go in respect of its inclusion of LGBTI+ people.
Like many readers of this blog, I have read the distressing and harrowing stories provided by numerous contributors in the past few weeks. Because of my national role, I get approached by individuals with similar stories of pain, rejection and cruelty at the hands of other Christians. These sources of information convince me that, whatever else may or may not change in the coming years, we must take to heart the words of Bishop Sarah from this week’s earlier blog and address the issues of coercion, secrecy, harm and control. If we don’t, the Church of England will continue to be perceived as being on the side of abuse and maltreatment, rather than with the Lord who brings good news to the poor and comforts the broken-hearted.
So far, so good. But this article is aimed directly at those of you who read these articles, nod in agreement, share them on Facebook, and think that is enough. To the keyboard warriors out there, it’s time to act.
This Tuesday past I was able to see the first two episodes of a fascinating documentary series on BBC4 called Philly D.A. In 2017, Larry Krasner, a progressive, reforming human rights lawyer, managed to get himself elected to the most powerful offices in the City of Philadelphia, the District Attorney, responsible for prosecutions in one of the most divided, crime-ridden cities in the US. Since then he has set about dismantling a system that, while seeking to protect the public by sending more and more people to prison, at the same time caused immense suffering for the most marginalised communities, mainly poor, young black people. Having spent a career on one side of the court room, defending people, he realised it was time to try and change the system by getting himself elected. Taking on vested interests, including some extremely wise, sensible people who had been moulded by the system and worn down by ‘the way things are’ into accepting its culture of casual cruelty, he has found himself with the power and ability to start again. It will prove fascinating to see how things turn out in the remaining episodes.
Some of us who have been battling on, seeking to change the culture of the Church of England, feel worn down by it. Maybe we have become a little too comfortable in accepting that ‘the way things are’ is acceptable, or explainable. What we need, at least those of us who feel that the Church of England still has a future in being a vessel for the good news of Jesus Christ, is some more Larry Krasners, some more people fired by righteous anger, a new infusion of energy from those who are not yet worn down. We need people to serve on General Synod who are committed to changing the status quo, and all the negative cultural things that Bishop Sarah mentions, which prevent everyone who wants to belong to our church from flourishing, including I would want to say those who are conservative on sexuality matters.
There will of course be others who will be invested in keeping things the way they are. They are extremely well-motivated to stand and serve our church on General Synod. But, without people who want to change the church standing for election to in the coming weeks, it is almost inevitable that things will remain the same, including the likelihood of yet more fudge emerging from Living in Love & Faith.
For what it’s worth, despite the persistent cynics, I think the emerging vision for the Church of England – Simpler, Humbler, Bolder – offers a real chance for culture change. I know that we now have two Archbishops who long for it. But they, and all of us seeking re-election for Synod, need allies to encourage them and critics to hold their feet to the fire.
As Krasner himself says, “Ultimately if you never break down the wall, you may have to go through the door, because there’s stuff going on on the inside that is hard to fix from the outside.”
Stand for General Synod: we need you on the inside!
If you would like more information about how to stand for General Synod in your Diocese, please visit www.inclusivesynod or email email@example.com