by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, Member of General Synod and Chair of One Body One Faith
What was your ‘lockdown box set binge’? The answer to that question depends on whether you worked throughout it or found yourself with time on your hands. One show which many of my friends watched and is on my list to catch up with is Schitt’s Creek.
This Canadian comedy show has recently scooped nine prizes at the 2020 Emmy Awards, a record for the most wins in a single season for a comedy show. I won’t provide any spoilers, especially as I have yet to see the show myself, but I did recently discover something fascinating about the show. It is something quite revolutionary for a TV show and is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The show’s creators decided not to depict homophobia at all. The gay couple in the show are set up as the most normal thing in the world where everyone clearly wants them to succeed as a couple. This is not just about being inclusive, it is starving the darkness of homophobia of oxygen and focusing instead on a loving relationship, irrespective of gender. Those who would seek to attack LGBT+ people want attention and the creators of the show denied them that. How refreshing, how loving, how Christ like.
As a parent and a teacher, I know that you get the behaviour you give the attention to. If I spent all my time telling children off for bad behaviour, then they were getting attention and so the bad behaviour continued and even escalated. If my attention was focused on the good behaviour, then invariably I got more of that. I expected good behaviour and for most of the time I got it. There is something very powerful about where we put our attention.
As a Christian minister I am not surprised by that – it is there in the baptism service which I am so familiar with. Parents and Godparents are asked the following set of questions:
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
Answer I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
Answer I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
Answer I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
Answer I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
Answer I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
Answer I come to Christ.
It is essentially about where you put your focus. It is about turning away from darkness and evil and turning to Christ the light of the world and source of love. It is about turning away from homophobia, transphobia and all hatred and fear and turning towards the unconditional love of the God who created, affirms, and calls all people.
As Chair of OneBodyOneFaith I am proud that as an organisation we have resolved to campaign positively. We will call out the church where it is needed but we refuse to be trapped as victims of this hatred. We will not wait passively as we hear the endless stream of hand wringing empty apologies and delaying tactics, but we will get on with being the people of God in the world.
The Church of England is embarking on a ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project. I want it to bring about lasting change and I was encouraged by the Pastoral Principles which were published fairly early on. However, if I am honest I have very little, if any, hope that it will change anything. I will engage with it because it is the only option for members of the Church of England like myself, but my trust that there is any serious intention behind it is gone. If I am really honest I am really rather embarrassed that we are even having to do it when most of those outside of the church have done this thinking and moved on in an inclusive and affirming direction.
My focus is not on another time consuming exercise which continues to deny LGBT+ people a place, my focus is the many churches around the country where I see light and love, where Christian communities are living out their faith in a loving God and including LGBT+ people. The places where gifted and skilled LGBT+ ministers live out their vocation. The places where LGBT+ Christians are creating new ways to be a community and to worship God. Groups such as Open Table, Space to Be, Two:23 and Sacred to name but a few of these fresh expressions of the church serving a range of people interested in finding out about and expressing their faith in the God of love they encounter in the person of Jesus Christ. People who are no longer living in fear of the church or waiting for scraps from the table. People who recognise they are not disordered or sick or sinners but wonderful children of God, created in God’s image and called to live out their faith in new and exciting ways – engaging with people who have given up on the church and those who have never given it any credence before.
We are no longer asking for permission to join, no longer cowering in the shadows scared of revealing our true selves for fear of church condemnation. We are already part of the church, we are in churches faithfully serving and being included, we are changing hearts and minds, we are establishing new ways of being Christian communities which more accurately reflect the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. The Church has fallen way behind, and I fear that ‘Living in Love and Faith’ will only drag it yet further back. There is a revolution happening already as faithful followers of Christ focus on the light and not the dark, on love and not hate. That is where my focus will be.