by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, Member of General Synod and Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation
Has there been a murder or at least death by misadventure?
Has Covid -19 killed Living in Love and Faith?
We are in the middle of a global plague. People we love are dying. We have no idea how resilient churches will be in terms of attendance or finance. Where have our children gone?
Big stuff is going on.
Living in Love and Faith always was ill-conceived. It was attempting to speak into a dilemma that no longer existed even before Covid.
In the reality of today’s world a vanishingly small number of people want pick this scab. It’s over. Living in Love and Faith has died a death and we ‘d best give it a quiet burial.
Last week Bishop Paul Bayes wrote a really moving tribute to Bill Kirkpatrick. Fr Bill actually died three years ago but the deep thoughts and feelings that Bishop Paul expressed were stirred by the TV series ‘It’s a Sin’ which traced the story of AIDS. The cruelty and judgement thoughtlessly inflicted on gay men as AIDS claimed so many lives is agony to watch. Fr Bill walked alongside those who were ill and dying and he listened and reached out, and he prayed.
It leaves you wondering if things have changed. Thankfully that answer is mostly yes. Society is far from perfect but for the vast majority of people being gay is just one of a variety of ways in which human beings are made and even folk who can’t quite get their heads around it because of the era in which they grew up want to treat it as private and personal. They’d rather not talk about it; live and let live.
If you are in sport it can be tougher, but nowhere other than the church is your sexuality open game for public discussion.
Of course there are Christians who genuinely feel this is the issue to go to the wall for, but there is an important piece of learning I’ve acquired as I’ve explored how the church can move into an era of full acceptance. One remarkable bishop that +Alan and I spoke to once he was retired talked about the cost of bringing about change. It had indeed cost him dear in many ways and we asked him what he’d do differently. He reflected that the greatest mistake he made was spending too much time and effort of the extreme conservative lobby. This sounds harsh, but as you unpack it there is sense in this. There are a group of people who live their faith believing they and others are teetering on the cliff edge of hell, and no one can sadly alter the fact that daring to change their attitude to being gay risks tipping them over the edge into eternal fire.
Unlimited discussions around Living in Love and Faith cannot possibly change this conviction -and such Christians will only engage on the basis of proving they are right.
We need to let go. To say ‘so be it.’ It must be pretty grim to frame your faith in a loving God that way.
The time for continuing with conversations which almost no-one wants, as a way of stopping doing what is right, is over.
I’ll name it: Well-intentioned though it might have been (and I’m not even convinced about that) – it’s over! Living in Love and Faith landed in the midst of a global pandemic and turned out to be – let’s put it kindly – a chocolate teapot!
We have always had a way forward. It’s as if Paul saw this coming. Romans 14 is crystal clear. It was the usual bust up about what was morally right to eat. Paul tells them it’s not really the food or the possible idolatry that matters, it’s the judging one another.
As people of faith we are called respect the integrity of other people’s conscience. The key is in not judging -and therefore not controlling. We got there in the end with the re-marriage of divorcees. Finding a place where there is mutual respect of conscience on this matter could be the key.
I hear that it is proving very difficult to find LLF champions for the proposed discussions around the country. Maybe this speaks for itself. I have yet to meet anyone who would turn up to such a group. Gay people themselves have had years and years of generous and self-revelatory discussions. Often they have suffered abuse in that context and it is completely unreasonable to expect yet another round of such nonsense. Most people in our churches have friends or family members who are gay and they simply love them. It’s no longer a big deal, but they really, really don’t want to discuss it in public.
A lot of resource, financial and personal has gone into the construction of LLF. Senior people are heavily invested in it. I get that.
So I am asking for a grown up act of courage. Stop pretending. LLF has died.