Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Not in my name: A brief response to the C of E statement on marriage

I recently became involved in a brief email exchange with my local MP John Leech regarding the consultation on civil marriage and gay people. Whatever one might feel about his politics, John was admirably prompt and attentive. One of his remarks struck me deeply –
‘I am delighted to hear from someone in the church in support of these proposals. I support the plans for same sex marriage, and it's good to see others in the church supporting it too.’
Clearly, John had not been overwhelmed by positive responses from church representatives or members. Am I surprised? Many congregations are absorbed in their own concerns, and many clergy choose silence. Sometimes this is out of fear for their future prospects, sometimes out of concerns about how speaking out might look to their congregations and sometimes because they feel they have better things to do. Anecdotally, I have met very many clergy and lay people who do not agree with the C of E statement concerning marriage. This document is not in their name.

In a complex, post-industrial society, there will be a variety of perspectives on any subject. There will also be differing streams of thought – some more conservative, some more progressive. Intelligent folk will seek to think through the implications of social change. However, the claim that either society or the institution of marriage will be dealt a massive body blow by the extension of civil marriage rights to an excluded and traditionally marginalized group does not stand the weight of serious scrutiny. As a woman who both happens to be gay and a priest I regularly get asked to preside at the civil partnerships (or as they're commonly described by participants 'weddings') of friends. Clearly I cannot do this. Nor could I preside at the civil weddings of those folk should the current law be changed. But I have witnessed how gay folk are just as capable of commitment, love and, yes, failure in relationships as straight folk. And this is v encouraging. It indicates that we are all human beings first, with all the attendant wonder and brokenness that goes with that. But CPs surely demonstrate that, de facto, CPs have become akin to marriage – we talk of' getting hitched', and so on. It is time that this de facto equivalent was made a de jure one. And at a civil level, the state can do this. Some countries already have. And guess what? Society and its institutions have been no more damaged by it than by allowing free assembly for all, regardless of ethnicity, etc.

Sometimes I weep over the Church of England. People sometimes ask me why I stay part of it. God, they say, weeps over it too. God, they say, is not part of its stumbling machinations. But there are too many remarkable folk and, yes, often too much passion, hunger for justice and love for me to leave. And yet at times like these I think of that Hebrew word yasha. (Someone will correct me if I’ve got this slightly wrong – never was a Hebrew scholar.) Christians typically connect the word ‘salvation’ with faith in Jesus Christ. But if we go back to the Old Testament we discover that the Hebrew verb for ‘to save’ is yasha. It is from this word that the name Jesus (meaning ‘he who saves’) comes. Yasha means ‘to be wide, to be spacious’. Its opposite is sara, which means to be narrow, whether physically, intellectually or spiritually. So, in Old Testament terms, ‘salvation’ has to do with having or getting space in which to move or breathe. This space gives the possibility of choice, of growth and development. On these terms, the question of our salvation becomes a focus upon how spacious and generous our souls are. A key question is: am I a person who is broad and open, who is open to growth and change? The extent to which we are on a journey to salvation is the extent to which we are becoming more open and more generous human beings.
            Experience tells me we are all a combination of openness and narrowness. But surely, if the Church of England is going to have a hope of modelling God’s love, hope and peace it needs rather more openness at this time than narrowness?


22 comments:

  1. Great blog, Rachel. Thank you. X

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  2. I admire your commitment to a church whose hierarchy seems often to seek compromises between truth and falsehood. I left it many years ago for one which - although it makes collective statements - admits always the primacy of each member's inner light. "marriage is the Lord’s work and the Lord is clearly marrying gay couples. All we have to do is to recognise it."

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  3. What I cannot understand is the idea that marriage itself would be threatened if we allowed gay weddings.

    Would my wife and I be any less married if it were allowed? Somehow I can't see it.

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  4. Rachel - thank you for your thoughts, and I echo those who admire your continued work for the CofE - an organisation which sometimes seems to work for and against the Kingdom of God in equal measure

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  5. Thank you, Rachel. It's interesting how to people of a particular age and conventional culture it's a no-brainer one way, whilst to most other people it's a no brainer the other. The vast majority of messages I received after putting my head above the parapet recently were supportive of your kind of view.

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  6. Thank you Alan. You are correct to draw attention to generational differences and the way in which we are talking as much about changes in Weltanshauung as specific arguments for and against. Your boldness remains a genuine inspiration.

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  7. Thanks Rachel. Great blog. I hope to follow your example in the future and be brave enough to put my head above the parapet.

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  8. Thank you Rachel. I appreciate your views . I have traditionally been theologically conservative but am appalled and challenged by the way the Church has failed the LGBT community. I also am feeling the work of the spirit in a changing attitude and feeling about both same-sex marriage and the nature of Church in general (the two are very much connected. Here is what I posted earlier when reflecting on today's appalling headlines: http://kneewax.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/face-palm-sex-lies-and-the-church/

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  9. Excellent, consise argument on a subject which, if we claim to be an intelligent and liberated species, should never have been given the amount of coverage it seems to have merited. It saddens me that (some) conservative hierarchial members of the CofE, (as well as in other denominations) find more passion in continuing to base their findings on selected verses of scripture rather than spend the time fighting issues of inequality and injustice and poverty which are all rampant in the country in which they are called to serve - and which the Bible has passages on never mind a few verses!

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  10. Thanks to all of you for your kind remarks x

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  11. Nice one Rach xxx

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  12. Beautifully put, and you voice some of the reasons why I also feel unable to leave. It is rather like the feelings of Elizabeth Longford when asked if she had ever considered divorcing her (eccentric) husband, the Earl of Longford. 'Murder, often. Divorce, never'. I feel just like that about the Church of England. There are days, and today is certainly one, when I could cheerfully wring the necks of several people, but I refuse to walk out on an institution that has been an inseparable part of my life for over sixty years.

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  13. Spot on Rachel, your views make so much sense. I met a Vicar yesterday who said he would leave the Church of England if Gay marriage was permitted. I feel we would be better without some of these people who claim to be doing God's work yet would desert the Church of England at the drop of a hat. Are we a Church for all people are just a select few?? Good on you Rachel x

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  14. Thank you Rachel. I have found this very helpful as I struggle with both the theology of the issues involved, and my reactions to the House of Bishop's consistently poor sensitivity and communication skills.

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  15. Your thinking is so clear and so right about this issue. And it is so important that we people of good faith remain with the church -- as we did with the right of women to become priests. We in the C of E are so lucky to have you in our clergy, Rachel. On Friday I will be 67 and you have inspired me and given me hope that the church will find a truer path toward 'salvation'...

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  16. Thanks Rachel.I wish i could weep - usually i just grind my teeth with frustration

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  17. Your article was very restrained and balanced. I have strong feelings on this issue, but last week's announcement was the first to really provoke my anger, partly because the arguments seemed so convoluted (clutching at straws?). Thanks for teaching me the word 'yasha'. The Church of England has moved a very long way on this issue in my lifetime (so have I), although it has gone into reverse in the last decade. Eventually it will affirm loving gay relationships. Meanwhile too many people will be hurt. I want to be as open as I can to people whose consciences can't support this "new" expression of God's love (as I see it), but I am very unhappy indeed about those who seem use the power of their position to try to shout over the many voices in their own church who affirm gay relationships.

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  18. There will come a time, I am sure, when things will change. With or without fear-full 'protectors' of the 'yasha'. X

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