Tomorrow morning (27/01/2017) the Church of England is due to hold a press conference. Among the anticipated items is a briefing on what the House of Bishops will bring before General Synod in February by way of reflections on the recent Shared Conversations process around sexuality.
Truth is, almost no one is expecting anything especially scintillating to emerge from that briefing. The smart money has been on a proposal to remove the requirement that priests in same-gender relationships assure their bishop that their relationship is celibate. Instead, a version of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ system that used to apply in the US Military looks like being proposed.
There is no expectation of a pastoral accommodation towards allowing the blessing in church of same-sex relationships, let alone seeking to change the law to allow same-sex marriage in church.
Anyone who has followed this blog will know that I’ve been quite quiet for a while. Partly that’s because I’ve been busy, partly it’s been for the sake of not allowing myself to be stereotyped or reduced to a perception that I’m nothing more than a campaigner (‘Oh, that Rachel Mann…all she goes on about is sex, blah…’).
Equally, when I’ve written something regarding sex and sexuality I’ve sought to combine challenge with a self-consciously eirenic approach.
Tomorrow we’ll know a bit more clearly about the C of E’s short-term ‘direction of travel’ on matters of sexuality. I’m sure I’ll have more to say, once the official briefing is out there.
For now I feel moved to acknowledge something which has only hit home today.
I’ve spent the past few months thinking, ‘It’s ok. I’m ok. I can handle the knockbacks and insults regarding my status as a gay person of faith and priest.’ I’ve thought, ‘Remember – the curve of history is towards justice…’ I’ve sought to be gracious even when people have traduced me and friends and colleagues.
Equally, I acknowledge that I have few things to complain about. I have a job and a home and friends and family. I have known what it is to love and be loved. (Hell, I even have a new book coming out and it’s not about sex.) I know that even though I make many mistakes as a priest and human being and am one of God’s more bewildered children, I’ve been fortunate enough to have encountered grace abounding.
But…earlier today, as I walked home from the tram, I was stunned to find myself with tears running down my cheeks. While it’s very cold, they weren’t just the tears you cry when it’s cold.
On the tram, I’d been reading social media posts from Christian LGBT friends, allies and colleagues as they tried to prepare themselves for tomorrow’s news. I’d been struck by the fears of many and the dignity of others, and way some people were already gearing up to head into trenches of the sexuality wars.
But most of all I was struck by how the Bishops’ pronouncements aren’t simply a matter of theology or ideas or doctrines of salvation, but directly impact human beings. They affect ordinary human beings’ hunger for their faithful relationships to be celebrated and for their humanity to be cherished within an institution that talks endlessly about God’s love.
And I cried because I feel that hunger too. And I am dog-tired of being seen as second-class or welcome under sufferance.
And if I am ever partnered again I don’t want that relationship to be treated as so shabby that it’s tolerated under sufferance. I want to celebrate that relationship with friends, family, church, heck, even a bishop or two. I want to rejoice in God’s blessing of faithfulness and love and hope. I want to rejoice in the presence of God, not to skulk around at the margins.
I want the faithfulness of LGBT people’s relationships to be celebrated and cherished in God’s House. Life is hard enough without glimpses of glory and celebration. I often say to people who come to church (words to the effect), ‘Welcome, you are home.’ I believe that. Church can and should be the place we are our fullest selves in the presence of the Living God. But what does that really add up to when we offer crumbs to LGBT people?
God’s grace, of course, is infinite. Ours is finite. But tonight I feel at the limit of grace. I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow.
I – like so many LGBTI sisters and brothers of faith – have become accustomed to crumbs from the institution’s table. If the rumours regarding the proposals prove to be accurate, I fear those crumbs will feel like dust in the mouths of the hungry.