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  • Helen and Mike

Damned if you do and damned if you don't

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

The biggest story of the week, from Northern Syria and Turkey, demands action not words – and we encourage all our readers to give what they can.

But there’s a story of another less obvious and more invisible need this week which affects friends of ours. Yesterday, after a six-year process of study and group work called ‘Living in Love and Faith’(LLF), the Church of England (C of E) synod voted to bless same-sex relationships after civil marriages – with majorities among bishops, clergy and laity – 86%, 56% and 52% respectively.

Two leading evangelical churches in London, All Souls, Langham Place and St Helen’s Bishopsgate, have paused payment to their Diocesan fund pending the outcome of the decision describing the proposals as abandoning ‘confidence in God’s word’. GAFCON (Global Anglicans Future Conference) representing Anglicans in the Global South hold similar views, even questioning the suitability for his position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. They argue that the church cannot bless what the Bible curses.

This week, outside the gates of Lambeth Palace, Welby’s official residence, there was a candle-lit vigil seeking full marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people. In Parliament there were MPs calling for the Church of England to ‘wake up’, threatening to remove the Church’s legal right to govern itself. Outside Parliament the humanist broadcaster and comedian, Sandi Toksvig, has begun a process aimed at the removal of 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for C of E bishops.

Welby has issued an apology to LGBTQ+ people for the hurt which the Church has inflicted on them. He has met with Toksvig and made other conciliatory moves, but the rift remains. He faces an ongoing impossible choice between holding the world-wide Anglican communion together on the one hand, and ending the long-standing discrimination against gay couples by a church which has always taught that all are equal in the sight of God.

Western critics say that unless the Church changes its position, its congregations will continue to haemorrhage their members and the Church will edge further towards irrelevance. In the Global South, where the majority of the world’s Anglicans live, it is held that changing the approach to single-sex relationships is a ‘moving away from biblically faithful preaching and teaching’ and destroying their ability to make ‘a clear witness to Jesus Christ in all the world.’

Welby did not actually say the words, ‘Damned if we do and damned if we don’t’ but it seems a fairly apt summary of the Synod verdict.

While our sympathies are strongly with the LGBTQ+ community, we recognise the complexities of the theological and ecclesiastical situation. And nobody knows these complexities better than Justin Welby. Beginning in Coventry Cathedral twenty years ago he has invested his life tirelessly in the business of developing reconciliation processes not only within the church but in conflicts all over the world. Who knows? Maybe without LLF- not perfect but a serious and thoughtful process led by reconciliation specialists within the church, the rift in the Church of England would be greater still.

As long as people struggle for power, there will be conflict. As long as religious people refuse to recognise that the difficulty of living with deep difference comes from the human heart and continue to elevate their own prejudices into ‘the will of God’, there will be religious conflict. The willingness and ability to be truly attentive to each other is vital to any reconciliation process, vital to the well-being of our society. It is discomforting to sustain such tensions within ourselves. Not easy to go beyond our eagerness to tell our own story and be fully attentive to the person who is in front of us.

Ask any LGBTQ+ person and they will confirm, sometimes through tears, that getting this sort of non-judgmental attention is rare. Real reconciliation starts here.

Image: Getty from The Times

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