The release of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) by the Church of England has caused an uproar from all corners of the Anglican debate regarding human sexuality. Conservative evangelicals are convinced that these resources act only as a stage setter for an inevitable, and unwanted, change to doctrine and law in the Church of England regarding marriage and relationships. Those from the liberal wing of the debate are hurt that more discussion is needed concerning the very real lives and identities of people who are wounded and scarred by the ongoing denial of LGBT+ people in the Church’s life and mission. In the last few weeks, we have seen groups of the conservative defence (the Church of England’s Evangelical Council and Christian Concern, to name two) release videos which are outrightly and frankly homophobic, transphobic, and offensive.
The concern now is that, within weeks of LLF’s release, too much vitriol and hatred has been incited for any authentic and fruitful use of the resources to take place. These videos mentioned seem to offer an ultimatum: do not change the Church’s official teaching on human sexuality, or we will leave. The Church of England is fracturing before our very eyes. The question is, how much more can we do before the seeming unity of the Church cracks under such pressure? And, more immensely, how many more lives of LGBT+ Christians can be broken until the institution of the Church of England itself breaks down?
With primary aims of sensitive discussion, learning from one another, and moving forward together to tackle (or at least learn to live with) these differences, the outcomes intended by LLF do not seem likely nor possible. I address this to those hopeful for change and yet wary of these resources: why should we as LGBT+ Christians and allies engage with people who deny our identities, our relationships, and even our belief and proclamation of the Gospel?
Because we should be the bigger people. Rather, we should be the bigger Christians.
I know many of us are exhausted. I know many of us are hurt. I know many of us have simply had enough. We have heard these words of insult and mockery so many times. We have had to explain the very essence of our being to others all too often. We have spent too long waiting for the Church to act and been met only by silence.
But, if we do not engage with these resources and the discussions available now, then when do we speak out? We are promised a way forward in the next few years by the Archbishops, although I know we have been assured of this many times before. But if we are not here to take a stand, then who will? What will happen to a Church deprived of Christian diversity and difference? I dread to think of a time where our rainbow is not shining through the clouds of our churches and communities.
So, I implore you, please do not give in to these videos of hatred and dubious theology, for fuel will only be added to a fire provocatively lit by others in the Church. Do not enter contests of argumentative bitterness and bile where your voice is not going to be heard. Do not enter unsafe spaces of discussion without considering your wellbeing and welfare. Whereas other people are discussing detached issues of human sexuality, we are discussing our very being, our very nature, and our very selves. Do not forget the impact that this will have on your mental and physical health.
Yet still, I ask you not to bow out in fatigue, disgust, or despondence. I plead you not to leave the Church because you have had enough of false promises and superficial dialogue. I beg you not to remove your voice from these discussions. I want this Church to be richer and more informed by our experiences, even our hurt, and not the reason for our departure.
Not all of these discussions where LLF is concerned need to be offensive, abusive, or aggressive. They can be spaces of flourishing and sanctuary. They can be open and honest. Indeed, they might even be fruitful. We just have to discern where our effort is needed and where it might be productive. Where our existence is denied cannot be one of those places.
We give our stance credibility if we stand in peace and forgiveness. We participate in the work of God of we speak with grace and mercy. We mirror the life of Christ if we simply respond to others, however passionate their views, with love.
Perhaps it is my youthful optimism, or my plain naivety, to ask so much of those yearning for belonging and acceptance in a Church that has failed to provide these things. It might even be the case that I am wrong in my approach of peaceful resistance and diplomacy. But as 1 Peter 4:10-11 urges: ‘Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.’ Perhaps we ought to do the same, regardless of our theological position, as we begin to explore LLF together over the coming years.
See more of Will’s writing at https://willmoore.info/
Photo by Everton Vila