As we approach the shortest day and the heart of winter, I pray that we each may experience afresh God’s love, grace and compassion in the darkness of our own lives.
Often, as a Bishop, I get asked three questions: the first normally revolves around my appearance – having dreadlocks and bare feet or jandals; the second is my view on the same sex issues facing the Church; and the distant third is around my seeming addiction to sausage rolls …
Normally I am quick to answer the first and third question. However I have been slower to publicly put forth my position on the same sex relationship discussion. This is not because I don’t have a view, but because I am slow to enter this discussion for two reasons.
Firstly, I think that although the same sex issue is important, it’s nowhere near the most important issue facing the Church. For example I would have thought the Church’s wrestling with consumerism, materialism and individualism would be equally if not more important. I have been slow to add my views to this discussion as I did not want to add any more fuel onto an already blazing issue. Actually I would prefer to spend my time drawing attention to the issues which I think are incredibly significant for us as followers of Jesus, but which are not being adequately addressed. My perspective is whatever the Anglican Church decides on this issue; we will still wake up the next day having not given enough attention to other issues which I know are also central to being the faithful church of Jesus at this point in history.
Secondly, although I have my views on this issue, I have even stronger Biblical views on how we treat each other as followers of Jesus. Whatever the Anglican Church decides, I am sure that God is deeply concerned about how we do this process, and how we love each other with whom we disagree with along the way. I believe the Bible is stronger and clearer on the need to seek unity and to love one another in our differences, than it is on issues surrounding same sex relationships. As a Bishop I am totally committed to helping His Church practice dwelling together well, even though we may disagree on different issues. That is my calling.
Having made these two points, it is now the time as a Diocese to discuss this issue actively. I am asking all Parishes, in preparation for our Synod in September, to have discussions around your views as guided by scripture, tradition and reason on same sex relationships and the Church.
Please remember we are not talking about abstract concepts – we are talking about real people; ourselves and our neighbours. It is important that we have this discussion – not necessarily so we all agree – but so we are all heard and understood. My hope, as we embark on this conversation in our Parishes and at Synod, is that the miracle will take place where we still choose to disagree but our relationships will be stronger due to the way we have undertaken this process.
In conclusion, I am not asking those who are passionate on either side of this issue to water down your views. I am asking that the way we discuss our views is treated as important as the views themselves. Take the time to listen to each other, listen to where each other is coming from, and constantly ask what is the Spirit saying to the Church.
I am looking forward to listening and learning from you on this topic in the coming months.
PS: I know I still haven’t told you where I personally sit on the issue!