I had a really good conversation with Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream on Sunday afternoon at the University of York when he was taking a break from General Synod business. At least, I thought it was a good conversation.
We tend to meet in contexts where feelings are running high and the issues that divide us are the focus of our encounter. On Sunday the issues were part of our conversation but I felt we met as Chris and Colin, two Christians pausing for a moment to listen and explore our differences. It felt like two real people meeting rather than two campaigners defending our opposing positions. Chris might feel that we always have this kind of conversation. I certainly don’t.
I concluded the conversation by recognising that despite our radical ethical, theological and scriptural differences we are still members together of the body of Christ, held together in the church by God. Chris might not agree with me about the authenticity of my faith but for 20 minutes I felt authentic in Chris’s presence, present as a gay Christian rather than as a Christian whose sexuality is being scrutinised and judged.
Later, Anglican Mainstream posted the story about Greenbelt, condemning it as too gay friendly because Bishop Gene Robinson has been invited to speak. My spiritual director, Henry Morgan, has just co-edited a book with Roy Gregory. ‘The God you already know’ arose from their work together in ‘Soul Space’, part of the Greenbelt Festival since 2000, a listening place and prayer corner.
In their introduction to the book, they write:
“Our work has led us to believe that most people know most of what they need to know about God already . . .
“We believe that if we pay attention life will teach us what else we need to know. God’s creation is good, and life is basically friendly and can be trusted. In our experience, God is not a punishing God but a loving God. God’s creation is basically good, and we as a part of that creation are basically good too, at least in God’s eyes.
“We further believe that we can for the most part trust ourselves, our deepest desires and our instincts. [The task} is not without its problems, but we are made in God’s image, are usually doing better than we think, and have the capacity, under God, to do even better.”
In my experience, this is most significant difference between those welcoming LGBT people as Christians and those who believe either that God doesn’t create gay people or that we are only acceptable to God when we are repentant and sexually inactive.
All that we can desire to know and experience is already fully present. If we learn to trust and to work through our anxieties, insecurities and guilt (feelings often induced by the church) we begin to encounter God in a wholly creative, loving and self-giving way. This, of course, is what grace is all about. Conservative Christian grace, Anglican Mainstream grace, seems to be conditional and hedged about with rules. Such grace has nothing of the quality of grace extolled by St Paul in his letters.
God is present when people drop their defences and allow real meeting and encounter to take place. Such a meeting happened between Chris Sugden and me at Synod. When will groups and Provinces in the Anglican Communion drop their defences and allow real meeting, real listening, to take place with LGBT people?
The God You Already Know – Developing your spiritual and prayer life; Ed. Henry Morgan and Roy Gregory; SPCK; ISBN9780281061556