‘Standing on the platform’ indeed! It serves me right for blogging about waving off the Covenant Express – last night, at King’s Cross Station, our train to Leeds was cancelled and the revised timetable offered the delights of ‘extended running times and further delays’. Reluctantly, for I had been keen to see my family in Yorkshire, we returned home.
Ever since I first heard the analogy of the train departing from the station as a description of a community setting out to realise a vision I have been interested in those ‘left behind on the platform’. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that they would not be forgotten by the other passengers, that they would be able ‘catch up’ if they needed to, and that the platform is at least a starting point, but that their reluctance to join in a particular excursion could not be allowed to hold up the entire train.
Very often, in parish life, the people who oppose the vision, or are unenthusiastic about it, can offer a valuable critique, and prevent the community rushing off in a wrong direction. But once a community has done its homework, and is all fired up and ready to go, it should be able to move towards the vision without being inhibited by those who are still unconvinced: their resistance cannot be allowed to act as a break on the project, otherwise one is moving only at the pace of the slowest, which would mean, in the end, stagnation and torpor.
In the Anglican Communion it sometimes seems as if we are being invited to move at the rate of the slowest. The Covenant certainly sounds like that. Jean Mayland, a Changing Attitude Patron, has said many times that if the Anglican Covenant had been in place thirty or forty years ago the ordination of women to the priesthood would probably never have been permitted. The pioneering ordinations to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate by individual Provinces did cause offence in other Provinces of the Communion at the time and might, therefore, have resulted in requests for ‘gracious restraint’ or even ‘withdrawal’ from aspects of the Communion for awhile. Instead of the rest of the Communion being enabled to catch the vision, there would have been a clampdown on this particular development, and a firm hand on the break.
But doesn’t the Apostle Paul counsel going at the slowest person’s pace when he writes about not offending the ‘weaker brother’ over the eating of meat sacrificed to idols; not pursuing one’s Christian freedom if it causes another to fall (1 Corinthians 8)? Presumably such texts shaped the thinking of the architects of the moratoria, and weigh heavily with those who are in favour of the Covenant, but are the parallels just? Isn’t the ordination of women, like the full inclusion of LGBT and T people, more on a par with ‘non-negotiable’ Pauline teaching about the Church as a community that must include both Jews and Gentiles? For Paul there was no concession to the weakest or the slowest over the inclusive nature of the Church – the Gentiles were most definitely ‘in’.
This gracious inclusiveness of the gospel has to be our starting point. Far from the onus being on organisations such as ours, or individual LGB and T people, to make their case for belonging to, and participation in, the Church, the onus is on those who disagree with us, to justify their opposition, which does not stack up either in humanitarian terms, or theologically.
At the moment it is too soon to say whether it is they or we who will be left standing on the platform. We would like to put a break on a train that seems to be heading towards an authoritarian destination where LGB and T people will be less welcome even than they are now; our opponents appear to fear a runaway train that is racing towards unbridled freedom and chaos. It all looks horribly like ‘a train crash waiting to happen’. I hope I’m wrong about that!