What was dramatically obvious at yesterday’s The Big Questions was the astonishment of the audience of mainly younger people sitting around me to the views of the guests who were representing conservative, orthodox Christian views.
The guests included Canon Beau Brandie, a member of Forward in Faith who claimed that he was being forced out of the Church of England, that to be valid, sacraments require the right sort of people to do the right sort of thing with the right words and that women bishops are endangering our mortal souls.
Lorna Ashworth, an evangelical lay member of General Synod, said that as Christians we should live according to God’s created order. Lorna said that our primary aim isn’t to keep people happy but to call people to faith in Jesus Christ and people would come to church if we did that.
Peter Norris, a young Presbyterian member of Christian Concern, said God wrote the Bible through human authors and went on to outline a very traditional view of creation in which Adam was alone in the world and pre-existed Eve.
Cristina Odone, a Roman Catholic, said that the campaign for civil partnerships in church would force vicars or priests to marry gay couples.
Peter Owen-Jones, a broadcaster and Church of England priest, said that 90% of the public are watching in amazement at the ideas and theology being advocated by the conservatives in the debate and that certainly chimes with my experience.
These two issues, the place of women and the place of LGBT people in the Church, are, say conservatives, threatening to divide the Church. Further claims are made:
That the Church is driving people like Canon Beau Brandie out. That isn’t true – the Canon may choose to leave and join the ordinariate in the Roman Catholic Church, which begs the question, if the Roman Church is the true Church in which he would feel more at home, why not become a member now. Peter Owen-Jones described the Church of England as a work in progress, a continually developing church, and that’s certainly true to my experience.
Other claim that changes in the law regarding civil partnerships are going to force priests to conduct civil partnerships or gay marriage in church. Again, this simply isn’t true, and the government and those of us campaigning for change, including Peter Tatchell who was on yesterday’s panel, are clear that this will be a matter of conscience.
Then there’s the claim that more people would come to church if it returned to ‘traditional’ roots and a more ‘Biblical’ approach to Church teaching – having the right people do the right things.
The young people in the audience were truly astonished by these views. The Church is never going to attract a generation which is much more intuitively aware of moral and ethical values and still fall in love and longing to meet the right partner and form a committed relationship, whether that is same or opposite sex.
This generation may be wrong in its belief systems and ideas about God and the Bible but it has very clear, thoughtful views and it may be that God is as present in their ideas about the world, global events, human sexuality and intimacy, and gender stereotypes, as in the conservatives/traditionalists who claim the authority to determine what God rules.
I think God would be a whole lot happier (to anthropomorphise her for a moment), to see the church loosen its desire to judge people and count them in or out and pour her energy and wisdom into nurturing people’s natural spirituality, desire to love and be loved and serve one another in ways that are just and true.