“Perhaps loss is the price we pay for being human, for being beautifully fragile. In order for us to be human, things must change, things will and must get lost; we have to lose them in order to have new life and new possibilities.”
“In Jesus Christ, God embraces a human life and shows us – in the dark night of rejection, of unjust violence, of the loss of his friends as they run away, and most particularly in the Cross – the mystery of hope and love. And most of all of forgiveness. In the loss of one human life, lived out in love, lies the hope of new life and the fullness of forgiveness.”
These quotes come from Dazzling Darkness: Gender, sexuality, illness and God by Rachel Mann. Rachel is a transgender priest in the diocese of Manchester. She writes about her search for her authentic self in the company of the Living God, dying many ‘deaths’ in the process.
For Rachel and for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, there is a need to interrogate the easy Christian assumptions that legitimate a certain way of talking about God – male, fatherly, monarchical. Rachel has been able to explore with a greater freedom what God might look like to an ‘unconventional creature’.
Yesterday’s debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in Parliament was in part a drama of people acting out many different roles and assumptions. Conservative backbenchers, sustained by the report from ‘The Church of England’ which had the full support of ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury’ acted out a drama of fear, loss and change. They wanted to protect, preserve, and avoid change, doing exactly the opposite of the path taken by Jesus Christ. This is really, really bizarre, I thought, as I sat through 6 hours of debate. This group seemed singularly lacking in the greater freedom to explore what God might look like to unconventional creatures.
[I need to put ‘Church of England’ and ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ in inverted commas because it is now clear that they do not speak for the Church of England but from the limited world of ideas and thinking to be found among some inhabitants of Church House, Lambeth Palace, General Synod and conservative lobby groups]
On government and opposition benches, other MPs, many of them gay, spoke in support of the Bill with calm courage and truth and from experience honed from personal loss and fragility.
It’s a bizarre scenario. The Conservative party secures the future of an equal marriage bill with the support of the Labour party by defeating their party’s own dissident MPs who are supported by what claims to be ‘The Church of England’.
Fear of change is what characterises opposition to the full inclusion of women and LGB&T people in the Church of England. People are afraid of change and afraid of losing something which for them is an essential of their faith and of God’s ability to accept them or relate to them. Some fear contamination of the male episcopate by contact with women, others fear contamination of the priesthood by men who have sex with other men and women who have sex with women (to put it bluntly).
They fear when the message of the Bible is the opposite. Jesus repeatedly says, Fear not! Do not be afraid! Our Church is contaminated with fear, among other things. Fear makes the Church anaemic, draining Anglican life of energy and conviction.
The Church of England as an institution and many individual members of the Church live with an idealised model of marriage which bears little relationship to reality past or present. The constructs of marriage in history and in British society today do not support the fairy-tale view of monogamy, fidelity, child bearing and rearing which should indeed be the qualities of a holy, Christian marriage. Many straight and gay couples embody these virtues – gender complementarity is not an essential requirement for a holy marriage.
Behind all this ‘Church of England’ thinking lurks a small god who is going to be annoyed and upset and possibly angry at the damage we ‘revisionists’ are doing to HIS rules for marriage and sexual activity.
David Cameron was rescued by Ed Milliband’s willingness to walk through the same lobby to secure equal marriage. What of the Church of England? I think it had a dire day.
I’ve no doubt many Christians have a genuine belief, theologically underpinned, that same-sex marriage is impossible in the eyes of God.
Others believe that same-sex marriage will undermine the marriages of heterosexuals or even destroy marriage as a religious and social institution. Doom, doom, we’re all doomed.
Yet others know that same-sex marriage will make some relationships in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion difficult.
And what of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in general and Anglicans in particular? What of those who are faithfully partnered or dream of being partnered or who enjoy the company of same-sex partnered friends?
One of the messages that came through yesterday’s debate was that the Church needs special protection. From what? From God, from reality, from the love of a man for a man and a woman for a woman?
What would happen if those who fear same-sex marriage let go of their fears? What is it they really fear – their own latent sexuality and the intimacy that might follow?
I believe Rachel Mann’s wisdom, gathered through a life of acute risk and change, reflects authentic Christian truth. Loss is the price we pay for being human, for being beautifully fragile. We are here to change and grow into the True Selves God has created us to be. In order for us to be fully human, to become our true selves, things must change, things will and must get lost; we have to lose them in order to have new life and new possibilities.