Is the Church of England going to help people become who they truly are?

Because I’m the Director of Changing Attitude, I’ve felt it necessary to be circumspect about revealing too much about my experience of God. I have been worried in the past that I would be pounced on and attacked by those fundamentalists who believe in a very literal God. In the US the literalists denounce people who think about God in the way I do with intense venom on web sites such as VirtueOnLine and Stand Firm. I didn’t particularly want to be on the receiving end of their venom.

But as is obvious to those who read this blog, I have become far more open in writing about what I truly believe over the last two years. Yet even now, it can be easier to let someone else voice what I really think and believe. So I’m turning for a second time this week to Rachel Mann (and I hope I’m not stealing too much from you, Rachel, or embarrassing you too much!). I’m continuing to read Dazzling Darkness and today came upon passages that put into words ideas that in the context of the Equal Marriage debate, evoked intense feelings. And before I forget – Rachel’s book is wonderful – buy it and read it!

At the heart of the book are two chapters, Getting naked with God and Finding a Voice in which Rachel writes about the need in Christian life to strip away the false self and not be ashamed, from where we can begin to find our own, authentic voice.

Following a series of harrowing crises, Rachel says she:

“… began to trust myself and began to trust God – God liberated from unthinking tradition, religious rules and theological convention.”

“It is so tempting to try to turn Christian faith into a kind of morality and talk about the need for Christian values. The Way of Christ is not, first and foremost, about correct behaviour. It is about the death of self and, in the midst of that death, receiving life, thereby helping us to become who we truly are. All of this will have implications for how we live; but it is really about who we are. It is about transformation and discovery. It is about meeting the Living God.”

Changing Attitude seems to be spending a huge amount of time and energy engaging with people who are totally convinced that the Way of Christ is indeed entirely about correct behaviour. These people have tyrannised the Church into compliance with their views, or if not quite that, are imposing constraints and compromises on General Synod’s freedom to follow the call of the Spirit in opening new, radical space in our Church for women and LGB&T people.

For many of us, it is not possible to be fully who we are in the Church of England. Every day now I hear from people who are in despair about the false images of God which are driving Church policy and infect even the House of Bishops.

I’m grateful to Rachel for putting into words ideas that are not rocket science and which Richard Rohr and many others have been writing about for decades, going back to Teilhard de Chardin and Dietrich Bonheoffer in the 1930s and 40s.

“I found myself in a place where I not only understood in a visceral way the notion of God’s priority for the excluded, silenced and vulnerable, but also needed to articulate an expansive conception of God. The Christian church has legitimated certain ways of talking about God – male, fatherly, monarchical and so on. Such ways of talking have been so dominant that they have, despite protests to the contrary, led many to believe that these are ‘rigid designators’ – that they tell the exhaustive truth about God in which sign and signified are united. These designations are metaphorical – that is, they reveal truths, they feed imagination, but they are not facts.”

“If God was in me – a trans, lesbian, disabled, chronically ill person – then she too, metaphorically, was all of these things. In asserting this metaphorical reality, which has so often been lost and ignored, God is found and freed and can set free.”

“God has always been bigger, freer and more capable of embracing difference than our safe human categories usually allow. If we are all bearers of the image of God, then we make fools of ourselves when we try to make that image overly determined and safe. It is a human instinct and understandable but when we let that instinct lead, we betray the possibilities of God which dwell within each of us.”

It is still with a huge sense of relief and affirmation that I read passages such as these. I want to shout a huge AMEN and ALLELUIA, and scream with relief that I can take the risk of revealing my own growing freedom from fear of the little, nasty punitive God aggressively pursued by conservatives and my expansive excitement at the whole body energy released when I immerse my wounded gay self in the bigger, freer, all-embracing God whose image we all bear.

I need to be reminded of this almost daily. We who are working for a Church which values women and LGB&T people are confronted daily with messages which trigger the small self that wants the freedom to live creatively untroubled by the fears of those worshipping a small God who they think will be placated by the defeat of the equal marriage Bill.

This week, CARE, The Christian Institute, Christian Concern and the Christian Medical Fellowship have called for a National Day of Prayer for Marriage on Sunday, 2 June.

The following day, Monday 3 June, the House of Lords is apparently to debate a motion tabled by independent Peer, Lord Dear, former HM Chief Inspector of Police. The call for prayer says that if the vote succeeds, the Government’s Bill will have suffered a decisive defeat. They claim it is an opportunity to vote down the whole same-sex marriage Bill. They encourage Christians throughout the nation to pray for that result.

The problem with this is that I think they really believe in an interventionist God who can change the outcome of the Bill. They really believe that something evil is being enacted. I know this is insane. I have to keep reassuring myself that I am not mad to have come to the belief, hard fought as was Rachel’s, that despite all that many Christians say about me, I AM, I REALLY AM, infinitely and unconditionally loved by God EXACTLY for who I am, because God created me gay and blessed me with the awareness that I was gay at the age of 11. This awareness didn’t make life easy. It’s taken fifty years of work on myself and work from God in me, to release more and more of the guilt an anxiety that being gay in a prejudiced Church and society inculcates.

Thank you, Rachel for putting your experience into a book and allowing me to read passages which remind me that I am wholly and Holy a child of God.

And that leaves my opening question on the table to be answered by General Synod and the House of Bishops: Is the Church of England going to find a way to help people become who they truly are?

Comments

  1. Richard Ashby says

    I note that the ‘prayer’ of those protesting outside Parliament this week obviouosly didn’t work either.

  2. says

    Beautifully crafted reflection Colin. Thank you. Your frustrations are being lived out here too in OZ by LGBTI Christians, but your voice is a much appreciated injection into our lives. I will forward to you a very impressive synod speech from last week by bishop John McIntyre of Gippsland.

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