I was one of the participants in the East Midlands Shared Regional Conversations. It was an exhausting three days. These events are not easy, but if the Church of England is to find a way to move forward then these conversations are essential. Having a conversation is preferable to having an argument.
It can be hard when you have to explain your position over and over and when you let others challenge your position. There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about people’s points of view and that means it is easy to polarise viewpoints and create opposition. What people actually believe and how they put those beliefs into practice is far more nuanced than comes across in media sound bites.
These three days gave me a lot to think about and I realised that I was better at arguing against a conservative Biblical position than I was at arguing Biblically for my own position. This challenged me to articulate the Biblical basis for my views more clearly, based on passages such as Genesis 2.18, Matthew 22. 34 – 40, Romans 13. 8 – 10, Ephesians 1, Galatians 5 etc. There is an alternative, more inclusive, narrative that needs to be told.
How we read and interpret the Bible is one of the key issues in the debate about human sexuality because different groups interpret the Bible in different ways. For me an important scripture is Acts chapter 10 where God acts and fills people with the Holy Spirit, claiming them as His own. These were gentiles who were excluded from God’s people by the Old Testament laws, but God showed that in Christ all were His children and to be brought into the church. There are spirit filled LGBTI Christians who need to be welcomed into the church too, just as Peter welcomed the household of Cornelius.
I take a liberal position, but the liberal position was sometimes misrepresented as being in favour of an ‘anything goes’ sexual ethic. I am arguing for the full inclusion of LGBTI people into the church and for the church to recognise and value committed same sex relationships. I believe this view is Biblically based and guided by the Holy Spirit.
One thing that is important to me, which I did talk about while I was at the Shared Regional Conversation, was LGBTI suicides. I had taken with me the article from the Church Times (9 January 2015, p5) about the suicide of teenager Lizzie Lowe. Trying to reconcile faith and sexuality can be very difficult and the church needs to be seen to be more supportive and inclusive. Unfortunately when I returned home there was another report about the suicide of a 12 year old bisexual girl.
There were some who came with opinions, sometimes quite strongly held opinions, but there were more who came because they wanted to learn more about the subject and who had a chance to examine the subject in depth for the first time. We will not all agree on human sexuality any time soon, but the bigger issue is how we can stay together as a church. I learned that there are conservative churches who will welcome LGBTI Christians and support their ministry. I hope that others learned from me that inclusive Christianity can be Biblically based and is not ‘anything goes’. Even more than that, I hope that an informed middle ground of church opinion can keep all sides in the church because if I believe in inclusive Christianity then it means including people I disagree with. If we can achieve that inclusive vision then I hope the church can reach out and help to stop our young people committing suicide.