Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Take Your Protein Packs & Put your Helmets On

Who could have guessed that the Anglican Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury, “a week of leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation would be rolled off the front page by David Bowie's death? C’est la vie. 

But here, for the record, is my Sunday interview about the letter I signed at the weekend (with 3,000+ others) with Antony Bushfield on Premier Christian Radio. I've mildly edited it for print...

AB Bishop tell us first of all why you decided to put your name to this letter?
AW It seems to me that for many years Anglicans have been talking about homosexuality. Strangely, perhaps, even if you go back 20 years we've always been agreed that discrimination against gay people is wrong. We are all made in God's image. We can certainly have discussions about theology and homosexuality but the infinite value to God of every human being really is not negotiable for Christians. Yet, after talking about this for many years, we look around the world and terrible things go on aimed at gay people. Very often, to our shame, they involve religious people including Christians and Muslims in particular. What we're saying is it's time to get real about this, and to stop offering just good intentions. Paul said this in one of his letters — we know what’s right but we don’t necessarily do it. And what we are saying to our brothers the Primates in the Anglican Communion (brothers, because they are all actually male) is that this really is time now for action. That’s not just for saying sorry, and we got it wrong, and we really like you (whatever we say about you we really like you). Really, that's not good enough. We’ve got to take action to stop some of the dreadful things going on around the world aimed at LGBT people
AB You mentioned gay people are treated as second-class citizens. Do you think that refers to the UK as well as perhaps parts of Africa?
AW Yes, absolutely. I know of a very good gay ordinand who, plainly, God has been calling to a form of authorised ministry but he’s absolutely stuck in our system because the system itself discriminates against him. If he tells the truth about himself he may not go forward with the process and what he says when I discuss it with him is “look, this is to do with God’s plan for my life. I don't want to go forward with that on a false prospectus.’ Obviously if he lied he’d be fine, but he’s not willing to do that. He’s not willing to lie before God and before the church. He wants me fully accountable and the present system doesn't really provide for people like that. You’ve either got to stop pedal things are go “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” in various ways and be lucky in where you happen to come from. It shouldn’t be like that. We ought to be able to see the grace of God in people's lives without skewing because of any aspect of who they are, whether it’s disability, race, gender or, of course, sexual orientation.
AB Bishop I wonder if you have any insight into what Justin Welby or John Sentamu might feel about this issue because they have spoken about gay marriage but they haven’t nailed their colours to the mast specifically. Do you have any insight on what they might be feeling?
AW I don't know much about the Archbishop of York — it’s a long way from here to York. I do know there are various things about Archbishop Justin that are really quite important. One is that he is a world citizen in the sense that he's been all over the world and he’s worked in some of the nastiest most difficult places both as a Christian leader and also in his life before ordination. So that’s a big plus. Secondly, actually, Archbishop Justin has always been unambiguous about the need not to discriminate against people. He’s actually very clear about that. He was saying in the autumn, at a large Evangelical Church in Oxford, that in the church we have sometimes got this deeply wrong. We've sometimes treated gay people as though they were subhuman or inhuman, and we need to do something about that. So I don't think our letter will fall on entirely deaf ears. And finally the other thing about Archbishop Justin is that he has a special gift in terms of reconciliation. He’s said that’s got to be one of the themes of his time as Archbishop of Canterbury. So I can't give you any insider information, but I can say that I think some of the thing’s that we’re saying are close to his heart and we want to support him to do the things that he needs to do to provide leadership in the situation we now find ourselves.
AB Bishop would you accept that the best message could lead to the breakup of the global Anglican Communion and in your opinion would that be something that perhaps needs to happen so you can reform the church here in terms the way gay people are treated. Would you accept that may be a consequence?
AW Well I think you’ve got to ask yourself “what is the global Anglican Communion anyway?” People talk as though it was like Apple Computer, as though Justin was sitting in a big chair stroking a white fluffy cat and saying “Good Evening, Mr Bond.” It’s a Church not an Evil Empire! And actually it's a church where each national expression of Anglicanism has its own integrity and its own independence. It’s not like the British Empire but all run from Lambeth. People sometimes get that wrong. Actually there is no church police, as in Monty Python. We don't have a church police because we're not that sort of an organisation. Leadership in the church is not about forcing your will on people. It’s servant leadership modelled on what we see in Jesus. He came to serve not to be served. So when people say, “why doesn't the global Anglican church get itself into a single position on this?” it isn’t going to happen because the cultures of the world we’re right now are very diverse on this question. We bring those cultures into the ways we read the Bible. We bring those cultures and the people we are into our feelings about one another. You're not going to find a single line that will satisfy or express what everybody is about with gay people.
AB That being said, though, Bishop, I imagine the majority of churchgoing Christians, young people, those who just go and say their prayers at night  if they see on the news maybe on Wednesday that these primates have walked out of these talks because of the gay issue, that sends out a pretty bad message in terms of what you’re hoping can come out of this, doesn’t it?
AW Well it does. I once had a phone call, as a Bishop, from someone who had walked out of a church council meeting in high dudgeon, and they'd forgotten that they were actually in their own house. So they found themselves in their front garden at 11 o'clock at night without a key to get back in again. So they phoned the Bishop… I feel rather sorry for that person. When you've walked out, what you do next? What are you walking into? Wouldn’t it be better to stay and talk? Jesus brings together heaven and earth — everything reconciled in him, says Paul. Don't you think we could try that way instead of all the showboating politics and stuff that goes on in the world? I'd like to feel that we could, and I hope and pray that we can this week.
AB Finally Bishop, if nothing comes out of this meeting it turns out to be a bit of a damp squib for gay Christians how will they feel come Friday afternoon?

AW Well, I think gay Christians have really been through the wringer in England over the last 30 or 40 years because people talk about but they don't talk with them as equals in Christ and I would hope that even though our letter may not entirely transform the church it will be a step towards the full acceptance of our Lesbian and Gay Christian sisters and brothers as equal sharers in the Christian enterprise with us as fellow disciples, as people whom we are equal with in the sight of God and if it expresses that central conviction, then I think it would have been a good thing.

And here, just for the record, are some interesting tips from the Great Man himself:
“Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.” 
“I'm always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don't even take what I am seriously.”  
“The only real failure is trying to second-guess the taste of an audience. Nothing comes out of that except a kind of inward humiliation.” 
“Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.”  
“There's a terror in knowing what the world is about.”  
“Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

1 comment:

June Butler said...

Well said, Alan. I was much struck by the fact that you are the only sitting bishop in the Church of England to sign the letter to the two archbishops. You have the courage of your convictions, and I am proud to call you my friend. The silence of the rest of the bishops is stunning to me.

One small quibble - the global Anglican Communion is not a church but as defined on the website of the AC home page:

"Today the Anglican Communion is 38 autonomous national and regional Churches plus six Extra Provincial Churches and dioceses; all of which are in Communion - in a reciprocal relationship - with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the Communion's spiritual head."

As I see it, to call the Anglican Communion a global church gets in the way of the autonomy of the various churches in the Communion.

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