Head above the Parapet

head above parapetIt’s not easy to put your head above a parapet: there is a risk of being shot and wounded.

I know that if I had been in the trenches in the war I’d probably have hidden away in a corner. I’m not brave. I like to be agreeable and I like to be liked: it can be a strength at times and a weakness as well. I worked out very early on in school that being on the outside of a group is horrible and lonely and so I made sure to fit it, to agree with the majority, and to keep my head down in arguments.

But now I feel that I need to stand up, lift my head up and be braver: a belated new year’s resolution perhaps?

For as long as I can remember the church that I belong to and love has been discussing and debating whether or not LGBTI people can be fully accepted into the family of God, and whether their relationships can be fully acknowledged and blessed. This debate has been trundling on for years and just as we seem to be at the stage where just as we are beginning to listen to one another and be getting somewhere, we then seem to take enormous steps back and hurt each other once again.

The Bishops of the Oxford Diocese wrote a measured, loving and pastoral letter to all 1,500 ministers of our Church in October: you can read the letter here. It called for an attitude of inclusion and respect towards LGBTI people whilst further discussions take place; it recognised that many LGBTI men and women are priests working hard to further the Kingdom of God in their churches and communities, and that we are all part of the same family; and it called for us to be ‘clothed with compassion’ in the way in which we conduct ourselves. It seemed to be one giant step forward.

And so yesterday we read a letter signed by 104 mainly evangelical church leaders which seems to take us right back to the beginning again. You can read it here.

There are three things I want to say about this letter which have moved me to say something.

Firstly, the language is overly inflammatory and dramatic: they are ‘dismayed’, ‘disturbed’, ‘concerned’, the situation is ‘serious’ and ‘a tragedy’. Really? Is it really a ‘tragedy’ if we prayerfully look at scripture and come to different conclusions? Many of us disagree over female priests, but would we say it’s a tragedy that a female priest like me is working among students in Oxford and showing them the love of God each day? Or is it a tragedy when I offer the sacrament of marriage to couples who have been living together and clearly enjoying sexual intimacy before they tie the knot? Why then, do we use this language to describe a difference of opinion when it comes to same-sex relationships? The tragedy surely is that we are willing to split apart a family because we can’t agree to disagree.

Secondly, the letter assumes that LGBTI Christians haven’t done any of their own theological study, prayerful reflection, repentance and soul searching. They write of the sacrament of Baptism and the Eucharist being for ‘the community of faith’, and cite St Paul’s teaching which, they say:  ‘clearly discourages participation in the Lord’s Supper for those who have not examined themselves’. Are they saying LGBTI brothers and sisters are not part of the community of faith? Or are they not part of the community of faith when they fall in love with someone? Or does this non-acceptance happen when they express this love sexually? At what point do they think LGBTI people should be excluded from the Lords table I wonder?

And my final point is one that is far better expressed by Marcus Green is his blog ‘A Possibility of Difference’ which you can read here. The letter ends with this threat:

we would ask them (the Bishops) to recognise the seriousness of the difference between us: advocacy of same-sex sexual intimacy is either an expression of the love of God or it creates an obstacle to people entering the kingdom of God. It cannot be both. The situation is serious.

I always thought the Kingdom of God was entered into through the gift of Grace in Jesus Christ, and that all we need to do is accept that gift. That’s the message I get when I read my bible. That’s the message I tell to those who come to my services each Sunday.

As Marcus says:

All have sinned – but sin doesn’t create an obstacle to anyone entering the kingdom of God. We do not pull ourselves up by out bootlaces into the kingdom of God. We cannot. If we think we can, or think others should, Christ died for nothing.

Now to put my head above the parapet. I dearly hope that one day sexual intimacy between two human beings of the same sex will be blessed and hallowed by the Church that I love. And I don’t think that because I’m a ‘liberal’ who doesn’t really care about the gospel, although I’m sure that’s how some will view me. I think that because I’ve read, thought, studied, prayed, spoken to people, and reflected about this over the last 20 years. According to those who have signed this letter I’m now no doubt guilty of ‘advocacy of same-sex intimacy’ and so have put an obstacle in my way to enter the kingdom of God. They can think that if they like.

Thankfully I know that Jesus loves me and on Sunday I will preach that love of God to those students in my care (gay, straight, questioning) as we stand to affirm our baptism vows and remember the words from Luke’s Gospel:

‘you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased’

 

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | trustee of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys hosting, dog walking, short runs round the meadows, eating out.

30 thoughts on “Head above the Parapet”

  1. Thanks Clare. As one who serves in a Church where this topic is often used to beat people and at present is being used by some as a tool of repression I have always been heartened that Anglicans have that vocation to debate in an open honest way and to agree to disagree .
    The letter whikst acknowledging issues and shifts in perception neverthless took me into a dark place where I heard the parental controlling voice of fear. Thanks for your parapet moment and also to Marcus In the end we can only meet others in that framework of Christ’s love that casts out fear.But it does take time to realise this!May you have many more moments.

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  2. Thank you, very thoughtful, we live in such a binary world? I look forward to returning to the Diocese of Oxford later in the year.

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  3. Thankyou for writing this. I am moved almost to tears at the attitude of some people, and need someone gentle and thoughtful like you to stop me throwing bricks through their windows.prayer and continued love will probably achieve far more!

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  4. Thank you Clare for writing this and putting your head above the parapet. I was deeply saddened by the letter published yesterday. As another priest in the Diocese of Oxford, I stand with you. Thank you.

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  5. I’m proud of you my dear sister for your courage. I wholeheartedly agree with you and deeply saddened by the lack of grace often shown in this argument. Knowing faithful followers of Christ, many in the ministry, who have felt the need to live a lie, or live in lonliness because of their sexuality and the fear of being excluded from ‘Gods kingdom’ has always appalled me. I know many more who have left the church because they have not found a haven there.

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  6. As an old member, I do consider it to be a tragedy, and I stand with all those brave clergy who are challenging the bishops who are leading the CofE into an abyss.

    They are jettisoning Christian morality founded in the Scriptures and so the church will no longer be salt and light in the world. Even the secular man on the street knows that man and man does not equal marriage.

    The NT warns very clearly about those who add to the Scriptures and those who take away from them, as God’s word written.

    The Gospel is repent of your sins and believe in Christ as the Saviour from sin and have him as the Lord of your life.

    I’m afraid you have sold the pass in swallowing the false Gospel which as the apostle Paul warns ‘is no Gospel at all’.

    I will pray that a faithful Christian witness will return to Christ Church.

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  7. Well done Darling. Very courageous of you and I agree with much of what you say. We are charged to love one another. I was appalled by the way Vicky Beeching was treated by the evangelical churches when she came out as gayhaving served them so faithfully with her singing over so many years.

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  8. As a Methodist minister who has been engaged in the struggle within our church for the last forty years and have been in a committed relationship with my same-sex partner for all that time, like you, Clare, I get weary when the same ‘anti-‘ arguments are trundled out year after year, decade after decade. I think now, in my seventies, I have long take on Luther’s alleged words: “Here I stand, I can no other” and get on with life and faith. Thanks for your courage, Clare. We never know who, along the way, we are helping in their journey.

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  9. The Bishops have effectively abdicated. They are no longer acting as guardians of the apostolic deposit of truth which is their role according to the Ordinal. Instead they are being blown here and there by every wind of doctrine. That is why faithful clergy are now considering their future outside of the CofE and laity too. The judgement of God has come upon the CofE. Ichabod is in effect being written over its doors. The glory of the Lord is departing.

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  10. Clare, I give thanks for the faithful witness in Christ Church 🙂
    I give thanks for your courage and pray that every priest in the diocese and beyond will follow your example- that they will stand with you and for every LGBTQIA individual who will be experiencing fresh hurt and rejection at this public letter. I pray for the safety of young people in churches whose love for them is conditional- I pray they will know and be assured of God’s unconditional love, amazing grace and perfect creation.

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  11. Very thoughtful and well written and I thank you for challenging the inflammatory, and frankly offensive language. I don’t exaggerate when I say that LGBT+ people are deeply hurt and sometimes driven to despair by the cruelty of some of the words used in this debate.

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  12. Thank you Clare. It means a lot to read messages like yours. My partner and I are getting married in 2 weeks time. In a Church of England church. With wedding dress and wedding clothes and reception, and lots of guests, and family. My priest and the PCC just don’t accept that they should discriminate against the love we have for each other. I am so excited! We have longed for this day.

    Yes, we have to get a scrap of paper signed as well, but to us that is like paying a gas bill. The real wedding for us, for our families, for the community of our church, for our priest, is the making of vows before God and before the people of God.

    I am a lifelong Anglican. Why should I marry anywhere else? The community I belong to is in Oxfordshire, but you will understand why I won’t mention precisely where the wedding is. It is really sad that the Archbishop still oversees the sanctioning of gay ordinands and priests if they are in loving and intimate relationships. It is really sad that we still have to be careful not to disclose our priest and our church, because of the threat of sanctions, and the harm that would do to mission.

    But neither the Archbishop nor the signatories of that letter get to say who I marry. Sorry. We are happy. We are flourishing. We are gay. We are Christian. I’m glad you understand that and speak out in the name of love and decency. If people don’t think gay sex is right the solution is plain: don’t have gay sex. I can respect that. But that doesn’t mean my priest and my church have to share your view. We really don’t. Nor do most people these days in England.

    We’re going to have a brilliant day, and our most important guest is God. God knows every little bit of our relationship and its tenderness, its fun, its challenges. God knows and God understands. God is wonderful. That’s why we have to get married before God. We refuse to hide from God. Nobody should have to.

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  13. It’s not possible to hide from God, as I understand it. But I agree with every word and hope your wedding is awesome.

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  14. Clare, may God richly bless you and your ministry at Christ Church, Oxford. The Church of England needs you and more like you, prepared to be honest and objective about an issue that concerns us ALL. Blessings from ACANZP (Father Ron Smith)

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    1. Dear Samuel, Yes, I didn’t say I was the only one! I realise that it will have been costly for many leaders to have signed this and they may well be paying a price for it. I respect anyone for their views and for the freedom to express them. I was using my own voice to express my view that the letter signed by the 104 wasn’t helpful in the way it was written. We can disagree with one another (isn’t that one of the wonderful things about the CofE!), but we can do so without causing hurt. In my view language which speaks of refusing sacraments and barriers to Kingdom of God is just not helpful. Sadly the letter caused a great deal of distress and I’ve had some heartbreaking correspondence with Christians who are committed members of the churches where their leader has signed this and they now feel unwelcome. I am sure this wasn’t what was intended, but it’s the sad reality.

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  15. Dear Clare, I hope you don’t mind me being back in touch. As I’ve reflected on what you’ve said, it occurs to me that it would be very difficult for those 104 clergy to express their view without it upsetting people. What I mean is, if they genuinely believe that the Bible says a sexual relationship between people of the same sex is wrong and is something Jesus calls us to repent of, then however you say it, that will be very hard for those involved in that to hear.

    Do you think you might share how you would put it if you were of that view?

    I hope I’m not coming across as difficult here, I really am very grateful to you for engaging with me in this!

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    1. Dear Samuel, I don’t mind at all. I don’t think it is hard to express differing views generously and politely. In my blog I said that inflammatory language doesn’t help and I’d advise anyone to steer clear of it. If there is a problem – say so; but don’t call everything a ‘tragedy’. When we want to excommunicate each other, it’s probably time to remember Jesus’ words about logs and specks; that’s not to say there are no difficulties – it is to say that Paul reminds us our methods for winning over each other are with grace and kindness and love. I think the letter fell short here. And above all, we are called to be Jesus’ people, so if we are tempted to place people outside his mercy, we might stop and wonder if that sounds completely authentic. The world we live in gets hysterical at the drop of a hat; perhaps one of the gifts we might give as God’s church is to resist the temptation to be the same.

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  16. Thank you for this thoughtful response. It has helped me in formulating an email to my vicar, one of the signatories, explaining why I, as a LGBTI+ Christian, can no longer worship in the church I have called home for the last seven years. It’s been a painful and upsetting decision to make but I felt that the tone and language used in this letter were particularly unhelpful and hurtful to those of us who might be able to recognise a different theological viewpoint but struggle with this lack of grace and love.

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