Skip to content

Face to Face: Reflections of Gay and Lesbian Clergy on Holy Living and Committed Partnerships by Jeffrey Heskins

September 27, 2015

F2FWe are in the middle of a ‘listening process’, which was meant to start many years ago, where members of the Church of England listen to each other across the divide of LGBs and those who believe their ‘lifestyles’ to be sinful. There isn’t meant to be any attempt at changing anyone’s mind so I wonder what the point of it is.

The author has already done this sort of exercise in his parish and describes the process in this book.
I think he means ‘a wide berth’, not ‘a wide birth’ on p. 67


Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that he not only gives us his Word, but also lends us his ear. So it is his work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think that they must always contribute something, when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service that they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater ser­vice than speaking.

F2F 2Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They will not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be listening no longer to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speak­ing to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to be spent keeping quiet will eventu­ally have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and his own follies….There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and so get rid of the other person. This is no fulfilment of our obligation, and it is certain too that here our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God.

The aim of the process was to listen, actively, to the thoughts, opin­ions and feelings of others. There was no aim to change people’s minds and I do not think that the process did that. It did enable clergy to listen to test their thoughts to others and to understand that, from whatever end of the spectrum one comes, others hold views with great sincerity. The complexity of this whole issue was highlighted. Hearing the voices of those who had had a personal struggle with their faith because of their sexuality, was a humbling, moving experience for many. ….What was clear was that it was not intended to be a debate in which a prevailing view might become diocesan policy. The atmosphere of fear and irrational hatred that might have been generated through the need to win an argument was thus eliminated because it was quite simply, for them, not the right time or place to make such a resolution.

In the field of public ministry, this tension has the potential to wreak destruction on the very relationships that are sustaining them. What is it about an institution that seeks to offer support and encourage­ment to countless numbers of people who choose to remain outside its membership but does not provide the transparency to sustain its own ministers? Some couples realized at an early stage that in this climate the worst that could actually happen was to be found out. But what they really feared was the combustion of their relationship because of the strain of the secrecy.

Jeffrey John: The mystery of love is in the end, the mystery of giving yourself away. This week we are celebrating the feast of the Trinity, which is all about God himself existing as a relationship of love in his own nature. God is love. Love between persons who are individual and yet given completely to the other, is a mystery that reflects God’s own nature.

People think the mystery of the trinity is strange, but it is not. You find out in a good relationship, a good marriage, what it really means to lose yourself in the other and somehow find your true self in the process of giving yourself away to the other. That is what the Church should be getting across to people. Finding out that fact of experience is actually finding out something about the mystery of God.’

I find these insights quite compelling and, for Western Christians who skip past the feast of the Trinity as if it were a mathematical embarrassment, it is a refreshing way of re-entering a theological mystery that evades us yearly, thanks to a thousand inept sermons trying to explain the trinity as three cricket stumps but one wicket, or ice, water and steam, three manifestations of the same wet substance. The churches of the East have no such problems. Their depiction of the trinity is more fluid and mirrors the relationship image. The term they use to describe the trinity is `perichoresis’, which could be inter­preted as dancing in a circle. It is a wonderful image of interactivity in the gracefulness of movement and a fine depiction of what any com­mitted relationship between human beings, attempting to reflect the love of God, might become. Those who are lucky enough to know what it is like to dance well with a partner, moving with graceful correspondence, will see the power of this image. It is a very creative image inspired by a very creative God.

For many of the couples, this moment had forced a rethink of how they understood God in the mission of the Church and their ministry.

This is probably quite important since much of the current debate on gay and lesbian relationships has lamented how the issue has proved a distraction from the more pressing priorities of the Church, namely its mission and commitment to evangelism. These claims seem to be made by Christians who are not gay and who benefit from preserving the status quo, or by those who fail to see that unless the Church can deal with its own implicit nature, it will not be an effective vehicle for mission and outreach. The Church is people. People have bodies and relate to each other through them. Together, those bodies describe themselves as Christ’s body, each different, but in need of the other. What most of those surveyed seemed to be saying was that being loved and being able to love clearly increased the possibility of a better quality of ministry, which in turn would enhance the Church’s mission and outreach.

There is a sense of frustration and discomfort at knowing there is something to tell and having to hold it back. The couples who have found love, comfort and support for their personal lives and often inspiration for their public ministries through these relationships have good news to tell and they are being told not to tell it. What they discover in reading the Gospels and locat­ing their own lives within them is identification with God in Christ, who reveals that the search for truth is not utilitarian. In fact, quite the opposite. Absolute truth is hopelessly impractical and very costly, but it is essential to the whole ethos of God’s Kingdom or God’s Reign, in which the social values, class systems and economic principles which govern human life are turned on their head. Taking this view of God as Truth seriously challenges not only the fact of the relationships, but also how they should be lived out.

Within Christianity, and it is not just there, but within our whole culture, sex is generally understood as a penis entering a vagina. But if we understood sex as Christ drawing creation to himself then we have to question the status of that particular act.

The African bishops appealed to the 1988 Conference to take account of the significantly different contexts in which they lived, where polygamous marriages occurred. In parts of the African continent such marriages were shaped by a culture that was itself subject to social and economic constraints. Society in general was still largely patriarchal with agrarian economies and a way of life that though quite poor would have clearly defined social status. Polygamous marriage was a reflection of that. The 1988 Conference openly asserted that culture and context did make a difference when seeking to determine a pastoral response. The Conference simply could not legislate in such an instance. Nobody threatened anybody with excommunication or severed financial links. North American Anglicans neither condemned it as a satanic attack, nor did it become the adopted culture of their dioceses. Instead, those different parts of the Communion decided that it was time to take time. The Body’s joy was a loving gesture from different parts of the Body unable to under­stand the effects of a sexual ethic borne out of a context entirely alien to their own, but prepared to take time to try.

It seems to me that it is possible to apply the insights gained from this consideration for polygamous marriages to the whole business of how same-sex couples, priests and lay people, are met and held within the Church. If the Body matters then it is apparent that we have to do rather more than make threats of excommunication or financial severance, and impose celibacy on a significant proportion of the worldwide Body of Christ. For the Body to follow this path shows a kind of dualistic expression, where one part of the Body considers other parts to be inferior and expendable. One part of the Body holds a high regard for itself while despising another. The call to excommunication, financial severance or imposed celibacy are all signs of that, whereas the attempts to understand how different Christians try to live out lives of holiness within the Body by taking time to understand what that means (as with polygamous marriages) does not. Thanks to African Christians and their appeal for under­standing, what Lambeth 1988 does for everyone is to offer hope beyond Lambeth 1998, for it indicates that there is a way of dealing with these difficult issues in a global communion.

 The synoptic authors agree the first par­able to be that of the sower and the four soils, which is a parable about hearing. It is the overture parable to all that Jesus teaches in the Gospels. It should not be reduced to something that we read silently in a book, for it is intended for the ear. Whoever has ears to hear, then hear!

 To return to the home page, click on the header at the top of this page.


From → Sexuality

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: