Here is the thing. ACANZP is a church with a challenge, or three.
As posted two days ago, we have a constitutional challenge: how can we be faithful to God and the gospel as our constitution requires of us?
Yet we also have a pastoral challenge: how can we care for all people in our midst, to say nothing of many others we hope will join us as they discover God's love for them, when "all people" includes people with varying views on what the gospel is?
Over the last eighteen months or so I have become more aware than ever before that the question of our response as a church to gay and lesbian people is complex from a pastoral perspective. It involves gay and lesbian members of our church, gay and lesbian people not in our church to whom we wish to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, members of our church who are parents and other relatives of gay and lesbian sons and daughters. No doubt that is an incomplete summary.
Noting these groups of (especially) concerned people (in my estimation) multiplies the number of people whose hearts are burning on these matters well beyond the statistics of 'somewhere between 2 and 10% of the population are gay.' Would it be fair to say that 40% of members of our church are urgently concerned about where our present and future response to homosexuality is heading because it directly affects whether they feel their sons/daughters, nieces/nephews, best friends are welcome in our church and our church is not a church defined by negativity to gay and lesbian people?
In other words - here I offer a surmise from my conversations - we are a church of a wide variety of views and concerns which at least encompasses the following range of views (in no particular order of perceived allegiance or priority): some views are set out in an anticipatory way as what some might think several years hence, should change occur:
- Our church must be faithful to Scripture and tradition and that means no blessings of same sex partnerships and certainly no change to doctrine on marriage.
- Our church must be faithful to Scripture and tradition and that means blessings of same sex partnerships if not change to doctrine on marriage.
- Our church should be a place where we can get along with our range of views. I don't want to see anyone have to leave who is otherwise following their understanding of faithful discipleship. If that means some pastors will bless and others will not, that is fine by me.
- We (say, parents of a gay son or lesbian daughter) understand that our vicar in good conscience will not bless same sex partnerships but we do expect her to keep views on these matters out of the pulpit, not least because our familiar parish church should be a safe place for our son/daughter and partner to visit when home on holiday.
- We don't approve of blessing same sex partnerships but understand our vicar feels differently and has the bishop's permission to conduct such blessings. That's fine but we expect the vicar not to preach on these matters as we are not alone in our disapproval and there is no need to foster controversy in our parish.
- I know that orthodox ecclesiology would say otherwise but basically I am OK with our diocese following one way on these matters while the neighbouring diocese is doing the opposite.
- We are not at all happy with the relationship our son has formed with another bloke but now there is a baby in their family and talk of baptism. It would mean the world to us if our vicar could see his way to baptising the baby ... he has done it before, you know, for an unmarried couple, so why not for this relationship?
- We understand that support for same sex partnerships is widespread in our church but we long for a better understanding, celebration even, of those gay and lesbian Anglicans who quietly believe that they should be celibate in response to what they read in Scripture. If the Anglican church is a place for all, why isn't there a visible place for the celibate?
There are at least two other groups to acknowledge at this point:
- those who have left, are leaving or will leave if nothing changes (i.e. status quo remains)
- those who have left, are leaving or will leave because something changed with Motion 30 and it is a safe bet - arguably - that more change is coming.
When we think about the concerns in our families, both natural families and parish families or communities, worrying less about the constitution and more about how we offer love and support to one another, our challenge is to work on how we accommodate such a range of differences which do not categorise neatly into "this group will be happy if we make changes X, Y and Z" and "this group will be happy if we make no changes at all."
This last observation is especially pertinent when we acknowledge that many parishes experience a range of differences within themselves. We can no more divide such parishes into two parts than we can divide most episcopal units in our church.
There is no counsel of despair in my mind as we acknowledge the reality of our 'messy church'. Inevitably we are human communities, which always have a range of differences within them and which are always seeking ways to maintain common ground within diversity. Life is complex and the church is not an exception to this rule!
In my next post, nevertheless, I want to make some observations about some of the rules office holders are bound by in our church, and what changes might be required if we are to be a church which holds together rather than falls apart.