Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Could The Shared Conversations Reveal The Extent Of The Sexuality Cancer In The Church [Of England]?

 “The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would be best addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level.”

The Shared Conversations in the Church of England was set up in 2014 for a different approach in dealing with the disagreement in the Church over same-sex relationships and by extension, the place of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans (LGBT) people in the life of the Church. Although it is important to make it clear that the focus has been mainly on Lesbians and Gay while the B and T have largely been avoided. Nonetheless, the process is a refreshing process from what I have heard of past attempts at solving the same issue.

I have had the privillege to take part in this process, although with no experiences of past processes I am perhaps on a different tangem from the many experienced people who has the history of these attempts.

Today, I have just completed my second of that process at the Diocesan (Southwark Diocese) level having taken part in the regional process too. And bringing it 'home' to the Diocese and having more of a focused and relational consideration for the issues, I left the meeting in abject despair with what I heard.

Not that the things I heard were entirely new but the depth of their reach shocked me. The fears that exist, the threats, feelings of hostility, deceits, lies, the glossing over of issues with technical statements although something different is understood and applied and worst of all, the hypocrisies that enable all the above. It broke my heart anew, it sort of threw me under a speeding truck with no mercy for rescue.

How could a church, a supposedly place of safety, comfort, community, sharing, consolation, nurturing and encouraging, became such a place of discomfort, of bullying, of indirect nudge towards lies or untruth or being economical with the truth - however you want to put that - of prying and worse of all, of intimidation and law enforcement. It felt entirely bizarre to feel the full story and the breadth of them. The spread of the cancer under the skin is beyond what we acknowledge. Why should even bishops be treading on eggshells; the willy-nilly and outright pretension that accompanies the above was heart-rending for me.
  • How can bishops who are supposed to be pastors supporting the[ir] priests find themselves in a position where they are not able to provide that support because they would rather 'not know'?
  • How can gay and lesbian priests (and lay people too) be made to feel exposed by being asked to talk about their intimate and private moments with their partners yet that does not apply to their heterosexual peers?
  • How can Church make itself a law enforcer instead of a support to face the struggles that surrounds and affects all? 
  • How can Church be a place that people feel so much ownership, they become like a lion guarding a marked territory for which any 'intruder' faces a live or die fight?
There are so many questions I would like to ask. There are so many confusions that I'd like to clear. There are so many - and here I mean MANY - carpets I'd like to lift. This cancer has spread beyond what we can see and the expected end can only be fatal.

And this is where the turn becomes tributaries and confluences that leaves endless trails in many directions. Not only are these hurts affect the gay and lesbian members of the church - although they bear the most burden -  but among those who are enforcing the laws, other layers of fears and intimidation exists.

It is such a mess!

Nevertheless, regardless of all the above, and the sense of fatality that one is bound to feel, there is something of hope which the Shared Conversation ignites. It might not be clear, and perhaps too, one might be wrong, but I have a certain encouragement in the midst of my despair which comes from seeing the honesty of discussions. But also, the welcoming of experiences even by those who may disagree. Yet, I wonder if and how to engender such conversation in the wider church or make it accessible to many more on many other hurting issues.

A place where people can hear and feel the reality of others' fears. Where we can access first-hand how our actions make those at the receiving end feel. A space where we can honestly and open express how we feel, do not agree, and what we find difficult; yet in that space, feel that we are willing to listen and be listened to, to ponder, consider and eventually to respect each other's view point, not necessarily to agree, but to hear and acknowledge those voices.

For my experience in the two Conversations so far, I have seen people express remorse - in different levels of course - at their approach, take a step back, reconsider their position and some totally wrestling with what they have always held on to. And this is not just at one end but both.

Maybe, by hearing directly about the hurt we cause each other, we could be able to learn, if not  change our stand, to at least reshape our languages. But in all, changing languages alone will not do, there has to be a practical step-forward where people around us no more feel like 'resident aliens', but full part and partakers of the community in its fullness. In essence, to learn to "disagree well" as the Archbishop of Canterbury puts it in setting up this process.

May be, just may be, its not just a lost cause; yet.

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