Lacking in love: a response to the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance

I have managed to resist for a few days commenting on the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, released last week (if you haven’t read it yet, it’s here: Partly that’s because I don’t think it’s up to me to speak for my LGBT sisters and brothers. Partly it’s because I was dealing with a difficult and rather all-consuming pastoral situation for most of the last week. Partly it’s because I was just too irate to write coherently.

I’ve read and heard a number of objections to the bishops’ statement. It’s insensitive. It’s out of touch with society. It’s unenforceable. It’s too harsh. It’s not in any sense “pastoral”. And all of that’s true, and all of that’s problematic. 

But here’s what it boils down to: there is no love in this. I have read every word and re-read it, and I see nothing here that points to the love of God for every one of God’s children. I see nothing of the abundant, generous, unconditional love of Christ. I see nothing of the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where are they? Not here. “By their fruits you will know them,” says Jesus. Never a truer word spoken.

And that worries me, that absence of love. It worries me in the bishops who are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the church I call home. It worries me in men I am supposed to look up to as my father in Christ. It worries me that serious theologians and pastors can have sat together and prayed together and agreed, as the best way forward for their flock, something so utterly lacking in love.

It worries me in ways which extend far beyond the vital issue of equal marriage. Our faith is built on love. Our hope is in the one who is Love. And if we fail, if our leaders fail, to put that love front and centre in our thinking on every issue, then we have failed in the mission God gives us.

Flitting across my mind this week have been the words of St John of the Cross: “where there is not love, put love, and you will find love.” I wonder how that applies in this situation? I wonder how we put love back at the heart of the Church? I wonder what each of us can do to proclaim the Love on which our faith rests?

There are no easy answers. But however unlikely it seems now, I go on believing that in the end love will have the last word. Because love is stronger even than death, and love will win.

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