Imagine the scenario: someone is standing on your foot. It doesn’t much matter whether they’re doing it on purpose or by accident.
You say: “Excuse me, you’re standing on my foot.”
They say: “Oh, I’m so sorry! Here, would you like a biscuit?”
But they are still standing on your foot.
You say: “You’re still standing on my foot, and it’s actually quite painful.”
They say: “I’m really, really sorry about that. Here: have a coffee. It’s nice to see you, by the way.”
But they are still standing on your foot. It’s getting more and more painful, and you can’t get on with what you want to be doing.
You say: “Look, you’re still standing on my foot, and it really hurts, and I enjoyed the biscuit and the coffee, but you are still standing on my foot. Please move!”
They say: “Will you stop going on about your foot! It’s all you talk about. Can’t you just get on with something else? I’ve already given you coffee and a biscuit – what more do you want from me?!”
But still they are standing on your foot.
Following the House of Bishops’ Report on “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships”, much has been written. For me, the most helpful thing I have read or heard is this sermon from Canon Leanne Roberts at Southwark Cathedral. It is well worth reading / listening to in its entirety.
Among the many excellent points Leanne makes is this:
The report bears careful reading in full. But the ‘take-away’ message for many has been this: the Bishops have said this is all very difficult; they say it is important that the ‘tone’ around matters of sexuality and relationships changes; they say they recommend that there is absolutely no change, whatsoever, in Church law or doctrine to enable same-sex relationships to be affirmed and celebrated. Unfortunately, they do not explain how this change of ‘tone’ – where the Church becomes, apparently, more loving and welcoming towards LGBT people who wish to be in committed relationships – can be achieved without changing anything else at all.
Many people have said to me since the publication of the report that at least the bishops want to change the tone. At least there’s that. That’s some sort of progress, surely? But I don’t think so. It’s easy to ask for “a change of tone” if doing so doesn’t demand any actual changes, but it’s also a useless, empty piece of rhetoric if nothing really changes.
And even if a change of tone is actually – miraculously – somehow achieved without changing anything else, that still isn’t really progress. Because – and this is important – a change of tone isn’t what we were asking for. Being nice to people, while continuing to uphold the systems that oppress them, doesn’t count for much.
I, as a faithful gay Christian, am not asking for a change of tone. I am not asking for just a little bit more kindness, handed down by the bishops (or anyone else) as if they are doing me a favour. They aren’t. I am not asking for kindness, I am asking for justice. For recognition as the full and equal members of the Body of Christ, which I know myself and my LGBT siblings to be.
And this, of all the many contenders, is perhaps the aspect of the whole debacle that makes me the most angry. I – and many other LGBT Christians – made myself very open, very vulnerable, in the Shared Conversations process, because I was assured that we were being listened to. That does not seem to have happened at all. The report does not address the issues we have raised or the questions we have asked. Truly, we asked for bread, and they gave us a stone. However lovely a stone it might be, we cannot eat it. However nice and polite they may be, there is still someone standing on my foot.
I do not buy into the idea that I should be grateful for the scraps that fall from the table of those who have never had their place at that table called into question. It is not their table, and it is not mine. It is Christ’s table, and he invites us all to sit around it as equal, beloved children of God. That is the only possible basis for any real conversation.
So if you want to have a real conversation about these “issues” – whether you’re a bishop, a vicar, or anyone else – start by listening. Really listening. Listening to the hopes and prayers and desires of the people you are talking about. Listening to our hurt and, quite possibly, to things that will hurt you to hear. Try to respond to what you hear, not what you want to hear. And be prepared to put in the “hard thought, hard prayer, hard work” which is the only thing that can ever lead to any real, deep transformation.