RADICAL INCLUSION .CO.UK
please do not erase our lives, our love, and precious parts of who we are
'Life shrinks or expands, in proportion to one's courage'
AFFIRMING THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
It is easy for people to misinterpret the call for change, and the championing of conscience and radical inclusion, as an attack on the Church of England, and hatred of what it stands for. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My concern is for the flourishing of gay and lesbian people in our communities - yes. But my concern is also for the Church I have belonged to all through my life. I look at this Church - this network of thousands of churches serving communities all across the land - and I see countless groups of people, motivated by faith, opening their hearts to the love of God, responding with compassion to neighbours, to the sick, to the disadvantaged, and to strangers.
More than that, I see God's hand on this Church of England through history: from early Christian settlements, to the amazing inheritance of saxon and medieval and modern churches, spanning the country and speaking in their presence, people, service, of Jesus Christ. And in the events from the Reformation, I see the distinctive way - watched over by the grace of God, I believe - in which the Church of England did not develop into a rigid protestant or puritan sect, but through much of its history accommodated difference and diversity of belief.
And what we have inherited is a 'Broad Church' where catholic, evangelical, liberal, charismatic, social, modern, rural, urban Christians all contribute insights and expressions, and have co-existed in a way which, yes, has its tensions, but which has also drawn people and churches to relationship in the service of Christ, and ministry to so many people in England who themselves have diverse temperaments, culture and ways they may open to God. Our difference has made us fall back on the grace of God, to find love for one another, not in identical doctrine, but even in the diversity of our views and local church communities. This is the nature of our Church. To co-exist, we depend on grace and love and forbearance, not doctrinal rigidity.
A major question for all groups is: are we mature enough to handle that, and to accommodate each other's differences, and still think well of each other, and pray for each other's lives?
I'm really proud of the Church of England. In my preparatory work for launching this survey, I researched 1000 churches, and their priests, and websites, and local ministry. Visiting so many websites and facebook pages, it was a profoundly moving experience, reading so many accounts of selfless local service and community building - and the photos of communities coming together. It was hard not to be touched, and feel grateful, for the huge amount of unselfish time and effort expended by Christian people of goodwill, living out their faith in that largest and central part of the Church of England: its local churches and all their front-line work and commitment - lives committed to doing good, and helping others, and rooted in the life, the faith, and the sacraments of the Church.
So I affirm the Church of England, and the devotion and self-sacrifice of its priests, and the bishops I have corresponded with and come to recognise as sincere, kindly, conscientious, concerned. And I affirm the Church of England because I believe God has used it and can still use it, watches over its journey, and continues to work through its diversity and its presence in community. That is not to be triumphalist, because there is no doubt in this present period that many, many people have difficulty relating to the Church, and question its teachings, not least its hard-line condemnation of gay and lesbian sexuality. And the harm being done to mission and to the Church itself does concern many of us, which is why local churches need to promote their conscience and integrity where they are, and in shared lives with communities around them.
In the call for conscience to be respected, I hope I am calling on an abiding grace that operated in the Elizabethan Settlement, in the way protestant and catholic approaches to faith tried to co-exist over the centuries, and the way we still witness diversity of faithful views, as we do over women's ministry, and sacramental life, and also over sexuality. Conscience is a really important principle in the Church of England. To dominate differing consciences, and try to impose uniformity: that is the way towards a narrow protestant sect. It is salutary to observe the way the membership of the Church instinctively rejected the 'Anglican Covenant' which was trying to do just that. Recent public attitudes suggest that a too-rigid puritanism alienates the people of this nation, and we see that in the way many people view the Church because of what it (officially) says about gay people.
I affirm and believe in the Church of England, and want the best for it, and I believe that is greatly helped by offering true welcome and inclusion and - of course - offering practical love. Personally, from singing in choir through youth, under a priest of liberal 'social conscience' views, being embedded Sunday by Sunday in traditional liturgy and the seasons of the Church... through personal encounter and faith in an evangelical church which showed so much love and care to my three children - all now committed Christians who I learn from... to experience of charismatic renewal... to contemplation and the convents where I now root my spirituality... to wonderful liberal catholic churches, where my wife and I have been given welcome, love, community and inclusion...
In all these diverse traditions I have encountered people with deep faith in Christ and love of God, and lives devoted to service of others... to the communities we are called in the Church of England to serve in this nation, in all their needs. In all these traditions: we are Church.
We need grace and love in Jesus Christ. Grace to respect one another's consciences and differences. And prayer for one another's flourishing, in all the practical front-line service that people do, which will be expressed in a multiplicity of ways and a diversity of views and beliefs. And yet, through each tradition and each person, we try to give love to our neighbours. I am so moved by this Church of England: it really is made up of people giving their lives, and trying to live alongside others, as Jesus gave His life, and lived among us... and still does, in our daily lives, when we open our hearts to love.
I appeal to the bishops to understand and recognise the importance of respecting conscience, as an historic and fundamental characteristic of our Church. And I urge them to allow church communities to act according to conscience on issues of sexuality in our local churches. In addition, I appeal to local priests, who would bless gay relationships if the Church allowed, not to abandon things that are right, or consign them to the shadows, but to act on conscience with the support of their communities, to radically include, to live out and put into practice what they and their church communities believe, because it's just, and it's the right thing to do.
We need to affirm all that's best in the Church of England. And because of that, we need to resolve a situation that has been sapping Church life for far too long. We need to recognise the kind of Church we are, and allow diverse points of view, and make conscientious difference in Church possible... to allow conscience to be set free, in local expressions of faith and service, so that communities can each express the best of who they are.
Two parallel sites have been created:
radicalinclusion.co.uk - the site you are visiting right now - is the more 'in depth' version if you have time to read it
radicalinclusion.uk is the 'quick read' version if you want a shorter summary of main points
~ click on any of the links below for 'quick read' versions of these pages ~