It’s with a mixture of emotions that I write this blog. I am happy that I am me and able to vocalise what many feel but are too afraid to say. I am sad and I am angry. What has led me to such a place?
It’s been a strange week. I was on a course and minding my own business when I had a call from BBC Radio Kent. They asked if I was prepared to make a comment about the Equal Marriage Bill that was coming into being that weekend. Many same sex couples were getting married at midnight Fri/Sat. Of course I was happy to make my views known.
I made it clear that it was incomprehensible to me that I could bless an inanimate object, I could bless an animal, I could even bless a tank going off to war if asked but I couldn’t bless the union of a loving same sex couple. I think this is outrageous and not in keeping with my reading of the bible.
Just the previous Sunday we had the gospel reading that gives us the story of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well. This is the longest conversation recorded in the Gospels. In every aspect of it, Jesus is pushing boundaries and crossing cultural divides. He doesn’t condemn the woman and debates theology with her. He breaks many taboos of the day. Isn’t that something to emulate?
After my interview on the breakfast show I was then contacted by BBC Southeast and asked if I would do an interview for the news. I of course did this too. Any opportunity to push for change has to be taken. Any opportunity to challenge oppression and marginalisation has to be taken. Any opportunity to point out the inconsistency with the God of love and the church’s position has to be taken.
I was also asked to do an interview for a local paper. All of the presenters and journalists I spoke to thought my position refreshing and there needs to be more priests like me. My stock answer to this is there are more priests like me. The problem is it’s often the anti voice that shouts the loudest. I’m also very aware that many of my colleagues who may agree with me are afraid of speaking out in case they lose their jobs.
Over the course of the next week I was reminded of my duty to uphold the churches current teachings. I also had people refuse to meet me because of my outspokenness. What a shame. Their loss, but I respect their right to a different opinion.
Next I discovered that Archbishop Justin Welby would be taking calls on LBC with one of my favourite presenters James O’Brien. I emailed them a question and was invited to ring in and ask the question. I was slightly worried about the timing as I was taking a service in church for most of the phone in. I managed to get out just in time and asked the Archbishop the last question of the show. In a nutshell I was asking why, as priests, we couldn’t bless same sex couples and use our own conscience like happened when the remarriage of divorcees came about in church. This could be the case while we waited for a synodical process to go through that could change the rules to allow equal marriage in church.
I was shocked and saddened by Justin’s response. Much has been publicised and blogged about Justin’s answer by theologians and people far and wide in the Anglican Communion. As the person who asked the question and a bog standard priest in the Church of England I feel extremely let down by my institution and the Archbishop.
He said that we couldn’t move forward with a more liberal agenda in the UK without it having a devastating effect on people in Africa. He told a story about standing at a mass grave and had been told the people were killed because of the liberal changes in America. That’s like wondering why a woman in a violent relationship who is murdered didn’t leave, instead of asking the murderer why he killed her.
Violence always needs to be condemned. The Archbishop didn’t do this. Murder and homophobia are the issues, not liberalism in the UK. Can you imagine what would have happened if Gandhi had given in to the violence and not challenged the marginalisation and oppression at the salt mines? How different would the world be if Wilberforce wasn’t listened to because the slaves might have been further abused? What would have happened if the civil rights movement hadn’t progressed because people were scared of the violence of the KKK? Women are killed and maimed today because they are being educated. Just ask Malala. Does that mean we shouldn’t educate girls? Apartheid was atrocious in its outpouring of violence. Should we not have campaigned because more black people would have been killed?
What Justin said put the power in the hands of the oppressors and those who wield violence.
Let’s be clear, it’s not only Africa that kills people because of homophobia. I live in London, a very cosmopolitan city, yet my neighbour was killed in a homophobic attack. I had a friend who took his own life because he couldn’t cope with coming to terms with his sexuality in the face of homophobia from his family, friends and church. There are many people hurt and trapped by homophobia and a lack of acceptance in the UK.
If God is love, we should be free to express that and surround all people with love. It is wrong to withhold God’s blessing from anyone who is living in loving, faithful and committed relationships.
I didn’t set out this week to start a potential international incident or bring the Anglican Communion into disrepute. I have read blogs from priest in America who are very upset by Justin’s response. They are wondering why the finger is being pointed at them for violence in Africa. I didn’t set out to challenge the institution. I did, however, set out to stand up for love and condemn oppression and marginalisation. The Archbishop really missed the mark by not condemning the violence and hatred in Africa.
I really hope that in a small way people may see little chinks of light and love when they see that there are ordinary priests working to make a change to unjust rules.
The Archbishop recently said that his reading of the bible commands him to be outspoken. Well I read that bible as well and am proud to have a hoodie that says “Jesus was a rebel too”. Those of you reading this that don’t go to church, please don’t judge God by the actions of Christian’s or the institution. I hope always to stand up for love and I can’t see the wrong in that.