Tomorrow it starts for real; the first chance for those in my diocese taking part in the Shared Conversations to meet each other. The invitation is to a ‘meeting, including dinner’. From reports coming out of other dioceses, there could be a basic ‘summarize who you are and why you volunteered for the SC’ moment: or not. It will be very interesting to see what sort of mixture of people and beliefs this diocese has assembled. Have we managed to make the quota for younger people and for gay people? For a gender balance?
Meanwhile, between tomorrow and our SC weekend itself, General Synod will receive a report of the process so far. This has been reported in the press and for a couple of days I tried engaging with one online discussion of it. The discussion immediately shifted from SC and good disagreement to human sexuality more generally. Nearly everyone taking part was of the view that all sexual activity (that odd phrase) is a sin if with someone of the same sex. And, indeed, that all sexual activity for anyone outside marriage is a sin. There wasn’t even much of the ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ approach – that was seen as far too liberal. One person appeared to be saying that homosexual people should be killed. Several regarded homosexuality as a ‘disability’. We were told yet again that ‘the Bible says’ same-sex relationships are a sin. Trying to unpack that just led to accusations that I was not using the Bible properly. One person said that I should ‘equate’ God and the Bible; when I responded that I worship God, not the Bible, I was told that as the Bible is the Word of God I can’t separate them at all. Suggesting that Christ, not the Bible, is the Word of God also led to being vilified. It was clear that some on the thread don’t believe women should teach, and when I said something on the lines of ‘well there we’ll need to agree to disagree because in my church I’m authorized to preach and have also led many small groups for those exploring Christian faith’ the response was that I clearly don’t preach the Bible. Thanks!
Even 36 hours of this was frustrating and bruising. I am reassured that the SC are ‘facilitated’, so won’t replicate the experience.
But it was also educational. Naively, I had formerly had no idea that some of these views were still current. And I got a clear sense of the position in which the World is all Bad and the role of the Church is to resist the World; Manichaeism for beginners? In my sign-off post before I left them all to it, I ended by sending them to the SC website (no sign most of them had any idea what the SC process is about, as they were using the story to reinforce their existing views on how terrible homosexuality is) and wrote:
The point is, we disagree, so how best can we understand those with whom we disagree, respect them and work alongside them to show Christ to the world?
There were a few moments in this online discussion where people became individuals sharing something from their experience, and this gave me hope. Such moments were dismissed as ’emotionalism’ by the hardliners, for whom the only valid material consisted of Bible verses taken out of any context. But unless we know the person with whom we disagree, how can there ever be real respect for their position?