This is the first in a series of reflections after the Shared Conversations
Now that they’re over, there will be several posts here on the Shared Conversations as I process what happened. Let’s start with something that only occurred to me after the event.
At one point we were asked to share our favourite verse from the Bible with a small group, before discussing how the Bible affects our views on human sexuality issues. Only since I came home have I realised something I’d not previously considered about my chosen verse, which was John 21:12, ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast”‘. I chose that, as I explained at the time, because of the generous simplicity of the invitation. Food: a basic human need. Fresh-caught fish, cooked on the beach. As I say or write those words, their sensory power is such that I can almost smell the fish! The invitation is directed at the disciples, but was soon to be extended to all of us. The meal echoes the Last Supper, which in turn was prefigured in the feeding of the 5000, the account of which echoes the miraculous feedings in the Hebrew Bible. So it fits well into a context where we were being asked to think about how we read the Bible, as something far deeper than verses in isolation. In the SC context, the verse is for me about a gospel of inclusion and invitation, focused on the person of Jesus, without a list of those who aren’t welcome for some reason.
Breakfast, however, isn’t a neutral term in the current debates. I should have remembered the difference between involvement and commitment where breakfast is concerned. In bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved: the pig is committed.
In the debates over the place of same-sex people in the church, I’m a chicken. As a chicken, one question which kept coming up for me was ‘Why does sexual orientation even matter?’ The church has managed to incorporate remarriage after divorce, women as priests, women as bishops. It includes those who think that church furniture includes an altar reenacting a sacrifice, and those who think it’s a table at which we share a meal. So why isn’t some such accommodation possible here?
Perhaps because, in responding to Jesus’ invitation, some people aren’t just involved, but committed, because they’re gay. And it’s not a ‘choice’. It’s clear how many Christians have wrestled with their feelings and tried to resist who they are, because the Christian communities in which they lived told them that their feelings were wrong. And it’s clear that immense psychological damage has happened to some people along the way. Does the commitment point – that this is your self, your identity, which is being dismissed or excluded or penalised – mean that there’s a hierarchy of hurt, in which traditionalists’ sensations of hurt can’t compare to the hurt felt by the committed? That’s a huge question, to which I’ll need to return. But where the Shared Conversations matter is that they’ve made the question personal.
And engaging with an idea is one thing: engaging with a person (and I met some very lovely people there, with whom I profoundly disagreed on this subject) is another.