I’ve just been listening to today’s “Handing on the baton” presentation to General Synod, taken by the Bishop of London (leading the Next Steps Group) and Dr Eeva John (noble facilitator of the whole LLF thing). Dr John focused on the words which began the LLF process: following General Synod’s refusal to ‘take note’ of GS2055, the Archbishops’ call in February 2017 for a “radical new Christian inclusion”.
Dr John tried to unpick that, rightly noting that for some it is “a troublesome phrase”. She insisted that it means we are all equally human, equally made in God’s image but, as Marcus Green commented during LLF, the restrictions put on some of us – not able to marry in church, not able to offer ourselves for ordained ministry – don’t give that impression at all. As for “new”, Dr John took that to mean that in the LLF process the whole church has been invited by the bishops to learn with them; that wasn’t what I thought it had originally meant, so I went back to look at that February 2017 document. What the Archbishops wrote then was:
To deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
Going back to the Archbishops’ letter was, however, more illuminating than I had expected. Further down I read this:
We will also be suggesting to the Business Committee a debate in general terms on the issues of marriage and human sexuality. We wish to give the General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm.
Now, I’m not currently a member of General Synod, although I do try to keep up with it; but I can’t remember this debate ever happening. Instead, every time there has been a private members’ motion or a diocesan synod motion coming along, or a question posed in the formal Questions section, which has concerned “marriage and human sexuality”, the response has been that this can’t be discussed while the LLF process is going on. The General Synod has not had the opportunity mentioned in February 2017.
As for the rest of the joint presentation today, I’m not sure what was new in its contents. We were told about the Pastoral Principles Course published in April to “create braver and safer places” but surely we all knew about that already. The shift from “safe” to “safer” seems like a sad acknowledgement that there isn’t safety; even in the earlier regional Shared Conversations, where facilitators were present to provide safety, plenty of people were bruised. In the short question session allowed after today’s presentation, one Synod member shared this (her words were “verbally battered”). I was interested that Dr John, in response to a question about particular readings of St Paul, commented that LLF “filtered out more left-field views of Scripture” and that we “take serious readings of Scripture seriously”. I’ve registered my surprise that, while queer theology is mentioned in LLF, no queer readings of Scripture are included, but there’s my answer: that these are not considered “serious” readings.
Throughout today’s presentation, though, I noticed the language of ‘we’ and ‘ours’. I have observed this at every stage of the LLF process and I find it no less revealing and no less dangerous now. From the Bishop of London: “our actions” can cause distress; we need to acknowledge “our authority and power”; “how do we as a church make space for…”. Who are ‘we’ here? Thank God, despite everything, there are already people who are LGBTI in the Church of England, including in the House of Bishops. Why is it that, whenever I hear presentations about LLF, they sound as if the cis-het majority ‘we’ are graciously allowing various ‘theys’ to enter ‘our’ space?