People are joining our churches all the time – but the congregations never seem to get bigger because others either die or fall away. And all this starting and stopping seems to happen quite independently of any conscious mission strategies which we adopt and try to implement, which I take to be one of God’s jokes.
I found something sad in speaking to two of those who had simply stopped coming to one of our churches over the last year to find that one objected to a liberal approach to homosexuality in one sermon while another couldn’t stand the Anglican Communion’s failure to be totally inclusive - it seems almost unfair on a relatively small church in which I hadn’t ever heard the issue mentioned to find itself two good members down in this contradictory way.
I did name this situation in sermons at each church recently, reminding people that I had once (but actually a very long time ago) undertaken an exercise intended to help all of us understand where those we disagree with on either side of this issue are coming from, and offering to do so again.
I’ve been following two quite different expressions of the two points of view this week.
First, Michael Gove interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury for The Spectator and wrote this:
If one of his own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked his blessing, how would he react? ‘Would I pray for them together? You bet I would, absolutely. Would I pray with them together? If they wanted me to. If they had a civil service of marriage, would I attend? Of course I would.’ But, I challenged him, conscious of what many evangelicals believe, wouldn’t you say to them that while you love them, their relationship was sinful or inappropriate? ‘I would say, “I will always love you, full stop. End of sentence, end of paragraph.” Whatever they say, I will say I always love them.’
Which led one liberal Christian commentator (Bosco Peters in New Zealand) to respond with this:
If God as a loving father, loving parent, is a primary (some will say God-given) image, is that not what we would expect from God? From Jesus? If we ask God, if we ask Jesus, questions like “If one of your own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked your blessing, how would he react? Would you pray for them together? Would you pray with them together? If they had a service of marriage, would you be present?”, do you think the Archbishop of Canterbury is more loving than God, than Jesus?
Meanwhile, Chris Sugden (probably the most articulate, influential and prominent spokesman for what he sees as the ‘mainstream’ conservative point of view) appeared again on Radio 4’s Sunday programme and managed to claim both that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle choice’ and that his own extensive research in Africa revealed that those who support the criminalisation of homosexual activity do so mainly to protect young people from grooming.
If you start from the point of view that homosexuality is not an inherent disposition for some, and then you appear to conflate it with paedophilia and skip over the mammoth issue of heterosexual grooming of girls and exploitation of young women, then I can see that you wouldn’t end up taking a liberal position, but I can’t think he has done the conservative position any favours.
Meanwhile, spring shoots are coming up in St Nicolas’ churchyard.