Theology Blog: Shared Regional Conversations
At the end of 2013 the House of Bishops published a report on human sexuality, commonly known as the Pilling Report. This was the latest document issued by the House of Bishops on the issue of human sexuality, in an attempt to find a way forward for the Church. The report reflected the divisions in the church both in its style and its contents. It recommended setting up Shared Regional Conversations, where representatives of different dioceses would get together in facilitated conversation to talk about this issue. These have now started to happen.
Representatives of Leicester Diocese attended the recent East Midlands conversation, which took place over three days – there was a lot to talk about. There was a broad range of people there from a wide range of opinions and positions. Some came with firmly held views and some came to learn more about a difficult topic. It is not always easy to talk to people who profoundly disagree with you, but having a conversation is certainly a lot better than arguing with each other as we seek to defend our entrenched positions. I certainly valued the opportunity to sit down and talk to people, being able to ask questions about what exactly they believed and how those beliefs impacted on their churches and ministries.
Having these conversations means that you have to be vulnerable, being willing to share your own stories and having to explain your own position to those who disagree with you or just misunderstand you. I had to explain several times that being on the liberal wing of the church does not mean that I believe in a sexual ethic where ‘anything goes’. Nor was this a disagreement between those who were faithful to the Bible and those who have abandoned the Bible or who ignore the inconvenient bits. We have to talk to each other to realise that different positions and views can be held equally by faithful Christians based on their different readings of Scripture.
Human sexuality is a broad subject, but among the controversial aspects is the question of same-sex relationships. The Pilling report was issued too early to consider the impact of same-sex marriage on the church, but this was one topic of the conversations. There were some delegates there who were LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex) and some were in same-sex marriages. This led to some difficult conversations. What I heard from those from the various dioceses was that they welcome LGBTI people into their churches.
As a church we have to consider how we use scripture. I do not mean merely quoting Bible passages at each other, but whether we use it in a manner that does honour to our faith in a loving God. Do we use our favourite scriptures as weapons, to hurt others and exclude those we disagree with? Do we use scripture to build bridges between people, to draw others into faith in Jesus? We need to read our Bibles and let the Holy Spirit use scripture to draw us into a deeper encounter with God, we can not simply choose our favourite passages which show that God agrees with us.
I believe passionately in the church being inclusive and welcoming to all. That means that I want to be in a church with those who disagree with me. We are the body of Christ and in a body there will be different views of the same thing. The big toe will get a different view from that of the top of the head and to get a full picture we need all views in the body of Christ. I hope we can find a way to have good disagreement in the church, so that we can then focus on mission, taking the Gospel message of a loving Saviour to those outside the church. To do that, we need to keep talking to each other and listening to the Holy Spirit.