Heading for Vancouver at the end of June, it was disappointing to read in the Church of Ireland Gazette this morning that a church I attended last time we were there was one of those that had left the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop and that its clergy were regarded by the bishop as having abandoned their ministry.
The split surrounds the gay marriage issue, but runs much deeper, and can have no happy ending. Perhaps those who have left are too conservative and intolerant, but when the network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered clergy publishes material like the following, it is hard as a very ordinary, middle of the road person not to feel sympathy for the conservatives, who say liberals within the church have completely abandoned traditional Christian teaching.
This is from a publication on sexual ethics, even people who have no religious conviction, but believe in commitment and faithfulness, would surely take exception?
There is often an implicit assumption in using the words ‘faithfulness’ and ‘commitment’ in this discussion that we are always talking about sexual relationships persisting over a long period of time. And of course time provides the vital conditions for development, change and growth. To be committed is to take things seriously. It is to say ‘Tomorrow I will be here as well as today, which means that we have time. Time for facing up to the reality of each other. I am not going to run away (from you or myself).’ However, the biblical theme is primarily about the overwhelming demand to remain faithful to our covenantal relationship with God through the Spirit (which, as the gospels warn, may challenge conventional family obligations).
Thus while it is clear to us as LGBTs when we survey the gay scene, and indeed much of contemporary social life, that casual sex can often be addictive and destructive, we think it is important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace. Risky, but then as Paul Tillich said ‘A Christian is safest taking risks!’
The exploration of our sexual selves can be something which benefits from involvement with more than one person. Sexual involvement does not necessarily involve any greater psychic risk to a person than does emotional involvement (though the two are deeply intertwined). We recognise that people fall in love, become involved, get hurt, experience love not reciprocated or mutuality achieved. All this is an inevitable and appropriate part of the process of finding a life partner; becoming sexually involved can be part of the process and may well cause less damage and pain than the emotional dimension. It may seem that there is an irreconcilable clash between the ethical ideal of love and the realities of our sexual lives. But maybe our human struggles to live with integrity, embracing these tensions, come closer to a greater Christian reality? One of us put it thus – “What’s real is the relationship between idealistic aspiration and so-called ‘real life’.”
Is this where the future lies?