Yesterday I took part in an interview on BBC Local Radio at Radio Sheffield, I was invited to talk about the “God in Love Unites Us” report that was received and voted upon at Methodist Conference last week. Among many other things the report looked in principle at the agreement for same sex marriages to be celebrated in Methodist Churches in Great Britain. It received overwhelming support.
In the interview I was conscious of speaking for the Methodist Church and knew that as an advocate of celebrating same sex relationships, that I also had to represent those who do not. The report itself gave room for this, in that it recognised that there are different ways of reading Scripture, and that those different ways of reading will lead to different interpretations. Some claim the Bible is the ultimate authority and do not take context or culture into account, while others will do both, reading it through experience and asking questions of both historical and current culture.
To be in the room when the vote was taken was a privilege, to hear the result was for me an occasion for rejoicing, and yet I knew that it caused pain to others, and I would not want them to feel that pain. The way that the result of the vote was received was a holy moment as a hush fell over the room. In some measure this was directed by our President Rev’d Barbara Glasson, but I also believe it was born of a very real grace, a charism that the Methodist Church holds dear.
So why then am I writing? Partly to nail my (rainbow) colours to the mast, though that hardly needs doing, but partly to acknowledge the pain of this journey for so many of my brothers and sisters, and that it is a continuing pain that they carry, and those brothers and sisters stand at times on opposite ends of the debate… and yet I also want to drop the words debate and issue from our conversations.
I want to say again and again that this is about people, people who we need to look in the eye and love, people who are loved by God and who are ALL, yes ALL made in the image of God. None of us if we dare to call ourselves people of faith can deny the other that truth, it is simply who we are, no matter our colour, our gender, our sexuality, out ethnicity, our other ability… the list goes on and one, for each and every one of us is unique, and just if we pause to ponder it a small reflection of the wonderful diversity of the whole of creation.
I know that I am not the only one saying this by a long way, but I also believe that we must keep saying it, and that we must keep seeking to live in love and unity, and to acknowledge that, that will be costly because love by its very nature is an act of giving, we cannot only receive love we must pass it on or it is not love at all. There are many things it might be, of the many unhealthy/ selfish feelings we are capable of but not love.
Love is shown to us by our divine creator, Parent, Child and Spirit, who model for us a divine self-giving, often described by those who dare to struggle with understanding the trinity as a mutuality of love constantly both giving and receiving, and the deeper mystery still is that there is room for us in the divine flow, ALL of us, and not just when we get it right, but often so much more deeply when we come to the end of ourselves and our capabilities and simply surrender to the love that is.
So much of our pilgrimage of faith is spent trying to walk the right way, to seek the right things and to ( at times) help others to do the same, and we miss the fact that this often makes us brittle and judgmental and cynical, mostly because it is utterly beyond us unless we truly surrender to love. I can write this, but I am aware that I am not very good at putting it into practice, in fact more often love, true divine love sneaks up on me and zaps me when I least expect it, and when it does I find myself connected to everything and everyone and deeply at peace.
If then we are to journey together we must do so in the name of love and not in pursuit of getting it right, for in love we will get it right even though we may disagree with what right is! Throughout the ages Christians have disagreed, I could start writing a list of what they have disagreed about but it would take sometime, at this present time, if we are honest the thing that we are preoccupied with is sex, and what/ how people express themselves as sexual beings. Once again I want to say that we are all unique, and that I am convinced that there is not one way for anyone! I also know that as a young person I disrespected myself , and others, by muddling sexual expression with love leaving a trail of devastation in my wake that still needs some healing! Again I am sure that I am not alone there.
If we are to journey together we need to lay aside our preoccupation with sex and concentrate on love, on good relating, on kindness, on gentleness, on patience ( you know the rest). We need when we can to take the hand of the other, to dare to consider what it is to walk in the shoes of the other, to be the other, to feel for and with those with whom we may profoundly disagree.
Of course, this is about justice ( most often for those who have been and are being oppressed), and with justice comes mercy, and while I have an opinion, a very strong opinion, I choose to hold it in love, and to accept that I might be wrong, no matter how convinced I am that I am right. Here I believe that God will meet me and you, and probably lead us into a more spacious place than we could ever imagine, for no-one is excluded from love! No-one, and if you don’t find that challenging, then I have no idea what will challenge you.
I finish by saying that I am not advocating being a doormat to be walked all over, if abuse becomes an issue then it should be treated as the hate crime that it is!