The last few days have been amongst the best I have experienced in the church. There was sense of community and a deep sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit as we discussed and reached unanimity on issues which threatened to destroy our church as they had done to several others. When Bishop Helen Ann Hartley began to read the statement that we had all worked so hard to produce, I couldn't hold back the tears. We had done what I considered to be impossible, and there is, at last, a way ahead for us.
That wise old man Robert Johnson talks about the way almost all problems are framed as paradoxes; they are presented to us as a choice between two irreconcilable opposites; as being caught on the two horns of a dilemma. As we consider the opposites our tendency is to gravitate towards one of the two horns of the dilemma and label it "Good" and to distance ourselves from the other horn which we label "Bad". Then we expend considerable energy trying to diminish or even get rid of the "bad" horn and accentuate the "good" horn. This is a futile operation, says Robert Johnson because actually the two are inextricably linked and all we do is make ourselves guilty and wretched because of our inability to banish the one and embrace the other. The way of wisdom, the old man says, is to give due honour to both; to allow both to speak and then the wise way ahead will present itself as the ground in creative tension between the two opposites.
This dynamic has worked its way out in the life of our church. We have lived with two views on human sexuality which are mutually contradictory. Proponents of both views have tended to look at the other and label it in various derogatory ways, while claiming intellectual, Biblical and moral superiority for their own, favoured, position. Attempts to find the "correct" horn of the dilemma by way of exegesis, theology, and reason have failed. How could they do otherwise? So, for the last year or two our church has tried a different tack. We have sought, not a resolution to our intractable differences, but a way of living with difference. And today we succeeded. Or at least, we have a path which, if followed, will lead us to success.
As I told you yesterday, we talked in various combinations for two days. Last night we selected some of our number, known for their intelligence and representative of the divergent views on this matter, and asked them to prepare a statement which summarised the essence of our long conversation and articulated the way forward we could all see emerging. The resulting document was, with only a few minor typographical tweaks, passed unanimously by the synod. In the hours since it was made public, of course it has generated some disappointment. For some it doesn't go nearly far enough or fast enough. For some, it goes far too far and far too quickly. These reactions were inevitable as long as some people were (and , let's be frank, this is most of us) hoping that their own particular horn of the dilemma (the good horn) was going to win over the other one (the bad horn).
There's a few things that it's necessary to understand when assessing the statement. One is that because of the way our church has been set up we require a very prescribed process to make a change to our fundamental doctrines. This process involves referral to all diocesan synods and to two General Synods and might even require an act of parliament. It was always going to take at least four years. Another is that we in the General Synod have proceeded from the assumption that all members of our church are children of God and are worthy of respect. We have assumed, I think accurately, that people have acted faithfully, intelligently and Biblically no matter where their opinion on this matter might lie. We have taken it as axiomatic that Jesus' prayer recorded in John 17 that his church be one, even as he and the Father are one is an imperative that we simply cannot disregard.
I am not going to paraphrase the statement here. It is better to read it and sit with it for a while, although I realise that only those who were at General Synod will know the depth of communion that went into its crafting. What I will say is that it seeks to give honour to both sides of our dilemma. It commits us to finding a way of reshaping our church so that both sides can live with personal integrity, and with us still participating in our fundamental oneness in Christ. It does this as fast as our processes allow. It recognises the pain of LGBT people and apologises for that, and suggests a way in which a pastoral response can be made to our LGBT people immediately.
Of course there is a lot of work ahead. We take this issue seriously enough to make deep changes to our way of ordering ourselves. The statement necessitates a re-examination of our doctrines of ordination and of marriage and the re-ordering of our church life will require careful thought and listening over the next few years. The result will be, I am utterly sure, a church more fitted for mission than it is today, and one in which all our members will be able to answer the call of bringing to the world the Gospel of God's unconditional love revealed in the life death and resurrection Jesus Christ.