Inclusive Church Reflections
Caroline Riches writes:
A series of evenings was held to discuss how comfortable and safe people with differences (such as race, disability, sexuality, etc.) might feel, and how they can fully belong to and play their part in the church family. It was agreed to start by talking about people in same-sex relationships, since this is an issue that can drive our gay brothers and sisters away from church if they feel judged. First we learned about the traditions of the church and marriage. It was interesting to find out that marriage was secular until the 1700s, and to learn more about the changes over time, such as the Church of England allowing remarriage after divorce as recently as 2002. Going further back into history, we talked about how marriage has changed during and since Biblical times. The following two evenings focused on what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. Participants took it in turn to lead a short study on each Bible passage. The Bible does not seem to condemn loving same-sex relationships, as the passages speak about other contexts such as pagan worship practices or abusive/coercive relationships with unequal power. There was a range of opinions amongst the group, and there are probably other barriers to full inclusion that need to be considered, other than what the Bible says. It will be good to look also at other differences that might make it difficult for people to fully belong to the church.
Jim Gorringe writes:
It’s been an interesting experience being part of this group, led by Lucy, and exploring what we understand by ‘inclusive church’, specifically in relation to human sexuality. I’m grateful to those who have led the various sessions looking at Bible passages that have been seen as undergirding the traditional church teaching on marriage and LGBTQ+ orientation and practice.
I come at this as a Methodist and someone who has for many years advocated inclusion of those who have often been made to feel unwelcome in church. In its simplest form I see the issue as one of acceptance of difference and diversity, believing the gospel of Jesus challenges us to love as God loves, with kindness and respect.
In the hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ there’s a verse that sums up my thinking – ‘For the love of God is broader/than the measures of man’s mind; /and the heart of the Eternal/is most wonderfully kind.’
We seem in the church to be too ready to make judgments on others because of a difference in sexual orientation and cling to teaching that is not reflective of our modern understanding of the diversity of human experience.
I know this makes people within the church, who hold to traditional teaching, very nervous, as it feels as if to be open to exploring these issues is challenging Scriptural teaching and interpretation.
As Christians we are called to be open to the movement of God’s Spirit and to an exploration of the meaning of Scripture by understanding its social and cultural context.
It’s why I’m keen to discover more of what these groups will bring as we look at other aspects of what it means to be ‘inclusive church’.
Jenny Tomlinson writes:
· If you missed coming to the monthly Inclusive Church Study Group either in person or on Zoom, you missed a lot.
· At the first session, following a brief discussion about which aspects of Inclusive Church we felt were most pressing for us to study, we agreed to study Sex and Relationships. Books were available for us to borrow to deepen our knowledge and understanding.
· Lucy suggested that our Christian views on all aspects of theology are formed from a mixture of scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
· She handed out Some Views of Biblical Authority (adapted from ‘Living in Love and Faith’). This set out 7 different views and we were asked to say to which view we most closely aligned.
· She gave us the position of the Church of England on sex and marriage. It is against Canon Law to marry same sex couples or bless a Civil Partnership between same sex couples. And yet 1100 clergy have said, in a recent poll, that they would like to be able to conduct a marriage between same sex couples and three Bishops have subsequently said they would support same sex marriage.
· By the second session we were keen to hear from 3 men who had studied 3 bible passages which provoke much dissension within the church and wider society. They gave their own interpretation of the verses from scripture - from an historical perspective, a biblical perspective and their own perspective.
· In the third session we heard from 3 women, using the same approach.
· In lively debate and discussion we grappled with issues such as how can what was written a few thousand years ago still be relevant to us now, how society and the rôle of women has changed, the biblical juxtaposition of views – sometimes completely opposed to each other and sometimes questioning in the New Testament what was said in the Old Testament.
· We were asked each time – what surprised you? what challenged you? and what will you remember? Which of the many proclamations on the subject are actually the word of God? And where is LOVE in all this? Jesus spoke about love a lot.
· As a Group we were being challenged about why we’re not an inclusive church (even though we claim to be on our website), and what becoming an Inclusive Church would mean. Note – the capital letters. Becoming an Inclusive Church means we would sign up to a Values Statement, and this is a decision for PCC to take.