Synods and salvation
There are some determined efforts on the part of conservative commentators to spin the defeat of GS2055. It was a technical win, because of the vote by houses, not a popular one; it was not the liberals alone, but conservatives as well who voted it down; it was a self-defeating move for those who want change, as nothing can now come back in this quinquennium. The first two points are true, but fail to realise that those leading the campaign against taking note of the report were well aware of two things; that killing the report would require the exercise of skilled synodical tactics, and that they knew that the ultras on the other side would also vote against.
Part of the frustration in conservative ranks is born out of their astonishment at the effectiveness of the liberal campaign. Their third attempt at spin is simply incorrect. GS2055 cannot come back, but the topic can in a multiplicity of guises.
It must have been unnerving for those who thought GS2055 insufficiently disciplinary and traditional to hear Justin Welby calling for a “radical new Christian inclusion”. Whatever that means, and that waits to be discovered, it certainly not a move in a traditionalist direction. Christian Concern and Reform have passed their high water mark, and face an ebb tide.
However, while the struggle is played out in Synodical tactics, we never forget that this is about people’s lives, loves, vocations, health and wellbeing. The poisonous legacy of the traditional teaching that simply casts LGBTI+ people as sinners, their loves as fornication and their lives as immoral is exposed as cruel and unjust in the stories of those lives damaged or ended because of the homophobia they have been subjected to.
When Jesus announces the Isaiahan vision of the in breaking Kingdom in Luke 4 everyone in the synagogue speaks well of him. But within only a few verses we read that the people are so angry with him that they try to kill him. What changes their attitude so suddenly?
Jesus tells them about the outsiders in their history who share in God’s saving purposes – people like Naaman the Syrian. The message is clear; salvation is not for some only, but for all. Not just for holy Israel but for unclean Syrians too. Not just for heterosexual folk with their apparently uncomplicated relationships, but for the rainbow alphabet of LGBTIQA+, for all people who know their need of God. Until all come in, then none of us can say we have truly received the grace of salvation.
For we who are knocking at the door, asking for space at the table with all God’s children, it feels like we are trying to alert the churches to this message. We know, both in our reading of Scripture and in our lived Christian experience that for us, the grace of God has met us most fully when we have stopped pretending too be other than we are and have found the Spirit’s power at work in our LGBTI+ lives.
But we also know that the message of Jesus at Nazareth is for us às well. While we fight for our liberation and the liberation of every LGBTI+ disciple, that is not enough. Our struggle is also for those who oppose us, those who denigrate and despise us and wish we would go away. Our fight is not with them, in the end, but for them, because we know that we are called to be one body jn Christ, so that all may be saved.
Synods are at the political end of making change in churches happen. That pits people against each other. But beyond it, the gospel calls us to work for changes that bring everybody in, until the table is filled and the feast can begin.
Jeremy Pemberton, 18th February 2017