Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Anglican Church, Sexuality and Colonialism

If you've been reading the papers over the last week then you've probably realised that the Anglican Communion (which is global and includes the Church of England), is in a bit of a mess at the moment. Not unusually in the church its all about sexuality, homosexuality specifically. I should probably clarify before I go on that I'm not an Anglican and have only a very limited knowledge about this way of doing church (as I'm Scottish and therefore a puritanical presbyterian!), so please forgive and correct any errors you say.

One of the more recent events is the marriage (or as most of the newspapers put it 'marriage') of two male Anglican priests in London earlier this month. While this has been controversial for a long time, a lot of the controversy started when Gene Robertson was the first openly gay person to be made a bishop. Theres a really nice profile on him here . There was a lot of anger over this, particularily from many of the African Bishops, which has culminated in an alternative to the Lambeth Conference (big gathering of Bishops) being held for conservative Bishops in Jerusalem at the moment, with a lot of time being taken up discussion homosexuality.

Some people have rightly highlighted that these Bishops have behaved appallingly in their unwillingness to condemn homophobic hate crime (in many of the African countries, often state sanctioned violence).

I am equally shocked by this, and pray that as they discuss these issues they will be able to reach a gracious and compassionate stance even if they don't end up reaching more liberal conclusions about the bible. And yes, I wish that we weren't so obsessed with sex in the church, but I recognise that this is a real difficult issue. While so many of these conversations are laced with some disgusting homophobia, at root this is a question about the very nature of the bible, and so it is important that people in the church are given the space to engage seriously with issues of sexuality and reach their own conclusions.

However, the thing we have to remember is that this alternative meeting is a lot more significant than just a big disagreement over relationships and sex. We have to remember that the history of the Anglican Communion goes right alongside the British Empire and Colonialism. Even now, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is British) is in charge. This isn't just a question of sexuality, its also a question of whether or not wealthy white countries (Britain being in charge, and the US being where much of the controversy is coming from, the Episcopalian church there is very liberal) should be able to tell developing countries what to do.

While always keeping in mind the awful, un-Christlike abuse and violence towards LGBT people all over the world (in Africa and the middle-east in particular), we cannot win this battle by continuing in fundamentally racist and imperialist attitudes. If the African Anglican Church is to change its mind on issues of sexuality, then African Christians and African LGBT people will have to lead the way. We can give our opinions and assistance to their struggle, but we don't get to be in charge.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Lessons in not giving up

I spent most of Saturday at Faslane (where our nucleur weapons are kept), making a peace chain round the base with CND. I feel like I have a real heritage with CND, partly because my parents were involved in the past, but mostly because CND is just full of amazing older progressive christians. Surrouding myself with elderly quaker women and members of the Iona Community makes me feel safe and inspired.

But more than anything else I was reminded of the hope and drive that has kept CND existing for 50 years. Most of its more committed members are getting old now, peace loving grandparents who've been trying to change the world for a long time. And nucleur weapons have gone in and out of fashion a lot over the years. They came back for a while last year but protestors (especially the student sort) are a fickle group and we've moved on to new and more exciting causes this year. So many big deal causes are forgotten about, from Make Poverty History to landmines (one of the first campaigns I got involved in as a teenager - not much has changed).

I've inspired by the fact that all the people I met on Saturday haven't given up. They really believe that they are going to win one day and they are so full of hope. Trends will always come and go, but those of us who really care, whether its about violence against women, sweatshops, the arms trade, climate change or anything have got to find the hope and the strenth to keep going when the press has gone and the trendy campaigners have moved on.

LIke so many of the anti-nucleur campaigners, even now when I feel somewhat hopeless, I am hanging on because 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me', and because I really, genuinly do believe that Christ will win one day, and the real, non-cliched peace will come.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Reflections on Community

Like all slightly pretentious 'emerging' type Christians, I spend a lot of my time talking about community. And of course, there is good reason for this. Community is up there with grace, redemption and justice in some of the key themes of the bible and christianity in general. One of my favourite things about the trinity is that it shows that even before humans were created there was community: God within him/herself is a community of three. When the bible says that we are 'made in the image of God', then being made to relate towards and love others is a key part of that. And of course, the concept of community is key to what we read about the early church. Without romanticising what it was like too much, we can read that the early church was a community which 'shared everything' (in Acts) and was always willing to give to another part of the body that was in need (as when there was a famine in the church in Jerusalem).

However, like most slightly self obsessed people that spend too much time on the internet I spend a lot less time actually doing community (its definatly a verb) than I do thinking about it. This has not always been the case, and I have some examples in my life of some wonderful forms of community. When I was a teenager I was part of a bible study group (our name was 'gorgeous girls going for God' - embarrasing but true), that was an amazing community to be a part of. This community changed my life, made God relevant to me, and in all likelihood I wouldn't still be trying to follow God without the amazing women involved. When I got involved in organising Reclaim the Night Edinburgh last year, I found myself being involved in one of the most genuinly caring communities I'm ever seen. Being involved in this community also changed my life. I'm most definatly a feminist (and scary and humourless etc) now, which I probably wouldn't have said before.

But there are two key features of community that I'd like to look at, both are reasons which mean that at the moment, I'm finding community hard. Often, when progressive liberal christians talk about wanting christian community, what we really mean is that we want community with christians who are exactly like us. We want to be able to surround ourselves with people who think like us and act like us so that we can feel safe. And of course, there is some truth in this dream. I definatly want to have more christians in my life that think like me! But this is a very limited view of what community means. We are deluded if we think that the community in the early church was one were everyone agreed. You don't have to get far into Paul's letters to see the many conflicts there were about food offered to idols, about what particular church leaders people followed, about whether or not women should lead and a whole lot more. Its really not unlike the conflict we have today. But to my mind, real community will mean looking beyond the real, and sometimes huge differences we have with the christians around us, and trying to work out how to be a part of each others lives, and love each other anyway.

The women who I was in a bible study with as teenagers now have very diverse lifes (some of us are even married!), politics and ways of living out their faith. But because we have established an honest community of love we are still part of each others lives to some degree, and still friends despite our differences. For me, this differences are constantly challenging me in what I think and how I live, usually changing me for the better.

But this is not the main reason that I often avoid community, especially christian community. If we want to have community then we have to really get to know each other so that we can be involved, supportive, loving and challenging. And right at the moment, I'm really struggling with this. Like many of us, I like people to think that I'm perfect. If I begin to really let you know about my fears, my failures, the selfishness that I try to hide with my right on politcs, my desperate search for approval, my feelings of rejection from the church, then you will realise that I don't have it together and that I'm not perfect. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had to get rid of my mask of always being right.

Thinking about community raises more challenges and fears for me than anything else at the moment. Yet if what I said at the start is true, that to exist in community is part of our 'God-given' nature is true, then at some point we're all going to have to take up the challenge. Life is better when we're together.

(I loev to end on a good cliche)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Carnival of Progressive Christians

Theres a new carnival in town! How exciting. For those of you who don't know, a blog carnival tries to pull together lots of interests perspectives from people within a particular group. Some examples that might interest include the carnival against pornography and prostitution (http://burningtimes1645.wordpress.com/2008/06/01/sixth-carnival-against-pornography-and-prostitution/#comment-739), the carnival of sexual freedom and autonomy (http://www.wakingvixen.com/blog/2008/06/02/fourth-feminist-carnival-of-sexual-freedom-and-autonomy/)and the Carnival of Feminists (http://beagoodhuman.blogspot.com/2008/04/58th-carnival-of-feminists.html)

This carnival is for Progressive christians, the link is http://withoutachurch.wordpress.com/ (incidently, how do I do a link without just putting the web page in, this whole post looks ridiculous). The theme for July is community, and I know some of my blogging friends reading this have some really interesting thoughts, so write something and submit it on the page given.