Friendly fire ....
The decision is drawing near. As we await the declared mind of the Bishops and General Synod of the Church of England on the full welcome and blessing of those in same-sex relationships, many are feeling very vulnerable and may be carrying abiding hurts and wounds. We are grateful to Marcus Green for sharing from his personal journey here. He is chaplain at Worcester College, Oxford, the author of The Possibility of Difference – a biblical affirmation of inclusivity (2018) and a convenor of Inclusive Evangelicals.
"In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."
Dr Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream
How do we deal with people who disagree with us? Worse - who disagree with us and hurt us in the process?
For those of us who are LGBTQ+ and Christian, it is simply commonplace that we get hit by ‘friendly fire’. People who are feted as being godly and recognised as having spiritual authority say and do things that can sap our souls. Seemingly without thinking. On a whim. And nobody apparently cares - or even notices.
It’s all very well to have yet another well-meaning spiritual friend point to Jesus saying ‘turn the other cheek’. I’ve run out of cheeks. And also patience with people who just don’t get what I’m going through.
"It’s all very well to point to Jesus saying ‘turn the other cheek’.
I’ve run out of cheeks. Except ....."
Except, of course, it’s not supposed to be about my reservoirs of holiness, or the heroic faith of the leaders around us. It’s supposed to be about Jesus, and all of us in our various states of mess following Jesus together. When I’m strong, I carry my friends, and when I’m weak they carry me, and when it’s all going belly-up, still we somehow follow Jesus. Knowing that if today I have been hurt by someone supposedly awesome, the truth is that tomorrow I’ll do the same to someone else and they’ll be disappointed in me.
And Jesus - get this - is disappointed in neither of us.
Jesus just keeps on pouring out love and grace and kindness and forgiveness, and (after all these years) sometimes some of it sticks and then pours out just a little from me too. Just a little.
So as we approach November’s Synod, at a time when it’s going to get very easy to say rough things to people who cling to the name of Jesus as I do but who find my existence as a gay man ontologically unacceptable, I’m going to make a pledge:
I may express sadness or disappointment at things that happen or fail to happen. Hurt, even. But I promise not to get personal. I promise not to attack another person, verbally, in writing, at a restaurant, in any way. At any point. I believe that God loves the people I struggle with, and whom, it seems, struggle with me. I believe in a God who loves people - period. So I will not attack anyone whom God loves.
I will not ‘drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred’. There is a better stream to quench my thirst.
"I will not ‘drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred’. There is a better stream to quench my thirst."
And in the light of that, may I offer a personal story?
A little testimony?
For the last several months, I’ve been occasionally attending services at a church that (in my youth) had its moments of contributing to hurting me as a gay man. I don’t know exactly where that church stands now in supporting LGBTQ+ people - in the conversations I’ve had it seems to me there are some who remain very conservative there, and some who really aren’t. But my recent experiences there have been healing. I’ve loved worshipping there. I’ve loved standing with people who love to stand with me, and some who struggle to do so. I continue to learn so much from the preaching there.
I’ve particularly valued renewing friendship with Simon Ponsonby, a good man whom God loves enormously*. We fell out of regular contact some years ago, around the time my Possibility of Difference book was published. He took the initiative to renew our friendship. He showed kindness. His theology is still much more conservative than I’d like it to be, but his heart is kind. I may not agree with his every word; yet I love his heart, and am grateful for it, and for the kindness of God that has given me the grace of this friendship once more.
I could have clung to my hurt and ignored Simon’s apology. I would have been much the poorer. So we shrugged, and smiled, and each of us felt Jesus place a hand on our shoulders, and we’ve gotten on with following him. Let me be clear - I’ve not converted Simon to my way of seeing the world! But I think the angst and pain that was there for a while has gone and we meet as brothers in Christ.
And - if I was hit by friendly fire now, I know I have another person who would care for me.
*I need to acknowledge that Simon has very kindly agreed to me sharing this on this site; something else I’m grateful to him for.