Listening to Gay Christians: Anglicans move forward.

Too often in matters dealing with church and sexuality, we find two sides shouting at each other, when what is needed is proper discussion, which requires careful listening.  In the churches, we often speak of a “gift of tongues”:  the gift of ears is equally important, so I was delighted to find this story from Episcopal On-line, on the Anglican /Episcopal Communion’s moves to formalise a listening process on homosexuality:

Listening Process a ‘gift’ to church

Listening to the experiences of gay and lesbian Christians may have been commonplace in some dioceses and congregations for decades, but no official Anglican Communion-wide effort got underway until just over three years ago.

A second phase of the process, called the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Project, now is launching with the help of a $1.5 million grant. It will allow clergy and laity to share their experience of listening to homosexual Christians and offer the opportunity for Episcopalians to hear stories of mission in contexts far removed from their own.  …….. The Anglican Communion Listening Process is essential to continuing “to open up conversations that we’ve really not had,” said Bishop John Chane of the Diocese of Washington. “Before you can get into changing hearts and minds, you need to come to the table for conversation. That’s the gift it can present”.

Personally, I love the fact that they have adopted from South Africa the good Zulu word “indaba” (pronounced  “in-dah-ba”):

Indaba groups
The Listening Process played an important role at the
2008 Lambeth Conference, particularly through the indaba groups, “which gave us the opportunity to state our concerns in a nonlegislative way,” said Chane. Indaba is a Zulu word for the process of decision making by consensus common in many African cultures.

This has been a long time coming, but is all the more welcome for having finally begun:

In the Episcopal Church, the process of listening to the voices of gay and lesbian people began in the 1960s. A 1976 General Convention resolution said that “homosexual persons are children of God, who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.”

Bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference committed, through Resolution I.10, “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons” and called for a “means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the communion.” In 2005, the ACC called for the process to be set up without further delay.

Asked why it took so long for the process to get off the ground, Chane said, “One of the biggest logjams is really defined by fear — fear about where this is going to take us from a theological point of view and a cultural point of view.”

The best part of it, for me, is that the formal process will require people to move away from simple arguing about the issue, into a more reflective , prayerful process, and to become “more theologically literate” – both which can only be healthy:

“We should be encouraging people to listen and then go away and do some reflection … and listen to your inner self and what the Spirit is saying to you,” said African theologian the Very Rev. Victor Atta-Baffoe, a facilitator on the topic “Listening and Homosexuality” at the 2008 conference…..

During convention, the consultation released a study guide to help congregations deal with difficult questions regarding homosexuality and to assist churches struggling to understand how to interpret Scripture and the Christian tradition, according to the Rev. Ruth Meyers, consultation co-convener, and Hodges Haynes liturgics professor at Church Divinity School of the PacificChurch Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California.,

The booklet’s five essays, written by Episcopal and Anglican theologians, review human sexuality within the context of Scripture, tradition, ethics and liturgy, followed by eight pages of discussion questions. The guide is a way to “invite people to engage those questions and become theologically literate, and we see this as a way to engage people in the Listening Process,” Meyers said.

For the communion-wide process to work, she said, LGBT people need safe places to tell their stories “in a way that they could be received with love and generosity in the grace of God.”

Louie Crew, an openly gay partnered deputy from the Diocese of Newark, commended the work of the consultation in listening to LGBT Christians and educating the wider church.

Crew, who has been with his partner for more than 35 years, said he enjoyed engaging the hard questions about his sexuality. “Too often the dialogue ends up being a group talking about gays, and gays don’t turn up,” he said. “The breakthrough is so dramatic and so quick when you have good dialogue. Much of the misinterpretations can be changed in one conversation.”

In principle, the Catholic Church has similarly declared its obligation to become a “listening Church” – but where has it ever created the structures in which we can speak up, on this or any other issue?  Like the recent decisions by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, like the routine election of bishops in the Anglican communion, and like standard practice in the full Christian community for so many centuries, this is an important process involving the entire church community – not just imposed from on high on the rest of us.

Would that we in the Catholic Church, too could give concrete form to the declared intentions of greater lay participation.


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