Thankfully it only happens very rarely, but it remains excruciatingly embarrassing for both parties.
In such cases the person excluded or forgotten probably feels more hurt than anything else. I suppose I feel a bit hurt at the moment, but more sad than hurt. And such hurt as I feel is not for me, but for the church and the process of discernment.
As people continue to react and respond to the General Assembly’s debate on the issue of ministers in same-sex relationships, so groups have been gathering to discuss what to do and how to deal with the implications of the ‘trajectory’ that has been adopted. There have been, and there are to be, meetings of ‘evangelicals’ to debate and reflect and pray. I have heard about these from colleagues and from postings on facebook.
But I have not been asked to attend any of them. I am not surprised. I don’t think that I would now be regarded as ‘one of them’. I saw on facebook another colleague ask if he could attend… answer came there none! That said, it is possible that although I was not invited, I could have attended anyway. Maybe I too should have asked. Perhaps I would have been welcomed. But my impression is that these were invitation only events (and if I have this wrong, then I apologise and will ask to attend next time).
But I do think that the likelihood is that I and others have not been invited simply because we do not necessarily or decisively disagree with the chosen trajectory of the General Assembly. In other words, this issue seems to have become for some colleagues the litmus test of orthodoxy. Why has this happened? Why this issue? Who gave to others the right to decide who is or is not an ‘evangelical’, or who is or is not included?
The late Michael Vasey, author of the book ‘Strangers and Friends’ was an Anglican clergyman, a self-identified ‘evangelical’ and openly gay. Several years ago, when I was having a discussion with an ‘evangelical’ colleague in the course of which I was explaining that I was no longer so sure that the church should hold the ‘traditionalist’ position, I mentioned Vasey and suggested that he was an example of an ‘evangelical’ who took a different viewpoint. My friend responded, ‘ah, but he is not really considered an evangelical anymore’. Why was he not? Because he was openly gay and espoused an ‘affirming’ and ‘accepting’ approach! (And – for what it is worth – there are many ‘evangelicals’ who take a revisionist approach. See http://www.courage.org.uk/, http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7051754.ece, http://www.eflgc.org.uk/, and so on and on… but I suspect that many would consider none of these people or groups is truly ‘evangelical’. Why? Because of the stance they take on this issue! Do you see what I am getting at?)
When Roy Clements – the former Baptist minister, conservative evangelical commentator and much admired preacher and speaker at big ’evangelical’ gatherings – announced he was actively gay, the invitations to speak ceased, his books (which were conservative bible commentaries and did not mention homosexuality at all) were withdrawn by ‘evangelical’ publishers, and he was shunned by his former friends.
His articles are worth a read http://www.courage.org.uk/articles/articles.asp?CID=4.) At one point he writes
‘We have always regarded ourselves most emphatically as “evangelicals”, and our theological position has not changed in anyway. But we have been denounced as “liberals” because we do not accept the purported “evangelical view” on the gay issue. There seems to be a determined attempt, at least by some within the evangelical camp, so to embed a particular view of homosexuality within the evangelical identity that there is no room left for dissenters like us. Indeed, the very existence of “gay evangelicals” has been conspicuously ignored in the entire debate.’
I do not wish to get into a discussion at this point on ‘labels’ and what they do or do not mean, nor on the various tribes of Christians within the church. Another day perhaps! Nor am I seeking to self-identify with, or exclude myself from any particular tribe. But it is interesting to note that where once I was included, now I feel myself to be excluded. And while my theological position in general has developed over the years and labels – however unavoidable – now make me feel uncomfortable, I still feel sad that it seems that I and others are not included in conversations, and I suspect this is because we take a different view on this issue. It seems that this has become the touchstone of orthodoxy.
But what really saddens me is that if we keep gathering to talk and pray in groups of people who share our views, then what results is not discernment, but reinforcement of existing positions.
Can we not talk together with those who take a different view or who do not yet know what view they take?
Can we not listen together, discover together?
Can we stop excluding one another from discussions and try to include one another in these conversations?
I hope so… I really, really hope so.