Outrage is not a mission strategy

Well, the days are passing by since the Primates of the Anglican Communion issued their communique at the end of their meeting in Canterbury.

The reaction to the communique has been swift and loud. Very many people whom I know are outraged by it and voicing their anger all over the internet.

I feel curiously devoid of anger myself and a little detached from the outrage.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying here – I’m pleased, very pleased to see that lots of people appear to be joining in the struggle for gay and lesbian people to be treated like human people and given the same rights and joys as anyone else. However, I suspect that the things we hope for are not going to be achieved by outrage alone. Indeed, I find myself suspecting that they are not going to be won by outrage at all.

I happen to think that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have overreached themselves and proclaimed a judgement that they had no authority to proclaim. This needs to be stated and restated. (And I note that this view has some support from those who have very different views than I do as to how the Communion should hang together).

However, I have been a little troubled to see headlines appearing, and being fuelled by friends, which suggest that the LGBT Community has been “vanquished” or defeated.

This is simply not true and progressive people gain nothing by repeating the fantasies of the far religious right. We are not vanquished. We are not defeated. And neither are we afraid.

I’m puzzled as to why anyone might have thought that homophobia (either in Africa or in the West) might have been wiped out by the Primates’ Meeting last week. That simply wasn’t going to happen. Once again, I don’t agree with what the Primates said but all they offered was a mistaken opinion. I do not give them the power to make judgements they have no authority to enforce or uphold. And I certainly do not give them the wherewithal to affect my own well-being.

Do I doubt that God loves me utterly as a gay man? No.

Do I have even the slightest inclination that God might be in the business of withholding blessings from gay couples simply because a bunch of church leaders haven’t yet recognised the gay pride rainbow that God painted in the heavens above Noah whilst announcing that divine love was a covenant for everyone? Of course not.

I think that it might be helpful for a quick dose of very simple queer theory here.

Justin Welby and his desperately out of control media team worked very hard to get us to believe the fiction that the Anglican Communion is a “Family” of churches. All the rhetoric coming out of the Anglican Communion offices over the weeks leading up to the Primates’ Meeting was directed towards selling us the Communion as a family.

The US Church has just come out.

And the Communion Primates rather tragically acted out one of the ways that families sometimes tragically behave. They behaved exactly as dysfunctional families sometimes do by excluding the one coming out rather than embracing them. The behaviour of the Primates mirrors parents who reject a gay child and who meet honesty with rejection.

Now, there’s no minimising the upset that such behaviour causes. It is destructive and harmful.

Those who are on the receiving end often suffer. However, in my experience, those who come through that tend to find love in other places. Friendship, dear friendship seems to take over where the brutality of family life has failed them.

There are many ways that people can respond to such rejection. I am pretty sure that outrage itself is not enough.

One response is to take the cruel names thrown at one and to sew sequins onto them and wear them as badges of pride and honour. I can see Susan Russell doing that with her piece “On Becoming a Second Class Anglican” – indeed it seems only a matter of time before I make badges saying Second Class Anglican.

Changing Attitude Scotland is doing the same by looking on this as the beginnings of a grouping in the Anglican Communion that we can be proud of:

Rather than seeing the “sanctions” being applied to the US based Episcopal Church as that church being sent to the naughty step for three years, Changing Attitude Scotland believes that it is possible that in time this may be seen as the emergence of a group of provinces in which the full inclusion of LGBT people will be an unquestioned badge of honour. We will work for the Scottish Episcopal Church to join such a grouping. Over the last few years in Scotland we have seen public opinion change from being broadly suspicious of gay and lesbian people to public opinion being broadly supportive of gay and lesbian people. We believe that we see the same thing happening across the world and that this change is unstoppable.

Taking pride in who we are is one of the ways that we combat the hatred that can lead to family rejection. That works for individuals and it will work for whole churches too.

One of the best responses to being rejected as a gay person is to reject in turn the narrative of being vanquished and beaten and to sew on your sequins and be fabulous. To be honest, I’ve had enough of outrage alone.

Outrage is not a mission strategy. If we are going to get our message over, that God loves everyone, then we need to find a bit of pride amongst the Anglican ruins, pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down and  polish up our rhinestones and march down the street singing, “All people – all! yes! all! people that on earth do dwell – sing to the Lord with cheerful voice”.

My response to the Primates Meeting was to use it as a moment of mission. I pinned up a pic of me under a rainbow umbrella outside the cathedral with the words: “Gay, straight, single, married, partnered, single again, old, young, local, non-local, Episcopalian, non-Episcopalian, Christian, seeker, all are welcome in this place”. I also posted it on facebook and found that it had an instant appeal. It was saying nothing other than what we say every week here in St Mary’s but it went a wee bit viral all the same and that particular version of our inclusive message of love is now heading towards 20000 views. Your church can’t help but grow if you get publicity like that. And you, yes you, right there, right here, right now, can get exactly that to happen.

Remember that God is love. God is not bonds of affection.

People out there want to hear that message. Grumpy about the Primates? Tell the world that God is love – proper love, not mealy-mouthed, compromised institutional bonds of affection but actual love itself. Use your sermons and noticeboards if you have to.

This is a mission moment. Don’t express outrage alone. Express the love of God to those who need it most.

We don’t do being vanquished at St Mary’s – we do being fabulous. It is more fun and a foretaste of heaven’s ultimate pride party.

Outrage isn’t a mission strategy. Being fabulous and telling people God really loves them is.

Indeed – it is the only mission strategy worth the name.


Scotland Says No!

The Scottish Episcopal Church has resoundingly rejected the Anglican Covenant as a way forward for the Anglican Communion. At the same time, the Synod passed a motion rejoicing in our commitment to the Communion itself. What we have said is No to the Covenant, but Yes to the Communion.

The vote was decisive – 6 in favour of the motion adopting the Covenant, 112 against and 13 abstaining.

Interestingly, I didn’t speak in the debate. I didn’t need to.

Once upon a time, I would have been on my feet encouraging, threatening, cajoling. I’d have been sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt. I would have been at work behind the scenes, bending people’s ears, twisting people’s arms – all to get them to reject the Covenant.

In the end, I didn’t need to. It just turned out to be something that the church overwhelmingly felt was not the way forward.

We should not underestimate the significance of the decision though. It will resound around the communion. In the Church of England, there was not enough support in the dioceses to bring the thing to Synod. In Scotland, we took a different strategy – ensuring that it did come to Synod. We took a clear vote and said a clear no. We are the first province to reject the Covenant in a synodical vote, I think.

No to the Covenant. Yes to the Communion.

You heard that on this blog first.

It is now the policy of this Province.

Thanks be to God.