This picture has not been photoshopped: it is the altar of Reading Minster draped in the rainbow flag for this year’s Gay Pride festival, in order to convey to the congregation that the Eucharist is one of inclusion and acceptance. All are welcome to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus because there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, nor is there gay and straight, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. The Minster’s website explained:
LGBT Eucharists are becoming increasingly common: Wells Cathedral is hosting one this weekend, presided over by the Bishop of Taunton, to launch something called ‘Rainbow Church’:
Setting aside the thorny questions of sexual ethics and matters of moral orthodoxy raised by same-sex relationships (and same-sex blessing or marriage) in the Church, when an altar is draped with a particular assertion of sexual identity, what does that say about the inclusion of those who demur at the socio-theology of this, or might feel somewhat alienated by such an ‘in your face’ statement? It is slightly distracting, isn’t it? Who exactly is being remembered here? When the Eucharist is promoted with a rainbow cross and the invitation ends with ‘All welcome’, what about those who feel excluded by the proclamation of this particular kind of welcome? Are they not particularly welcome? Should they just stay away? If before the altar of the Eucharist and at the foot of the Cross there is neither gay nor straight, what is to be gained by appropriating the altar and Cross for the purpose of conveying divisive notions of human identity?
Conflict is an inescapable part of life: conversations about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable are never going to elicit unanimity. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, you can be sure that some will think it good, and others will think it evil. And if not evil, bad. And if not bad, not so good. Without conversations about these thresholds, there can be no understanding and no mutual flourishing, for there is no evident commonality and no mechanism to discern the common good.
If the Church of England is to flourish, it must stop suppressing conversations and depriving one party of the means of expressing its concerns. You might think it does nothing of the sort, as evidenced by tortuous years of ‘Shared Conversations‘. And yet the Diocese of Salisbury recently held a Clergy Development Day on sexuality which included only revisionist speakers. “How does that build trust?” asked the Rev’d Peter Ould.
Answer came there none: his question is irrelevant. He is not welcome to inquire; he is simply not welcome.
You don’t avoid conflict by excluding one party to the conflict: you exacerbate their concerns and amplify their arguments by disrupting the natural social flow of discourse. How can there be consensus or mutual understanding when there is no parity of esteem in fellowship? If one side is suppressed, do they not agitate and disrupt in order to be heard? Is not the Eucharist the very place for such parity? Are we not all equal at the foot of the Cross? How does a straight man with perfectly orthodox views of sexual morality worship at the foot of a rainbow cross? He wants blood and splinters; he gets blancmange and My Little Pony. He is intolerant, they say. And yet he has come face-to-face with their intolerance, and neither encounters the intolerance of the other. He wants very much to stay in his church, but they can’t wait for him to leave.
And yet it is their church, too, and they feel he wants them to leave. And in this mutually-intolerant excommunication of suspicion there isn’t even constructive disagreement for there is no tolerance of a view which is incompatible with the one we hold. Each side ‘others’ the other, and shared conversations cease to be shared because one side is just plain wrong and needs to change the way they think or leave. FFS.
What is happening in the Rainbow Church and the LGBT Eucharist is inclusive and tolerant to one side, but exclusive and intolerant to the other. Yet even to utter this concern is intolerable: it is an expression which must be suppressed, and those expressing it must be expelled from the communion because it disqualifies them from participating in the conversation. To one side it is justified intolerance; to the other it is unjustified suppression. You may draw the line differently, but who draws it and how it is enforced is the stuff of ecclesial schism. So, before the losing side leaves, might we have a conversation about the meaning and significance of the Eucharist and the Cross, and then a friendly chat over coffee about those eucharists and crosses which assert the dominance of one particular human identity over another when all sinners are supposed to be equally welcome and included?