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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 12.10.2023

Video for 12th October, 2023

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

We are living in very distressing times.  Every week almost we are bombarded with news of fresh conflicts erupting into armed warfare, Ukraine rumbles on with no end in sight.  News rarely reaches us now of the violence in Syria, sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Sudan, both North and South.  I visited the asylum seekers in the Three Counties Hotel last week and the haunted eyes tell a story beyond words of the horrors they have experienced from which they have sought sanctuary. A few weeks ago, it was a fresh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the last few days the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has erupted with renewed horror. The horrific violence of Hamas now met with the might of Israel’s military machine. On both sides innocent non-combatants perish, views become polarised and the lust for revenge overwhelms people on both sides. It feels like the world is burning, and not just from the effects of global warming.

The origins of these conflicts are often so lost in the mists of history that the combatants aren’t even aware of why they are fighting.  There is just the grinding attrition until victory by one side or the other, or an exhaustion that drives people to the negotiating table. Victory is usually temporary. Resentment is buried ready to spring up again in a new generation that didn’t participate in the last round of hostilities. We are a very long way from Isaiah’s vision in chapter 2 verse 4, “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Once the polarisation takes hold, everything is viewed through lenses of hostility.  Social media encourages such militant polarisation over most of the issues of dispute in our culture. Little soundbites in 280 characters on Twitter/ X replace measured reason, as if such platitudes settle the argument of complex matters. We retreat to the easy comfort of tribal groupings that re-enforce our deeply held views and demonise the other.  Anyone who tries to encourage reconciliation becomes part of the problem.  Being a mediator always runs the risk of being hated by both sides of the dispute.  Fortunately, most of our arguments stop short of physical violence but the same principles that underly the intractable disputes in our world today are there, its just that Kalashnikovs aren’t involved.  They are replaced with verbal violence instead.

In the midst of all this we need to find models of good disagreement. One hopes the church might provide such a model.  We are all aware of the very painful differences between us over human sexuality for example. At such at time as this, with war in many places and climate catastrophe, I am embarrassed frankly that we are still talking about these things, but we are. We are seeking to find a resolution to what appear to be unreconcilable positions.  The Synod motion in February in response to our LLF conversations was a case in point.  On the one hand we offered an apology for the hurt that the LGBTQI+ community has received from the church.  On the other we voted that any changes should not be indicative of a change in church doctrine.  For a number of LGBTQI+ people the doctrine is part of what causes the hurt! Doctrine is not abstract theology, it is our understanding of reality.  If we think of the spiritual life as a game of football, doctrine is the rules of the game, ethics and spirituality are how we play it. On Monday the house of Bishops voted on some proposals to try to square this circle.  The House agreed to commend the prayers of love and faith which means they will be able to be used without General Synod voting on them. The House also voted that stand-alone services that used those prayers would require a full process that need 2/3 votes in favour to pass. For some this will be crumbs under the table.  For others the commending of prayers signifies a change in a 2000 year old doctrine by stealth, avoiding due synodical scrutiny. I find myself between a rock and a hard place on this.  I have always said that I will respect people’s consciences.  For that reason, when the prayers are formally commended I will not use episcopal power to stop people using them who would like to. However, I am also unhappy with bypassing a process which would have given better legal security in a litigious climate, both to those who use the prayers and those who choose not to. I have signed a dissenting statement in response to the House of Bishops statement this week which came out on the day this video is released. (You can find the statement here). There is a very substantial minority in our church who feel that a fully collegial House of bishops would betray their deeply held convictions and leave them bereft of episcopal leadership they could trust.  They need to know there are Bishops who dissent for them to feel they still belong in what we hope will still be a broad church. For those who long for movement in a much more progressive direction I hope that the prayers as commended and the associated pastoral guidance will give much of what is required.  For those who look on all this bewildered, especially in the context of what is going on the world today, I offer a heartfelt apology that we haven’t found a way through this for a church that faces an existential crisis and urgently needs to re-focus on living and sharing the gospel. 

I ask that we pray for one another, and seek to be kind and understanding. Disagreeing well, may be the best gift we can give our hurting and broken world at the moment.

+ Richard

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