Why do we find difference so difficult?

The denomination I both associate with and by virtue of one of my jobs work for was in the headlines recently over the subject of marriage. It managed through its announcement to both alienate a segment of our population in the LGBT community while preserving and uneasy alliance of beliefs within what is called Anglican Communion. The outcome certainly perturbed the Archbishop of Canterbury enough that he then immediately felt the need to apologise to the LGBT community.

What saddens me is that I had hoped the church would be the one place in the world that could be bound by love and able to set aside differences. I had the privilege just over ten years ago of watching a profound conversation between three Christian men talking about their sexuality each of whom had each approached the issue from a different view point.The first had embraced his sexuality as a homosexual and worked that out in a married (though then of course not formally legalised) relationship, the second had interpreted his homosexual orientation as a call to singleness in the church feeling that was the position from which God might best use him. Finally the third had had through a religious experience felt his sexuality which had been bisexual had changed to that of a heterosexual.

What was amazing about the conversation that I watched, is that none of the three men felt the need to convert the other to his stance. They could recognise in each of them a genuine call from God and were convinced the most important was to be able to love and support each other in their respective journeys. That none of their journies were more difficult or easier than another but through friendship they could learn more about themselves and about God. The profound experience for all who watched the conversation was the shared cost that each bore because of their respective decision, the first limited the church communities he and is husband could become involved in, the second gave up fulfilling the part of him who yearned for a traditional life partner, the last acknowledged that he and his wife had to work hard at their relationship and there were tough consequences that needed to be worked out at times from his past.

Perhaps its our tabloid culture, perhaps its the politics of our time but I feel we are constantly being asked to be polarised in our beliefs. The God I follow told a story we know as the good Samaritan when being questioned about who it was who would inherit eternal life. That story could easily be renamed today the good Muslim, the good immigrant or any indeed and other group we seek to marginalise as a society or a church. The point of that the story is that it is not so much what we believe but how we live life that is important; it is a story which asks what the fundamental question of our DNA is, and questions what it means to love my neighbour.

For what its worth I cannot conceive personally of a church that cannot accept married gay people into its community. I have friends who are gay, married with children. I do not feel Jesus would ask them to wrench their family apart to join his community or even to support others in it; I believe he would want them wrapped up in the amazing community of love the church can be at its best. Similarly sexuality, marriage and relationships are difficult enough without moral judgements being pronounced, the church in my view at least should be about helping people to learn the sacrifice that love must mean in a committed marriage, to protect those who are abused, to give space and support the lonely and to help people through divorce because we are only human and get things wrong at times.

Not only is this a lesson for our church but also the whole of society. UK national politics seem increasingly intolerant of different views and it is sad to see our parties both internally and externally are unable to display the love, patience, kindness, self-control I would hope. As someone who switches his vote and does not have a strong affiliation to either party I find the intolerance shown between and in the parties to be particularly sad. As someone who has voted Conservative in the past to my more left wing readers that does not make me a tory scum, stupid or some of the other comments that are often made on social media if someone sounds like they might support the ’Tories’. To my right wing friends, I have to be honest I would scrap Trident, I would double the pay of nurses, teachers and child care givers, education does need some coordinating (if it is not going to be the local authorities it has to be someone) and to both the NHS is both brilliant but a mess that needs sorting out desperately by a none partisan long term strategy, not one rooted in ideology.

So please both to the church I am member of and work for, the leaders of my country would you please allow some room for difference, just because someone disagrees with you it does not mean they should not be listened to, valued and heard.

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