I may well be speaking and thinking as a fool in the mode of St Paul in 2 Cor. 11.17, but I question the truth about ‘God’ being proclaimed in the church today. The image of God is based on an uncritical reliance on Scripture and Tradition, a simplistic reading of the Gospels, and a proclamation of the teaching and practice of Jesus which is in many ways profoundly in error.
I witness the ways in which this image of God, dangerous, naive, infantile, and false, directly underpins prejudice and abuse in the church. In my sights are Christian attitudes to gender and sexuality, as well as a general culture of conscious and unconscious abuse of power and authority in the church.
I wonder how many Church of England Bishops are working with a concept of God that is taken to be ‘orthodox’ or ‘traditional’ and congruent with the Anglican understanding of God as embodied in the creeds and dogma and teachings of the church. Orthodox teaching says that God is not an object among other objects in the universe. It is mistaken and impossible to say God is x, y, or z. All descriptions of God are allusive, metaphorical, and poetic. A false concept of God is used by GAFCON and other conservative Anglican networks to justify rampant discrimination against and abuse of LGBTI people. I fear the same concepts will influence the House of Bishops’ new Teaching Document to be published in three years’ time.
I believe Jesus revealed and lived in his very being the qualities of the divine, the experience he identified as his ‘Father’. The Father is integral to creation as unconditional, infinite, intimate love, wisdom, truth, goodness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. These are the qualities exemplified in the effusiveness of St Paul’s teaching. Paul experienced these qualities as woven through the whole of creation, to be nurtured into flourishing in the life of every human being who lives into relationship with God, the holy, sacred, divine, and unconditional other. But, says St Paul, only the Spirit of God knows what God is (1 Corinthians 2.11). Isn’t this orthodox – that only the Spirit knows what God is?
Next week the Primates meet in London. Some Primates have refused to attend. They exemplify the prejudice and homophobia which emanates from a false understanding of God. Their theology, praxis and teaching may be acclaimed as ‘successful’ because this conservative version of God fuels numerical growth in Global South Provinces in contrast to numerical decline in the North. This evidence absolutely does not make their witness and growth authentically Christian. The intense homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, abuse and arrogance manifested in some Provinces is stark evidence that this teaching is not of God, not holy, nor sacred, nor spiritual, nor Christ-like.
Jesus engaged tenderly and provocatively with his disciples, challenged their unawareness and sowed seeds in their hearts and minds that opened them to their potential and the potential for every human being to live into ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10.10). Adherence to the fundamentals of scripture and tradition is no guarantee that we will come to know the God revealed by Jesus Christ, let alone develop the wisdom and capacity to live into and embody the fundamentals in our own lives.
What theology, what image of God, is held by the bishops of the Church of England and the Primates of the Anglican Communion? Is it the toxic version of God and Jesus that supports discrimination and the abuse of LGBTI people or the radical, prophetic version that melts prejudice, confronts abuse, and transforms lives through living and loving unconditionally?