Archives January 2019

Gin, Lace and Backbiting

Some work on Ecclesiology and Ethnography led me to an essay by Fr Kenneth Leech “Beyond Gin and Lace: Homosexuality and the Anglo-Catholic Subculture” which can be found at http://www.anglocatholicsocialism.org/lovesname.html#gin1

1 “Beyond Gin and Lace: Homosexuality and the Anglo-Catholic Subculture”. In Beck, Ashley; Hunt, Ros. Speaking Love’s Name: Homosexuality: Some Catholic and Socialist Reflections. London: Jubilee Group. 1988. pp. 16–27. OCLC 19881427. Retrieved 30th January 2019

In it (and it was written in 1988, before the ordination of women priests, and its language is strikingly of that we used in the mid/late 80s on Anti-Section 28/9 Marches, which seems a little problematic now), Leech explores the confusing relationship between the ready embracing of Anglocatholicism by (at the time) gay men and its bizarre simultaneously homophobic and misogynistic nature. Recently, letters have been written to the Bishops condemning the Pastoral Advice over the reception of the newly transitioned with a renewal of baptismal vows from not just the Conservative Evangelical but also the Anglocatholic, and my Twitter timeline is padded with expensively dressed youngish men who extol a fervid ritualism and an equally conservative approach to social policy.

Leech – a lifelong sacramental socialist – sitting on the fringe of Anglocatholicism appears mystified by this duality. To me, it feels like Stockholm Syndrome, where the captive develops empathy and then love for the thing that imprisons it. Without LGBT+ Clergy the whole church would fall, not merely as it would fail to represent the true body of Christ, but because of the sheer numbers of devoted, committed LGBT+ people in its clergy and in its pews. Why then, does the Church and the Anglocatholic Tradition therefore stand so condemnatory of its own?

I was a product of a Theological College where Names and Religion held sway: a nickname that put you in the opposite gender: Ruby, Minerva, Gloria, Mildred (we were all male ordinands at the time, and ordinand wives were given names like Steve and Bruce: I expect the female ordinands get them now) with all the arch-knowingness of a drag act. Straight or Gay (married, single or very single) these nicknames were pervasive and accepted, even celebrated. With it, came acceptance. Some Ordinands had girlfriends come to stay, some had boyfriends come to stay. They were all welcomed, accepted, celebrated even.

Most people in the pews now have a very relaxed attitude towards LBGT+ people, because they know them, are related to them, work with them. In a very traditional title parish, an elderly lady was set against women priests “Well Farv, I’d sooner have one of ’em ‘gay priests’ behind the altar than a woman” as I thought of the succession of my numerous predecessors who remained (to the parish) closeted and whose sexual identity was overlooked and ignored. I pray that as more women and LGBT+ people are in visible ministry such antipathy will diminish through familiarity, but with a self-defeating loathing, little appears to have changed. As Leech in 1988 concludes this dualism can be pathological and toxic

Certainly, some AC priests seem to operate on the basis of a rigid anti-gay position in what they say, combined with a very permissive attitude in what they do and in their pastoral dealings with others. The combination of public anti-gay rhetoric and private gay lifestyle is well known in some AC circles and produces curiously unpleasant manifestations from time to time. Statements by some leading AC bishops in recent months suggest that they too are living in two worlds, speaking in public as if “practising” homosexual clergy did not exist in their dioceses, yet surely knowing from their pastoral experience that this is not the case. The AC subculture seems to have promoted this kind of doublespeak and dualism, and encouraged its growth. It is not a promising basis on which to build a responsible sexual ethic.

If the nature of sacramentalism is only to force our true natures inside, in private, in denial of our incarnated realities, and Anglocatholicism (whatever that actually means – Leech’s historical pen portrait was simplistic but an interesting overview of wider general interest) engenders that dualism, then it is neither healthy nor realistic. With the advent of renewed anti-LGBT+ sentiment here in the late 2010s, we need to understand and at times challenge this self-loathing.


Pioneer Evangelism

I was asked what I thought of it. This was my response…

Evangelism is at the heart of all Christian calling, a living out of the baptismal call and is therefore not unique to the Pioneer charism, but the way in which it is intentionally shaped is depending upon the Pioneering context.

As Pioneering is based upon a situational, ground-up approach to building community, so evangelism within those communities is also based upon situational, contextual approaches. The top-down, one-size-fits-all, hierarchically imposed model of discipleship is therefore inappropriate because strategies have to be based upon first the people with whom we are called to work. The model for mission and evangelism therefore has to be a close application of Acts 17: Paul speaking to the Areopagus where he contextualises the Gospel message to begin where his audience/congregation/mission field are at. He assimilates the Hellenistic model of both rhetoric and spirituality and seeks to transform it. Therefore any Fresh Expression which evangelises using an Alpha Course isn’t really Pioneering.

Where I have seen this most effectively is when different techniques and approaches have been adopted for different constituencies: the mid-teens who became involved in the first incarnation of Blessed were inspired by ritual, mystery and setting fire to tealights and incense: a technique which almost entirely failed with a different group of younger people in a different parish (after I had moved) who responded to an interactive story-telling and activity-based mode of evangelism. On the face of it, two entirely different modes of mission, the latter of which had to be experientially discovered.

So, to my mind, Pioneer Evangelism calls for flexibility of approach: a willingness to ditch well loved and well worn familiar techniques of evangelism and an embracing of the context in which we Pioneer; a process of listening and discerning which does not automatically discount the life-experiences of the community, but which speaks their language (a good example would be Fr Robb Sutherland’s Rock Mass in a very poor estate in Halifax), which authentically projects the charism of the evangelist themselves (no clones of Nicky Gumbel or Mark Driscoll required) and transforms any given gathering or community with the Good News of Jesus for them, not some asinine middle-class aspiration of megachurch.