Real Change?

"When I put myself forward this time last year to be a representative to the Conference of 2020 I did so expecting the Marriage and Relationships Report would be a significant item of business on the agenda. I also expected to enjoy the delights of Telford in late June! As we know Covid 19 put pay, not only to our visit to Telford, but also the discussion on God in love unites us. It is mainly for this reason that I am putting myself forward again as a representative to the Conference of 2021. 

For me as an openly gay person in ministry, the debate and vote on Marriage and Relationship is more than theological. I transferred into the British Conference nearly thirty years ago, just as the Human Sexuality Report was being debated. I don’t think I considered that it would take nearly three decades of struggle to get to this point. A vote for change next year would be another step along the road to justice and full inclusion. 

I am conscious that I also put myself forward as a white, now middle-class, male, someone who has benefited from education and privilege. Even though I have suffered discrimination at the hands of others in our church and through processes that are far from just or fair, I have also benefited. I have come to realise that, in order for our church to embrace justice and dignity for all, those who look like me need to take a big step back and create the room for others. This is why, whatever happens, this will be the last time I put myself forward for Conference for the foreseeable future. 

This is the speech I gave last week at our online District Synod where I was elected as a representative to the 2021 Conference. It will be my last, 21 years after I attended by first as an ordinand in Huddersfield Town Hall. In that time, I have had the privilege of representing four different Districts, part of the joy of being itinerant. I have also seen the Conference get smaller, shorter and older and, despite the rhetoric and good intentions, I have seen it remain incredibly white. Despite turning 50 at the end of next year, I find myself still one of the younger representatives!

Part of me resists standing back, because I still put far too much faith in my own abilities to fix things. Despite growing up in poverty, raised on benefits on a council estate, I have acquired the self-belief of the middle-class white liberal who thinks they can solve all the world’s problems (without ever acknowledging that most of those problems were created by middle-class white people). We still consider ourselves ‘neutral’, honest brokers of the new world order, bringers of freedom and justice to others. We cannot bring ourselves to admit that, because of that, because of a failure to acknowledge that we are the main problem, we cannot fix it. Even the most skillful surgeon cannot remove her own appendix. 

If we are to see a fairer, more equal and free Church, many more white folk like me will have to experience exclusion from power because of the colour of our skin. The road to justice is not paved with good intentions, but sacrifice, the willing giving up of power, position and status by those who have held it so long, we have forgotten how we got it in the first place. We need to be reminded that, in Biblical terms, real change comes, not through more training and awareness programmes, important as they are, but through conversion and repentance. Unless we see the need to acknowledge our sin and seek forgiveness from God and those we have wronged, there can be no real change. 

And change begins with me ….