Tea and bikkies with the Bishop of Meath

Tea and biscuits

It’s not enough. And it’s too much.

The Bishop of Meath publishes photos from a meeting of the select committee on human sexuality in the context of Christian belief. It immediately irritates, but it takes a while for the reasons to crystallise. It’s amidst the altogether warmer and less judgemental exclusion of an Orthodox Epiphany liturgy that it comes to me.

It’s not enough. It’s not enough because the power dynamic is so skewed. It’s not enough because for all your no doubt gracious hospitality – the tea and bikkies, the dog steaming by the Aga, the conviviality of it all – you have not disowned the abusive “therapy” for LGBT people that the Evangelical Alliance, on whose board you sat until your heralded election last year, continues to advocate. It’s not enough because too many young people kill themselves because of the attitudes that the institution you represent continues actively to encourage. It’s not enough because there has never been an apology to the clergy who have been forced to leave home and family because the Church of Ireland would not accommodate them; not enough because you cannot be unaware of the pharisaical role of one close to you in the departure of one of them; not enough because too many have felt that their acceptance in supposedly Christian communities depends on their contracting unhappy marriages based on deceit or misplaced hope or pragmatic mutual arrangement. It’s not enough because too many, like me, were frightened and lied at their selection conference when asked a question that should never have been asked. It’s not enough because the shame and the misery festered too long. It’s not enough because the quest for forbidden companionship leads too many still to a furtive promiscuity the Church condemns, having helped to fertilise the soil from which its withered and hopeless plant grows. It’s not enough because a famous queen’s injunction “only to connect” – of which you are perhaps unaware – has not shaken you from mouthing rehearsed sound-bites about one man and one woman while so many rightly celebrate your election as Ireland’s first woman bishop. And it’s not enough because you know that the Church cannot defend the theology on which such Biblicist blindness and hypocrisy and deceit are built.

And it’s too much. It’s too much because even now you divide us. It’s too much because I shouldn’t be so embittered, grumbling about the Stockholm syndrome I presume to identify in others who are trying to encourage you to change your mind. It’s too much because this exercise is about being seen to listen, placing you in the role of gracious judge and others in the role of supplicant – however jolly those photos may be. It’s too much because there’s no excuse for any of it – we shouldn’t have to persuade you. And it’s too much because the institution thinks it is the dispenser of grace, the guardian of an imprisoned Christ whose unconditional promises it overlays with new law. It’s too much because thus it re-stitches the rent veil of the Temple, rolls the stone back over the entrance to the tomb. It’s too much because too many have thus been told that they do not belong, that they are not welcome, that they are disordered and more sinful than those who marginalise them. It’s too much because the Church should not so presume.

It’s not enough. And it’s too much. But one day the Church will find the tenth leper – the one who cannot re-join the assembly because he remains a Samaritan. And the tenth leper will not be in the Church’s midst, but outside its walls with the Christ the Church presumes and yet fails to contain. There’s no tea and bikkies, no steaming dog by the Aga on the outside. It’s much less comfortable. But that’s where that leper waits. And one day he may listen to your apology.

Rupert Moreton

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