“There are serious issues we are not talking about, that matter far more than homosexuality.” So said a spouse during the Bible Study organised for us all by the Spouses Conference and for which the spouse received sustained applause. The Bible Study drew on the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22) to guide us into addressing the reality of violence towards women and children. We were reminded that, outside of war, women and children are the main victims of violence in the world and much of that violence occurs in the home.
The story of Tamar and her rape by Amnon is seldom read in church and is not in the Sunday lectionary – indeed only about a 20 of the 1100 present had ever heard it read aloud on a Sunday. It is a powerful story and we benefited from a model of study which asked us to place the narrative alongside our own experiences. The small group in which I found myself drew many parallels between the story and our experience in ministry – it really felt a very modern story. I see people scouring the Bible to support their case against any acceptance of homosexuals, but I don’t think that I have heard anyone use this text to ask gospel questions about domestic violence and abuse. One Bishop observed in the plenary session, “talking about homosexuality may be a way of avoiding the greater problem of heterosexual males behaving badly.”
Although trying to orchestrate the 1100 Bishops and spouses in a Bible Study was no easy task, I thought that the morning was well used and the production by the Riding Lights Company about Jesus’ dealings with women was a powerful and effective way of introducing this very sensitive subject.
Later in the day, the Archbishop, in his second presidential address, posed the question which has been on all our minds “What is Lambeth ’08 going to say?” He suggested that we need to speak form the centre, from our living in and as the body of Christ. He offered two caricatures of the two sides engaged in the debate at the Conference. I thought that they were a helpful way of increasing our understanding of each other and which may lead to a positive response to the Archbishop’s encouragement to step towards each other. He observed “If both were able to hear and to respond generously, perhaps we could have something more like a conversation of equals — even something more like a Church.”
We were encouraged to revisit the concept of ‘covenant’ as a way forward for the Communion and, in the days that are left to us, that will form much of our agenda. My own concern remains that structures can be used negatively when ideas to move the Church forward become a challenge to those who like things just as they are – but I have to admit to being open to persuasion, as where we are, is probably not going anywhere that is productive for God’s mission nor release the potential for mission which is contained within the Anglican Communion.