This Ash Wednesday I was in Liverpool Parish Church and preached on the Collect for
the Day, “God hates nothing that he has made”. If only we could apply that truth to all
people. The history of the world has been a saga of the prejudice of one race against
another, prejudice about women, prejudice about slaves, prejudice about the disabled,
prejudice about ethnicity, prejudice about gender, prejudice about the mentally ill and,
as the Hillsborough families have known for over two decades, prejudice about which
city you are from. When we hear Paul and Timothy address the Christians of different
ethnic backgrounds in the cultural melting pot of Philippi, we are listening to a message
of embrace, “Grace and Peace”.
I will always stand for the inclusion of those who cannot accept Episcopal ministry from
a woman and I will always strive for the inclusion of women in every ministry that the
Church exercises. I am conscious that when men tried to shoo away from Jesus a
woman who dared to minister to the body of Christ with the priestly service of anointing
he rebuked them sternly and said, “Leave her alone”. If Jesus allowed a woman to
minister to his body, the body of Christ, in the flesh I cannot see how he or we can
refuse the priestly and episcopal ministry of a woman to his body in the Spirit.
The failure of successive amendments to the proposed legislation has shown that it is
impossible for the new law to enshrine two polar opposite views. Let the ecclesiastical
law of the land make lawful what the Church of England declared decades ago to be true
that women can be Bishops. Then let the Bishops covenant with the Church to make
just and generous provision for those who cannot in all conscience agree.
As you know over the years I have shared with you my thinking about how the Gospel of
embrace might be felt by those who are gay. I am beginning to wonder how the church
historians of the 22nd Century will view our current debate. I think it may seem then to
them extraordinary that the litmus paper test of orthodoxy centred on whether or not
one had a generous attitude to those who are gay. I believe that there is a difference
between heterosexual union and same gender intimacy and that it is appropriate to
maintain that difference in the language we use. But if the Church now recognises Civil
Partnerships to be a just response to the needs of gay people then surely the Church 4
now has to ask the question whether or not it can deny the blessing of God to that which
Furthermore, if we take 1 Corinthians 7 seriously and acknowledge truthfully that there
is a proportion within society and in the Church who are naturally gay in that they have
not chosen this as a disposition but find it both a given and a genuine expression of their
sexuality why should we deprive them the biblical discipline of being able to channel
their sexuality into a committed relationship of mutual trust and love.
There is such a deficit of love in the world today that it seems to me that the Church
should bless true love wherever such love is to be found believing what the Bible says
that “where there is love there is God.”
As I said earlier there is such a deficit of love in the world. Moreover there is no one
who can say that there is not more of God’s love that they have yet to experience.
Only love is the indisputable and irrefutable argument for the truth of Christ.
As I leave the Diocese I pray that your hearts will never grow cold to the love of God
and that the Holy Spirit would forever pour His love into your hearts that you might be
instruments of peace and justice.
© The Bishop of Liverpool
On this Passion Sunday, when Anglican Churches around the world are considering and reflecting upon, the Anointing of the feet of Jesus by Mary Magdalene; it is fitting that we should read this retirement sermon, by The Rt.Revd. James Jones, Bishop of liverpool in the Church of England, on the need to accept that Jesus came into this world to save sinners – and that is ALL of us. None of us has any prior right to claim for ourselves the mercy and forgiveness of God. God’s gift is freely given – through the example of Jesus Christ, His Beloved Son – who accepted the anointing of Mary as her gift of devotion.
In this pericope from Bishop James’ sermon to his Diocesan Synod, recently, he took the trouble to mention that people on the margins of the Church are often neglected by the Church – to the detriment of Christ’s message in the Gospel. The fact the Bishop James has gone through a conversion from his own opposition to acceptance of Gay people – to this point in his ministry – where he has apologised for his part in the stepping down of Dean Jeffrey John from being appointed a Bishop in the Church – renders all the more important his admission that we are all made in the divine Image and Likeness, sinners but redeemed.
The fact that his promotion of Women and Gays has stopped short of actually affirming their full recognition by the whole Church – in the case of Women, he would like to see Alternative Provisional Oversight to be continued for the disaffected by male bishops; and in the case of Same-Sex Relationships, he would affirm Blessed Unions rather than Marriage – is probably as far as he dare go in the present circumstances of where the Church of England has managed to get to so far. However, one can applaud his opening up of the way forward – perhaps to a more generous acceptance by all members of the Church of England to the fact of Women as Bishops – on a footing equal to men – and to Gay relationships being worthy of a Blessing from the Church in the form of Marriage.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand