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by the Revd Jody Stowell, Vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Harrow Weald and member of General Synod

I became a Christian in the proper evangelical ‘prayed the prayer’ type way when I was 14. And although, looking back, I know that God was not absent for the first 13 years of my life (I always believed in a God, always prayed), that moment was really important in my life with God. In recalling it, I have often said that the story I was told on that night, about salvation and sacrifice and choosing to follow Jesus, was one that I already knew, that resonated with the story already within my soul, and so I said ‘Yes!’

I didn’t know then that I was not just a Christian, but an Evangelical Christian. Only in my twenties did I start to become aware of the tribal nature of the Church of England, and to meet some Liberal Christians. Contrary to what I’d been led to expect, I discovered that they were, in fact, Christian! I also began my theology degree at Spurgeon’s College as an independent student, with tutors from many denominations. One of my modules was on Spirituality, and it was here that I discovered the wonderful length and breadth of Christian Tradition. Within this tradition, it was clear that I was an Evangelical and that this was part of a whole multi-faceted history.

Obviously within my Evangelical roots was the idea that ‘homosexuality was wrong.’ I wanted to be a good Christian so, whilst slightly uncomfortable with this idea, I admit that I simply went with it. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference to my own life, so I didn’t have to think about it. As I grew up and as my world expanded, that changed. I needed to connect my theology with my knowledge of who God is and what God is like, and the reality that this affected real people.

However, at that time exploring the theology of men and women was my priority, as it affected me personally, in my own call to ordination. I found it painful to be ousted from my clan, to be told I wasn’t an Evangelical, to find myself without a home and to feel like I didn’t belong. This still hurts, although with much less sting than it used to, but the experience helps me to understand the emotional processes that are going on, for those who are in the Evangelical tribe, when they even begin to think about standing out for Same-Sex Marriage.  Yes, it is an excuse, but if we do not accept that this is a strong attachment, then we will never be able to have the conversations that encourage and enable people to publicly change their mind.

It was my exploration of the biblical arguments regarding men and women which took me to places where the conversation was about humanity and our relationships more broadly. There were those in the Evangelical world who closed themselves to the conversation on the ordination of women because they said it was the ‘thin end of the wedge’, calling into question the place of headship in marriage, which is for them, absolute in Scripture. If this could be questioned, then the next thing on the table would be … homosexuality.

That emotional response to having to think about a possible change in mindset over LGBT+ inclusion sometimes lay at the root of saying ‘no’ to a change of mind on women’s ordination. The argument for women as bishops was often regressed to the question about women’s ordination in its entirety. And, in a way, I understood this anxiety. As I listened to ordained women argue for their place, I often wondered how we could ever be closed to the question of LGBT+ inclusion. It would always be possible for a biblical perspective to be presented that was persuasive. The possibility would never be closed. And this is, of course, the posture of the Christian faith – we are people of revelation and it is really uncomfortable!  In every generation, we must do the wrestling of working out what is good and true and of God and what is ephemera.  But to choose not to wrestle is, I’m afraid, not an option.

It wasn’t just the reality of revelation and the possibility of persuasive biblical argument that I discovered in exploring a theology of men and women; it was a different reading of an actual biblical story about human relationships, Genesis 2.  My understanding of this story was fundamentally changed by, for example, Phyllis Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (1978).

Where previously this had been delivered as a story of difference, I began to see the meaning as lying in the expression of shared humanity: ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’. The focus here is on the sameness. Of course, there is also difference. The Human who lies down to sleep is not the same as the human who wakes up: the Dustling (ha’adam) lies down and becomes the man (iysh) and the other human, the woman (ishshah).

But this particular difference only frames the focus of the story, which is that men and women have the same humanity. It is understandable that the story uses men and women to illustrate the ultimate difference, but this is about making the point about shared humanity more powerful. It does not necessarily create a defining doctrine regarding who can be in relationship with each other in marriage. We are all ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’ When I stare into the eyes of another human, I must be able to say this; to see in them, myself, and to recognise the image of God in the other. Every other human being is different to me, not just those who are not my biological sex; every human being is, in some sense, ‘other’ to me. This story tells me that I must see myself in the woman in the hijab, the boy with the braids, the enby wheelchair user.

This story has reframed for me all the other stories in Scripture in which the relationship between men and women is at the forefront. It has given me a basis on which to stand in anyone’s company and be their equal, and them, mine.

It has meant that, in terms of my own humanity, I am assured of my value and my place. And it has given me the lens through which I see my LGBT+ siblings and niblings: ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’



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