Experiencing the inclusive love of Christ
Father Dan Barnes-Davies is a vicar in the Barry Ministry Area and vice chair of Inclusive Church Network. In our latest Where Faith Matters blog, Fr Dan shares his journey towards greater inclusion.
At our recent training day, the clergy of the diocese were asked if we knew the Five Marks of Mission off the tops of our heads. I do. I know that all five marks are to be taken together and as a whole, but I am sure I'm not the only person for whom one resonates more strongly than any other. For me, it is "to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation."
We will all have different perspectives on what are the unjust structures of society — chiefly based on our own lived experiences and those of our family and friends. My own passion for inclusion — for equity and justice — was really ignited when I was first away for a long time from where I grew up, living together with people who weren't like me. I got to know people who were openly LGBTQIA+. I had found my own faith previously; but then I experienced the love of Christ in a community which included all comers. That was my university chaplaincy, and it was my chaplain who first inspired my calling to priesthood.
I still remember that evening when my first trans friend led a Student Christian Movement session on privilege. I had never realised how different their life was to mine. A few years later, I became a trustee of the Inclusive Church Network. When Inclusive Church began almost 20 years ago, it was chiefly about LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the Church of England. Now, we are an educational charity with hundreds of registered churches, Anglican and otherwise, across these isles and (in a few cases) the world. Churches register with us in order to signify their commitment to their own journey towards greater inclusion. When I first became a trustee, I was a representative young person, mostly concerned with justice for my LGBTQIA+ siblings.
I experienced the love of Christ in a community which included all comers.
But in the eight years since then, I have got to know a lot more about the ways in which all sorts of people are oppressed and excluded. I have learned from our partners in 'Women and the Church' about how ordained and lay women are systematically oppressed. The job did not end with women bishops, not by a long way. Through our annual disability conference with St Martin-in-the-Fields, I have learned a huge amount about the lived experience of Christian with all sorts of disabilities. There, I first learned some Disabled theology; there, I was encouraged and supported to seek diagnosis of my neurodiversity.
All exclusion is the same exclusion
It is LGBT+ History Month. It is not about me, and it is not about Disability. But I mention it because I hope it highlights the biggest thing I've learned through my long time with Inclusive Church: all exclusion is the same exclusion. However we are oppressed and excluded, we can and should make common cause with each other. Though I have never faced homophobia myself, I can listen to my siblings and better understand them because I know ableism. The trade union movement which South Wales nurtured calls this 'solidarity'.
It is part of our mission as Christ's body, to transform those “unjust structures of society”. 'Apolitical' is not an option when our siblings are oppressed. In matters of oppression, apolitical is cowardice and collusion with the oppressor. When we see abuse done to God's children — for example, in conversion therapy — we have a sacred duty to do all that we can to make it stop. Neither can we assume that the unjust structures exist only outside the church: and those ones are more directly our responsibility to transform, and with urgency.
As long as churches and our officers collude with homophobia (unknowingly or otherwise), the church can never fully be a safe place for the LGBTQIA+ community. As long as we act as exempt from Equalities legislation and contemporary employment practices around diversity, the church can never fully be a safe place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Until the church is a place where all sorts of people — including LGBTQIA+ people — are treasured in the identities which God in their infinite wisdom has given us, the church is a poor and faded image of what she ought to be. One day, I will live in a fabulous rainbow church; I hope that will be during my earthly life.
As long as churches and our officers collude with homophobia (unknowingly or otherwise), the church can never fully be a safe place for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives… to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ [Luke 4:17–19]
"Until we are all free, we are none of us free." — Emma Lazarus
Dan Barnes-Davies, 15 February 2022
Photos from Unsplash.com
More from Barry Ministry Area
Writing for The Glamorgan Star, Rev'd Robert Parrish, explains why he supports same-sex blessings Pause for thought - Glamorgan Star