It's a PR stunt almost on a par with Rear of the Year. Apparently some wags with a working knowledge of church history have been pinning up notices on the doors of English cathedrals which list the apparent sins of the modern Anglican Church, and a conservative declaration of repentance and reform. The documents, which have so far been stuck to the exteriors of cathedrals in London, Hereford, Rochester and Canterbury, warn that 'the Church of England is becoming corrupt; – much like the Church which Luther addressed with his 95 Theses.
While Luther's reforms 500 years ago were wide-ranging, however, a straightforward reading of this anonymous document reveals that the real target here is rather narrow. Boiled down, it is about the Church's response to same-sex attraction and relationships – though in fairness, those making these protests would argue that it's much wider than that, a proxy for a whole slew of issues around the Bible, authority and much more. The targeted cathedrals each have a link to more supportive and affirming theology for LGBT people, while the so-called 'Southwark Declaration' included on the notices states a clear conservative position on marriage and sex.
It's not quite clear what the people pinning up these documents hope to achieve. Clearly there is a sense among those who take a more conservative position that their voice is no longer heard or tolerated, and perhaps there's also a feeling that more militant action is necessary. The problem, as ever, is not just that this communicates to the outside world (who love a good PR stunt) that the Church is single-mindedly obsessed with gay sex, but that by implication that it doesn't really care about much else.
With that in mind then, may I humbly suggest a list of declarations and statements which are equally, if not more worthy of being pinned up on the door of your local church or cathedral. Unlike others I don't presume to imagine myself as some modern-day Luther*, but perhaps these are four better public statements to be making if we're going to think about publically visible reform.
*Although of course, we do share a first name. Coincidence?
1. A reminder of God's lavish and constant love for every single person
I'm not sure we've communicated this very well. Does the world know, from looking at his Church, that God equally loves people of every colour and ethnicity, every gender, every ability, every sexuality and every social class? That he loves people who've messed up their lives in appalling ways, or who have done terrible things to others? That he cares as much about Palestinian children as Etonian ones? If not, maybe we should all pin a note to our church door apologising for the fact, and restating 'how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ' (Ephesians 3:18).
2. An apology to the LGBT communities
Let's be honest, the Church has been horrifically homophobic in the past. From whole congregations who've asked gay members to stand up and 'explain themselves' at church meetings to individuals who've preached hatred and persecution, our collective responsibility as Christ's church covers a litany of ugly sins. We've been seen – for good reason – not just as standing for an orthodox view of marriage, but as standing against those who are attracted to their own sex, and as seeking to either 'cure' or excommunicate them. An honest apology that acknowledges the terrible things done in the name of Christ against LGBT people, would be a disarming and humble step for any church to take.
3. A promise to do better on sexual abuse
If there's one thing our churches are better known for than being anti-gay, it's the horrifying history of sexual, spiritual and other abuse that has taken place within our church communities. Far from being places of refuge for young and vulnerable people, churches have been places of abuse which is devastating in itself. However, many well-documented stories have catapulted that association into the public consciousness, and again is worthy of both an apology and a promise to do better. What better or more important declaration could we make than telling people that the Church will be a place of safety and kindness in a world where both are so often in short supply?
4. A rebuttal of racism
Perhaps the defining social issue of the last two to three years, racism has reared its disgusting head again across Britain, Europe and North America. Yet our churches, who count St Paul as their greatest-ever theologian, believe that in Christ 'there is neither jew nor gentile... for all are one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28). So what better communally-visible notice could we all be pinning to our doors than a clear statement against racial hatred and intolerance, which reminds everyone who walks past that all people, of all backgrounds, are welcome inside. Of course, the church has its own difficult history to reconcile here too – we weren't just involved with abolishing slavery, but also furthering it – but if we're talking about reformation and repentance, then again, it feels like there's much for us to say. There couldn't be a more timely or relevant statement for our local churches and cathedrals to make into culture.
Of course I'm being a little facetious. I don't seriously expect any of us to start typing up declarations against these things and ruining antique doors with blu-tac. Yet it seems to me that our ridiculously primal obsession with sexuality is derailing the Church's mission in our communities, who observe this kind of behaviour and see it as yet another reason to dismiss and disengage from Christian faith. So if we're going to pin up anything outside our churches for the world or the media to read, let it at least speak of love.