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Hallo again to all.

To some people, the church (any church) seems to be a storehouse of the past. A bulwark against change. To others, the church is a force for God-given progressive justice, even while encouraging the enjoyment and honouring of the past.

Today the General Synod of the Church of England passed this resolution:

That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.

The resolution didn't pass without a fight, of course; you can read about the skirmish at Thinking Anglicans. But it passed. We're certain that many of those for whom the church is understood to be primarily a bulwark against change are furious. We've talked to Anglicans who said they understood the importance of the resolution and were glad it passed, but it nevertheless makes them uncomfortable. If people feel uncomfortable thinking about issues of gender identity, imagine how uncomfortable it must feel to live them.

Woman's work

We find it instructive to take a careful look at the origins and background of those who are fighting against cultural change by insisting that it is moral change (or moral decay). Where do we start?

Some years ago we were visiting San Francisco's Chinatown, eating dim sum in an outdoor setting in perfect weather, when a 25-person tour group was seated nearby. The tourists looked to us to be Chinese, and they were visiting a Chinatown. We found that curious enough that we worked up the courage to start a conversation with the tour guide. He told us that in present-day China — this particular group was from Shanghai — San Francisco's Chinatown was considered to be a 'living history museum', like Britain's Beamish in County Durham or the USA's Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. The workers who had emigrated to San Francisco a century ago had brought their customs and fashions with them, but as the styles and attitudes 'back home' evolved, the culture in the emigrant community did not. When the Shanghai tourists looked at San Francisco's Chinatown, they saw their own distant past, seemingly preserved in some strange time warp and unaffected by a century of cultural change at home.

Many decades before San Francisco was settled by imported railroad workers and their families, there were missionaries sent from England to faraway places. Those missionaries, like all Christian missionaries, were sent to teach Christianity and to convert the locals to the missionaries' beliefs and behaviours. The missionaries taught behaviour and talked about morality, based on what they had learned and absorbed from their country of origin before leaving it to travel the world.

Like the emigrants to San Francisco, the peoples converted by the missionaries had no means of learning about or following cultural growth or enlightenment in the missionaries' mother country. Whether or not there had been new scholarship, new understanding, or healing of bigotry as a result of improved education. The converted peoples knew what they had been taught and had no access to updated information. There were no follow-on missionaries.

So much of our current conflict has been facilitated by the explosive growth of universal global communication. Two generations ago, no one in faraway places even knew what was going on in the General Synod of the Church of England, let alone cared about it. Now everyone is watching everyone else, for better or for worse. We believe that the same global communications channels enabling these arguments will in time enable the education needed to move past it, but that will happen slowly.

Don't get comfortable yet. Perhaps the next front in church arguments could be gender fluidity. 'Are you a boy or a girl? No.' Trust us, there are Anglicans and other Christians out there right now who are unhappy with how the church understands, or even knows about, gender fluidity or gender fluid people.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

9 July 2017

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