Covid, LLF and the Power of “Lived Experience”

by the Revd Canon Timothy Goode, Rector of St Margaret’s, Lee, Disability Adviser to the Diocese of Southwark and Member of General Synod

‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God’.[1]

On the 8th October Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored the concept of ‘lived experience’ and agreed that, taken solely on its own, ‘lived experience’ is an unreliable position for moral authority, as it leaves itself open to manipulation by our unconscious and conscious biases.

However the panel admitted that when matched with rigorous and careful reflection, drawing into a deeper empathy with those with similar narratives, ‘lived experience’ acquires a legitimate moral agency that has the power to change attitudes and transform lives.  The program concluded that ‘Lived Experience’ speaks particularly powerfully when it states that ‘there is only so much we can do unless we have a voice at the table.’

Within this context ‘lived experience’ becomes a plea from the powerless to the powerful. Compare Donald Trump’s recent responses to his ‘lived experience’ of Covid-19 to the rallying cry from the ‘lived experience’ of disabled people. ‘Not about us without us’ becomes a direct plea to the powerful to listen and respond to the narratives of those who are being disabled by the very people who hold power and influence.

Although the Church of England’s new teaching document ‘Living in Love and Faith’ reflects on the lived experience of many within the LGBTI community, am I alone in wishing that the writers of LLF had had the opportunity, before going to publication, to hear and reflect on the lived experiences of the powerless in this pandemic?  For this pandemic is robbing many of the very action that is the LLF’s elephant in the room, namely physical intimacy.

People with serious underlying health issues have had to shield from their sexual partner, mirroring the lived experience of many for whom this is their daily existence. Others have found themselves geographically separated from their sexual partner due to lockdown. As previously stated in Savi Hensman’s Via Media blog on “life without closeness” this pandemic has forced us to step back from embracing or shaking hands, all but robbing us of a vital part of our humanity and that loss has hurt us profoundly.

It is within this context that I have been reflecting on my recent lived experience of being shielded, cut off physically from family and friends, and in particular having to live socially distanced from my wife for two weeks at the beginning of lockdown.

As a physically disabled person I experience physical intimacy as a gift of immense grace. To offer myself completely to my wife, emotionally, spiritually and physically; for that offer not only to be received but desired and for that offer to be reciprocated in kind, has been for us a perpetual manifestation of God’s love and grace. For to offer oneself so completely to another is an act of risk and vulnerability, one which opens us to the possibility of rejection and immense hurt, but also the possibility of profound transformation and healing.

Being desired so completely by my wife has confirmed and affirmed that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God. Physical intimacy continues to be for us a gift and vital sign of the vulnerable, selfless and graceful love of God.

Bernie and I do not have children and our sexual relationship is not open to the procreation of children and yet there is nothing about our experience of physical intimacy that in anyway falls short of God’s purposes, but rather continues to be an ongoing sharing of grace that has drawn us both into a deeper and closer relationship with each other and with the incarnate God; the Word made Flesh; the Risen Body, both fully divine and fully human that invites us to gaze upon the open wounds of Christ and respond ‘My Lord and my God’.[2]

That two weeks at the start of lockdown, when self-distancing denied both of us the possibility to be physically intimate, afforded me the gift of a glimpse of what the Church of England demands of clergy living in loving committed same sex relationships.

For the Church to demand that others are denied the experience of physical intimacy; to deny the possibility of offering oneself completely – emotionally, spiritually and physically – to the one they love and to deny that offer being reciprocated – all whilst denying them and their life partner a covenantal relationship with God, is to deny the graceful action of God and to fall desperately short of God’s purpose. 

It is the action of a powerful Church, selecting and predisposing particular passages of scripture to the judgmental pronouncements of the powerful over the powerless. In doing so ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has all but robbed LGBTI clergy of a vital part of our shared humanity and it has hurt them and the Church profoundly.

Many Christians respond with ‘you cannot bless a sin’ and I agree with them.

‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has not been a blessing for the Church of England, because it has denied God’s graceful action and therefore colluded with sin. ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has brought about serious safeguarding issues which the church can no longer ignore; for its pronouncements deny and abuse God’s purposes within loving relationships, profoundly impacting on the mental health of so many LGBTI Christians and denying the opportunity for the church to be for them a sacred place of safety and sanctuary.

My ardent prayer is that through the upcoming publishing of LLF and the conversations that ensue, the Church becomes a blessing rather than a barrier for LGBTI Christians, a Church that truly listens and responds to the lived experiences of the powerless, transforming fully into the Body of Christ, leaving no one behind –  a true agent of God’s grace, living out the Gospel clarion cry:  ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God’.

[1] The First Letter of St John, Chapter 4, verse 7

[2] Gospel of John, 20 verse 28

This entry was posted in Disability, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Tim Goode. Bookmark the permalink.

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