I think I first became aware of Inclusive Church quite soon after it started in 2003, in response to Church of England leaders’ appalling treatment of Jeffrey John. His nomination as Bishop of Reading was withdrawn because he was in a committed same-sex partnership – a reminder that even those lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)+ people who stuck to harsh rules still faced fierce prejudice. IC quickly grew to take on board other issues of inclusion, in the C of E and beyond. A few years later, I was representing the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (now part of OneBodyOneFaith) on the IC board of trustees.
The fact that churches, though sometimes welcoming and caring, could also be discriminatory came as no surprise. I arrived in the UK from Sri Lanka as a small child in the 1960s. Public figures such as the politician Enoch Powell, who whipped up fear and hatred of people of colour – and who served for years as a churchwarden – reflected the views of many fellow-Christians. Thankfully, my parents had both a deep faith and a commitment to social justice and I learned that love of God and neighbour sometimes involved questioning what most others took for granted.
As an adolescent, I also gradually became aware that I was lesbian. I found out that what I had assumed about the morality of same-sex love was not so clear-cut and that many interpreted the Bible differently. Yet government leaders and the media were often openly hostile to LGBT+ inclusion and even church leaders who were privately affirming were afraid to say so in public. Meanwhile, women’s position in many churches was even worse than in the rest of society while, in other ways too, some people were treated as being of lesser worth or their gifts and capabilities disregarded.
IC enabled people focusing on various aspects of inclusion to work together more closely at a practical level and also to listen to and learn from one another. On the board, I also served as lead on economic inclusion for a while. Thoughtful and informative talks were given and books produced, local churches were offered guidance and support, and signposting was provided for those seeking a local Christian community which would be truly welcoming. I left the board some years ago but continue to hear of valuable and heartening developments. The network has continued to grow and further resources have been shared.
IC’s work and presence is an ongoing reminder that specific movements for inclusion are part of a broader picture, of attempts to be better at receiving and reflecting the powerful love of One in whose image all humans are made and who continually breaks down the barriers that exclude and divide. The need for this is perhaps even greater than when IC began.
Savitri Hensman is an activist, writer and involvement coordinator who lives in London. She is a former IC trustee.
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