I have recently gained a new insight into Paul’s analogy of the Church as the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.It came from a helter-skelter on the pier at Weston-super-Mare last week. As I reached the bottom of the spiral slide, it suddenly switched direction and I was thrown to the other side, and managed to crush one of my fingers in the process.
A visit to the local hospital revealed that I had shattered a bone into 3 pieces. It was just one bone, and a small one at that, at the tip of my middle finger on my left hand. It has to be splinted up for a month and I have been told not to use it.But the impact on my day to day life has been out of all proportion to the size of the bone which was broken.
For the first few days, I had to keep my hand elevated in a sling to reduce the swelling. I am left handed so I have had to learn how to do things with my right hand. Simple things like brushing my teeth or eating a bowl of pasta have become a real challenge. Typing with one hand – doing the washing up without getting my splint wet – the list of implications could go on and on.And when I forget to be careful and knock my left hand against something – it hurts!
Just as Paul said about the body, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”Paul was painting this picture to teach us about the Church – different parts joined and knit together to make the whole – every part important – every part interdependent on the other. When one part of the church is in pain – the whole body is in pain.
As I reflected on this I found myself thinking about the pain which the continuing controversy about same-sex relationships, Civil Partnerships and same-sex Marriage is causing in the church. Which parts of the Body of Christ are hurting now in the midst of Government consultations, uncompromising statements by leading church figures, and banned bus poster campaigns ?Certainly, there are gasps of outrage and horror from the conservative Christian groups. There is also deep discomfort among clergy and ministers who find themselves having to face same-sex couples in church who might challenge their preconceptions or church allegiances. But this is not real pain – it is the discomfort of a slight bruise or a shallow graze.
The real pain is amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who are constantly having their identity, faith and sexuality questioned – treated with suspicion, distrust or open hostility. The ones who face the invisible sign outside many churches which says “Not welcome here”, or “Please find somewhere else”. The couples whose love is not recognised or accepted by churches which refuse to pray for God’s blessing on their committed partnerships - or are prevented from doing so by authority or fear of others.These are the people who are truly hurting in our current intransigence, and the hurt runs deep – right to the bone.
As a consequence, the whole body is in pain. Just like my broken finger, that pain and injury affects the whole body. Tasks which should come naturally, almost without thinking, become unfamiliar and burdensome. Some activities even become impossible until the healing takes place.There are some in the church who say that they are fed up of all this sexuality stuff – “It’s all we ever seem to talk about” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once. “There are much more important issues we should be addressing” is another. But like Paul said (and my broken finger bears witness to) when a part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers – even when it is a comparatively small part of the body as a whole.
The truth is that we will not function properly as the Body of Christ while we continue to inflict this pain on our gay brothers and sisters. Our mission, our presence in society, even our message will continue to be severely impaired by this pain.I like ‘The Message’ translation of the verse I quoted earlier (1 Corinthians 12:26). It goes beyond most when it says,
“If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.”The time has come for the Church to minister in the way that Jesus did, by focusing on healing rather than judgment. It is time to open our hearts. It is time to be the Body of Christ.