A listening process is an open commitment to engage actively in the world and thought of the person or people to whom you are listening and a corresponding commitment on the part of the other person or people to enter into yours. It does not presume agreement or disagreement; it presumes a striving for empathy.
It involves asking such questions as ‘What would I feel in that situation?’, ‘What would I have done?’ ‘How does that person think, what is her world view?’ rather than, ‘How can I counter that argument?’
Listening requires respect. Point scoring and name calling can have no place in a listening process. The words we use may cause offence and so they need to be chosen carefully.
The process of listening to lesbian and gay people is a commitment to hear what they have to say, how they feel and how they understand the gospel.
The listening process is not a debate. It is not about persuading someone else that you are right, nor is it about finding a compromise between two positions. One writer has said: “Debate is too often about two opposing opinions, about making points that build up one and demolish the other. It’s adversarial … In my experience, debates rarely build anything or anybody up; rather they entrench us and our opinions.” Listening processes are about how another person sees and understands the world and the gospel and not about you making others agree with you, or others making you agree with them.
A listening process concerned with human sexuality has to include lesbian and gay people and ‘straight’ people. All have something to share in the process. People who find they are attracted to people of their own gender are present in all our churches and have a range of opinions. Each of their diverse stories is significant.
While the listening process is not aimed at defining theology, some ask about the place experience plays in the Anglican theological method. The way Anglicans do theology is through the Bible, tradition and reason. The Virginia Report defines reason as the ‘human being’s capacity to symbolise, and so to order, share and communicate experience’. Taking note of experience is part of our theological method, but it cannot override our commitment to scripture and tradition. Listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people is not primarily about shaping our theology but it may influence our theology and will change the way we proclaim the message of God’s love for the world.
Where listening processes have been entered into the life of the church has been enriched and enabled to focus on mission in its local context and in the world.
“All baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.” Lambeth 1.10
1. A Gay-Straight Christian Dialogue, ‘Michael’ and ‘Chris’ (Grove, 2005)
2. Rosenthal and Currie Being Anglican in the Third Millennium page244