NEXT week, the General Synod will be invited to reflect on evangelism. It would be odd for a newspaper in which almost every clerical vacancy speaks about “new missional challenges” to argue against evangelism, and we emphatically do not. We are concerned, however, that the understanding of evangelism has not received the deep cleaning that the Living in Love and Faith process is attempting with sexuality. Describing congregants as potential “agents of mission” makes them sound vaguely glamorous: the 007s of the parish. But churchgoers need to be stirred, not shaken. Everything that USPG says this week about rethinking mission overseas applies here. Mission is about engagement, and (switching the metaphor) any engagement that does not involve listening as well as speaking, learning as well as teaching, will not lead to a successful marriage. Attempting to make congregations comply more nearly with a particular sort of church culture runs the risk of dragging them further away from the culture of the people they seek to convert. Why are people surprised when 74 per cent of Christians in a survey report: “None of my non-Christian contacts [note the word “friends” is not used here] seem interested in spiritual things”? How many Christians, English ones, at least, talk readily about this stuff? And those who do are as likely to put people off as win them over. USPG teaches its supporters to understand the social, political, and cultural situation of the communities that they have traditionally regarded as “missional challenges”. They should be ready to receive as much as they give. The same applies to nearer neighbours. Be missional, if you must; but first understand what mission means.
THE latest example of cross-cultural dialogue comes, implausibly, from the cricket field. On Monday, a mic during the Third Test in the West Indies picked up a snatch of dialogue. The England captain, Joe Root, was heard to reply to the West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel: “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.” As a response to what we must assume was homophobic sledging, this was a remarkably calm reaction. And a very effective one: Root was keen to protect Gabriel — “Sometimes people say things on the field that they might regret, but it should stay on the field” (the International Cricket Council disagrees) — but his simple assertion brought comfort to many off the field, as evidenced by online responses. “I want to take a moment to thank Joe Root for standing up yesterday and showing young LGBT kids that there is a place in cricket for them,” read one. “As a gay cricketer sidelined having come out to his team, Root’s handling of Gabriel’s comments has put a huge smile on my face,” read another. It is a reminder of how vulnerable LGBTI people feel in certain contexts, one being sport. How long will another be the Church?