‘Imprisoned by the fears and prejudices of others’ by Gordon Linney

Thinking Anew, Irish Times,  22nd March,  Gordon Linney – 


It’s quite a distance from New York to Sychar, a city that once stood in what we know today as the West Bank that tragic land ruled by fear and patrolled by Israeli soldiers. In the time of Jesus it was called Samaria.


In New York this week there was much talk about being Irish. The Taoiseach took part in the St Patrick’s Day parade – a celebration of “Irishness”; the Mayor of New York declined because the Gay community were not allowed to take part as an identified group. 


In the Gospel reading of 23 March we take that journey in time and distance and perhaps more significantly in understanding to a well near Sychar where Jesus engages with a woman drawing water making an important statement about inclusiveness by crossing every possible social, religious and ethnic boundary. Gender was an issue: at that time a man could not talk to a woman in the street; race and religion frowned on such contacts and on top of all that this was a woman with a past and not very respectable. But Jesus refuses to be bound by traditional norms – a Jew with a Samaritan, a man with a woman, a rabbi with a sinner. Division by race, creed, class, sex or status is repudiated and instead he asks her for a drink. He will not be imprisoned by the fears and prejudices of others.


St James’s Church near London’s Piccadilly Circus takes a similar position: “We are a Christian community within the Church of England and we take Jesus Christ and the Gospels seriously…..We seek to be inclusive, and welcoming of both human experience and human diversity. We take the Bible seriously, and seek to understand it in the light of that same experience and diversity and of what this age knows and Biblical writers did not, and could not, know. Our community is widely representative of partnered and single people, straight and gay, those who have a sure Christian faith and those who struggle with belief.” 


A recent statement however by the English bishops on same sex marriage and the blessing of gay relationships troubles the Rector, the Rev Lucy Winkett who responded in a recent sermon:

 “The Bishops’ pastoral guidance as it is called in fact simply re-states everything that has been said before. There is nothing new in what they’ve said – but the tone and the emphasis on discipline, especially for clergy, is stronger. I know that the tone of the statement has caused hurt, frustration and not a little anger for many in the church… I do feel as Rector here that it is very important that I reiterate publicly at this juncture that whatever the bishops are saying and however they say it, the strong commitment of this church remains to every person – to you – and every person whether you identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, and all of you who are not sure or don’t know what your label is; as well as every person, every person who is straight, rich or poor, single, partnered, married, curious.

Our commitment is to you when you are in work, out of work, grieving, glad, anxious, contented, despairing, if your mental health is robust, if your mental health is fragile, if you are lonely or in love, or pregnant or wish you were, or worry that you don’t want to be, if you’re worried about getting older or feeling that you’re too young…… our commitment simply mirrors God’s commitment to you, whoever you are, wherever you come from. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing or if you are thin or if you are big, or if you hate yourself or love the sound of your own voice. It does not matter to us because it does not matter to God. Every person, every person, whatever you have done, whoever you want to be, is honoured here and loved and accepted.”

It’s a very, very long way from New York to Sychar.