• Luke Dowding

“Sorry, now’s not a convenient time.”

“Sorry, now’s not a convenient time.”


I imagine that most of us have said those words to someone – if not recently, then at least once in our adulthood. I’ll admit that I often say it to those who might somehow dial lucky and click through to a real number, to then try and ask me a series of questions relating to a subject that I have no interest in.


“Sorry, now’s not a convenient time.”


Yet, it seems to me that this stock phrase is being used increasingly often – and not just to poorly-timed telemarketers.


Time is, of course, precious. And in societies like the UK where we are increasingly inundated with things that take up that time, it could be that now is never a convenient time.


In this period of restriction, I’m personally experiencing a resistance to things taking up my time – particularly as everything feels like it’s taking longer than it did before. Winter, for example, seems to be taking up an awful lot of my time and I really don’t have the time for it. But also, my sleeping pattern, exercise routine, work commitments, even those few online social commitments, all seem to be taking up more time. Or is it that I’ve slowed down, as has my world around me?


However, it feels like we’ve been apologising for now not being the right time for quite a long… well, time; particularly when it comes to the church on matters of justice. In my own tradition, Baptists have historically liked to congratulate themselves on being one foot ahead of others when it comes to an approach to social justice sufficiently Christ-like. It’s a shame then that in the Baptist Union of Great Britain ministers are so frightened to be affirming of LGBTQ+ people, so ill-equipped to nurture safe and healthy dialogue in their churches, and so concerned for retribution from those in positions of power (in this context, those who might seek to remove them from their churches or make it harder for them to find another), that they hide away and let the marginalised themselves and a handful of allies take the heavy-handed blows. Time, and time again. It’s also a Union of churches who enshrine the importance of the local church discerning the mind of Christ, yet nationally actively discriminate against and prohibit LGBTQ+ people from accredited ordination – enabling prejudice and misinformation to be used against those same LGBTQ+ people, who become victims of abuse. Yet, when challenged on this and the harm it causes, those who hold positions of power within the Union do little to stop or at the very least discourage such behaviour.


Sound familiar? To me, it smacks of the same disregard for justice that the Diocese of London has recently displayed in its dismal treatment of Jarel Robinson-Brown. A black man who had the audacity to challenge the status quo of white nationalism, and the misappropriation of the memory of an old man who was one of many thousands to have died as Covid-19 continues to have a disastrous impact. In the subsequent statements that have followed from the Diocese (at the time of writing) neither has sought to adequately challenge the root cause to Jarel’s treatment: racism. Of course, the right noises around reviews and pastoral support have been made, but for anyone still listening they might sound a lot like the sounds surrounding Living in Love and Faith (LLF) – only for that to be walked all over by the Church of England’s Evangelical Council when they released a video that even insiders of the LLF process felt betrayed and appalled by; a video that showed complete disregard to the years of painful listening and sharing by marginalised people, and to the principles that LLF had apparently sought to instil in the dialogue.


In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has the audacity to reach out and connect with a woman who, according to the NRSV translation, was:


“…with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” Luke 13:11b


The crime? He did so on the wrong day; it wasn’t the right time for his ministry of healing.


This translation spoke to me quite profoundly – the idea that it was a spirit that was causing the woman such suffering. Perhaps it’s more than likely that the author presumed this to be a spiritual manifestation, but I think many of us might resonate with the feeling of a spirit, perhaps that of oppression, crushing the life out of us – forcing us to bend over double, unable to live freely. Upon reading these verses again, I felt a rush of empathy for the woman who had faced such suffering for 18 years, and I realised that it’s been 18 long years for me – since becoming active in the local church as a teen at the same time as realising my sexuality was not compatible with their teaching. 18 years, as the spirit of oppression grows heavier upon me.


Hundreds, if not thousands of us now call for justice and healing in the church, yet we are at best set aside and asked to patiently wait for the so-called “right time”, and at worst hung out to dry like Jarel – allowed, by those who have the power and authority to protect us, to be vilified, abused, and demeaned


“Sorry, now’s not a convenient time.”


So, if now is not a convenient time to challenge racism and homophobia, would someone like to let me know when there might be a convenient time to call back? In the meantime, there are those of us who will continue to try our hardest to embody Christ’s actions as he healed those suffering at inconvenient times, whilst we continue to support one another in the margins when the acts of retaliation hit us from the religious elite.

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