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Eucharistic Signalling

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 13 Sep 2018

Lee Gatiss considers the sacrilegious and discriminatory ideas behind Rainbow Eucharists.

You may not have heard of a Rainbow Eucharist. But the idea has been around for a while, and is celebrated in the gay press. Sometimes it might be called a Pride service, and the Lord’s table can be draped in the Pride flag. The associated rhetoric is usually of inclusivity, diversity, and equality (and who wants to argue against those nowadays?).

There is a service like this planned for 22nd September at Wells Cathedral. A new group is being formed there, we’re told, “to celebrate and promote greater inclusion for gay people.” It is clear what the cause being supported here is, not least because the speaker is to be Jayne Ozanne, a leading lesbian member of General Synod and a prominent campaigner for revising the church’s doctrine and practice in an extreme liberal direction. So anyone who wishes “to support this cause” is invited to the service. Indeed, “All members of the Cathedral community who wish to signal support are invited to the service (and lunch).”*

What this says to those who don’t support this cause, is clear: this Eucharist is not for you.

It’s not for you if you believe what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage. It’s not for you if you are part of the vast majority in the Anglican Communion which holds to the traditional view of sex and sin and salvation. It’s not for you if you experience same-sex attraction but think that Christians should only have sex within heterosexual marriage. You should stay away.

This is part of a worrying trend towards using services of Holy Communion as a cheap and easy way to signal the virtue of those who attend. Virtue signalling is a way of showing support for a politically-correct cause, demonstrating your righteous character and the moral goodness of your position on a particular issue. It usually consists of some public gesture intended to convey to others around that you hold to the socially-approved view (whatever that might be), though critics have pointed out that these gestures can often be superficial and come with very little associated risk or sacrifice.

That is not what the Lord’s Supper was meant to be for. Taking bread and wine is meant to be about remembering Jesus’s death and feeding on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. It is for all those who repent of their pride and come with humility to confess the shame and guilt of our sins before God, receiving spiritual sustenance for a life of repentance and faith.

The Apostle Paul said, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So what we are signalling as we partake of this meal is that we are all such outrageous sinners that the Son of God himself had to die for our sins, which we now put behind us. We don’t celebrate or promote them, but him. As the Apostle Peter taught, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

As has been pointed out, according to the Bible eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper has consequences and implications that no other eating and drinking does. It is not a magical ritual wafer, but something which can actually cause real harm to some people, according to Anglican teaching. Indeed, as Rob Brewis wrote earlier this year on this blog, “The Lord’s Supper received without true repentance and faith leads to condemnation, because it is blaspheming the work of Christ.“

Rainbow Eucharists are not just blasphemy; they politicise the sacrament in an entirely unhelpful and indeed sacrilegious way. Promote a cause—come to a eucharist. Signal your support—come to this service

Imagine if other causes were to adopt the same approach. Will Cathedrals be having Anti-Brexit Eucharists next March, draping their altars in European flags and only inviting Remainers? Or perhaps Pro-Brexit Eucharists, with the Union Flag instead? Will Deans be signalling their support for one party or another in the next General Election, with Lib Dem Eucharists or Labour Eucharists—“For the many not the few” replacing “Do this in remembrance of me” in the liturgy, and a rousing rendition of “O Jeremy Corbyn” taking the place of “O Jesus I have promised”?

The idea (I hope) seems laughable, because it would be so inappropriate and excluding. And so, despite their claims of inclusivity, diversity, and equality, are Rainbow Eucharists. They are divisive incursions into the life of the church, an attempt to divide the people of God, gathering only some, and under the wrong banner. It is in nobody’s interest to turn the church into a consumerist free-for-all where we choose the eucharists we want depending on the causes we want to support this week. But as Paul warned Timothy:

“The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3).

* UPDATE (14th Sept 2018): The cathedral website was quietly changed after this blogpost was published. The line quoted here was removed and replaced with “Afterwards, for those who wish to linger and plan, there is time in the Nave for lunch – please bring sandwiches etc. All welcome.” So it seems that the cathedral is also openly giving space for people to plan how to undermine the doctrine and practice of the Church of England. Adding “All are welcome” at the end hardly takes away from the fact that the top of the page restricts the invitation to those who want to “support this cause” being advocated by the speaker and others behind this “new grouping being formed in the diocese.”

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

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