On the Trinity (1)

Once again, the MCC Commission on the Statement of Faith has done the MCC as a church and movement a great service in its latest post about the Trinity.

Once again, the Commission poses three questions, seeking community feedback. And once again, I will answer all three questions–the first below, and the other two in subsequent entries.

Does your own religious experience place much emphasis on the Trinity?

I have to say an emphatic yes! to this.

I grew up in a denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, that was proudly “middle of the road,” conservative Evangelical. We summarized our faith this way: “Christ our Saviour; Christ our Sanctifier; Christ our Healer; Christ our Coming King.” Though some theologians within the denomination worked to ensure that we did not confuse Christo-centrism with Christ-monism, it was very clear to me from a very early age that Father, Son, and Spirit were all God (though I didn’t always know how to talk about that intelligently!).

It was very difficult, as a teenager, to maintain an experience of the Trinity that didn’t feel almost schizophrenic. Jesus was Saviour and Lord, someone who befriended and defended me; I loved the Holy Spirit (having been immersed in Pentecostal circles from age 12). But God the Father was not safe to me–in fact, the Father felt a lot like my physically and verbally abusive step-father. Sometimes, God even sounded like my mother, especially when He would sit–in my imagination–on the top of the TV set frowning while I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation (which my mother barely tolerated).

Realising that I liked boys was terrifying to me, because those who used the word “gay” to describe themselves had accepted a severe form of demonization and made it central to their sense of self. Even if I was never taught this explicitly, that was the implication of the Pentecostal theology of my youth. I remember thanking God the Father for his patience with me whenever I came down from the temporary bliss of orgasmic fantasy about other boys because, I said, if I were Him, I would have killed me already.

When I entered training in prayer counselling taught by Charismatic teachers John and Paula Sandford, I quickly began to realise the extent to which I needed healing in my images of God and in my relationship with my step-father. One major healing change was that I started to call both the Father and my step-father “Papa”–a move which made the human one uncomfortable, though I never understood why. Unfortunately, the Sandfords taught that the whole LGBTQ+ liberation movement was a sign of the activity of the principalities and powers, rather than the Holy Spirit.

I learned the Apostles’ Creed for the first time in systematic theology class at 18 years old. I still can’t fully explain what happened in my spirit when I stood for the first time to say it as an individual. “I believe…” And I really *did* believe all these things. This was my story.

Life exploded a little over a year later, and I had to leave Bible College to sort out my sexuality. I remember sitting across from my “aunt”–a good friend of my mom’s–and telling her, “I don’t know if I’m loved by God.”

She said with all seriousness, “You know that’s not true. What are some Scriptures about the love of God?”

Not a single one rose up out of my heart. I actually noticed that my thoughts were blank. “I don’t know.”

Fortunately, that moment was probably the nadir of a long journey back to a healthier relationship with the Father. To this day, I contend that avoiding “God the Father” in the language of worship and theology is not a permanent solution to the damage that many queer Christians feel. Only by healing the image of Father and Mother will we gain the resources to go beyond damaged or strained parental relationships.

(I never could bring myself to say Creator, because that role belongs to all three Persons and not just the one. I do sometimes say “Source,” in deference to many Eastern Orthodox theologians who believe the Father is mysteriously the grounding of the other two Persons. I do remember that “God is not a boy’s name” and that “God is more than two men and a bird.”)

I entered the Anglican tradition in 2003, and all the nascent pentecostal passion I had about the Trinity gained some serious depth and rhetorical beauty. Collects would regularly end with, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with [the Father] and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever!”

The epiclesis over the gifts was, in my heart, a huge and wild moment in every Eucharist. Anything can happen when you invoke the Holy Ghost, amen?!

Even saying the Nicene Creed was a “thin place” for me, a moment when I sensed the joy of “the communion of saints” in honour of the Triune God!

I name myself a Trinitarian mystic, not because I am anything special, but because the images and experiences that our tradition uses of the Trinity have become my own. My favourite mystic thus far is Julian of Norwich, who managed to perceive in her own way the central conviction and experience of my life: when we see Jesus, we see the fullness of the activity of the Godhead (not to mention that her emphasis on the blood of Christ prefigures the way Pentecostals tend to understand it–as an actual substance (though invisible) that has never lost any of its power to save, heal, and liberate).

Both the Father and the Spirit “smell like” Jesus and point to Jesus. I love the image of perichoreisis–the inner relationship of God with Godself is a dance of mutual joy and deference. The thing that gives me chills is that God invites me–and all of humanity–into the centre of that dance; we are capable of divinity by the gift of God’s grace in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

But if I lose that vision of the Holy One and Sacred Three–especially if, as some in MCC leadership are wont to do, by maintaining that low Christology is sufficient for good doctrine and pastoral care–than I feel I have no reason to be confident in the inclusive love of God. Maybe the conviction that “God is love” is a delusion, a psychological prop I use to remain sane in the middle of a difficult relationship with my body (as a man with a disability) and a world that looks decidedly fucked-up most of the time!

But Jesus has been raised bodily from the dead, the Body of Christ is empowered by the Spirit to bring God’s justice, and at the destination of all things, God shall be all in all. That’s a story worth shouting about, and holding in common!

In my next entry in the series, I will answer the second question: Does your MCC community use one or more of the historic creeds in worship?

In the third, I will answer the final prompt: How might thinking about the Trinity as a relational community help you see God?

I hope you’ll come back, and my thanks to the Commission for the opportunity to provide feedback!

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