WEDNESDAY, 18 JANUARY 2017
I have joined Changing Attitude – Cymru. The Cymru bit is important, It does not to me seem as harsh as its English sibling. I am aware that this is a value judgement.
I am an evangelical. I take evangelism, personal discipleship and the witness of the Scriptures very seriously indeed. (Other traditions do too… I can only speak from the tradition of which I am part). One of the highlights of my week at present is leading a Youth Alpha course and I long to see ordinary everyday churchgoers share their faith.
I have followed the discussions held both within the Church in Wales and the Church of England quite closely about human sexuality. Sadly, the debate has all too often revolved around same-sex relationships rather than human sexuality in its broadest sense. This is not always helpful.
I have, I think, while being pastorally caring and sensitive (my care and sensitivity have led me into all sorts of problems), I have stood resolutely against the Church offering anything beyond a welcome to those in same-sex relationships or people who were attracted to people of the same sex.
I have changed my mind on this issue. Many others have. Many have not. I will always defend the right of those who hold different views to me to do so. I did not stand by and allow those who were members of Changing Attitude to be attacked personally before I joined, and I will not stand by and allow people who do not agree with me now to be subject to abuse either. In any family, differences will be inevitable. What we do with those differences, whilst maintaining relationships is the key thing. Disagreement can be robust and sometimes heated, but it need not be destructive. That would go against the heart of the gospel. The advent of social media is, in general, a force for good, but has meant we have been able to label, categorise, box and therefore dismiss the other, without accepting that it is other humans we have ‘demonised’. No theological tradition can hold up its hand and say it has not had people within it that have not done this. I trust that God will deliver us from the need to be right. One of the first theological books I read was a conversation called Essentials by John Stott and David Edwards. The world may have changed, but we still have much to learn from their respectful and courteous exchanges.
What has prompted me to change my mind?
Watching people. Quietly observing. Listening. And being forced to make a decision.
What would it be like to welcome a same-sex couple into my churches and work alongside someone in a gay relationship?
Would it still be welcoming to say you can do this, but not that? I realise that there are times when this is done – and rightly so given a particular constellation of issues. Could I say to someone who undoubtedly God is using that because of their sleeping arrangements and covenant relationship that they have entered into that they were welcome to attend, give money, witness and invite their friends; but not be in leadership. What is leadership in this context? What type of things would that person be excluded from? Yet, at the same time, I am all too aware of my weaknesses and those things that should exclude me too. We allow gossip to run rife without checking it, for example.
Did it actually wash to say, ‘I am not against people who are gay’ and then act in a way where it would all too easily be perceived that I am? Was I at times making even same-sex attraction the unforgivable sin? For me, yes that was the case. This is not the case for other people. But it was for me, and I have lost contact with some for doing so.
The question that will be put to me is what about the Scriptures? Are you going to ignore the texts which seem to condemn homosexual relationships? I hope not. I trust that I will never ignore the scriptures. I find it difficult to just coin the phrase #loveisall. It can so easily come to mean that Love is God, when God is love, yet also justice, compassion, mercy, judge and someone before whom we cannot stand. I resisted the conclusion of Richard Hays book The Moral Vision of the New Testament where he asserts that love is the primary lens through which to interpret the Scriptures, and I would not find it to be appropriate in this instance. It is a fundamental mistake to think that one lens interprets Scripture just because it is convenient for an argument we would wish to make. Scripture should be interpreted by the cacophony of salvation history (God’s interaction with us) which culminated in the Christ event.
So, I would not ignore Scripture or seek to reinterpret it to fit a particular tradition: there is no honesty in that. I am reminded of a lecture at the Queen’s Foundation, where I trained for ordained ministry, where the then Dean of Birmingham, Gordon Mursell. I believe he went on to become Bishop of Stafford. The Dean spoke of reading Scripture and sometimes acknowledging that the bridge between the world of the writer and our world is simply so different that a clash of worlds take place. I embrace the uncomfortability of scripture on the texts that speak about human sexuality and allow God to meet me in the collision between my world and the world of writer(s). The uncomfortable place could be the wrong place, but could also be the holy place.
The fact that Fred loves Ben, or Mabel loves Sarah (these are names I have plucked out of the air) does not in essence seal any argument. Fred loving Ben might produce good fruit in the same way as say Steve loving Lesley. If we believe human beings are fashioned in the image of God, we would expect human love to reflect something of God’s glory, marred though we are as human beings.
Now of course Steve loving Lesley allows for procreation in the way Mabel loving Sarah does not, and yet if that is the sole purpose of a covenant relationship (marriage), then my marriage given that it is an infertile one has to be regarded as somehow deficient. That is the stark reality of that argument, one which the order of service for marriage has softened over time because of the changing cultural context of our liturgies and our understandings about God and humanity.
Individual texts need to be read in the overall context of the story of God and his people, and the loving relationship that we are called into. Some of the texts used do seem to be talking about a level of promiscuity that Christians of whatever sexuality would feel a betrayal of the life that God has called us to lead.
At the end of day, I long to see the church as a space where all are welcomed, without fear or favour, where our common life is celebrated and indeed challenged.
I have not suddenly become an advocate for Gay rights. I actually do not think same sex marriage is a particular aim that I would lay down my life for. I have though seen Christ in my brothers and sisters and pressed pause button, and asked once again the question Gamaliel asked so long ago concerning the witness of the apostles; perhaps this movement we see is of God… and if not it will fade, and I will be left with egg all over my face. Whatever happens we must have space where all people can be welcomed without fear regardless of who they are and how God made them.
I am still as passionate about evangelism, discipleship, church growth and the scriptures. God is still on God’s throne 🙂