понедельник, 13 февраля 2017 г.

Which way is the Spirit blowing? (the Anglican Bishops' report on human sexuality)

I really hope that lots of my gay friends read this post. And also Christian brothers and sisters who have a different view to me on same-sex relationships and transgender issues. 

The first thing I want to say is this: love. God's love. The Father's unconditional love for the Son which reaches out to all and saves whosoever believes in him. This is not about hate. And it is not about rejecting people. If you have felt - or feel - that God or the church or individual Christians reject or hate you I am really sorry to hear that. God is love.

As I have read negative reactions to the report by the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church, I would like to share some thoughts about where I am coming from.

1. People matter to God. All sorts of people. And whoever they are, whatever they believe, whoever they love God is there for them - and the Christian church is too. That is not just lofty ideals and empty words. Yesterday was Sunday, the day when church meets. And whenever we open our doors we are waiting for whoever will come - and they do. With all their issues and baggage. And the main thing they need to hear and experience is love.

2. Anyone who has loved or been loved knows that love is not as simple as blanket acceptance and approval. I don't mean that love is something less than accepting; I mean that love is something more than accepting. When my wife loves her now overweight husband, he both accepts me as I am and stops buying me chocolate biscuits. When I love my teenage daughter, I love her just the way she is and want to help her to manage her tensions and frustrations. When God loves any one of his creatures He does so unconditionally and also reserves the right - he is God after all - to transform us into the image of his beloved Son. Yes, we were 'born this way', but God's destiny for us is to lift us from what we are we to what we can be, what we were created to be: "born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God".

3. The Christian church does not represent society - nor should it. We are supposed to be an opt-in minority, not opt-out quasi-monopoly. Back in the 4th century CE a ruler called Constantine came to some form of Christian faith and in the context of a military campaign and power struggle granted the Christian church toleration, ending centuries of persecution. Later another ruler, Theodosius, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The result was that instead of 10% the church now represented 90%. And for many centuries almost everyone in 'Christendom' had some sort of church connection, even if only by virtue of being baptised in infancy. You might even consider yourself a Christian, even if you never go to church and barely know what the Bible says. However, globally speaking, we have been getting over opt-out Constantinian Christianity since the 16th century. The church is a voluntary society of believers. It is a matter of deliberate choice. We live in a secular society in which the Christian church holds beliefs and has practices that most people do not share. And that's okay.

4. It seems to me that no one is saying 'anything goes'. When I read blogs and articles advocating a radical revision of the historic Christian teaching on sexuality I read phrases such as these: "humane, spiritual capital in our relationships... a covenanted relationship between two persons before God... adult responsible men and women who are flourishing in relationships they are asking the church both to affirm and celebrate..." What about inhumane relationships? What about non-covenanted relationships? What about irresponsible men and women in relationships in which they are not flourishing? Where is the affirmation and celebration of multiple partners or abusive relationships? I assume the answer would be that, while loving and accepting the individuals involved, these relationships cannot be affirmed and celebrated. Anyone who has been involved in pastoral or counselling work has faced situations where a strongly desired relationship has to be forsaken for the good of all involved. So there are circumstances when it is okay not to affirm and celebrate? How is that response qualitatively different from the same response in respect of same-sex relationships?

5. "History tells me that I can be confident that there will come a time when LGBT relationships are fully accepted, integrated, honoured and celebrated in the sacramental and pastoral life of the church." This quotation begs at least two questions. Which history? Which church? Addressing the second question, it is frankly inconceivable that the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church will even contemplate revising their teaching on marriage; equal marriage can hardly qualify as that which has been believed "everywhere, always, by all" (the so-called Vincentian canon). Or indeed the Protestant churches in the Majority World. Even in semi-European Russia it is inconceivable. As for history, presumably the author is equating this issue with that or racial equality/slavery. He means history not as 'events' but as their record and interpretation in 'historiography'. Yes, there is a historiography which sees an overarching narrative of 'liberation' throughout history. However it seems to me this is again confusing the church and the world. There are all sorts of tendencies which can be observed in human society which are just as inevitable, but which can hardly be seen as progress. Interestingly the author equates such change with "the act of God's Spirit". This seems more Hegelian than Christian. God not as the immutable Creator but as the ever-evolving Weltgeist.

6. Let me also briefly address the 'Biblical' arguments. There is now a growing body of Christian scholarship which provides a theological basis for a very substantial revision of the historic teaching on marriage and sexuality (as indeed on other issues). My understanding of this New Orthodoxy is as follows. When the Bible speaks against homosexuality it is speaking against cultic or abusive same-sex relationships - so the argument goes. The Bible allegedly says nothing explicit about modern-day consensual homosexual relationships. However there is another thread in the Biblical revelation which celebrates covenantal commitment between two persons and - so it is claimed - this is not confined to male-female marriage; the classic examples are David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi. This thread is said to provide a Biblical basis for same-sex partnerships and marriage. It seems to me that these affectionate, covenanted relationships can be affirmed and celebrated by all believers. And they were clearly platonic/celibate; they are not marriage. Only in the imagination of Oscar Wilde was the king "after God's own heart", the author of Psalm 51, actively bisexual. The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed male-female lifelong marriage and celibacy, but in every other case his words were: "neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more". Likewise the Apostle Paul: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband."

I want to finish by talking about some people who are very dear to me. I could refer to two of them as S and H. They are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. They are gay; they experience an attraction to people of the same sex and in many ways can identify with the experience of many others. They see their calling in the light of Jesus' words about eunuchs in Matthew 19:12. Like their Lord they are also celibate. They are wronged whenever someone speaks disparagingly of LGBT people or whenever their very personal, intimate feelings are trampled on in culture wars in defence of marriage. But they are also wronged when it is assumed that to be gay and to be Christian is to be sexually active outside heterosexual marriage, to have 'gotten over' old-fashioned morals moving with the times and that of course everyone needs to be in a relationship to be fulfilled. These are precious souls and under the Chief-Shepherd it is my calling to be their pastor.  

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