Archive for the ‘Gay Marriage’ Category

I’m an apostate! 20 October

October 20, 2017

Gay marriage maybe!!!??? An apostate then’ This was the only comment online on my recent article for Christianity magazine about working as a Chaplain at an Immigration Removal Centre. https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/October-2017/God-behind-bars-faith-stories-in-an-immigration-removal-centre

John Rollins declared me to be no longer a true Christian because of the title of my website about gay marriage. He gave no evidence of having read the site, nor even of having read the magazine article. Anyone who does not condemn gay marriage outright cannot be counted a Christian by him.

John’s view is shared by many Conservative Evangelicals, especially in America. The Conservative Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality, published in late August this year, includes:

Article 10   

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree. https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement

The writers are clear that any homosexual sexual practice, whether inside of outside of a monogamous, lifelong, publicly declared, relationship is immoral. Anyone who even contemplates approval of gay sex only within a ‘marriage’ or who accepts that fellow Christians so approve in good conscience cannot be in fellowship with these Christian leaders. That includes me.

I am not aware of any of these leaders having engaged with the reasons for saying a middle ground ‘maybe’ to gay marriage. Neither have they given any reason for say that approving of gay marriage is so much worse than approving of remarriage after divorce, about which Christians continue to disagree. (See the current controversy in the Roman Catholic Church – although the Nashville people are unlikely to count Roman Catholics as Christians either.)

 The Nashville Statement is deliberately hard-line. Conservative Evangelicals are saying what they have said before but more stridently. A Staff Writer for the US broad Evangelical magazine Christianity Today (not able to give their name for fear of being branded an apostate) wrote: The Statement ‘offers a comprehensive conservative position on sexuality, using harsher language and drawing tighter dividing lines than before.’ https://www.christiantoday.com/article/evangelicals.and.the.nashville.statement.what.is.the.point/112827.htm

The anti-gay-marriage Christians are in full battle mode.

The pro-gay-marriage Christians are also in full battle mode. Christians United quickly issued a Statement opposing and mirroring the Nashville Statement. Steve Chalke, prominent UK Evangelical, was on the Editorial Team.

Article 3:
WE AFFIRM that relationships between fallen humans have suffered great distortions resulting in various forms of infidelity and unhealthy behaviors that contribute to the suffering of humanity. We also affirm that God’s desire is for all humans to enter into loving, sacrificial relationships with one another, whether romantic, platonic, or social, regardless of gender or sexual identity. http://www.christiansunitedstatement.org/ 

These Christians fight against any hint that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or other such people are not as God created and intended them to be. All loving relationships in which people give something of themselves, whether monogamous or not, life-long or not, publically declared or not, are championed as part of God’s desire for humanity.

People like me who question how an active Bisexual could possibly be in a monogamous, lifelong, relationship are castigated as unloving and out of step with the Spirit today.

Considering gay people to be singing out of tune, but still part of the choir, is, according to Christians United, an affront to the worth of gay people as created such by God. They may sing differently but no-one can say that it is out of tune. They have their unique voice.

According to the Nashvillites, people who sing out of tune cannot be part of the choir. They can have a full Christian life in every way, except that they are never allowed actually to sing. Anyone who contemplates allowing them to sing, albeit out of tune, is themselves sinful.

(As those who know me can testify, the sounds that come out of my mouth are indeed brazenly out of tune.)

The Church is in a battle, with each side fighting harder than ever. More than ever, we need a strong middle ground to say to both extremes ‘Your strident aggression is unbiblical, unloving, neither in tune with Biblical teaching on how Christians are to behave with each other, nor an expression of the original image of God in human beings. Stop it! Come off your high horses, down from your battle tanks, and join in negotiations making every effort to maintain the unity of the body of Christ.’

These negotiations should be based firstly on a thorough look at the words and ministry of Jesus (not Genesis, Leviticus or Romans to begin with) examining what light they shed on the acceptability of gay marriage only – not other relationships. This examination should also include asking what light Jesus sheds on whether Christians can agree to disagree about gay marriage or not. There should also be a serious attempt, together, to discern the will of the Holy Spirit, hoping that we can come to say ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’

See https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/ for more details.

My Anglican Church is perhaps best able to embark on such examination – expect that no-one seems to want such robust standing up to both sides. Focusing on Jesus is not talked about – only the rest of the Bible and what is currently deemed loving by the different sides. The question of why exactly gay marriage is treated as a primary issue over which we have to walk separately is not posed. The possibility of allowing different Anglicans not only to believe different things about gay marriage but also to have different policies on gay marriage is not envisaged. (The Scottish Presbyterians have, sensibly, envisaged this.) We seem to be doomed to slog it out before a nasty divorce. A good way forward is roundly ignored, to my ongoing frustration.

 One person on the Christianity magazine website defended me as not an apostate, given what I had written about my ministry with immigration detainees. ‘Gay marriage maybe?’ it’s better than‘ NO WAY!’ or ‘YES, YES, YES AND MUCH MORE!’

Roger Harper

(with apologies for the change in font which WordPress made and refuses to let me change.)

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Justin Welby depressed at Greenbelt about Gay Marriage: 2 September

September 2, 2016

Justin Welby is depressed about gay marriage. On Saturday, at Greenbelt, he was interviewed by Kate Botley. He was delightful, engaging, humorous, positive. He talked about himself, when asked, honestly and humbly. He talked about the Church with love and hope. He emphasised the church being filled with the Holy Spirit. He talked about Jesus and how he, Justin, has to, and delights in, talk about Jesus. In South Sudan in a Cathedral with the dead bodies of some of the staff in plastic bodies outside, he talked about Jesus. What else can you do?

Then a question was asked about gay marriage. As Justin answered a dark cloud seemed to grow and grow over him. He was no longer expressing hope and love, but heaviness, anxiety, depression. He didn’t seem to see or have much faith for a way forward. He talked at length about how homophobia is not on and what the Church has been doing and how hard the issue is. Very hard. Very very hard. Gloom.

Justin seemed to forget his guiding principle of talking about Jesus. Yes! Talk about Jesus and gay marriage. That’s part of the way forward. We’ve talked enough about Leviticus and Romans and how we all feel about gay marriage. We’re Christians, for God sake! We follow the Christ. Let’s talk about Jesus and gay marriage. When we read through the Gospels what light do they shed, about gay marriage? My reflection on doing this is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/ This is one view. Let’s all do it and see what comes.

Justin seemed to forget about being assured that the Holy Spirit is in the Church, leading us into all truth, including the truth about gay marriage. Let’s also listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church of England. Justin knows about guidance and prophecy and discernment. He just needs to bring out his knowledge and say ‘Let’s work out how to listen to the Spirit and then do it. Let’s aim to be people like those in Acts who came to being able to say “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that…” Let’s all be open to the Spirit surprising us.‘ My reflection on this, for what it’s worth, is at https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-the-holy-spirit/

All Justin has to do is be true to himself, talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and smile and relax. Justin wants ‘good disagreement.’ On Saturday he was so taken up with saying what he thought needed to be said officially that he missed a lovely example of good disagreement.

The question at Greenbelt was ‘My partner and I will be married next year. I know God will be blessing our relationship. I know the Church won’t now be blessing us. When do you think the Church will be able to?’ All delivered in grace and good humour.

Justin could have said ‘Thank you for your gracious attitude. You’re not castigating the Church for being homophobic and unjust. You’re accepting, with regret, where the Church is now. You want the Church to move ahead on this. You envisage it taking some time yet. Your attitude is lovely. You have given us a great example of good disagreement. And no, I don’t know when (or if) the Church of England will move ahead as you want. Jesus doesn’t know when He’s going to come again. Only the Father knows. There are some things the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t know either! If we can all have your gracious patient attitude we may well come to agree sooner than if we castigate each other. Part of the trouble is that people get up on their high horses to discuss this. Let’s ban the high horses, listen to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. Amen?’

Peace and joy be with you Justin.

Roger Harper

Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at  https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

The US Church – The Good, The Bad, and the Divided: 1 November

November 1, 2014

The Church is America is stronger than it has ever been. At the time of the American Revolution and early in the 19th Century only about 15% of the population were church-going. 19th Century Canadians were much more church-going, peaking at nearly 90% of the population. In the 20th Century Canadians turned away from church dramatically, as did Europeans. Canadian church-going is now well under 20%. Through the 20th Century more Americans turned to the church. American church-going is now about 40% of the population. A huge number compared to the UK.

The US Church is a free-market Church. Churches, like everything else, have to compete in the marketplace. This raises the standard of communication and organisation. To attract members church leaders need to communicate clearly and engagingly. To retain members churches need to make people feel part of something good. We in the UK learn much from the US and have more to learn.

The large US Church contains all sorts and much that is excellent. Recently I came across Greg Boyd, Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota and founder of ReKnew, an organisation and website for developing a post-Christendom Christianity, Jesus-centred, non-violent, open-minded. Here’s part of their Manifesto:

It’s our conviction that the fearful, dogmatic rigidity that characterizes so much of contemporary Evangelicalism reflects an idolatrous relationship with beliefs, which in turn causes many to become hostile and unloving when debating doctrinal issues. We are convinced God is more concerned with the love with which we debate than the content of what we debate. (See more at: http://reknew.org/2012/07/a-reknew-manifesto/#sthash.JDj7K9a8.dpuf)

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I want to shout. Greg speaks and writes intelligently, engagingly, forthrightly. He and his church are definitely among the good.

Rachel Held Evans is a very popular US Christian blogger and book writer. She too communicates great truth intelligently and winsomely. Sometimes she harps on humourlessly about her main topics, but most weeks she has something well worth reading. She’s a good ‘un.

Other Yank good ‘uns more well known in the UK include Tony Campolo, Bill Johnson, Jim Wallis, Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, Mark Virkler, Bill Hybels and, (of course if you’re a regular reader) Edward Fudge. I have learnt and continue to learn great things from these good inspiring people. Please add to the list through the comments.

There is another side to the US Church. Greg Boyd set up ReKnew partly to counteract the strident Conservatives. Greg refers particularly to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Mark has been a champion of muscular Protestantism – focusing on the call to repent above all else. He has been refreshingly gutsy, with a likeable cheekiness. He has attacked anyone who questions hell as eternal torment. He has argued that care for creation is irrelevant because the planet is going to be trashed when Jesus returns. He has insisted that women submit to their husbands. Mark came to the UK and was interviewed by Justin Brierley on Premier Radio and Christianity magazine. Mark was bombastic and aggressive to Justin, and then aggrieved when Justin broadcast the interview.

Mark Driscoll has run into mounting criticism, especially of his leadership style. On October 15 Mark resigned from Mars Hill Church, confessing ‘to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.’ http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/mark-driscoll-resigns-from-mars-hill.html Yesterday Mars Hill Church announced it is disbanding. The 13 churches in its network will either run independently or will close. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html May this be a warning to those who promote hard attitudes and hard doctrine.

Gay marriage is causing a deep crisis in the US Church. Rachel Held Evans is all for it. Mark Driscoll is all against it. Many more people are lined up on either side. (I can’t see anything Greg Boyd has written about gay marriage, which would be interesting.) The conflict seems to be fierce. The conservatives are targeted and tarred as ‘hating’ gay people. The liberals are targeted and tarred as pseudo Christians. My guess is that there are a large number of Americans, as there are Brits, who are unsure about gay marriage, not happy with either extreme. The middle ground needs to gain confidence, and speak up. I hope http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com can help.

I hope the US Church in general will continue to thrive, and will find a way of uniting, in spirit, around Jesus.

Generous Spaciousness – Middle Ground Voices. Alleluia!: 12 June

June 12, 2014

Wendy VanderWal Gritter has produced what sounds like an excellent ‘middle ground’ book about the church and gay marriage: Generous Spaciousness (Brazos Press May 2014) http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/generous-spaciousness/349140 The publishers write: ‘This book offers a framework for discussing diversity in a gracious way, showing that the church can be a place that welcomes a variety of perspectives on the complex matter of human sexuality. It also offers practical advice for implementing generous spaciousness in churches and organizations.’

Wendy Gritter leads New Direction Ministries, linked to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Canada. ‘New Direction Ministries began in 1985 as a small Bible study for people of faith addressing personal questions of sexuality. As the ministry developed, counselling, support groups, and equipping for the church were offered…In the twenty plus years that the ministry has been serving the individual and the church, our society and culture have changed dramatically. Having been a member ministry of Exodus International since the beginning, New Direction left Exodus in 2007. This decision was made in light of our distinct identity and no longer fitting an ex-gay paradigm of ministry.

The transition from being an ex-gay ministry to embracing an identity as bridge-builders in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality has not been a quick or easy one. Such a transition can also raise suspicion as to our true motives and true activities as a ministry.

In the Spring quarter of 2010, the New Direction board concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders of the ministry. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our posture as bridge-builders in the context of complexity, diversity, and tension that surrounds the integration of faith and sexuality.’
http://www.newdirection.ca/about/whats-our-story/

A good, extensive review by Andrew Goddard is at http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/generous-spaciousness/

My website ‘Gay Marriage Maybe’ could also have been named ‘Making Space: Gay People and the Church.’ A few years ago I wrote a book proposal with that name making a similar case to this website. The Editor of one Evangelical publisher reported with regret that ‘even your Evangelical via media was deemed by the Board too politically sensitive.’

Since then we have had more argument and schisms are more likely, partly because the middle ground voice has not been properly heard. I hope and pray that Wendy Gritter’s book makes many people realise that there is another voice alongside and critiquing the convinced on both sides of the debate.

Another great middle ground teacher is Brian Maclaren. (More to the liberal edge of middle ground but sympathetic to Conservatives) Wise, helpful words from Brian are at http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-brian-mclaren-response Brian gives an excellent perspective on how to reassure Conservatives, how to keep relationships in disagreement, how denominations could work out a corporate way forward, and more.

Roger Harper

Blessing Gay Marriage in the Church of England? The Pilling Report: 10 February

February 10, 2014

In November last year an official, but not authoritative, Church of England Report recommended allowing ‘celebrations’ of faithful same sex relationships. The Report was from the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired, not by a Bishop, but by Sir Joseph Pilling. The Report is known as The Pilling Report.

We have here a typical Anglican, English, fudge. A Report set up by Bishops but distant enough from Bishops for them to evade responsibility. A Report which satisfies the need to show that due attention has been paid by our episcopal leaders, after which nothing further need be done for a while. A Report which is a finger up to the wind about blessing gay marriage. If there is a strong current in that direction, the Bishops can ride it. If not, no face lost.

The Report conveys this message:
We have listened carefully to a wide variety of people and not come to a clear common mind about the permissibility of homosexual sexual practice for English Anglicans. (One of us considers there is a clear Biblical mind and disagrees with our not coming to a common mind.)

We recommend that
The whole Church of England also engages in a process of careful listening to a wide variety of people and views on homosexuality
In the meantime, clergy and parishes who are so minded be given permission to conduct semi-formal blessings for same sex couples. There is to be no authorised rite nor push towards such blessings, but, equally, there is to be no outlawing of such blessings.’
(The Report uses ‘celebrations’ instead of ‘blessings’ but, as many people have noted, ‘blessings’ is the usual terminology. cf para 481)

Why more listening to people and views when listening has not led to agreement?

The Report states: ‘The problem we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in Scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful, Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by Scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.’ (para 58)

The problem has remained despite much listening. The Report does not explain what is to be gained by more listening by the Church as a whole, other than a deeper sense of fellowship across disagreement. This deeper fellowship is, to some extent, helpful but the experience of the Group is that it does not ‘solve the problem’ of disagreement.

What might solve the problem of disagreement?

Two complementary approaches:

A deliberate process of listening to Jesus, focusing on both His recorded teaching and practice, and on His present voice brought to His Church by the Holy Spirit. This fresh approach to authority might lead to a fresh sense of agreement.

As part of this process, a deliberate focus on whether homosexuality is a matter about which we can agree to disagree. If there is no fresh sense of agreement about the issue, we might have a fresh appreciation of how primary the issue is for Jesus and His Church.

For a detailed explanation see:
http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/the-latest-from-the-church-of-england-the-pilling-report/

May the listening process recommended by the Report be more than a careful listening to differing views among us. May it be also and primarily a careful, humble, listening to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, both about ‘the problem’ and about what we are do when we disagree about ‘the problem.’

Roger Harper

Gay Marriage at New Wine and Greenbelt Festivals: 2 September

September 2, 2013

The Bible is against gay marriage, end of debate. Discrimination against gay people, including marriage discrimination, is clearly unjust and out of date: end of debate. These two positions dominate the Christian terrain, with New Wine generally preaching the former and Greenbelt the latter.

This year I had good days at both New Wine, Newark, and Greenbelt, Cheltenham. Spending time with friends, worshipping, listening, thinking. Each is good in its own way.

New Wine is the more coherent, uniting around a Charismatic and semi-Evangelical approach. People camp in ‘villages’, organised communities mostly of people from the same area. People cook and eat together. At key times most people gather in the same place, with a couple of smaller alternative venues.

At New Wine, women are welcomed into leadership. The usual argument for such a welcome is that the Biblical principles of the equality of the sexes, as demonstrated by Jesus and proclaimed in broad terms by Paul, carry greater weight than the Biblical prohibitions on women speaking in public and not wearing head-covering. The specific restrictions on women are shown to be for that 1st Century culture. The principles of equality are shown to be for all times and places, as far as local culture allows, without making the Gospel seem ridiculous or out of the question. In our culture restricting church leadership to men seems ridiculous and out of the question. It is a serious hindrance to the Gospel. The New Wine leadership would probably say that this is a truth into which the Holy Spirit has led.

At New Wine, gay people are not welcomed into marriage. There was no specific seminar on the subject when I was there, but the implications of what some speakers said were that the Bible is against gay sexual activity, and therefore against gay marriage. Last year this was made explicit by a speaker from the Evangelical Alliance. (see https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/thinking-about-gay-marriage-at-new-wine-festival-30-august/)

But could it be that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church in a similar way in which He led over women in leadership? Could it be that the principles of equality and of life-long exclusive faithfulness carry greater weight than the particular Biblical gender prohibitions? In our culture, where excluding gay people from marriage now seems ridiculous and out of the question, making a considerable hindrance to the Gospel, is the Holy Spirit leading us to apply fundamental principles over culturally specific instances? It would make sense for New Wine, who stress the current activity of the Holy Spirit, to at least consider these questions. But the indications I heard were that no such consideration is happening, at least publicly.

I had a private conversation with a leading young theologian and speaker at New Wine. He questioned the whole approach of distinguishing between fundamental principles and possibly culturally specific instances. I replied that that was easy. Jesus distinguished between the weightier matters of the Law and the specific Laws of tithing herbs and spices. The distinction made by Jesus on this occasion is part of the foundation of all our thinking as Christians. The distinction is not for that instance only but for us to make more generally. The theologian was not convinced. He didn’t think that I was drawing a legitimate conclusion. I think he is aware that emphasising such a distinction would work in favour of gay marriage.

Greenbelt is different, less coherent. People camp as individuals. A few cook; many buy food on site. On Sunday morning most people gather in one place for a Communion. Most of the time there is a multiplicity of venues, approaches, formats. One cause around which Greenbelt officially seems to unite, though, is gay rights.

Steve Chalke was welcomed and applauded for his support for gay marriage. This was not the main point of his seminar, though. ‘An Issue, an Issue, we all fall down’ was the title of the main seminar addressing gay rights – by Mark Oakley, Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral. Mark described himself as gay and ‘a Greenbelt virgin’, delighted with the new experience. His message was simple. Gay rights are an issue on which we must not fall down but make a stand. We Christians should be championing the full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. To do anything else is to indulge in deception, discrimination, and despising of fellow human beings.

Mark talked about the deception which for him began when he offered himself to be selected for ordained Anglican ministry. From the beginning he had to hide his sexuality. He said that he was encouraged in this deception by people in Church leadership, including Bishops. He bemoaned the continuing deception of Bishops who privately support gay priests and publicly rule out gay marriage.

Mark did not talk about his own decision to hide his sexuality. Why did he not simply pursue another career or join or establish a more pro-gay Church? Mark spoke with considerable wit and the audience responded warmly to him. Part of this, however, was his highlighting the ‘victim’ part of his own story and ignoring the ‘responsible adult’ part. Winsomely saying ‘poor me’ is likely to draw out sympathy from a sympathetic Christian audience.

Mark was strident in blaming others, particularly Bishops. He went on to talk of General Synod as containing ‘bed wetting depressives.’ Hardly an attitude of respect for Church authority, or of Christian grace for brothers and sisters with whom he disagrees.

Mark spoke with little regard for the serious concerns of others. He blandly adopted the gay rallying call for the inclusion of bisexual people, without explaining how marriage is to be expanded to include sexually active bisexuals. On the face of it, gay marriage, as heterosexual marriage, excludes any sexual activity other than with the spouse.

Mark must know that the latest statement from the Bishops is based entirely on Jesus’ description of marriage as between a man and a woman (http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1715479/marriagetextbrochureprint.pdf ) but he failed to mention it. The words and life of Jesus are the foundation and cornerstone of our Christian understanding. The Bishops commend building our understanding of marriage entirely on Jesus’ explicit description of marriage. I think there are other words of Jesus which should also be considered in this context (see http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) Mark chose to ignore the words of Jesus and of the Bishops and instead make below-the-belt swipes at his own Church leadership.

I think Mark, and others like him, have a good point. The Biblical, Jesus, principles of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves could well be leading the Church in our culture to welcome gay marriage. Gay marriage is not a threat to heterosexual marriage, certainly not to Christian faith as a whole. We need to look afresh at the whole of what Jesus said and the Holy Spirit is saying, messages which support gay marriage and those which undermine it. Strident nasty arguments which demonise those seen as on the other side are not to be applauded. Nor is hiding behind a ‘Bible says’ wall.

Roger Harper

Big News – Gay Exodus No More: 20 June

June 20, 2013

Exodus International, the US umbrella organisation and spokespeople for ministry to change gay orientation, has apologised for much of its attitude and approach and has shut itself down. See http://exodusinternational.org/2013/06/exodus-international-to-shut-down/ and http://exodusinternational.org/2013/06/i-am-sorry/
Alan Chambers, the last President of Exodus International, writes:

‘Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.’

Chambers seems to acknowledge that the key problem was to make the secondary primary. The secondary issue of gay orientation became more important than the primary command to love our neighbour. He writes: ‘Our beliefs do not center on “sin” because “sin” isn’t at the center of our faith.’

Chambers also writes about not completely agreeing with the vocal sections in both the gay and Christian communities. He deems these sections, wrongly I believe, majorities. He sees himself now as an outsider to both sections. Alleluia! Join the crowd in the middle? See http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com for more.

Roger Harper

Gay Marriage Maybe: 12 April

April 12, 2013

Today I created http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com

‘A robust middle ground in Christian debate.’

Please join the conversation.

Roger Harper