Tag Archives: homosexuality

Faith looks forward

Ordinary Time 20C; Pentecost 13C; Proper 15C

Readings
Isaiah 5.1–7
Hebrews 11.29—12.2
Luke 12.49–56

Today and last Sunday, the lectionary has directed our thoughts to Hebrews 11, the great ‘Faith Chapter’. Key Old Testament figures of faith are remembered in this chapter: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Samuel, David, and others. Of course, if we were writing this list today we may have included Sarah with Abraham, and named more women than Rahab. Women like Hagar, Ruth, Deborah and Judith would really round the chapter out for many of us.

The stories of people of faith can be a great encouragement to us. The people of faith we ourselves know can also encourage us.

I want to tell you about a time when I wondered if I really was a person of faith after all. A time when I thought my faith may just evaporate.

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No partiality (Easter 6, Year B, 13 May 2012)

Readings
Acts 10.44-48
John 15.9-17

Pentecost is coming in two weeks’ time. The name ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word meaning fifty; the Day of Pentecost comes on the fiftieth day after Easter. It’s the end of the Easter Season and the climax of Eastertide—God raised Jesus from the dead and then sent the Spirit of the Risen Christ upon all believers.

Pentecost is a big day; we often call it ‘the birthday of the Church’. We’ll hear the story then, and we know it well already: the believers are gathered together, the Spirit comes upon them as wind and fire, and they speak in other languages. And some lucky reader gets to say delicious words like Phrygia and Pamphylia.

The Pentecost story shows how much we—the Church of Jesus Christ—depend upon the Spirit as we go out into the world on God’s mission. It also shows that the Spirit continues to grow more and more of the risen life of Jesus Christ within his people and among us.

I’ve mentioned an author called John V Taylor several times. In a book first published in 1972 called The Go-Between God, Bishop Taylor spoke of the Spirit and the Mission. He said:

The chief actor in the historic mission of the Christian church is the Holy Spirit. [The Spirit] is the director of the whole enterprise. The mission consists of the things that [the Spirit] is doing in the world.

The mission of God consists of the things the Spirit is doing in the world—especially the light that the Spirit is focussing on the risen Lord Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus leads, we follow. The Spirit raises us to renewed life with Jesus.

But the people of God don’t always welcome the way the Holy Spirit works. In fact, the Spirit caught the Church off-guard right back in the time of the Book of Acts. The Spirit was raising all sorts of people to new life. The Holy Spirit was intent on tearing barriers down, pulling down walls of separation, bringing people together as one in the name of the Risen Lord.

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Loving gay neighbours—think again for Lent?

A very good article by Simon Barrow, giving a convincing (to me) account of why Christians who condemn homosexuality should think again. You can read it all, with many comments, at The Guardian.

In the long battle against slavery in the 19th century, it was the voices of evangelical Christians such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley and Bishop of London Beilby Porteus who played an important role in swinging the domestic political debate in favour of abolition, alongside Quakers and others.

They did so because they realised that although there were verses in the Bible (for them the determining authority in life and conduct) that could readily be pressed into the defence of slavery, there was something much larger at stake in the Gospel message which led inexorably to the conclusion that the captives should be set free – as Jesus said in one of his defining sermons, as recorded by Luke.

On that basis they re-interpreted pro-slavery verses by understanding them as overwritten by the new order of grace brought about by Christ, as warnings about the partiality of human insight into the mystery of God’s love, and as stage posts in a process of unfolding, deepening revelation.

Similar arguments are being heard today from a growing number of evangelical Christians over the question of recognising the civil, ecclesial and relationship status of lesbian and gay people. These evangelicals are still a minority, but they are a growing one. They bring to the challenge of changing the hearts and minds of their fellow believers the same moral and theological seriousness that motivated their forebears in the anti-slavery movement.

This week, four evangelical organisations have joined together to remind their fellow “Bible people” that opposing hate speech and hate crimes against homosexual people – in this case the antics of the bizarre Westboro Baptist sect – means too little if you are simultaneously defending forms of prejudice and discrimination within your own communities.

The prime mover in this, Accepting Evangelicals, is a network of Christians who take the Bible with great seriousness, but who argue that what the handful of verses deployed by anti-gay campaigners address is not modern same-sex relationships built on mutual commitment and self-giving love, but practices of pederasty, cultic prostitution and abuse in very different cultural and religious contexts.

They are supported in this view by considerable biblical scholarship and by Christians of other stripes who share the conviction that being followers of Jesus in the modern world involves responsible freedom not backward-looking fear…

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“I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” All. means. all.

The Pope has ignited a row just before Christmas. The BBC says, 

Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI warned that gender theory blurred the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the “self-destruction” of the human race.

Giles Fraser, an Anglican priest, reflects on this in a forthright way, and one that highlights a broader sweep of the Bible than usual here. He could have mentioned the Ethiopian eunuch too! (Acts 8.26-40)

The Christmas angel tells us: “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” The pope, on the other hand, has been using this Christmas season to spread entirely the opposite message, a message of fear and exclusion that seems more bad news than good. For, apparently, gay people threaten the existence of the planet in a way that is comparable to the destruction of the rainforest. I guess the idea is that if we all were gay, then we wouldn’t be making any babies. Yes, it’s a bit like saying that if we all were to become celibate priests we wouldn’t be making any babies either. Except that would mean the Catholic church has itself become a threat to the planet. OK, that’s a cheap shot. But the Holy Father has the ability to put even a vicar like me in touch with their inner Polly Toynbee.

So where does this religious obsession with making babies come from? I had a moment of epiphany some years ago in a refugee camp in southern Gaza. So many families had so many children, often a dozen or more. It was explained to me that the Palestinians’ secret weapon against the Israelis was “the Palestinian womb”. That women were regarded as part of a wider demographic struggle, and that having babies was vital to the war effort.

The writers of the early Hebrew scriptures were similarly caught up in a struggle for survival that made having babies a part of one’s moral duty. Right at the beginning of the Bible, Noah is told by God to “be fruitful and multiply”. Later Abraham complains that “I continue childless”, to which God replies: “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.”

This is the great obsession of much of the early history of the people of Israel. From this perspective, fertile women are politically valuable, and infertile women, homosexuals and eunuchs considered almost traitorous. Thus, for instance, the rather bizarre stuff you get in Deuteronomy that “no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord”.

But there’s a twist here. For when it comes to the book of Isaiah, Jesus’s favourite book of the Hebrew scriptures, this more enlightened biblical author realises that the obsession with children has warped the moral values of his culture. In direct opposition to the theology of Deuteronomy, Isaiah writes that “to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters”. Note: better than sons and daughters. And what is true for eunuchs is true, by direct analogy, for people who are gay. Inclusion is not a piece of trendy modern theory. It is a biblical imperative.

Those who take the Bible as if it were a reference book cannot mentally accommodate the idea that the story being told is about the developing consciousness of the people of Israel, of how they got it wrong and how they are led to a new understanding by God. For Christians especially this new understanding is that God is there for all; that, as St Paul is very keen to insist, you don’t even need to be a Jew for God to be there for you. Which returns us to the message of the angel: that Christ is good news to all. This is the ultimate communication of religious inclusion.

The broader theme of the pope’s address concerns gender theory. His idea is that trendy philosophy has obscured the distinctiveness of male and female, which ought to be regarded as rooted in the order of creation. As it happens, evangelical Christians are often incredibly suspicious of this sort of line. They are afraid that it endorses the argument that, because homosexuality is actually prevalent in nature, and because people seem to be “born gay”, natural law ethics could be won round to regard homosexuality as natural and thus good.

In light of this, conservative evangelicals have begun to take an interest in precisely the sort of gender theory that the pope excoriates. It seems bizarre to me that evangelicals have started to read postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault with approval, but what they argue is that because our sexual inclinations are not stubbornly rooted in nature, they are more plastic and thus they are capable of being changed. In this way they can argue that gay people are not gay because of intransigent nature but because of wilful disobedience. Foucault would turn in his grave.

And one last thing. Why on earth did the pope think Christmas a good time to ignite this sort of row? For while we are all spitting tacks, those worryingly androgynous angels are trying to get their own message across: peace on earth and goodwill to all. And all means all.

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Homosexuality—informing the debate

From The Guardian:

Compared to straight men, gay men are more likely to be left-handed, to be the younger siblings of older brothers, and to have hair that whorls in a counterclockwise direction.

US researchers are finding common biological traits among gay men, feeding a growing consensus that sexual orientation is an inborn combination of genetic and environmental factors that largely decide a person’s sexual attractions before they are born.

Such findings—including a highly anticipated study this winter—would further inform the debate over whether homosexuality is innate or a choice, an undercurrent of California’s recent Proposition 8 campaign in which television commercials warned that “schools would begin teaching second-graders that boys could marry boys”, suggesting homosexuality would then spread.

Some scientists say the political and moral debate over same-sex marriage frequently strayed from established scientific evidence, including comments by Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that homosexuality is “a choice” and “a decision”.

It seems to be a matter of faith for some Christians (like Mrs Palin) that homosexual people choose their sexual orientation, that homosexuality can almost be ‘caught’. Frankly, who would choose to be looked down upon and even despised? In Australia, gay-identified young men (aged 18 – 24) are more likely to attempt suicide by a factor of almost 4. Most of these attempts occurred before having a same-sex experience and before publicly identifying themselves as gay. Does that sound like it’s a choice?

How should the Church respond to gay people if being homosexual is not a choice? How should we relate to people in loving, committed same-sex relationships? How should we relate to homosexual people who show the fruit and gifts of the Spirit? These are real questions, affecting real people.

Sunday’s Gospel will challenge us with John the Baptiser’s message of repentance. Are we challenged to repent, to think again, to turn around, when it comes to how we relate to gay people?

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