Evangelical and Gay (link from Fulcrum)

For this week’s AE Blog we are simply publicising a link to the Fulcrum website following the publication of an article entitled “Evangelical and Gay” on their website.

For those who are not familiar with Fulcrum, they are theologically conservative on sexuality but are open to hearing other perspectives.  The publication of this article by an anonymous Anglican vicar is evidence of that and we warmly congratulate them for their openness to listen to the views and experience of others.

Do read the comments as well – which have been made in the same spirit and include several from evangelicals who are advocating a more open evangelical approach.

Well done Fulcrum!

To read the article follow this link: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/?677

 

November Newsletter 2011

Civil Partnerships in Church?  UK Government report…

The UK Government will lift the ban on Civil Partnerships taking place in religious buildings next month and churches in England and Wales will be able to apply to register partnerships in the new year.

That is the central message of the report which has just been published by the government following its recent consultation.  Accepting Evangelicals contributed to the consultation alongside 145 other organizations, and we successfully argued for a structure which would allow churches to opt in whenever they were ready to do so.

Churches will, however need to get the permission of their appropriate governing body.  For the Church of England this is the General Synod, and for the Methodist Church, the national Conference.  Although General Synod has not debated this issue, a spokesperson for the CofE said that this means that Parish churches will not be able to apply for registration.

Question:  If you are a church minister/vicar, we would like to hear whether your church would consider registering – if you were allowed to!  Please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

We will treat all replies in strictest confidence, but we would be interested to hear how many churches would like to opt into this new legislation, if it were permitted.

You can read the full report at  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/equalities/lgbt-equality-publications/civilpartnership-response

Same Sex Marriage debate….

Also rising up the agenda in many countries is same sex marriage.  Scotland has begun its consultation;  The British Prime Minister has announced a consultation for 2012 on introducing legislation for same sex marriage; the Australian parliament is considering marriage equality; and of course, many States in the USA are continuing their debates.

While much of the debate on this issue revolves around equality laws, Christians will want to press for a faith based theological debate.  Accepting Evangelicals is has been encouraging  theological reflection on marriage for some time.

Follow the links to read ‘Towards a Theology of Gay Marriage?’ published in the Church of England Newspaper earlier this year, or listen to Australia’s ABC Radio National documentary on same sex marriage (which we contributed to).

What do you think?  Let us know….

Speaking Events…

There are a couple of opportunities to hear our Secretary, Rev Benny Hazlehurst talk about Accepting  Evangelicals over the next few months.

The first in next Tuesday 22nd November  in Church Stretton, Shropshire  when Benny will be speaking with the title ‘Confessions of a Pro-Gay Evangelical!’ – follow this link for more information or email Dave Griffin

The second is at Evangelical Fellowship’s Spring Conference next March, where the theme is ‘From Prejudice to Praise’.  For more information please follow this link and scroll down to EF Spring Conference.  Members of Accepting Evangelicals are welcome to attend.

If you would like Benny to come and speak at your church or event, please email us.

New AE Cards…

New advertising cards for Accepting Evangelicals are now available for church notice-boards, information stands, etc.  They are available free from Accepting Evangelicals although donations are always welcome.  Email us  to order cards and please include your name, address, together with how many you would like us to send.

 

Beware of Imitations…

When you are passing on details of Accepting Evangelicals, please make sure you give them the correct web addresshttp://www.acceptingevangelicals.org/

That is because Christian Voice – a vocal anti-gay group – has bought the web domain name www.acceptingevangelicals.org.uk  and redirects all visitors to their website.

It is a sad thing that another Christian organisation feels the need to try to mislead people in this way, and divert people who are looking for a more inclusive Christian approach.

Please do not be misled!

And finally, just in case you missed them…

here are some of the recent posts on the AE Blog:

 

God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

Bible Focus part 4 – Romans 1

First published in Benny’s Blog – Oct 2011

Over the last few months we have been looking at the Biblical evidence for condemning same-sex relationships and found that it is not as clear cut as many of us have been told. 

As we have seen, Bible verses taken out of context in Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy do appear to take the same approach as the clerk in Little Britain’s ‘Computer says no’.   But context is vital to understanding Scripture, and usually, when something is prohibited in the Bible, there is a Biblical explanation for why.  The verses we have looked at so far do not provide that.  There are no reasons, no explanation, just ‘Don’t do it!’ – whatever ‘it’ is….

The one exception to this is Romans 1.  Here finally, there appears to be some theology going on – some attempt to explain the purposes of God and the waywardness of human nature.  The central verses are 26 & 27:

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

The passage is often used to explain why same-sex acts are wrong.  For many Christians, it explains how people became homosexuals – that homosexual attraction is the result of a perversion of natural, God-given attraction and emotion. Such desires are the result of exchanging natural feelings for unnatural ones.  It is the rationale behind ‘homosexual healing’ which seeks to re-orientate homosexuals into heterosexuals by a combination of prayer, confession, forgiveness and self-discipline.

But wait a minute…  Verse 26 begins with the words “Because of this…” – which means that we should ask ourselves ‘Because of what?’  And as we read back in the chapter, we find a very different rationale emerging.

So why had God given them over to shameful lusts? 

In Romans 1:18-25 it is clearly because …

They knew God through creation, but neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him (vs 18-21)

They exchanged the glory of God for images & idols which they served and worshipped (vs 22-25)

In Romans it is idolatry (worshipping other gods) which leads people to God’s wrath, shown here as in so many places in scripture, by God abandoning them to the consequences of their own choices – and the homosexual lusts which Paul is describing are the result of the rejection of God and morality.

But this does not describe the LGBT Christians I know.  They have not exchanged the glory of God for created idols.  They are prayerful, devout, committed Christians, worshipping God faithfully, and giving him the glory. 

I remember the day when this light dawned in me for the first time!  I finally saw what my gay Christian friends meant when they told me that they did not recognize themselves in the Biblical passages which condemned homosexuality – and indeed what I read now was not describing them.

But there is more – as we then read the next few verses of Romans 1, the picture becomes even clearer:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (vs 28-31)

Do gay Christians fit this description?  Have they become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, envy, murder, deceit and malice?   Are they gossips, slanderers, God-haters, inventing ways of doing evil? Are they senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless?

For anyone who has gay Christian friends, the answer is a resounding ‘No!”  This does not describe them, so how can it be that Paul is writing about them?  And if he is not writing about them, then yet again the Biblical proof texts we have been given simply do not apply to the loving same-sex relationships we see today.

So who was Paul writing about? 

The answer of course, is staring us in the face – Rome!  The epistle is, of course, a letter to the church in Rome – the centre of the Roman Empire – the seat of power.  It was also the centre of Roman religion, politics, the Emperors & the ruling classes.  These ruling classes were famous for their ruthless greed, intrigue and debauchery – and it was this pagan society about which Paul was writing.  Roman society and Greek culture were the environments in which Paul saw homosexual activity, alongside all the idolatry of the Greco-Roman world.  It was not born out of love, or orientation, but out of pagan practices, greed, lust and abuse of power.

Needless to say – this is not the same as a loving, faithful, self-giving, same-sex relationship.

It is true of course, that homosexuals can embrace promiscuity and immorality, just like anyone else.  It might even be argued that in the moral vacuum which the Church has created by condemning all sex between homosexuals, we are responsible for pushing the gay subculture in that direction, resulting in some of the more extreme expressions of same sex sexuality.   But heterosexuals are by no means immune from such temptation, as witnessed by the exponential rise in pornography over the last 30 years.  That does not make all heterosexual expression wrong – neither does it make all homosexual expression wrong. 

The Christian faith rightly stands against pornography and debauchery because it impoverishes our humanity, transforming people into mere objects of lust.  But the church has always encouraged and blessed expressions of mutual love and self-giving – the ultimate expression of which is marriage.

Romans 1 does not condemn LGB&T people seeking to give and receive love in a mutual life-giving relationship.  In fact it has nothing explicit to say about it at all, in common with the rest of Scripture.  And if the Bible does not condemn loving faithful, committed same sex relationships, why does the church condemn them?

I began this series with a comment on my blog, calling on me to look at the clear and numerous Bible verses which condemn same-sex relationships.  Having done so, it is clear that what the Bible condemns is not those loving committed relationships which groups like Accepting Evangelicals are advocating.  Simply repeating the mantra ‘Bible says no’ is not an option.  The few verses of Biblical evidence which exist are at the very least unclear, rooted as they are in the context of historical cultures very different to our own.

And yet the church has used these half dozen verses to place a burden of judgment and shame on LGB&T people which the rest of us would find impossible to bear.  If we continue to do so, we will be no better than the Pharisees who Jesus reprimanded. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4)

Where same-sex relationships of love, faithfulness and commitment are concerned, the Bible does not say no – and neither should we.

For the earier posts in the series, click on the links below:

Bible Focus part 1 – Bible says No?

Bible Focus part 2 – Leviticus 18

Bible Focus part 3 – Corinthians & Timothy

Books – Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers

Jack Rogers has impressive credentials.

He is the Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary and former lecturer at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He was the Moderator or the 213th Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA and is a life-long committed Evangelical.

In the early chapters of this book, he defines an evangelical as someone who accepts 3 propositions:

1. People can and should have a relationship with God through trust in Jesus Christ.

2. The Bible is the final authority for salvation and living the Christian life.

3. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is such good news that everyone should hear about it.

He was also someone who was deeply concerned about growing acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the church in the 1990’s and who joined other conservatives in speaking out against such developments.

But in the years that followed his view changed and this book charts his story of this radical change through listening to LGB&T Christians, study of the Bible, and reflecting on church history.

It is a mixture of personal testimony and theological study.  It encourages readers to develop their understanding of Biblical interpretation, church order, and of how the Bible has been misused many times in history to justify prejudice and oppression.  It seeks to draw a line between being an Evangelical and being a Fundamentalist.  And it concludes with 3 brief Bible studies around the theme of “All one in Christ”.

Also useful in the second edition is a Study Guide for groups who want to use the book to study and discuss the issue.  Although set in the context of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, there is something here for all Christians seeking to grapple with what the Bible does and doesn’t say about sexuality, ministry, marriage and the will of God.

Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers. 
Published by WJK (Westminster John Knox Press).  ISBN 978-0-664-23397.
 
 
Available from Amazon in the USA – follow this link.
In the UK, Waterstones currently have it in stock, and while Amazon are out of hardcopy stock at the time of writing, the Kindle version is available here.
 
 

Well worth reading…

This week’s AE Blog is a link to 2 articles – one from the US and one from the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

First up is a post by Kathy Canyonwalker who writes about Ten things I’ve learned about gay people in ten years – a Christian Perspective.”  The list is simple but the case she makes is compelling…

Being gay is not a choice

There are gay Christians

Gay couples do enter into long term, committed, monogamous relationships

Every word translated as “homosexual” in the Bible is in an extreme circumstance

The church is not offering a model of being gay and Christian and leading a virtuous life

Asking people to deny their natural sexual orientations is destructive

Bisexual people are attracted to both sexes in varying degrees

There is no radical gay agenda

The loss of gay believers to the church has been tragic

The loudest message the gay community hears from Christians is one of intolerance and hatred.

What is more, Kathy says this as an “Evangelical straight Christian with no dog in this fight“.  Read what Kathy has to say (or watch the video) and let us know your thoughts.

The second is an article by Laura Brosnan, a lesbian Christian who has felt both the joy of salvation and the rejection of her church and Christian friends.

The last paragraph expresses her faith in the clearest possible terms…

 “As a Christian, I’ve felt God and his presence and know what it feels like to feel the holy spirit. The gospel wasn’t part of my life from an early age; I asked God to come into my life. No one who is saved can explain that sudden rush of understanding, that feeling of total awareness that God is there. For this I live my life with respect, understanding and love for others just the way God taught me. Nothing in the world is ever black and white, and no single person is perfect. If I know love, then I know God, and to share a consistent relationship with him through the struggles and tests of my journey is what I shall do.”

And yet her story is called “How can it be fair to say I can’t be saved by God if I’m gay?” and tells of the treatment she has received since coming out to her Christian friends.

“Every Sunday I walk into church to pray and receive disgusted looks from brothers and sisters.”

At Accepting Evangelicals, we know that Laura is not alone, and we welcome everyone who would want to make the Christian life a blessing for LGB&T people, instead of a curse.

September/October Newsletter 2011

Dear Friends

Calling UK Theological Colleges…

Theological and Bible Colleges play a vital role in preparing the next generation of ministers, pastors and clergy.   One of the issues they will face is how to deal with questions about sexual orientation.

As the new academic year get underway, Accepting Evangelicals is offering to visit Theological & Bible Colleges to help students prepare for questions on sexuality.  We will be writing to colleges over the next few weeks, offering to present the case for an accepting or affirming theology for faithful, committed same-sex partnerships.

This follows a very successful day at Trinity College Bristol last year where speakers were given the opportunity to present both traditional and inclusive understandings on sexuality.  Each speaker was listened to with courtesy and respect. No-one felt the need to walk out – indeed attendance was very high from the student body and evaluation forms showed equally high scores for the day.

Find out more by following this link on the AE Blog – Calling Theological Colleges

New Zealand Dioceses vote for LGBT ordinations….

Last month saw 3 Diocesan Synods in New Zealand debating motions on homosexuality.  Dunedin and Waiapu both voted in favour of a motion affirming that homosexual orientation was no bar to ordination and Auckland went further in affirming that persons in committed same-sex relationships likewise should not be excluded from being considered for discernment, ordination, and licensing to any lay and ordained offices of the Church.”

In addition, the Waiapu motion rejected the notion of a moratorium on the ordination of those in same-sex relationships and asked its General Synod for a liturgy for same-sex blessings.

US Survey shows growing unease about ‘Judgmental’ churches….

A large scale survey of US public opinion has revealed that most Americans think that religious groups are alienating young people  by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues, and this climbs to almost 70% among Millennials (under 30’s).

The survey by the Public Religion Research Institute also revealed that almost 2/3rds of Americans (including majorities of members of all religious groups) think that messages on homosexuality from places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay a lesbian young people.

The statistics bear out what many church leaders have been saying about the negative effect which conservative theology is having on mission and evangelism among young people.

Alongside the negative statistics there were more positive ones.   74% of those questioned thought that lesbian and gay people can be as committed to God and their religion as anyone else and, contrary to popular opinion, most Americans would be comfortable with a gay or lesbian minister in their community.

AE Group around Nottingham or Derby?

We have had an offer of a place to meet for AE Members in the Nottingham/Derby area. 

Dear Benny
I am writing to ask if there are local Accepting Evangelicals groups set up around the country? I live in Nottingham so if there is a local group in Nottingham or Derby I would be interested to hear details. If  not , perhaps I could set up a time and venue for a potential group to meet….

If you would like to get together with others who are working through the same issues, please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org and we will pass your emails on!

Can you help finance AE?

AE is justifiably proud of the fact that we run the network on a tiny budget, (last year our total expenditure was less than £400) but the opportunities to do more mean that we need to raise more funds.

So can you help?  We are asking AE members to consider making a small standing order to AE so that we can plan for the future.  Even  £2 per month will make a significant difference if enough people respond – but of course you can give more!

The standing order form can be downloaded by following this link AE standing order form.  (the link is correct this time – sorry!)

We hope you will feel able to fill it in and sending to:  AE Treasurer, Flat 3, 7 Upper Tollington Park, London N4 3EJ.  Membership of AE will continue to be free, but we hope many will be able to help in this way.

And finally, just in case you missed them…

here are some of the recent posts on the AE Blog:

Bible Focus part 3 – Corinthians and Timothy

Women’s Ministry and Homosexuality

Greenbelt 2011 Report

Lambeth 1.10 – line in the sand or milestone on the way?

 God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

 

Calling Theological Colleges …

Theological and Bible Colleges play a vital role in preparing the next generation of ministers, pastors and clergy.  One of the issues they will face is how to deal with questions about sexual orientation.

Accepting Evangelicals is happy to visit Colleges to present the case for an accepting or affirming theology for faithful, committed same-sex partnerships.   To invite a speaker, please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

Below is a reflection on just such an event at Trinity College Bristol last year:

 __________________________________________________________

I was delighted to take part in a day at Trinity College Bristol last year on the vexed subject of homosexuality.  It was arranged as part of an integrated learning week on ethics.

During the first session of the day, 2 homosexual evangelical Christians gave their stories to the assembled students.  Both told their struggle  to come to terms with their sexuality and faith –  with very different conclusions.  Then after coffee, I presented the case for an affirming evangelical theology of sexuality and same sex partnerships, while Jonathan Berry from True Freedom Trust presented a case for celibacy and abstinence for Christian homosexuals.

In the afternoon, there was a question and answer session with all 4 speakers before the students split into groups to discuss what they had heard.

It would not be appropriate to go into detail about what was said,  but I came away rejoicing at the way in which it was possible to have an open and respectful conversation about these things at a distinctively evangelical Theological College.

Each speaker was listened to with courtesy and respect.  No-one felt the need to walk out – indeed attendance was very high from the student body and evaluation forms showed equally high scores for the day.  Each of the speakers were able to thank each other for their openness and honesty, despite there being significant differences of opinion and understanding.

Perhaps the most significant comment on the day came from one student in the Q&A session.  She said that she was now more confused than ever, because as each speaker concluded their contribution, she wanted to say “Yes- I agree with that!”  Not that we are in the business of creating confusion, but when she ultimately makes up her mind, she will have a real understanding of how others could come to different conclusions.   By listening, she had realised that this was no open and shut case.

These are the kinds of conversations we should be having – conversations that build understanding and respect.   So I would like to express my admiration to Trinity College for arranging the day, and would want to encourage other Theological Colleges, churches and fellowships to follow their example.

To invite a speaker from Accepting Evangelicals , please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

Bible Focus part 3 – Corinthians and Timothy

This is Part 3 in a series inspired by the ‘Little Britain’ sketch “Computer says No” which was first publsihed on Benny’s Blog.  It seeks to challenge the perception that the Bible issues a blanket prohibition on same-sex relationships.

You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

This time 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1Timothy 1:10

The Apostle Paul has had quite a bad press in recent years.

As the Church has modernised its attitude to women, some of Paul’s statements have sounded antiquated, even prejudiced.  Not allowing women to speak in church is one example that stands out but there are others.  Protracted discussions about head-covering, and indeed headship seem a long way from the experience of many Christians today in an age of equality.   And that is before we grapple with other enigmatic verses about women beingsaved by childbearing’!

In some places, this has resulted in some aversion to readings from the Epistles.  There have been services where I have almost heard a sharp intake of breath among the congregations when such passages are read in church.  The fact that orthodox theologians have felt the need to address this in recent years in books like “Did St Paul get Jesus Right?” shows how deeply this has been felt.

But to succumb to such a point of view is to underestimate and devalue Paul’s contribution to the New Testament in a way which is far from justified.  Alongside the few passages which seem to sit uncomfortably alongside modern understandings of society, there are a whole host of other areas where Paul’s radical and inclusive theology blaze a trail for which we should be profoundly grateful.

His uncompromising insistence of salvation through faith alone, freedom from the Law and life in the Spirit, are just some examples which are at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  His beautiful and universal description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, quoted by people of all faiths and none, deeply inspires us and moves us.

And on a deeply practical level, all men have cause to be deeply grateful to Paul for successfully opposing those who wanted to impose circumcision on male converts to Christ!

The secret to understanding Paul is to discern between theology and cultural practise.  Paul’s theology is timeless and reveals to us in wonderful vivid ways the glory of God.  His cultural practise on the other hand, is focused within the culture of his day, the culture in which he lived.

The theology we find in Paul’s epistles is truly remarkable.   It is the theology of equality – in Christ there is no slave or free, no male or female, no Greek or Jew.  It is the theology of equal grace – it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, so that no one may boast.  It is the a theology that rejects the constraints of religious law in favour of being led  by the Spirit – the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…. against such things there can be no law.  It is the theology of growing in understanding, not religious repression – for now I see in part, I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.

We can only be inspired by the love and power of God at work in this most zealous of Pharisees, called while he was a persecutor of the church, and yet who, in God’s grace, became the Apostle to the Gentiles – those outside the people of God, who were dismissed and looked down on by God’s chosen race.

But alongside this, we also see Paul grappling with the cultural issues of his day, and the impact they had upon the new, fragile churches he was writing to.  He was writing to a world very different to the one which we observe today.  He was writing to a world which accepted slavery as a cultural norm, where spectators revelled in seeing death in the arena, and in which human rights were limited and dependant on political status. He wrote to fledgling Christian communities made up of Jews and Gentiles with very different norms and expectations about what was proper and socially acceptable.  He wrote in a world where the religious practises of the vast majority of the population would seem bizarre and alien to us today.

So in the midst of all these issues, he tried to set down norms which would enable these Christian churches to function and grow in the Roman world, and yet not be conformed to it.    This is where we find Paul’s pronouncements on the role of women for example – statements that were motivated by considerations of cultural practise rather than expressions of the radical new theology of the Gospel.

He also lived in a world which he did not fully understand.  Although he was clearly an educated Jew and a Roman Citizen, his culture was set firmly in the Jewish world, and as he went further and further in his travels across Turkey, into Greece, and ultimately to Rome, we find him grappling with the subtleties of Greek faith and culture as well as Roman politics.

It is within this mix that we find the briefest statements in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy which appear to address the issue of homosexuality.  Today we will look at the 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

The first thing to notice is that the word ‘homosexual’ did not exist in Paul’s day.  In fact it only begins to appear in the in English language in the 19th century.  The concept of homosexual orientation is one which is relatively new in human society.  There was certainly homosexual sex in the Greek world which Paul moved through, but that does not mean that monogamous, faithful, committed same-sex relationships were the norm.

Same-sex acts of various kinds existed in the Greek world between teachers and pupils, in the  military, in religious worship, and at the gymnasium.  Even today scholars find it a huge challenge to try to unravel their complexity and significance. 

But this is not the issue that Christians are grappling with today. 

The overwhelming majority of gay Christians today are not fighting for the right to indulge in promiscuous, religious, or hedonistic sex.  They simply want the church to recognise the same Christian ethic for them as for heterosexual couples, and increasingly want the same structures and sacraments to frame their relationships.  This would not have been what Paul saw as he journeyed through the Greco-Roman culture of his day.  What he would have been aware of, was the bewildering array of sexual activity which existed – much of which, as a Jew, he would have had little understanding of.

As a result, gay Christians have, for many years, said that they don’t recognise themselves in the things Paul writes about in respect to homosexuality (if indeed we can even call it that).  Put simply, the things that Paul condemned are not the things that LGBT Christians aspire to today.

On top of that, there are considerable problems in translating the words which Paul uses.  In 1 Corinthians 6:9 we find the verse, often quoted that says,

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  (NIV, 1984)

But the words translated as ‘male prostitutes’ and ‘homosexual offenders’ are far from clear in the Greek which Paul wrote.  The two words are ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’.

Malakoi also appears in the Gospels.  In Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 Jesus asks people what they expected to see when they went to John the Baptist. 

What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.

The word translated as ‘fine’ is malakoi.  More usually it means ‘soft’ and was often used in Greek language to speak disparagingly about people who were soft willed, spineless, or lacking in courage.  In English translations, it was not until the 20th Century that malakoi was given a homosexual meaning.  What was more common before that, was the meaning found in John Wesley’s Bible Notes.  He defines “malakoi” in 1 Corinthians, as those:

“Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship”

Arsenokoitai is even more difficult to unravel.  It does not appear in any contemporary Greek texts, and appears for the very first time in 1 Corinthians.  One tool in discerning the meaning of words is to observe how they are used in a variety of contexts.  In the case of arsenokoitai, we have no contemporary contexts outside of Paul’s writings to compare.  The only other use of the word is in 1 Timothy 1:10, where it is translated in the NIV as ‘perverts’:

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

 

This lack of comparable examples to cross-reference has prompted many to ask how we can know for sure what Paul meant by it, and how can we translate it with any degree of certainty?

The most likely explanation is that Paul invented the word, by putting together two words from the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22 which condemns someone ‘who lies with a man as with a woman’.  But as we have seen previously, (Bible says No – Part 2) this condemnation was almost certainly linked to religious prostitution and worship of idols.  The command was designed to keep Israel separate from the dubious religious practices of the cultures around them, and free from idol worship.

This of course brings us back to what Paul saw in the Greco-Roman world.  He would have been aware of same-sex acts in the context of Greek religion, Greek education, Greek gymnasiums – in short ‘Greek Culture’ –  and he knew that the church must be kept pure from that in the same way that the holiness code of Leviticus was designed to keep Israel pure from the dubious practises and idol worship of those around them. 

So if we can have any degree of certainty about these words, it is that they condemned the Greek expression of same-sex acts , which are very different in context to that of gay men and women today, in loving, committed, faithful, exclusive same-sex relationships.

As we try to unravel 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10, the case against homosexual relationships today becomes less and less clear.  The words Paul used are either unclear in their meaning, or are simply not found in other contemporary texts, inside or outside of scriptures.  Even Greek scholars find it hard to translate them with any degree of certainty.

I had always been told that ‘homosexual offenders’ in the Bible meant all homosexuals who had sex, regardless of the context, but I now find this impossible to justify.  There is a world of difference between a man and a woman having sex together in prostitution, as opposed to marriage, and we would never dream of treating those situations as comparable – so why do we assume that all homosexual sex is condemned in the Bible? 

If these verses can be translated in a way which condemns homosexual acts, then the acts they condemn are the wicked, immoral, idolatrous, adulterous expressions which the first part of 1 Corinthians 6:9 refers to – not the self-giving love that we observe today between people of the same sex who genuinely love each other and want to commit their lives to each other before God.

Next time – Romans 1 …

Women’s Ministry and Homosexuality

Published in the Church of England Newspaper, 9th September 2011

Last month the Church of England Newspaper published an article by Stephen Kuhrt, Chair of Fulcrum, on the difference between accepting women’s leadership in the church, and accepting homosexual relationships. Today they have published the following response from Accepting Evangelicals…

The connection between the debate over women’s ministry and that of homosexuals has been a bone of contention among evangelicals for many years.  On the one hand, the Biblical texts on the role of women in the church have been re-examined and re-interpreted by ‘open’ conservatives, whilst on the other hand, a similar process has been resisted with much more energy when it comes to homosexuality.  In addition, there are those who have prophesied that the acceptance of women into ministry and headship would lead inexorably to the same pressures to reconsider the place of homosexuals in the church on a slippery slope away from Biblical truth.

At the heart of each issue is how we as evangelicals treat verses in Scripture which, at first sight appear to speak out clearly against change on either of these two issues.

In Stephen Kuhrt’s recent article “Women’s ministry and Homosexuality” he meets this issue head-on.  He tries to provide a rationale for conservatives like himself who want to follow the re-examination of Scripture in regard to women’s ministry while continuing to resist any movement on homosexual relationships.  In doing so, he is attempting to defend that position from attacks from conservatives and liberals alike, while also trying to ensure that the ‘slippery slope’ argument does not hold back the full inclusion of women in the ministry of the church at every level.

And he is right in when he identifies significant differences between the two issues.   No-one has ever suggested that women in general are sinful if they seek a loving, faithful, self-giving relationship (except if that relationship is with another woman).  No conservative has suggested that women should seek to seek healing for their sexual identity or embrace abstinence in order to be acceptable to God and the church.  Women can be clearly identified in the Bible, and are present in almost all New Testament contexts, and Paul is clear in his radical theology that “In Christ there is no male of female”.  Indeed it would be profoundly sad and inappropriate if there were people who would oppose the full inclusion of women in the church’s ministry simply because they were opposed the inclusion of homosexuals.

But having said that, there are striking parallels in the process of discernment for both issues.

Both require us to re-examine Biblical texts which, when taken at face value exclude any change in traditional teaching.  In the case of women’s ministry, the verses include clear statements excluding women from having authority over a man, and describing the idea of a women speaking in church as ‘shameful’.  In the case of homosexuals the verses which exclude are well known to evangelicals, even if their meaning and context is less clear.

The process of re-examination which is needed in both cases is also similar.  Proponents of a new understanding on either issue call for the texts to be considered within their cultural context and purpose before being weighed against other passages of scripture which might point to the possibility of a more inclusive approach.

Both issues require an openness from us to be challenged on our own received cultural presuppositions and norms – what we think is ‘normal’ and ‘obvious’ because of the Christian culture we have been brought up in.

The difference, as Stephen Kuhrt points out is the lack of identifiably ‘gay’ people in the early church.  While a careful reading of Roman 16 reveals the possibility (or probability – depending on your point of view) of women in leadership, there are no such examples of openly ‘gay’ people.  But this absence in Scripture is not surprising, as it is similarly difficult to demonstrate a model of exclusive, partnered, faithful same-sex relationships in secular society at that time either. 

The same cannot be said of our society today. 

Homosexuality is identified by the vast majority of people as an orientation rather than a recreational choice.  There are plenty of examples of same-sex relationships today which exhibit the same characteristics of love, commitment and fidelity as marriage.  Indeed, there are partnered homosexual Christians in ministry and leadership in a wide variety of churches.

The joy and blessing which Stephen Kuhrt has found in welcoming women into ministry at his own church is wonderful to read about, and there are many who have experienced that same joy and blessing as they have begun to welcome LGB&T Christians into their churches in a more inclusive way.  Those of us who have experienced the blessing which LGB&T Christians can bring, know that full inclusion in the church – of women and of homosexuals – will further demonstrate the joy and blessing of faith in Jesus Christ.

The debates of women’s ministry and homosexuality are different – but the issues which they call us to address have striking parallels, as are the potential blessings which full inclusion in the church will bring.

Rev Benny Hazlehurst
Secretary of Accepting Evangelicals
www.acceptingevangelicals.org

Greenbelt 2011 Report

Back from an excellent weekend at the Greenbelt Festival packed with opportunities to meet people, hear thought provoking speakers, and be immersed in inspiring music.

OuterSpace, the LGB&T affirming group at Greenbelt arranged daily prayers and worship, as well as filling the venues for their workshops. 

But there were also other speakers in the Greenbelt programme who took on issues around sexuality and Biblical interpretation in a refreshing and creative way. 

The highlights for me were:

John Bell:  Ubiquitous Gayz – where he considered the issue homosexuality and the church from a number of different angles.  John Bell is, of course, a Church of Scotland Minister, member of the Iona Community, and regular contributor on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’

Richard Burridge:  How not to read the Bible – in which his passion for the Scriptures came across clearly, alongside the need to study the Bible in context if we want God to truly speak to us through it.  Richard Burrage is the Dean and Chair of Biblical Interpretation at Kings College London.

(Both talks can be ordered as a download from Greenbelt by following the links above)

But the best part of the weekend was the LBGT Communion on Monday lunchtime.

Over 200 people of all ages attended – from a group of teenage girls with neon day-glow crosses painted on their arms and faces, to old ‘married’ couples.  There was a wonderful sense of God’s presence, and a number of people went up to receive Communion with tears of joy rolling down their cheeks – the joy of being fully real and fully accepted at the table to God with the people of God.

So if you were there, what were your highlights?  Post your comments below…

God Bless You

Benny Hazlehurst