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

Greenbelt 2011

If you are going to Greenbelt this year you may be interested in a number of sessions which are being put on by OuterSpacean LGBT Christian group. A number of members of Accpepting Evangelicals are among the organisers of OuterSpace, and others like Benny Hazlehurst will be there for the weekend.

Details are as follows:

9.30pm Friday – ‘Dreams of Home’

Finding a spiritual home for LGBT Christians can seem like an unattainable dream. This panel session will be an opportunity to hear from individuals who have managed to find a spiritual space they can call home, whether that is within formalised church or without. This session will be in one of the Workshop rooms in the grandstand

9.30pm Saturday – ‘Parents of Gay Children’

Dreams of home can become a nightmare for Christian parents who discover their child is gay. This session is led by parents who have been there and have come out of it stronger. They will talk about their personal experiences, the on-going implications for their family and non-family relationships, and their own faith. This will be in one of the Workshop rooms in the grandstand

Sunday Evening – OuterSpace social on the campsite. They’ll organise an easy-to-find rendezvous point for everyone to meet and go over to the campsite together.

11pm Sunday – Entertaining Angels Unawares

Join members of Outerspace for a late-night reflection on home and hospitality, encounter and grace – for home-makers and pilgrims, boundary-dwellers and guests, whatever you’re leaving and wherever you’re headed, whether you feel at home in the world or at home with yourself, you’re welcome. This will happen in SoulSpace at the top of the Grandstand.

12.30pm Monday – LGBT Eucharist

Join Outerspace for a celebration of the eucharist to draw together their time together at the festival; everyone is welcome. This will take place at the Worship Co-operative (formally New Forms)

As well as these sessions, OuterSpace will have its usual presence in the G:Source area, where you can meet to share ideas, browse resources, and have a chat! There will be meetings on the campsite for corporate prayer and worship on Friday at 6pm, and on each morning at 9am.

See you there!!!

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

I can’t say that I often find myself studying the Anglican Communion’s official statements and conference resolutions!

But in recent days, I have found myself reflecting afresh on ‘Lambeth 1.10’ – the resolution of Anglican Bishops from around the world in 1998 on sexuality.  This resolution will from a backdrop to the reviews announced recently by the Church of England, and has become something of a bedrock for Anglican thought on the subject.

As I went back to consider the resolution, I realised that back in 1998 I was on the other side of the argument.  I was still convinced that same-sex relationships were wrong – contrary to Scripture, and to the will of God.  I was simply content to hear the affirmation of conservative theology which it contained.  And indeed there its conclusions were predominantly conservative. 

They included clear statements such as

“rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”

 and pronounced that the conference

“cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions”

 As a conservative evangelical at the time, that was all I needed to hear, and never went on to read the resolution as a whole.

So it has only been more recently that I have begun to realise that the resolution as a whole is much less dogmatic, and not set in stone.   I had not noticed the statements within it which were much less certain, and the variety of opinion which clearly existed among the bishops. 

The resolution is quite open in saying that:

“We must confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality…

… we have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions which are raised. There is much that we do not yet understand.”

In the light of the substantial level of disagreement which existed, the conference called for more work on the issue:

“We request the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to establish a means of monitoring work done in the Communion on these issues and to share statements and resources among us…”

and crucially, recognised the need to listen to homosexual people in the process of continuing to seek the will of God.

“We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ..”

It also recognised that the process would not be an easy one,

“The challenge to our Church is to maintain its unity while we seek, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern the way of Christ for the world today with respect to human sexuality.”

So in spite of some who have portrayed Lambeth 1.10 as a line in the sand, a fuller reading reveals it to be more akin to a milestone along the way.  Rather than being a final statement, it was a statement of its time, offering the opportunity for further study, prayer, listening and reflection. 

Now the House of Bishops have given themselves the opportunity  to put into practise the continued study and deeper understanding that it calls for.

If you haven’t read Lambeth 1.10, I would encourage you to – not for the pronouncements which it makes, but for the potential which it contains – and do feel free to leave your comments below…

Benny Hazlehurst

August Newsletter 2011

Dear Friends

This month we focus on International news & articles – with a bit of UK news thrown in at the end…

New Zealand begins to decide…

The Anglican Church in New Zealand has set up a commission to report on the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests. The commission is expected to complete its work and recommend a way forward in time for the 2014 General Synod. A full report can be found at http://www.anglicantaonga.org.nz/News/General-Synod/Decision-time

Prejudice in North Carolina…

Sadly, prejudice is still rife elsewhere, as demonstrated by the story of a gay Presbyterian minister who was literally pre-judged before ever preaching a sermon in a southern states town in the USA.

http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/07/04/gay_minister_in_southern_town/

Marriage in New York…

Elsewhere in the United Sates, New York has become the 6th US State to vote for marriage equality for same-sex couples. One of the notable elements of the vote in the state senate was the role of Republicans whose vote was needed for the bill to pass. Traditionally Republicans have tended to support the concerns of the conservative Christian groups in opposing such moves but several Republican senators changed their minds to vote the bill through. One Christian lobbying group has vowed to make Republican senators pay for their ‘betrayal’ in next year’s elections.

Controversy in Sydney…

In June the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen took the opportunity to speak out against same-sex marriage. Arguing that same-sex marriage “could open the way for other forms, such a polygamous marriages, or perhaps even marriage between immediate family members,” he warned of dire consequences if marriage rights are given to same-sex couples.

But others are not convinced. Australian Marriage Equality convenor Alex Greenwich is quoted as saying, “The Archbishop should acknowledge we live in a secular, multi-faith society, and … that his views should not be imposed on those religions that want to perform same-sex marriages, such as the Quakers and progressive Synagogues. Not one of the alarmist predictions made by the Archbishop have come to pass in any of the countries that allow same-sex marriages to take place.”

Human rights vote at the UN…

In a historic vote, the United Nations has, for the first time, passed a resolution addressing human rights violations which arise from sexual orientation or gender identity. The landmark resolution was tabled by South Africa and Brazil, and approved by 32 votes to 19. Among the countries which voted against were Uganda & Nigeria.

MCC writes to the Archbishop…

And finally, Metropolitan Community Church leaders in the UK have written an open letter to Rowan Williams on the Church’s treatment of homosexuality. One paragraph offers a different approach to ministry and mission…

We are an LGBT(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)-led church, yet we talk far more about mission than we do about sexuality. We commend this approach to you.”

To read the letter in full follow this link – MCC Open Letter

God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

Bible Focus part 2 – Leviticus 18

First published on Benny’s Blog in 2010 and adapted for Accepting Evangelicals.

The first rule of understanding the Bible is prayer.  The second is context.

There is the story of a person who prayed and picked verses in his Bible to read at random. 

  • ·         The first verse said,  “And Judas went and hanged himself”
  • ·         The second was more disturbing when he read “Go thou and do likewise”
  • ·         The third verse nearly put him off reading the Bible forever when he read the words “What are you waiting for!”

He was reading Bible verses but not putting them in context and it could led to a very nasty conclusion!

If we want to find out what the Bible is saying  to us today, we have to see it in context.   There are actually two contexts we need to be aware of.  The first is an awareness of the people and cultures it was first written for.  Secondly, we need to see the verses we are reading in the context of the surrounding passage and indeed Scripture as a whole.  

This is especially true of controversial issues such as the verses on homosexual sex.

The first prohibition is found in Leviticus 18:22.  Among a number of sexual sins, it says,

‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.’ (NIV)

This might seem clear enough,  but there are 2 issues which make it far from an ‘open and shut case’. The first comes as we look at what else is described as “detestable” in Leviticus.

Leviticus 11:12 is a good example:

“Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.”

So apparently, prawns, shrimps and crab are detestable and although my wife may agree with that (she hates any shell fish!) that doesn’t make it an eternal law.

There are also other things which are forbidden in Leviticus which, if they applied today, would mean that many of us are living in sin   Eg. Leviticus 19 commands, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (vs 27).   This is set alongside another command that prohibits eating steak cooked ‘rare’ (vs 26).  And yet these commands, which are hard to understand today, are set alongside others which we would endorse wholeheartedly like “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute” (vs 29) 

There is more to reading this part of the Bible than  simply extracting single verses, if we are to understand which rules apply today and which do not – and indeed what the rules do, and do not, prohibit.  They were written in a very different culture with its own taboos and concerns, and some of the commands in Leviticus reflect that culture, while others reflect the eternal will of God.  The challenge is to discern which are which.

The second issue with Leviticus 18 is the word which the NIV Bible translates as ‘detestable’.  We sometimes forget that the Bible was not written in English! What we have is a translation, and the constant challenge in any work of translation is discerning how to best convey the fullest meaning of the words we translate.This is not an easy task – as evidenced by the large number of translations out there.

The Hebrew word in this case is   תעב – ‘to-ebah’.  The King James version translates it as ‘abomination’.   In the list of sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18, ‘lying with a man as with a woman’ is singled out in the list as ‘to-ebah’.  So what does this word mean?  And what picture would it have evoked in the Hebrews who first heard it?

The word ‘to-ebah’ occurs many times in the Old Testament, and is primarily associated with the worship of idols.

In Deuteronomy, there are 15 verses which use the word, and 12 of them refer to idolatry.  One example is Dt 27:15

Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place.

Another  (Dt 23:18) links ‘to-ebah’ to money which came from  male and female temple prostitutes.

In the books of Kings and Chronicles, ‘to-ebah’ is used 10  times, almost all of them referring specifically to the worship of idols and again there is a link in 1 Kings 14:24 with male temple prostitutes.

For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. There were also male temple prostitutes in the land. They committed all the abominations of the nations that the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.              

So in the Pentateuch, and History books of the Bible there is a clear and specific link in the minds of the people of Israel between ‘to-ebah’ and idolatry, and between homosexual sex and religious male prostitution.

The link between ‘to-ebah’ and idolatry is also present in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  The only book of the Bible where this does not apply is the book of Proverbs which uses the word ‘to-ebah’ in a bewildering variety of contexts.   But then the book of Proverbs is poetry, written in a different style with different aims.  The Old Testament scholar, RN Whybray, in his commentary on Proverbs says “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that Proverbs is an entirely different kind of book from the other OT books; indeed it is unique.  It served an entirely different purpose …   Proverbs has one unifying characteristic: it is written entirely in poetry  … Suffice to say that in general poetry makes up in allusiveness what it lacks in precision.”

If we set aside this poetic use of the word in Proverbs, we find that 80% of the times where ‘to-ebah’ is used, the evidence points to false worship or the worship of idols, and in some of those references there is a clear link made with male temple prostitution.  In the remaining 20%, the meaning is often unclear or non-specific.

So why do we assume that it applies to  same-sex relationships?    Looking  at the evidence, it is much more likely  that when Leviticus condemns ‘men lying with men as with a woman’, it has in mind the homosexual activities observed in idolatry and temple prostitution, which is a world away from a self-giving loving committed relationship between 2 people of the same sex today.

The most frustrating thing about “Computer says No”(the Little Britain comedy sketch which started this series)  is the fact that no explanation is given, no discussion takes place – there no analysis of why the answer is ‘no’.  Yet in Biblical discussions on sexuality, we often find the same approach when both the Scriptures and LGBT people deserve so much more.

Next time – 1 Corinthians & 1 Timothy

For the First Blog in this series – Bible says No – follow this link.

A letter to the Church of moving goal-posts…

This week, a letter prompted by a recent blog about the very personal struggle with church and  sexuality…

Dear Church,

I have spent years trying to understand you I have done everything I can to bind myself to a teaching that calls me to love God and my neighbour. I try to remove the plank in my own eye and recommit to the Way, the Truth and the Life. I listen closely to what you say, Church. And I’m confused, conflicted, and at times even angry.

You see, I’m sick and tired of interacting with “Church teachings” around the “big sin” of sexual morality when the teachings appear as moving targets. The Church says the problem is sex. When I ask about other forms of intimacy with my girlfriend, the Church says the problem is about my girlfriend. When I ask about cultivating rich and meaningful friendships, the Church says that I misunderstand “rich and meaningful.’ When I ask about where I am supposed to live in community, the most candid response that I’ve received to date is “on the outskirts of a men’s monastery.”

As much as I desire to abide by the Church’s teachings, when it comes down to a vocabulary lesson that I am never to say the words “I’m gay” I can no longer abide the instruction. To rob me of my vocabulary is to rob me of my experience.

I long so much to be in a Christ-honouring relationship with someone who calls me to experience the fullness of God’s Love in my life. I long to find a partner who can complement my weaknesses relative to the missional work God has called me to. I long to find guidance on pursuing a vocation outside of the Church and outside of marriage.

I long so much to be a part of a Church that will help me through the confusion of being 28, of watching all of my straight friends marry and found families, of trying to steward my own sexual and relational energies…. and when I share my plea with the Church, I find the door slammed in my face.

I find myself so often in tears, begging God that He would reveal what specific parts of my conduct He would have me change. Reaching to God through shame with a desperate longing in my heart burns tears in my eyes more potent than any I’ve ever cried. When I find the courage to call a friend, my friend has to try to understand my words through the pain of a convulsing soul. Tears have clouded my vision and snot clogs my nose. And I’m grateful for each friend God has given me on the journey. I am so profoundly grateful for friends who can hear my desperate pleas for help from a community of Christians.

But this handful of friends is scattered across two continents. And they are friends who are the ones who simply decided to be my friend through WHATEVER my life entails. They remind me constantly of God’s love for me, even when they themselves have decided that “Christ” no longer makes sense as a name to call God.

And as I encounter a Church that constantly change the rules for me…. I wonder if the Church used moving targets to try to convince some of my friends to give up the name of Christ. All I long to do is to love Him…. and to love the others I come into contact with….

Because the words “I’m gay” describe my experience, the Church tells me I cannot love. How can the Church tear down the image and likeness of God deposited in me by my Creator at the very beginning of time?

Lord have mercy.

I can live without sex. I am prepared to live without sex. But I cannot live without a community who cares to affirm God’s love for me.

With earnest and heartfelt prayer,
Someone who doesn’t mind standing at the doors to let others inside

Christians reach out while the Church pulls away

At London Pride last weekend around 120 Christians dressed in purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Christian and Proud”, marched in the London Pride Parade.

They sang Christian songs and gave out gospel leaflets to onlookers.  They smiled and waved as they were greeted with cheers and applause by the crowds who had gathered to watch.  It was profoundly moving to see this expression of the Christian faith welcomed by people of all faiths and none.  It was an act of mission declaring God’s love to gay and straight alike on the streets of central London.

But as ‘Christians at Pride’ reached out, the Church of England was pulling away from the gay community, by introducing a new way of excluding gay clergy from being considered as Bishops.

In an statement from the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Norwich said,  “clergy in civil partnerships should not, at present, be nominated for Episcopal appointment”.  This now appears to be the official policy of the Church of England, pending new reviews of same-sex relationships which will take place over the next few years.

This will certainly make for a quieter life in the Crown Nominations Commission, as recent revelations have shown, as it will exclude candidates like Jeffrey John without any need for discussion.  But what kind of message is it sending to gay Christians?

Clergy in Civil Partnerships already have to make a declaration that their relationship is non-sexual and that they will abide by the teaching and discipline of the Church.  As such there was nothing to prevent them being considered for other appointments – until last weekend.

To quote one of the organisers of ‘Christians at  Pride’, himself an evangelical gay Anglican, “This poses an interesting question for the church. What does a gay person have to do in order to be acceptable to the church?  For years, we have been told that it’s really just the sexual act which is the problem, and now it turns out its more than that.”

It is tempting to ask where Jesus would have been last weekend, if he had to choose.  Would he have been standing alongside the House of Bishops, or among the Christians at Pride?

The Gospel writers would seem to leave us in no doubt.  Jesus almost always chose to spend his time with those outside the religious institutions.  Whether on the shores of lake Galilee, or with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus spent little of his time in the corridors of religious power.  And when he did venture into the places of religious power, they were often as uncomfortable with him, as he was with them.

The two reviews which the Bishops announced last weekend do, perhaps, provide a glimmer of hope.  They may provide the opportunity for the Church of England to reconsider its attitude to same-sex relationships after several years of stalemate where concerns in the rest of the Anglican Communion have prevented a return to this thorny issue.

It is intended that these reviews should build on the ‘listening process’ which was begun in 1998, but has faltered in recent years.  LGB&T Christians will be hoping that as well as listening to them, the church will listen to the Jesus who still reaches out to them, even when the church pulls away.

Benny Hazlehurst  http://benny2010.blogspot.com/

Newsletter – July 2011

Dear Friends

Christians at Pride…

Last weekend saw the annual London Pride celebrations, and there was a contingent of around 120 people in the Christians at Pride group wearing their ‘Christian and Proud’ T-shirts.  It was also great to see members of Accepting Evangelicals on the march.  It was a valuable act of positive Christian witness in a world where that witness is often so negative.

 In the photo are (amongst others) AE Trustees, Sigrun Wagner, Benny and Mel Hazlehurst.   

CofE announces review of same-sex relationships…

Last weekend also saw the Church of England announce 2 reviews of its approach to same-sex relationships.

On the positive side, such a review process is long overdue, and w hope that it will result in a much more open and accepting approach emerging.

On the negative side, clergy in Civil Partnerships will not be eligible to become Bishops in the meantime.  This is the first time that this has been formally announced as church policy.  It seems to be an unjustified step as Clergy in Civil Partnerships in the CofE already have to make a declaration that their relationship will be non-sexual, and that they will submit to the teaching and discipline of the church.

As one AE Member commented, “This poses an interesting question for the church. What does a gay person have to do in order to be acceptable to the church?  For years, we have been told that it’s really just the sexual act which is the problem, and now it turns out its more than that.”

AE along with others, have responded to the news by welcoming the reviews but deploring this new level of discrimination.  You can read our Press Release here, and the Church of England Statement here.

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 could 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!

Attached is a standing order form which can also be downloaded from our website.  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.

Spiritual Director wanted in the Midlands, UK…

One of our members is looking for a LGBT friendly Spiritual Director in the Midlands.  If anyone has any suggestions, please email them to benny@acceptingevangelicals.org and we will forward them on.

Next month we will have more news from around the world – sorry that this month has been so UK focused.  If you have any news you would like us to feature, send it in and we will see what we can do.

God Bless and Keep You
Accepting Evangelicals

Bible focus part 1 – Bible says no?

First published on Benny’s Blog in 2010 and adapted for Accepting Evangelicals.

I remember the first negative comment I had on ‘Benny’s Blog’.

Anonymous said “You are an Evangelical and you presumably know your Bible yet you say homosexuality is fine ?

Accept the people, sins and all, but the practice is not OK and you should know it. Goodness, there are plenty of Biblical admonitions about it.  I`m not even an Evangelical and it seems crystal clear to me.”

I was actually amazed that it had taken so long.  When we launched Accepting Evangelicals in 2004, we immediately had a flood of the most awful emails expressing that hope that we would die a slow painful death and burn in hell – so actually, this mildly negative comment was not only long overdue, but also extremely polite and reserved.

What has not moved on however, is the mistaken belief about what the Bible does and does not say on the subject of same sex relationships.

It reminds me of the Little Britain sketch where the unhelpful bank clerk just keeps repeating “Computer says no”  – no discussion, no debate, no reasons – just no.

Far from there being ‘plenty of Biblical admonitions’ on the subject there are only a handful of verses which talk about homosexuality, and understanding  exactly what they mean or refer to is by no means straightforward.  Yet the perception remains in many people’s minds that this is an open and shut case.

Even Theologians  who are committed to a conservative line against same sex relationships, acknowledge that there is not much in the Bible to go on.   One such theologian is R.Hays, quoted in the Church of England’s official document on the subject “Some issues in human sexuality” (2003).   He talks about the “Slender evidence of the New Testament” in relation to homosexuality -and he is right.  It is mentioned on only 3 occasions, and only one of these contains any attempt to portray a theological explanation for why such attraction might be wrong.

The Old Testament is no better.  There are only 2 clear references, both in the same section of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) and the second is merely a reiteration of the first for the purpose of setting down a penalty for the ‘crime’.  Other references in Deuteronomy are almost universally understood to be about temple prostitution whether heterosexual or (by inference) homosexual, so contribute nothing to the current debate on sex relationships.

Other passages – eg the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 – whilst having a sexual component to them, are not principally about homosexuality, but about rape, inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality which were deeply ingrained in fabric and culture of the Middle East.  Hence it was considered acceptable(even proper) for Lot to offer his daughters to be gang raped by the mob in order to protect his visitors!

On top of all this, Jesus appears to have been entirely silent on the issue, and if you are a lesbian, you can rejoice that there is even less to go on.   Leviticus refers exclusively to men, and only one of the three references in the New Testament (Romans 1) includes sexual attraction between women. 

So far from there being plenty of Biblical admonitions against homosexuality, the reality is that the Biblical evidence is both flimsy and fragmented.  We need to delve deeper to see what exactly is being considered in those verses and to see to what extent it might apply today.

The problem is, just like the Little Britain  sketch where the bank clerk says over and over again ‘Computer says No!’ –  there are many too many Christians who are content to roll out the same mantra time after time – ‘Bible says No!’ – without ever considering the evidence and what the Bible actually says.

That doesn’t mean that what the Bible says is unimportant however.  As an evangelical, I consider it  vitally important to build my understanding of the Christian faith on the Bible.

So over the next few months, we will be taking a close look at what the Bible says on same sex relationships, and what that means today.  We know, of course, that we are not doing anything new here, as many have trod this road before, but as long as there are people out there who think the same way as Mr/s Anonymous, I think it needs to be done.  We just hope and pray that all who care about this issue will be a little more responsive than the bank clerk in Little Britain.

Next time – Leviticus 18…

A Pentecost message – open the doors!

This week’s blog was written on Pentecost Sunday by AE member Hazel Russman.  You can also read her story by following this link….

Today is Pentecost, so the Gospel reading in our church was John 20 vv.19-23. I listened to the familiar words “…as His disciples were gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews” and, as always, I mentally cried “Ouch!”.

For a Jewish Christian, parts of John’s Gospel are always hard to hear. It is different when I read them for myself because then I can remind myself of the background. John was writing for a Church that was still substantially Jewish; not only was there still a large ethnically Jewish minority, but most of the Gentile members had been converted by Paul or by one of his circle and had been taught to consider themselves as Jews by adoption (see for example Romans 11vv. 16-18).

However many Christians were bitter at the official Jewish leadership because of the recent decision that Christianity was a new religion and that Jews who professed it were apostates who should be expelled from the synagogues. Against this dual background, the use of the phrase “The Jews” in an opprobrious sense to describe the Jewish leaders, as distinct from the Jewish people, who are always show as supporting Jesus, is understandable and probably unlikely to be misunderstood.

But I have the burden of hindsight. I know what all these sneering references to “The Jews” eventually led to when John’s Gospel fell into the hands of a Church that John never envisaged – a 100% Gentile Church that saw itself as a replacement for Israel,  rather than an extension of it. Listening to the Gospel being read today, calmly and matter-of-factly, as if fear of the Jews were the most natural thing in the world for Christians to feel, it was almost as if the priest were saying to me, “What are you doing here? You are not one of us. You are the Enemy.”

And that was when these words suddenly sounded in my brain: “In those days the Church shut the doors for fear of the Jews, and now they shut them for fear of the gays”.

The fear and hatred of Jews that distorted the Church’s message for so many centuries was utterly irrational, but that did not prevent it from taking a powerful hold. And John shows us how, right from the very beginning, it inhibited the Church’s calling to spread the Good News. While the disciples were cowering behind closed doors, they were not able to reach anyone outside. Nor did they wish to.

Fortunately, closed doors cannot exclude Jesus. He came in anyway and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them in spite of their fears. And when the meaning of that gift became manifest a few weeks later, the first thing they felt driven to do was to fling the doors open and pour out into the street to tell everyone that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was risen from the dead.

Today, the Church’s mission is hampered just as much by closed doors and by fear. While so many Christian groups are protecting themselves from contamination by gay people, the world looks on and says, “Well, if that’s what Christians are like, I don’t want to be one!”. They react in much the same way when traditionalists show their fear of women (who might be menstruating, God help us!) presiding at the Eucharist or ordaining priests. We are gradually losing our hold on an entire generation of British people because they see us behaving in ways that they consider weird at best and downright immoral at worst.

Those people out there have a pretty shrewd idea of what should be important to Christians. They expect Christians to care about God and about Jesus. They are not particularly surprised that this has sometimes led to quarrels about who Jesus really was, and about the meaning of His death and resurrection. They are surprised and contemptuous when they see us quarrelling about women bishops and gay priests. They expect Christians to love each other and to show love for the poor and the excluded. They don’t expect us to effectively exclude each other from the Church for having different opinions on subjects so trivial in Jesus’s own eyes that He never saw fit to mention them.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2 v.7): it’s time to open the doors!