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

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