Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Unity and Sexuality

This from Ekklesia on Lambeth, Evangelicalism and the issue of homosexuality. I detect in the ether that this issue of whether or not the wider evangelical movement can or should hold together is moving up the agenda. Rob Warner, whose recent book (see side bar) is a must read for all who are interested in this issue, detects a possible split or splintering for a variety of cultural and theological reasons. I reckon he's pretty much on the money. However, one thing he doesn't make nearly enough of in his review of trends in the movement is the divergence of opinion on specifically ethical matters. I wouldn't mind betting (if that's allowed) that issues of sexuality are likely be even more influential than the tensions between the reactionary theological conservatives, the pragmatists and the progressives. It's one thing to hold together when there is disagreement on theological matters quite another when it boils down to a question of justice.

45 comments:

tim f said...

Rowan Williams looks even more like Gandalf than usual in that picture.

Coincidentally, I also blogged on potential splits in the Anglican church this morning.

Although I disagree violently with conservative evangelicals on this issue, I don't see the disagreement as any greater than on other issues from redistribution to feminism.

What I think is particularly ironic and cause for concern maybe as much as the bigotry itself is the undermining of the "by faith alone" position entailed by excluding people from evangelicism by narrow definition.

It seems to create different classes of Christian and suggests one class is less worthy than another, making a mockery of "all have sinned" and "by faith alone".

Paul said...

Hi Tim, I was curious to understand a bit better what you might be driving at in this post. Can I take a guess at what I think you might be meaning and then let you correct me if I get it wrong?

I think you may be wanting to say that the reformed tradition of acceptance in Christ "by faith alone" should inform the debate about what it means to be a Christian (and by definition evangelical) much more than it currently does. The implication of this would be that because we all understand salvation to be on this basis, the differences in ethical stances within evangelicalism should not be emphasised so much. This in turn would enable us all to accept one another as evangelicals and Christians, no matter our different stances on ethical issues.

I hope that this captures the gist of what I think were trying to say. If not, please correct me!

Paul said...

Hi Glen,

I agree with your assessment here. I have always found it odd, though, that evangelicals (or just Western Christians in general) have this ability to dissociate theology from practice. I mean, it must be a legacy of the Enlightenment and Greek Western thought that we are able to say "I disagree with you strongly in a theologically" as if theological differences don't have concrete ethical consequences as well! It doesn't seem to be consistent with a holistic jewish worldview, where the word was incarnate, and where what we think is understood not to be dissociated from our inner spirituality or bodily expression.

There is a lot of talk about holistic mission at the moment (in an external sense) but not enough talk about connecting the head to the heart, and recongising that integrity of thought and action (surely a crucial part of being Christ-like) will result in having to say "actually, theologically I disagree with you on this issue, and because its a boundary issue for me, because this is an issue of integrity, because I know that this will eventually work itself out in a practical situtaion which will compromise my own belief system, we have to recognise that we wont be able to express our fellowship as fully as we otherwise would."

And you're right, it is around issues of justice and ethics that these splits will inevitably occur.

One person might see this issue in terms of fighting for the protection and inclusion of gay men and women in the church, another might see it as fighting to protect the often forgotten constituency in the church who do have homosexual orientation but are depending on the power of God to live celibate or married lives in accordance with what they believe the Bible calls them to.

One of the greatest gifts God gave to mankind in creation is personhood...the ability to say no, to have integrity of thought and action, to discern right from wrong in company with the Spirit. Sometimes, over key issues, the inner tension we feel that means we must walk true to what we believe with our heads and hearts has to result in walking down different roads.

Sometimes it becomes too much to say "I disagree with you in my head, but that doesn't really matter." Because what we think and believe inevitably leads us to concrete practical situations which may ultimately compromise our individual integrity too much. Jesus kept walking forward when people around him disagreed with his theology, and thus his lifestyle.

Ultimately, reconciliation needs to be embodied in practical ethics as well as notionally acknowledged in our heads. There are always some grey areas. But some areas are greyer than others...

tim f said...

Paul - yes, that's basically what I'm saying, although I'm not quite sure about the formulation "the differences in ethical stances within evangelicalism should not be emphasised so much"; instead of saying "accept one another as evangelicals and Christians, no matter our different stances on ethical issues" I would probably say "accept one another as evangelicals and Christians even on important areas where we believe each other to be utterly wrong, inconsistent with Christ's values and causing damage to both the church & world"

As so often, pride is the problem. It's humbling to think that not only do I have something in common with people who prop up and benefit from the injust economic system we live in, or who spread hatred according to sexuality, or even with the historical Christians who supported slavery or apartheid, I believe that they will all spend eternity with Christ. And hopefully it's humbling for them to recognise the same thing about Christians who are also the lesbian revolutionary trotskyist asylum seekers they read about in the Mail/Express, too.

Paul said...

Thanks Tim, for clarifying that. The reason I asked is that I was worried you were using the appeal to the doctrine of acceptance in Christ "by faith alone" in completely the wrong way. And it seems, indeed, that you are.

Can I explain what I mean? We can’t dissociate the doctrine of justification by faith alone from the web of theological understanding that Luther himself applied to the meaning of "salvation". Luther never intended for his doctrine of "sola fides" to stand alone, as if my mere intellectual assent to some doctrine we could all be considered justified before God. He also emphasised ‘sola scriptura’ and he didn’t cut out the words of the OT, Paul and Revelation (all inspired by the Spirit of Christ) which opposed sexual immorality and uplifted celibacy and heterosexual marriage as consistent with Christian behaviour.

Luther didn’t think of faith to mean something done with the head that doesn’t result in meaningful change in people’s lives. On the contrary, he held with St Paul in emphasising that an experience of grace should not lead us to continue in sinful behaviour. “What a ghastly thought” as JB Phillips once memorably said. Please don’t cherry pick Luther’s doctrines to reinforce one perspective without being prepared to be challenged to pay attention to everything Luther (and the Bible) says. But then, if you have a hermeneutic that emphasises contemporary context over scriptural context, I suppose you can take ultimately take whatever position you like. Like the Jesus Seminar do.

In short, a truly reformed doctrine of salvation cannot but incorporate an understanding of the quality and content of the ethical life and transformation that is supposed to be the result of a meaningful and true encounter with God’s grace.

We cannot dissociate justification from sanctification. We cannot say “well, we are all saved by faith alone (as if faith never resulted in concrete ethical change), so because we all believe that Christ has saved us, it doesn’t really matter what we do”.

That would result in a meaningless faith, a faith without content or purpose, or transformation.

To suggest that as evangelicals we should just accept we are all saved in Christ and that we shouldn’t therefore challenge continuing sin in one another’s lives is a dangerous liberal enlightenment heresy. It reveals a particular theological bias towards universalism which so often translates into a “live and let live” pragmatism on issues of personal holiness, as if personal holiness was somehow less important that global justice.

I am always intrigued that the people who seem to be most aggressively passionate about issues of justice in the present seem to be the most likely to portray a God who doesn’t ultimately bring justice to bear on his creation. Likewise, there is an irony that Christians who emphasise the justice of God at the end of time seem to be least engaged in activism right now. We should be challenging both hypocrisies, not reinforcing one or the other.

I for one am tired of any type of evangelicalism that compromises either on issues of personal holiness or on issues of global justice.

Is it right to consider you, Tim, a “bigot” because you are utterly convinced that unless we oppose those Christians who use theological gymnastics (rapture theology) to justify rapaciously excessive consumerist lifestyles and policies, we will all be corporately impoverished? No, of course not. That’s not bigoted, it’s you being opposed to the world because ultimately you love it and are for it.

Well, please stop labelling people such as myself as ‘bigoted’ who are deeply convinced that the freest and most human we can be is to express our sexuality in celibacy or heterosexual marriage. On the contrary, I passionately believe that through the Holy Spirit and the resurrection life God is able to liberate us into a renewed state of being which transforms even our sexuality. I have personal friends who testify to this! Are you not being terribly paternalistic to suggest that their testimony is wrong? Are they utterly deluded? Have you not otherised their testimony? Are they deceived that they have a homosexual orientation and need to be liberated, even though they ahve discovered incredible joy and freedom in marriage and fatherhood? Almost as if that’s what they were born to do?

I am opposed to the world because ultimately I love it and am for it. Upholding celibacy and heterosexual marriage as consistent with transformation in Christ does not reveal me to be a homophobe. On the contrary, it reveals me to be homophile. You may not see it that way, but please don’t chuck grenade words like patriarchal, homophobe and bigot my way. They might just explode in your hand as you pull the pin out.

Furthermore, and this I would like to stress, unity is not any more of a gospel imperative than holiness. Christ implores us to strive for both. But he also actually modelled the reality that before the coming of the new creation, neither will be perfect. The issue is intentionality. If I yearn for unity with all my heart but am stymied in this because I believe even more light can shine if the Holy Spirit is more free to work when people aren’t pre-committed to sinful behaviour, is that wrong?

You may think that the worse sin is disunity, of questioning the salvation of others, but many others feel that the practical consequences of ignoring issues of holiness are potentially so damaging to the church that separation is the only possible route they can take. Let’s not fool ourselves that we can “agree to disagree” as if theological differences never have practical and ethical consequences. If you believe so strongly that disunity is such a terrible thing, I wonder if you condemn the Metropolitan Church of Christ for its schismatic behaviour, or if, on the contrary, you see their work as just and actively support them? Have you written to their leaders and implored them to be reunited with a mainstream denomination? Or is it in fact the case that as long as people are committed to the type of justice you want, schism is acceptable?

Of course, if you have a universalist theology, then you are at liberty to say that everyone, even “bigoted, homophobic” conservative evangelicals are saved “sola fides”. You can even condemn them for not having your theology and say that they should accept everyone who claims to be a Christian, no matter what their lifestyle. But you also have to admit that in reality, for a universalist having faith or modelling any particular lifestyle doesn’t ultimately matter. Universalism is really just another form of cheap grace, whether its evangelical universalism or liberal – in the end it doesn’t really require change this side of heaven (because God accepts us all anyway). Which is why universalists often become so aggressive and angry about justice issues. The only way they can ultimately achieve the justice they know is right is to impose it political and by external means, because the gospel they preach often has no power to convert the hearts of individuals. So they are tempted to seek to subvert institutional power to control those who disagree with them. And they tend to throw words like “bigoted homophobe” around to try and shame people into accepting their gospel. As if shame could ever be a mechanism for getting people to accept the grace of Christ.

We need a gospel that transforms our inner sinfulness and our environmental sinfulness, a gospel that inculcates genuine and deep-felt personal gratitude for the grace which saves individuals sinners and transforms both their environment and creation, and a gospel that doesn’t drive a wedge between our heads and our hearts, or a wedge between holiness and justice. Why can’t I be committed to personal holiness and global economic and environmental injustice?

Tim, may you experience every blessing of Christ in your continued walk with him. I genuinely and sincerely mean that. You are in my prayers tonight.

You are also more than welcome to come back at me on any of these issues. I often overstate my case in order to find out what people really think.

Paul said...

Oh, yeah, and before I forget...

1. I read both the Guardian and the Telegraph, Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman.

2. Wilberforce, one of the greatest emancipators of slaves in history was a conservative evangelical:

He complained about those who "either overlook or deny the corruption and weakness of human nature. They acknowledge there is, and always had been, a great deal of vice and wickedness [, but they] talk of frailty and infirmity, of petty transgressions, of occasional failings, and of accidental incidents. [They] speak of man as a being who is naturally pure. He is inclined to virtue." and opposed this with his own view that "the humiliating language of true Christianity. From it we learn that man is an apostate creature. He has fallen from his high, original state. . . . He is indisposed toward the good, and disposed towards evil. . . . He is tainted with sin, not slightly and superficially, but radically, and to the very core of his being. Even though it may be humiliating to acknowledge these things, still this is the biblical account of man."

And finally, some of the most powerful women preachers ever have come out of pentecostal holiness church movements. Even Harvey Cox can't deny that pentecostalism, often associated with such conservative doctrines as pre-millenialism, has done more for women's liberty across the globe than many more liberal Christian movements.

So please don't suggest that because conservatives don't endorse homosexuality they endorse slavery or patriarachy.

My question to you in return is this: what will liberation theology seek to liberate next in the name of Christ, but really only in the name of modern liberal culture?

Paul said...

And another point. Although I feel that within the church we should promote only celibacy and heterosexual marriage as hoy lifestyles, that doesn't stop me also from wanting to make sure that in wider society (outside the church) there is justice and protection for people who chose a homosexual lifestyle. People must be protected from violence and oppression - and where the church has been complicit in this with regards to people who have chosen a homosexual lifestyle in the past, we must repent. However, if we support this type of liberation and battle for justice in wider society
it does not necessarily follow that we must endorse and embrace the choice to life a homosexual lifestyle within the church. I can support freedom for Muslims to worship without necessarily thinking that it would be a good idea to have a Muslim lead my church. I can support the right to free enterprise without necessarily endorsing prosperity teaching or the choice to follow Mammon within our lifestyles as Christians.

The issue is much more subtle than the black and white ways it is often portrayed.

Paul said...

And another one; I find it ironic that to an African Anglican at Gafcon the drive to endorse a homosexual lifestyle within the Anglican Communion is just the latest in a long line of colonialist impositions of Western theological hegemony. Isn't that a great irony> One of the biggest dangers of liberation theology is its propensity to move rapidly from ostensibly representing the minority to becoming a theology which creates a new Christendom mentality. I wish liberation theologians would become wiser to this Christendom tendency. So, to what extent must we critique the drive to enforce "justice" within the church over this issue with a sober recognition of the danger that such an imposition could easily develop into a new type of patriarchal, witch-hunting, Christendom mindset at the service of the cultural mores of wider society as endorsed by the state?

tim f said...

Paul - Thanks for not holding back (I really mean that), and I fully intend to reply; I won't have a chance until Monday to reply in the depth your comments deserve though.

Paul said...

Hi Tim,

Just some caveats I'm sure you're likely to push back at me on.

1. Universalism has been along much longer than the enlightenment but gained much more credence during that period

2. Its Metropolitan Community Church not Metropolitan Church of Christ

3. This phrase "Although I feel that within the church we should promote only celibacy and heterosexual marriage as hoy lifestyles, that doesn't stop me also from wanting to make sure that in wider society (outside the church) there is justice and protection for people who chose a homosexual lifestyle." Is not what I meant. I think on the contrary there should be protection for people who have a homosexual orientation within (especially within) churches. That they should be as deeply cared for and loved as anyone else (just like Muslims and capitalists). It does not necessarily follow that in order to express justice "fully" that we should go on to affirm the choice to lead a gay lifestyle as consistent with being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

4. Another reason that I resent being being labelled a bigotted homophobe is because my gay friends dont see me that way, especially when we hug and support one another through life's problems.

5. I'm not necessarily implying that you yourself hold to Universalist doctrine...I have no idea that you do...but most people who take the posiion you seem to have moved much more in that direction and it struck me that the way you phrased yourself suggested such a position.

Paul said...

Epistemological angst...

I feel i also need to reveal some deeper intellectual questions which I am having an ongoin struggle with so that you can understand where I am coming from...
My question is whether the deeper underlying issues in this ethical debate - and others - may render genuine unity as an insurmountable and even unreasonable proposition.

My fear is that we who use the label Christian of ourselves actually deploy such profoundly different epistemologies for knowing the Other which is God that to expect connection and unity at the surface level, simply because we use the same words to describe ourselves, is actually too much of a divide to cross.

If our epistemologies (theologies, hermeneutics, christologies, biographical experiences) start out profoundly different, to what extent can we justifiably hold the expectation of one another to accept each other in Christ? Because although we use the same words, if we fill those words with such different content that they end up having totally different meanings, are we ultimately not even talking about the same things?

Rooted within the very word epistemology is the Greek word for faith: pistis. If our epistemologies are totally different as we describe what we individually think is the Other, then to what extent is the faith-system we are using to understand God actually incompatible? Do we ultimately have different faiths, or faith in a different God, if we consistently fill the words we use (on the surface the same word) with totally different content?

If your Christ is ultimately totally different to mine, if your concept of holiness is totally different to mine, if your concept of conversion is different to mine, if your experience of the Holy Spirit is diferent to mine, if your understanding of scriptural authority is different to mine, if your understanding of the meaning of Christian unity is different to mine, if your scriptural hermeneutic is different to mine, if your understanding of soteriology is different to mine...and so on...ie if your epistemology is different to mine, do we even share the same "pistis" or faith? And, as a consequence, is it even right to try and hold one another accountable to unify what is possibly, in effect, a totally different faith?

How much diversity is possible within the Trinity, without the oneness of God becoming a meaningless cypher? Is it possible that trying to hold together every extreme of Christian opinion "because the Trinity is diverse" can ultimately render our faith meaningless? And by what authority do we arbitrate that?

Paul said...

Also, I need to emphasise that we cannot dissociate individual elements of the discussion of sexual ethics from one another. Evangelicals with questions about affirming the choice of a gay lifestyle as reflective of the promise of transformation in Christ must be careful not to show 'favouritism' towards other sexual sins (eg adultery). Understandings of sexual holiness must be holistic and consistent...we cannot at one juncture refuse to condone the choice to enter into a homosexal lifestyle without also refusing to condone (for example) adultery.

Here's an interesting (and sensitive) debate to be had. If one of the key moral justifications for condoning the choice to pursue a homosexual lifestyle is that it is a mature decision to engage sexually between two consenting adults, does this also not open the door to incest between a similarly consenting (but heterosexual) adult brother and sister who love one another?

Do those who campaign for the church to condone the one also logically need to campaign for the condoning of the other? Or does the biblical taboo still apply for the latter?

But if so, on what basis? How can we affirm one scriptural boundary but not the other when the argument we use to question one also suffices to undermine the biblical position on the other?

I'd be genuinely interested to hear you comments on this Tim.

I mean, if a genetic predisposition to a homosexual orientation (please note, it is not this in itself which I oppose) is a basis to argue that the church should condone the active pursing of this lifestyle, surely a genetic predisposition to be sexually attracted to your sister/brother should also be condoned by the church? In this emancipated age, such a couple might chose not to have children, avoiding the dangers of genetically malformed offspring.

By the logic of both these arguments which may be put forward for homosexual emancipation in the church, should we not therefore be open to affirming and marrying biological sisters and brothers?

tim f said...

ok, here goes!

I've gone roughly backwards through your comments here looking for stuff I wanted to reply to. It might therefore not be in the best order, but here goes:

On incest: I don't know. But I would say that a genetic predisposition to homosexuality is not the basis on which any of my arguments are made. Genes are subject to environmental pressures and I am suspicious of any position on homosexuality which suggests homosexuality is ok for those who are predisposed to it from birth but not ok for people who aren't. To me it shouldn't matter why someone is homosexual. And although I don't have any evidence for the following statement, I suspect we are all bisexual to some extent and environmental pressures lead most people to polarise towards either end of a scale. That's just an intuition, though, and not important for my argument. (I could even go further and say that as I think gender is primarily a matter of self-definition and that the physical differences between men or between women are often more significant and include more variety than those between men and women, but let's leave that for now as it makes the issue even more complicated!)

However, the fact that I don't necessarily see homosexuality as entirely determined from birth does make it even easier for me to accept that you have friends for whom Christian life has involved changing from homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation. Of course, just because for those people there is more joy and freedom in heterosexual marriage, does not mean in itself that homosexuality is a sin for everyone. And I'm not sure why you include fatherhood there, as plenty of gay couples are exceptionally good parents.

I don't think that consent is the only thing that is important in a sexual relationship. Trust, commitment and faithfulness are clearly also important. And a willingness to commit the relationship before God and make it subject to Him - which I think is possible for both heterosexual and homosexual sexual relationships. Could they be possible within incestual relationships? I don't know. Maybe. I don't think, however that they are possible within your other example, that of adultery.

"If our epistemologies (theologies, hermeneutics, christologies, biographical experiences) start out profoundly different, to what extent can we justifiably hold the expectation of one another to accept each other in Christ? Because although we use the same words, if we fill those words with such different content that they end up having totally different meanings, are we ultimately not even talking about the same things?"

I think that is a valid concern with everything else in life, and even with how we view our faith. However, it is not true of God because God does not change. Yes, we might have different experiences of God and therefore view God in different ways, but if we believe that it is God's choice who he saves, that He loves everyone and will respond to all who call on Him, then I'm not sure how we can deny the fact of others who disagree with us being saved and being part of God's kingdom as we are. It's a fairly facile example, but it seems that George W Bush is a Christian and in the unlikely event that he wants to sit down and pray with me I'd be happy to do that.

On personal holiness - it's not that I think personal holiness is less important than social justice (and I'm sceptical about whether the two can even be separated). It's more that I think that because we have freedom in Christ, because I believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers and because I recognise that God and only God gets to judge people, I think that issues of personal holiness are primarily between each person and God - that's even more so for issues like homosexuality where the passages that speak to it are few and some of which subject to differences of opinion over translation and interpretation that can't easily be resolved. Yes, I think it's right to challenge the behaviour of Christian individuals when we think it's upsetting God, but repeatedly challenging someone on the same point when they have prayerfully considered it and their conscience is clear - I think that judges that person and disrespects them as a child of God, equal before God and in whom God's Spirit resides.

On bigotry - I wasn't referring to you as being a bigot, especially since I commented on this post before you made your own position on homosexuality clear (I don't think I've read you on this topic before)! And the reason I used the extreme in my second post of those "who spread hatred according to sexuality" was not to use that extreme language about all those who feel unable to write off the passages in the Bible which seem to condemn homosexuality, but rather to stress the point that "I believe they will all spend eternity with Christ". However, I would be happy to describe myself as bigoted - not that I'm proud of that, simply because we live in a world which is undoubtedly racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc. I know I've inherited much of that and certainly having semi-radical positions on some issues doesn't overturn that. I suspect that in that sense you are bigoted too. And whether you like it or not, there are plenty of people who would view any position on homosexuality except complete acceptance of all homosexual relationships as offensive and bigoted. It's also worth pointing out that just as it's clearly possible for someone to be racist without being homophobic (to the extent that it's possible to be not homophobic at all), it's possible for someone who's less homophobic to be very racist.

Now, here comes the bit which might be surprising to you. I am not willing to either fully endorse sexual relations between two men/two women or oppose them on a general basis. Although it seems to me inconsistent with other teaching in the Bible to fail to welcome and endorse (I prefer that language than merely "condone") lifelong committed homosexual sexual relationships, and even though I have doubts about the way many of the passages which allegedly speak to homosexuality are traditionally interpreted, most attempts to explain away all the relevant passages seem to me a little tenuous. As I take the Bible seriously, I am reluctantly not willing to go so far as to say I am certain God endorses sexual relationships between two men or two women. I know there are plenty of people who would be disappointed in me for that view. However, I'm not convinced either that as a heterosexual person I can realistically expect to be able to come to a fair judgement one way or the other. Instead, I trust those Christians who are gay or lesbian to come to a decision themselves. It's hardly a decision which homosexual Christians will take lightly, and I trust them, in whom GOd's Holy Spirit resides, to make that choice. I respect those who are called to celibacy (just as I respect heterosexual people who are called to celibacy) and I respect those who reckon God fully endorses a sexual relationship between them and their partner. This not simply because I think issues of personal holiness relate more to individual conscience than collective decision-making, but because I haven't had the experience of feeling the full weight of the world's prejudice on this issue, and I think that is crucial for making any decision on this.

Oh, and just for the record, I don't like the Guardian or the Telegraph :p (I don't like any of the papers much, but apart from those I read because I need to know what they're telling people - eg the Mail online, the Sun - the Mirror, Morning Star and Financial Times tend to be my papers of choice) And I'm not a universalist, either! (it's up to God who he lets in to heaven, and whilst God does guarantee in the Bible that all who have faith in Christ will be justified, I have no knowledge about who else, if anyone, God will permit to spend eternity with Himself)

On Luther, I don't agree with everything he wrote. For example, his contention that non-Christians can't do real good (caricaturing a little for the sake of simplicity) seems absurd to me. A hip replacement by a Christian or non-Christian doctor is much the same. I think God often uses non-Christians to help bring about His purposes and bring his Kingdom in. However, I certainly do believe that works matter and that faith isn't merely an intellectual position. Hopefully there should be some hinters above about how I think I can reconcile that belief, and a belief in the importance of personal holiness, and a position of not disregarding what the Bible says about homosexuality, with a failure to condemn sexual relations between 2 men or 2 women.

On division, it is not churches choosing to be under a different umbrella that I'm particularly bothered with; it's where Christians refuse to work together on issues where they do agree, and especially where they deny the power of Christ by refusing to accept that people can be Christians and have a different theological position, or can be Christians and be involved in sexual relations with someone of the same sex, etc.

Finally, I also want to say that I don't like the division between homosexuals and "active" homosexuals; I think it's bizarre to be honest. Not least for the reason that if those who take the traditional interpretation of the Bible are wrong, homosexual couples who haven't been called to celibacy and who abstain from sex with each other would be denying each other the full expression of their love for each other, in itself perhaps sinful.

Final final thing - perhaps some people use phrases like "bigoted homophobe" to try and shame people. But others may use it simply because in some cases it is true, and truth is important. I'm sure you would not deny that there are plenty of people who ARE bigoted homophobes, whether Christian or not.

Final final final thing - worth noting that both Jesus and Paul were called to celibacy, and that we have no idea whether they thought of themselves as heterosexual or homosexual (maybe I'm wrong with Paul? Can't think of anything, though).

Paul said...

Hey, thanks Tim, for posting and taking all that time to respond. I'll have to sit down and think my way through everything you said.

Paul

Paul said...

Hi Tim,

Here’s an attempt to keep the conversation going and subtilise the arguments.

“I'm not sure why you include fatherhood there, as plenty of gay couples are exceptionally good parents.” I guess I was also thinking of the procreative function of fatherhood: to actually father a child through intercourse as an element of experiencing fatherhood in all its fullness.

Definitions: “A willingness to commit the relationship before God and make it subject to Him - which I think is possible for both heterosexual and homosexual sexual relationships.” I guess I disagree with you here – my approach suggests that submitting a homosexual relationship to God is oxymoronic, as (to me) it’s alien to His desire for healed creation.

On personal holiness – “it's not that I think personal holiness is less important than social justice (and I'm sceptical about whether the two can even be separated).” I agree!

“It's more that I think that because we have freedom in Christ, because I believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers and because I recognise that God and only God gets to judge people, I think that issues of personal holiness are primarily between each person and God” I disagree! I don’t think we can dissociate personal holiness from corporate holiness. We are all connected in the Body, and where sin/unholiness/pain/hurt is present in the Body, it also affects every other part. I think we are more intimately connected with one another and the earth than perhaps you do. Which leads me to emphasise ethical norms for the body of Christ. It’s a more corporate (Hebrew?) approach than usually warranted under traditional enlightenment thinking (evangelical or liberal).

I would also ask this: if, ultimately, we can (must?) step back from making moral discernments about human sexuality because ‘ultimately God is the judge’, then why is it not also Ok to disengage from Christian fellowship (even if such a step may be wrong) because ultimately, God will reconcile us? Can I deploy the same argument for schism as you do for judgement? I fear that you have an under-realised eschatology re: the embodiment of revelation/judgement, but probably edge towards critiquing those who trust God to reconcile the church if they take a stand on an issue of holiness (and are possibly wrong). I think you probably need to argue for both, if you want to argue for one. Personally, I think we should strive for both reconciliation and right judgement today. More liberal Christians are forever banging on about man taking full responsibility for social issues and “growing up” in him, but I usually also hear them deploy the phrase “God will judge” when it comes to issues of personal holiness. I think we should grow up in both areas.

“Yes, I think it's right to challenge the behaviour of Christian individuals when we think it's upsetting God, but repeatedly challenging someone on the same point when they have prayerfully considered it and their conscience is clear - I think that judges that person and disrespects them as a child of God, equal before God and in whom God's Spirit resides.” Granted, let’s not bash people with our own hobby horses, repeatedly. Instead, I advocate that if people make mature decisions to not respond to the rest of the Christian church when challenged about sin, then instead of simply saying “oh well, your obviously still a Christian and I might be wrong”, we instead accept their position and then take further choices ourselves...If people chose not to change, Jesus often let them go. He challenged the Rich Young Ruler and let him go – not walking after him or saying “I might be wrong, lets still be friends even though you have made a choice to reject me.” No, Jesus was more radical than that. He accepted the Rich Young Man’s choice and walked on. If on such a crucial issue there is genuine divergence, why can’t those who are pro-homosexual also allow others to walk on? Why must they always cry “we are pro-gay” and then also condemn those who are prepared to accept that but also feel they need to walk on? Sometimes, you can’t have your cake and eat it. I feel often that the pro-gay position can be quite controlling like that – like Desmond Tutu having a pro-gay stance then bashing his opponents for wanting to disengage and asking them “What has all this disagreement to do with the gospel?” Well, from one perspective it seems like a rather rich question! Like people should rally around his view of the gospel rather than theirs! If you have to ask what Gafcon’s concern for the gospel is over this issue, perhaps you have a different, unreconcilable gospel. Another question to ask is, “Desmond, if you are so committed to reconciliation and unity, how about you pay attention and change your stance on this issue in order to foster unity?” It’s almost like Desmond is unaware that his own pro-gay stance can be considered bolshy and schismatic in itself!

“Now, here comes the bit which might be surprising to you. I am not willing to either fully endorse sexual relations between two men/two women or oppose them on a general basis.” This is really honest, thanks for being open.

“Instead, I trust those Christians who are gay or lesbian to come to a decision themselves. It's hardly a decision which homosexual Christians will take lightly, and I trust them, in whom God's Holy Spirit resides, to make that choice.” I think this is essential. BUT that is very different from campaigning to establish homosexuality as normative in our churches as an issue of justice. Or are you in fact only campaigning to establish the right for people to decide for themselves? That’s OK, too, but I also think you should be campaigning, on this basis, for the freedom for other Christians to be able chose NOT to walk in the same direction. If it’s ok for folk to chose before God whether this is an OK ethical stance, is that valid for all possible ethical choices? And at what point is anyone able to question whether this or that behaviour is Christ-like?

“Hopefully there should be some hinters above about how I think I can reconcile that belief, and a belief in the importance of personal holiness, and a position of not disregarding what the Bible says about homosexuality, with a failure to condemn sexual relations between 2 men or 2 women.” I think that you have put forward one way of approaching the issue which is fairly consistent, although I disagree with you. Which is where I come back to my point about “pistis” and epistemology. There are a number of places where I strongly diverge from your thinking on this issue...at what point do I decide that perhaps you have a different faith? Is this a boundary issue for me? And are you open to accepting that it is a boundary issue for me and I can’t walk with you down this road?

“On division, it is not churches choosing to be under a different umbrella that I'm particularly bothered with; it's where Christians refuse to work together on issues where they do agree.” I am happy to connect with you on the issues where I do agree, but I would not be able to submit to the authority of any church group (as a place of primary accountability) that officially endorsed your position. Not just because of the issue itself, but because of what it reveals about the corporate epistemology and culture of that group...it would reveal deeper differences that I also don’t think are reconcilable.

“Finally, I also want to say that I don't like the division between homosexuals and "active" homosexuals; I think it's bizarre to be honest.” OK, you’re right, how about we use the phrase ‘homosexual’ and ‘celibate homosexual’? Just as people are free to chose whether homosexuality is consistent with a Christian lifestyle, I think people are free are chose, in line with the scripture, to be transformed away from sexual sinfulness and desires towards deeper freedom, whether that be expressed in a heterosexual relationship or celibacy.

“Final final thing - perhaps some people use phrases like "bigoted homophobe" to try and shame people. But others may use it simply because in some cases it is true, and truth is important. I'm sure you would not deny that there are plenty of people who ARE bigoted homophobes, whether Christian or not.” OK, agreed ;-)

“Final final final thing - worth noting that both Jesus and Paul were called to celibacy, and that we have no idea whether they thought of themselves as heterosexual or homosexual (maybe I'm wrong with Paul? Can't think of anything, though).”
I think you are right, it is entirely possible that both Paul and Jesus experienced attraction towards men of the same sex! In fact, for Christ to truly be able to redeem homosexuality (as I believe he can) I think it likely he must have actually experienced the meaning of this in his life. Which is why we must also express deep compassion and love for all gay men and women.
However, it nevertheless (even if they were gay) seems very clear that Jesus and Paul adopted a celibate lifestyle. We need to look at what they did rather than speculate about about stuff we cant ascertain for certain. This is what they actually modelled, even if they were “gay”. Which would seem to reinforce my argument for celibacy or marriage very strongly. Furthermore, neither Paul nor Jesus ever expressly encouraged homosexuality as a lifestyle. This lack of positive teaching or example massively undermines any argument today for a gay lifestyle as being consistent with Christian behaviour. While I can see the seeds of female emancipation in Paul and Jesus, and also emancipation from slavery in both their writings, I can see no positive endorsement whatsoever for leading a gay lifestyle. I have no time for arguments from silence like “Jesus didn’t teach negatively on this issue, so it must be ok”. Because, on the contrary, the fact that such a radical emancipator did not teach or model anything positive about homosexuality says to me that his silence was actually consent with the cultural status quo. And nobody can convince me that in 1st century Judaism, homosexuality was anywhere near regarded as normative for human sexuality. I really do think that if Jesus wanted to communicate liberation for gays, he would have come out and said it, and it would be in the scriptures we have today. The fact that it isn’t (and that this is an issue that the OT is very clear about), speaks volumes to me.

Paul said...

Did you see John Barrowman's documentary as he searches for the roots of his homosexual identity? Its on IPlayer just now...very interesting. He interviews an ex-gay Christian man and discovers that he has the same genetic code as his straight brother. Its inconclusive, really...but fascinating and actually quite honest. I admired him for making this program.

Paul said...

Hi Tim, I've been thinking about your graciousness towards George Bush and the way you say you would pray with him as a fellow Christian should you ever have that opportunity. This is of course only one aspect of expressing Christian unity. I have no problem praying with folk from the MCC or openly-gay Christians or assuming that I can't judge whether they are saved or not (though they seem to have a very different gospel to me). The problem is that unity in terms of the Gafcon debate etc is actually also about understanding being accountable to one another and issues of authority.

Its not just about "praying together" or even "partnering together" but about how we negotiate issues of authority within one organisation together.

So, to make your George Bush analogy really work, the question we have to posit is not just whether you would pray with him, but rather the following:

"Would you remain in his cabinet when he intentionall pushed through and anti-Kyoto policy, or when he elected to invade Iraq?" If you answer is that you could not have done this in all conscience, then you are starting to get close to how some folk felt at Gafcon.

Paul said...

Please note, this is an analogy to explain the issue of unity around issues of authority etc. Its not a statement trying to equate the issues themselves, but rather to try and explain the passion and sense of tearing of allegiance and personal integrity that comes over many of those sometimes called bigots who on the contrary are actually, genuinely, trying to stay faithful to Christ and love homosexuals as fully as they can.

tim f said...

sorry for the delay - some more responses to your last few comments:

“I disagree! I don’t think we can dissociate personal holiness from corporate holiness. We are all connected in the Body, and where sin/unholiness/pain/hurt is present in the Body, it also affects every other part. I think we are more intimately connected with one another and the earth than perhaps you do. Which leads me to emphasise ethical norms for the body of Christ. It’s a more corporate (Hebrew?) approach than usually warranted under traditional enlightenment thinking (evangelical or liberal).”

I agree that we are all connected in the Body and I agree that sin in one part affects the rest. But I'd argue that we are so interconnected that it does this whether or not we separate into different branches of the church. In actual fact if people separate off into different parts they may end up losing the opportunity to challenge each other and hold each other accountable. After all, we can both recognize that there is not one fixed Christian pro-homosexual position and one fixed Christian anti-homosexual position. There’s a spectrum (rainbow? :p ) of positions. If I am only ever challenged within my church by those who are coming from a more liberal position than me, aren’t I more likely to drift off into damaging heresy? Likewise if you are only ever challenged from the right, aren’t you more likely to drift off into heresy of a different kind, too?

Also, I’m sure you would agree that holiness isn’t just a negative concept. To me that means if those who interpret biblical passages mentioning homosexuality in a “traditional” manner turn out to be wrong, it is entirely possible that you are encouraging many homosexual people to wrongly deny each other the full expression of a loving partnership, stopping them from living together as God intends.

“I would also ask this: if, ultimately, we can (must?) step back from making moral discernments about human sexuality because ‘ultimately God is the judge’, then why is it not also Ok to disengage from Christian fellowship (even if such a step may be wrong) because ultimately, God will reconcile us?”
It’s not just about not judging because ultimately God will judge, but because we are commanded not to judge, and because we are not in a good position to judge others – not knowing their heart and having several arks’ worth of planks in our eyes (eg who amongst us has never, going by the Sermon on the Mount, committed adultery in our hearts). And in this case I’m especially not equipped to judge because I don’t have an adequate (first-hand) understanding of what it means to be homosexual.

“I have no problem praying with folk from the MCC or openly-gay Christians or assuming that I can't judge whether they are saved or not (though they seem to have a very different gospel to me). The problem is that unity in terms of the Gafcon debate etc is actually also about understanding being accountable to one another and issues of authority.”
I am not arguing completely against schism, or I would probably be a Catholic! I am accountable to people in Baptist churches in a different way to how I'm accountable to people in Anglican churches, for example, but there is no reason why I shouldn't share communion with them and even do mission together. But I get the sense (perhaps wrongly?) that many conservative evangelicals want a division which is not just about meeting in different buildings and having a closer relationship with some Christians than others but about recognising some people as Christians and saying others aren't. In many cases it seems like conservative evangelicals wouldn’t share communion with openly gay Christians. That I find arrogant, like saying “I know better than God whether or not you’re a Christian”.

“[rumination on GWB example]”
I’m not sure the cabinet thing is a good analogy as it’s not and shouldn’t be a Christian community! For me your GWB metaphor would be more appropriate if I was in the same church as him and he then invaded Iraq, or decreased taxes for the rich whilst cutting services for low-income families. In that situation, would I lobby for him to be excluded from church membership? No. And I'd be happy to pray with him, and share communion with him, and accept him as an equal partner in decision-making in the church, despite differences which I think are every bit as serious as conservative evangelicals think differences over homosexuality are.

"at what point do I decide that perhaps you have a different faith?"

At the point at which you think it's a different God we're worshipping. I don’t just mean do we think about God in a slightly different way. If you think that those with different views have completely substituted the God you worship for a false idol, then we’re talking about a different faith. But I wouldn’t say of Catholics that they have a different faith, despite the massive schism between them and other branches of the Church. I’m even prepared to accept the possibility that Westboro Baptist Church are worshipping the same God as me! (As much as I find their teaching offensive, and as much as I think it damages the church, it’s up to God to decide whether their faith is real and not me. And yes, I would be prepared to pray with them and take communion with them and challenge each other although I doubt very much they’d be prepared to do that with me!)

"trying to stay faithful to Christ and love homosexuals as fully as they can."

Just as Christians who have a liberal position on homosexuality have to endure with conservative evangelicals' belief that they are not taking the bible seriously enough/have an interpretation which has been informed by the liberalism of the world, conservative evangelicals will have to endure the belief of others that their interpretation has been informed by the world's homophobia. I am suspicious that my interpretation would be more pro-homosexual if it weren’t for the world’s homophobia, so I can’t logically rid myself of the suspicion that yours would be too (and even more so for those with more extreme – and sometimes hateful - conservative evangelical view than yourself).

On celibacy, I think that we should stress this more as an option for both heterosexual and homosexual people. Partly because I think we should take 1 Corinthians 7 more seriously and not dismiss it as some do as only relevant to people in the 1st century who might have thought the world was ending in a few years (it’s still true that there is not much time left – none of us get much more than four score years!). Also partly because I think that in a sexist world (and especially in an over-sexualised – or perhaps sexualized-in-the-wrong-way - sexist world), all heterosexual relationships are to some extent abusive, (I don’t say that to stoke controversy, and it doesn’t mean that everyone should boycott them or that God is incapable of bringing good things out of any relationship that is to some extent abusive), I think there is value in some of us protesting against that state of affairs by deliberate abstinence from both sex and marriage. Also partly because I’m suspicious that it’s impossible to devote yourself to the welfare of all others if you have that strong commitment to a single person which means you have to consistently place responsibility towards one person ahead of responsibility towards all others (this is obviously related to teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 anyway).
Of course, if we do stress celibacy as an option more, it’s important that we don’t inadvertently give off the impression that those who are celibate are somehow more holy than those who aren’t celibate, or that sex is necessarily unholy.

Paul said...

Hi again Tim, thanks for spending so much time on this one, you are helping me get a more rounded view. Have you ever heard Tony Campolo and his wife Peggy present their different positions on this issue? Tont takes a conservative stance, but his wife is an active member of Rainbow Baptists. They debate here: http://www.gaychristian.net/campolos.php

Paul said...

One curiosity that I have discovered is that both conservative evangelcals and traditional liberals seem to take different sides on different theological emphases depending on the debates they are facing. Here's one: on issues of environmentalism, conservative evangelicals tend to downplay the theme of creation and God's good and natural order, so that it becomes more suitable to to shape creation acording to their own desires, even to the detriment of creation. But when it comes to creationism, conservative evangelicals tend to massively emphasise the creation accounts according to their desire to emphasise original sin. Interesting eh?

But the reverse is alos true: on issues of environmentalism, liberals tend to emphasise the theme of God's natural creation against the tendency of man to dominate his environment as if he owned it, not God. Usually this is quite firmly rooted in a creation theology derived from Genesis. But on the issue of homosexuality, more liberal Christians tend to downplay the same way of interpreting the genesis account (the theme of God's natural creation) with regards to human sexuality.

So the motif of the rainbow, usually taken to be a symbol a God's commitment to the natural order, his promise to not destroy the world again in flood because of the sinfulness of man, becomes a symbol of celebration of a diversity of sexuality amongst humankind, even sexuality which inherently denies the ability of man to procreate. Ironic, isn't it?

Have you ever studied semiotics or read Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose? Its a very post-modern work in which he deals with the tensions in symbolism (referencing especially the symbol of the lion in the bible) and shows the limits to which we can push symbolism and metaphorical/poetical truth. He asks, if the lion is an image both for God (Jesus himself) and Satan (1 Peter), is it not the case that the only way we can really truly understand the meaning of a given symbol is from the inter-weaving of the context in which it appears. And this too, is a act of imagination and interpretation. Eco seems to want to demonstrate the problems of knowing an object fully. But he ends up seeming to push for a world in which meaning is so totally constructed that we can never really know the other. This is where I can't go where he goes, ultimately. I do think that there is an objective, personal being outside of our ken who we can have a relationship with and who can guide us into closer and closer truth. I have faith that we can know much more closely that Eco would want the meaning of the scriptures and that its less open to personal whim than many post-moderns would posit. Its because I think that God's authority is able to be discerned (though never perfectly) through the body of Christ and our own understanding of the scriptures and the empowering of the spirit. I do, ultimately, think that certain readings of the Bible are truer and lead us into deeper truth (in Christ and by the Spirit), and that its ultimately not just as happenstance as all that. Which is why as I try and humbly stancd on the convictions I hold about scripture, there are some issues that become issues to "stand firm" over and create spaces of protection over. I guess this is one of these issues, for me.

I think we need to read the creation accounts at face value and affirm the goodness of God's creation and intent for humankind, BOTH over environmental issues and over issues of human sexuality...because these are themes which remain in place throughout the bible and on into revelation and eschatology. I dont think men and women in the new creation will have sexual relations with the same sex in the full presence of God, and I think that part of modelling the resurection life now amidst our communities and the wrl is to reflect the reality of what that life will be like in the new creation. Someone with a homosexual lifestyle who choses celibacy is partly taking a courageous stand to model the meaning of human sexuality that will be present in the new creation. I recognise, though, that you probably dont see it this way!

Paul said...

By the eway, i liked Tont Campolo's stance that he always uses the term homosexual lifestyles, with the emphasis on the plural, recognising that there are as many homosexual lifestyles as heterosexual lifestyles

Paul said...

I take your point about schism perhaps being rooted in a desire to prove that people aren't Christians. But that isn't necessarily the case. Luther probably went along this line, but institutional unity isn't the only way we can concieve of unity. We can conceieve of unity in an eschatological sense, and therefore not necessarily concieve of it as unity under one authority in the present. I also think that I dont have to be part of the same denomination in order to be held in check from heresy. I can still read the books/partner with/have friends in other denominations and from other theological perspectives. Here is where the arguments for gay leadership become cofused with a particular ecclesiology which also says we must express unity in a particular way. This is where I think Desmond is comng from. And this is where I fear issues of control and authority also play an unhelpful part, sometimes. If Desmond wants to hold people in the Communion because he is worried that they might become heretics because they dont express unity in his way, then that's moving towards issues of control. I wonder what actually holds the anglican community together sometimes. Is it just money and tradition? Doesn't seem to reflect reformation principles (semper reformandum) to me.

Rubber hits the road if I am expected to personally/have responsibility for releasing gay leaders. I probably can't do that, even if I can fight for justice on their behalf.

Point taken re: George Bush. Its just an analogy. So you would stay in the same church if your leader preached Sunday after Sunday a rhetoric of war? Wow. Would you do that because you wanted to change him away from that view because ou thought it was dangerous? What happens if he/she keeps paying absolutely no attention and you are getting nowhere? If he was calling you an anti-war bigot from the pulpit? I guess if God was calling you to die over that issue then you would stay. Maybe the deepest in our conversation is about what God is calling us to do, individually. I suppose sometimes he calls people out, and sometimes he calls people to remain "in". Probably there is no catch-all ethic for this one.

Which brings me back to the point I made about those who fight for justice also being prepared to see those they are fighting get tired of the fight and simply walk away. Do you run after them and browbeat them as schismatics or do what jesus would do and let them walk? I suppose it depends on your ecclesiology.

As for holiness being a negative concept, I defintely dont think of it as such. It is both positive and negative. I'm called to model both the indigenising and pilgrim principle in contextualisation,. The church exhalts one aspect of holiness and by default distinguishes itself other aspects. I think holiness is a massively positive thing, and one thing we lose in the debate is the wonderous sense of holiness to be found in celibacy and hetero-marriage...

Better go for now

Paul said...

Sorry about the spelling mistakes, its down to lack of time not spluttering rage! ;-)

tim said...

"We can conceieve of unity in an eschatological sense, and therefore not necessarily concieve of it as unity under one authority in the present. I also think that I dont have to be part of the same denomination in order to be held in check from heresy. I can still read the books/partner with/have friends in other denominations and from other theological perspectives."

Yes, I completely agree with all this. I am however concerned that splits on this issue will in practice lead to a situation where different parts of the Church don't talk with each other and in fact direct propaganda at each other instead of having the serious and worthwhile kinds of interaction you describe. But I am in total agreement that the kind of unity we're talking about is not necessarily unity under the umbrella of a particular denomination, or a particular church that meets in a particular building. If you find you aren't inviting non-Christian friends to church because you are worried about them encountering false teaching, it is probably better for you to attend somewhere else - but that doesn't stop you being accountable to the Christians in the church you left or from having joint responsibilities for evangelism, social justice etc that are often best expressed in close partnership.

"Point taken re: George Bush. Its just an analogy. So you would stay in the same church if your leader preached Sunday after Sunday a rhetoric of war? Wow. Would you do that because you wanted to change him away from that view because ou thought it was dangerous? What happens if he/she keeps paying absolutely no attention and you are getting nowhere? If he was calling you an anti-war bigot from the pulpit? I guess if God was calling you to die over that issue then you would stay. Maybe the deepest in our conversation is about what God is calling us to do, individually. I suppose sometimes he calls people out, and sometimes he calls people to remain "in". Probably there is no catch-all ethic for this one."

I agree that God calls different people to be in different situations (even to the extent it's just about possible for God to call someone to be a Tory MP!). I wouldn't want a conservative Christian in a church that welcomed and endorsed a full expression of homosexuality to become so isolated they stopped having contact with all Christians - I would rather they joined a different denomination.

In terms of whether I would stay in the same church if the preacher preached a rhetoric of war week after week - I can't see myself choosing it as a church unless I felt called to a role in it. But I could easily see myself remaining in a church where that was happening and I already had established relationships with church members and taken on responsibilities. And regardless of whether I eventually left that church, I wouldn't want to cut myself off entirely from those people - or view myself as not accountable to them.

I have some experience of these kinds of problems in that at university I had problems with the focus of the Christian Union which was almost exclusively based around teaching personal salvation. It also had an extremely narrow ethic. I attended normal meetings irregularly and joined with them in official prayer meetings slightly more regularly. I sought to pray and share experiences & bible passages with particular members of the CU also. Where I had the biggest problem was where I had other stuff going on at the same time as CU meetings and had to prioritise one or the other. Where the CU meetings clashed with an opportunity to take practical action on an issue of social justice or take part in a meeting which would lead to the likelihood of that. It's possible (though not certain) that if the CU's theology and focus had been broader, I might've made different choices on different occasions. However, it's also worth noting that this dilemma was a practical one and not just a theological one - I would still now choose to attend protests etc in place of church from time to time, but where church is also a hub or social activity where ideas and experiences in that sphere are exchanged, I am more likely to see that as an opportunity for social action and therefore balance out which one is more important on an event-by-event basis.

I imagine my views on unity, loyalty, etc are influenced strongly by the fact that I have plenty of experience of staying in and being extremely active in an organisation (the Labour Party) who in government, have done many things I disagree strongly with.

Paul said...

Book I want to read:

Jones and Yarhouse MA, "Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal study of religiously mediated change in Sexual Orientation, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007"

Just read the Honours Dissertation of a friend called "What is an appropriate response to male homosexuals within the church." A sensitive and helpful read.

tim f said...

I just listened to the Campolo stuff over lunch and really liked it (although I'm still not willing to swing either way on the Romans passage)

Paul said...

Your kind of 'bi-sexual' on the Romans passage, neither straight nor gay? ;-)

andy amoss said...

Hi tim, paul and glen,

I was going to post this single question on my blog, but when i saw this was going on here i thought i'd use this space (though it may be better suited to a post titled 'disunity and sexuality').

Why is it presented and perceived as 'holiness' to leave a church because it allows homosexuals into postions of leadership, but not to leave one because it doesn't?

tim f said...

My position would be the same - practically speaking I think generally it'd be better if people didn't divide but worked within the churches they're in for a culture shift. However I recognise that it's also important to create safe spaces where gay & lesbian Christians won't constantly be under attack and so I wouldn't be surprised if God does call people to leave churches for that reason from time to time.

But regardless of this, a shift from one church institution to another shouldn't stop Christians regardless of their position on this issue from meeting together, praying together, breaking bread together, and working together when it comes to witness, clothing the naked, eating with the hungry, sharing a roof with the homeless, etc.

I'm sure that's more difficult for a gay Christian who's told they're unnatural/damned than it is for me. But I've not met the Christian yet who's used up their forgiveness quotient.

Paul Ede said...

Hi Andy,

Great question! I think of holiness in different ways. 'Wholeness' being the key one. Integrity between head, hand and heart, imbued by the living presence of the Holy Spirit. The other thing I think holiness is intimately connected to is calling. Holiness is about remaining true to God, and what he is calling us individually and corporately to become.

The vision and direction of what we become corporately is massively concentrated in the nature, character and desires of those we ask to serve as leaders. Because God goves them such influence amongst us all. So leadership issues (or issue which end up concentrated in the question of leadership) will always be the most controversial in church.

Here's the rub, I think that in the middle of such disputes it can also be an issue of holiness ('wholeness') to remain in a church (by this I mean express unity bodily, institutionally and through accountability), rather than withdraw from it.

BUT it is a question of what you are called to do.

I couldn't with integrity remain part of a body of believers who appoint gay clergy because I would ultimtely be partly accountable for that. I do believe there are corporate as well as personal boundaries that need to be retained, even as we keep them porous so that people can come in and be welcomed, or we can move out and incarnate missionally.

For me, and the position I take, to remain in a church that facillitates this approach to faith creates (and to which i am accountable) creates huge tensions with the vision of what I feel God is calling me to, and the type of church I feel called to establish. It militates strongly with what I understand to be the wholeness of the gospel. It puts extreme pressure on my gay Christian friends who are convinced by scripture and depending on God in celibacy and hetero-marriage. It raises questions about how mutual accountability actually works: to reach the alternative position (I feel) involves an approach to ethics and scripture and theology that is in strong tension with my own.

Can I remain in a place where such fundamental tension exists, where in my heart I actually already dont really feel accountable, and where that sense of accountability doesn't really exist anyway? If people are fighting me and trying to convert the body of Christ around me in such ways that my personal integrity is profoundly challenged, yet with the other breath seem to be saying, "but we also want you around, you have so much to contribute"...what is my response? It seems they want me to be conformed into their image. Which is very different from the wholeness I believe God is calling me to and the church corporately to.

The main reason to stay institutionally connected in such a situation (a place of quite serious suffering) is if God is calling you to do it. But I have always said, there are many things Christ could have suffered for and died for without going to the cross. We all are called to specific things in specific ways, and we have individual and corporate convictions about that.

So I affirm anyone who senses they are called to remain in the Anglican communion in the midst of this issue. It would appear to be an issue (for them) of holiness and integrity to do so. But they do so with a clear agenda of seeking to reform the church, to persuade and convince. That's going to take a huge amount of energy and sacrifice. What happens if it doesn't work? Or if you lose the energy to struggle? The only thing that will see you through such situations is calling. If I dont have it in the first place, I couldn't ultimately walk it through when the going gets tough.

Its not something I am called to do. I do not feel God's hand on me saying "remain in a place where these tensions exist to be a light." I am called to focus on other areas.

And yet, I massivey affirm Tim and say that we need to intentionally find ways of connecting even across institutional divides, and to remain in touch and in contact.

In the same way as Tim I feel it may be necessary to create safe places for gays (both celibate and with partners) to express their convictions withour being harassed.

So MCC have chosen divergence in order to create that safe space for LGBT Christians with partners. They obviously feel it is an issue of holiness to leave the denominations, just as some folk in my shoes would defend that on the other side of the equation.

Ultimately, I guess, it all depends on the theological content that you pack into the meaning of the word holiness when you deploy it. We can use the same word and men totally different things, and God can call us to holiness in different ways.

Some of this debate, for example, comes down to the old Donatist/Augustinian ecclesiolgical debate.

What do you think?

Paul Ede said...

I guess I also want to ask the flip side of your question.
"Why is it percieved as maintaining corporate integrity if you choose to remain within a denomination that appoints gay leaders, and not if you don't?"

This is my big bugbear...to intentionally chose to remain in a denomination that doesn't affirm gay leadership so as to convert it from within, disobeying corporate decisions of what is holy or not, and then to say "why do you have a problem with remaining accountable to the wider denomination/communion (even as we put two fingers up to that accountability over this justice issue)" seems to me to lack integrity and putting huge political pressure on other Christians. If you want gay leadership, campaign for the rules to change before you do it, rather than forcing the issue before the rules change. Or if you want to do the latter, do an MCC and form your own denomination first. At least this is an expression of integrity because you are saying openly rather than subversively "this is the type of authority that we support."

Even worse to cross the boundary and then question why people might want to leave!?!? If you want to turn this into a justice issue, please be prepared for people to simply walk away from the fight. But equally, please be prepared for resistance.

Above all, accepting all this and the tensions involved, I think its important if we are in one denomination and intentionally engaging on opposite sides of this issue, stop complaining if you get whacked and knocked about, or if, ultimately, one side or other loses. Everyone is entering this with their eyes wide open. When the suffering hits, don't moan, but love like Christ without compromising your beliefs.

Please come back at me on this. Maybe I am percieving this wrongly, or interpreting it in a biased way.2

Paul Ede said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Ede said...

And finally, if the Anglican Communion does appoint gay clergy and bishops, is it not also the case that for justice to be done, it should also defend the rights of the rest of the church to NOT have gay clergy or bishops in authority over them?

Again, the tensions of liberatin theology. Do we need a theology of gay liberation that defends the minority gay population of our church who are convinced by the scriptures and living a celebate/married lifestyle by the power of the spirit? A liberation theology that protects against the paternalism of gay liberation theologians who affirm same-sex relationships as godly and want to impose their beliefs on the wider church?

Paul said...

Ive just realised that we already have suh a theology of gay liberation (one that enables the church to be a place of healing and transformation and grace for people who are gay). Its called orthodoxy, and its been practiced by the church consisstently for centuries since the time of the new testment.

tim f said...

So where did it all go wrong? When and why did many gay Christians decide not to experience healing and transformation and grace?

You now seem to be denying the experience of gay Christians who have become liberated by a full expression of their sexuality with a loving partner. In what way is that qualitatively different from those who deny the experience of homosexual people who've found fulfillment in a heterosexual relationship?

I also think that the way you're twisting the normal idea of what "liberation theology" is doesn't work, because to use it to mean "liberation from homosexuality" you would have to identify oppressive structures which were causing it - which I'm not sure you can do.

Paul said...

Hi Tim,

It hasn't all gone wrong - thats a sweeping statement, and unhelpful. You can only make such a statement if you are advocating a polemical position (which I think you are).

Some instances of Christendom-influenced Christianity used its power to oppress minorities rather than loving them.

BUT the Christianity of the New Testament (which had no power) seems to have promulgated a faith which enabled liberation in the sphere of sexuality by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many still today testify to this (including the Christian in the John Barrowman documentary).

We can't throw the baby out with bath-water. I think we need to critique the Christendom-type christianity (advocating and supporting justice and protection for all minorites), but not then follow the pendulum's swing so far that we go beyond what the early church taught and practised on this subject (effectively mimicking the culture around us).

Just because Christendom used coercive power to otherise gay people and oppress them, doesn't mean that delivering ourselves of this reality must also turning our backs on the original approach of the church. We can both strive for structural justice in the political sphere AND look to create and alternative polity of healing and holiness, like the earliest church pursued amidst the pagan culture of Corinth.

As for the oppressive structures that the eariest Christians were working against (and which we may start needing to engage with again today): we need to look at the structures of Roman society and ascertain its attitudes to sexuality. It seems that in Corinth there was a cultural hegemony on sexuality which Paul galavnised the church to 'come out' from. This seems to have included homosexuality (I do not have an equivocal stand-point on Romans 1).

Furthermore, as we look at what the gospel liberates us from, its not only social structures we need to be liberated from but also spiritual forces. The gospel also enables physical healing which can take place during an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

I would argue that a liberationist theology of gay liberation which overly emphasises the structural causes of sin can overlook the other, spiritual roots and physical of things that can oppress us.

We need to find a balance here, and the type of theology of gay liberation which I advocate and which I think the NT looks towards brings a balance between the three: we fight for justice in structures of society but also build a church where transformation can occur in the physical and spiritual realms.

Of course, this is a reading that is quite different from yours. Its because of this that I'm not sure there is too much scope for reconciliation between the two positions.

Paul said...

"You now seem to be denying the experience of gay Christians who have become liberated by a full expression of their sexuality with a loving partner. In what way is that qualitatively different from those who deny the experience of homosexual people who've found fulfillment in a heterosexual relationship?"

Here is where I would (perhaps controversially) disagree with their testimony. I couldn't stop them or force them to change, but I also couldn't leave that testimony unchallenged or unquestioned. I also couldn't release them into leadership in the church. I would politely and gently assert my different perspective, which is to say that this isn't liberation as the scriptures testify. Along with many other gay, celibate Christians.

On what basis? On the witness of scripture, on the testimony of the traditions of the church and other gay christians who have testified to liberation.

Unlike you, Tim, I don't advocate such a strong choice-based approach to the issue, and I don't think simply because two positions are held with equal integrity that we must endorse both equally. I dont think a resolution is found by simply saying "I trust people to come up with their own interpretation of what is or isn't liberation for them." Because I dont think Christianity is ultimately about such an individualistic approach.

You might read this as me being paternalistic or dogmatic or oppressive, but actually its my honest assessment and I feel it is based on a reading of integrity of the scriptures.

I would suggest that many gay Christians have rejected that healing and grace because they haven't yet fully encountered the full power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, or have made a choice to walk away from that experience. That is the qualitative difference, and I believe that this experiential difference is backed up by the witness of the scriptures.

tim f said...

"I would suggest that many gay Christians have rejected that healing and grace because they haven't yet fully encountered the full power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, or have made a choice to walk away from that experience."

If you think that then I don't think it's logically consistent for you to attribute paternalism to the hypothetical Christian who believes gay Christians claiming to be fulfilled in heterosexual relationships have not fully encountered the full power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and are just conforming to the supposed norm to fit in better.

Of course, you can believe that the hypothetical Christian described above is just plain wrong, but you can't consistently claim that her/his position is paternalistic and yours isn't.

I find your interpretation of what liberation theology is limiting because it seems to be a liberation imposed on people through yourself and people who agree with you acting as God's agents. It doesn't seem to be respecting the agency of the oppressed (and yes, homosexual people are an oppressed minority especially within the church - I don't say that to patronisingly give them special victim status, but mention it simply because it's a relevant fact). Part of the logic behind my approach is not just that I respect other Christians as priests and prophets in whom God's spirit dwells (although I do), but also because I think that gay & lesbian Christians have a perspective on this issue that is MORE valid than mine. They have had to wrestle with these issues on a totally different level to me, and with more information and experience to draw on. Liberation theology is not simply about fighting for justice or building a church where transformation can occur but about how we bring those ends about - and entails deliberately siding with the oppressed and marginalised.

Since my approach means to an extent delegating my own interpretative capacity to others, I'm not sure that it can be described as individualistic. In fact, I would suggest that an approach which stresses the importance of your own interpretation to the extent that you would leave a church rather than submit to a collective decision you disagreed with on church leadership - that approach is more individualistic.

Also, what does "release them into leadership" mean? All who are accepted as members of the church are involved in collective leadership. So are you talking about church membership, or about specific roles such as preaching and teaching? (If the latter then please explain how that role is less suitable than a role of leading the coffee and biscuits team - I would contend it is possible for someone to be homosexual and yet preach exactly the same sermon as you on the feeding on the five thousand.)

And even supposing homosexual sex is sinful, what makes a homosexual leader different from a leader who sins in another way? (Please don't answer that it's a question of whether they are in denial about their sin and are unwilling to change - everyone is in denial about the sinfulness of some aspect of their behaviour at some point in their lives) Shouldn't we disqualify all leaders from leading in that case?

On a separate topic, I'm not convinced by the radical theory of separation of spiritual and physical spheres that I (perhaps wrongly?) detected in your above posts. I think that such a theory is more Cartesian than Christian. And I do think that all sin can be described in structural terms, but that that doesn't make us any less responsible for it.

Paul said...

"If you think that then I don't think it's logically consistent for you to attribute paternalism to the hypothetical Christian who believes gay Christians claiming to be fulfilled in heterosexual relationships have not fully encountered the full power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and are just conforming to the supposed norm to fit in better."

Agreed, I see now that your position is that the Holy Spirit liberates us into accepting our homosexuality and practising same-sex relationships. I don't think the Holy Spirit does this.

"Of course, you can believe that the hypothetical Christian described above is just plain wrong, but you can't consistently claim that her/his position is paternalistic and yours isn't."

Nope you're right, I was suggesting before exactly what you are suggesting now, that both positions can be paternalistic if not imbued with love. I was suggesting that liberation theologians can be just as paternalistic as anyone else, and should be wary of using the word. Also, because I think of God as Father, and know that there is a qualitative difference between paternalism (which is a controlling distortion of the authority of fatherhood) and genuine fatherhood, which is loving. Liberation theology can be as paternalistic as any other theology. I wasn't saying that liberation theology is consistently paternalistic.

"I find your interpretation of what liberation theology is limiting because it seems to be a liberation imposed on people through yourself and people who agree with you acting as God's agents. It doesn't seem to be respecting the agency of the oppressed"

Perhaps you are right, perhaps I am distorting liberation theology. Or perhaps I am highlighting how liberation theology can often work in practice rather than in theory. Now we see where we are perhaps talking about a different gospel. I really dont see the gospel as primarily about enabling the viewpoints of the poor and oppressed to come forth, establishing these inherently and without critique, as godly. Because sometimes, the poor and the oppressed aren't right. For example, as a liberation theologian, I doubt many would be willing to simply say "the African bishops are poor so their perspective on homosexuality is right." There are as many tensions and paradoxes in liberation theology as any other theology. I just don't think that its perspective comes anywhere near to being the basis of the gospel. It higlights important aspects, but I dont have the same ontological and epistemological foundations for the theology I hold.

"Since my approach means to an extent delegating my own interpretative capacity to others, I'm not sure that it can be described as individualistic. In fact, I would suggest that an approach which stresses the importance of your own interpretation to the extent that you would leave a church rather than submit to a collective decision you disagreed with on church leadership - that approach is more individualistic."

The difference here is whether its in concord with scripture. I do believe homosexuality isn't consistent with a christian lifestyle, and I don't believe that the gospel is derived only from our personal choices about what is and isn't sin. You are helping to highlight the different foundations for our faith that we seem to have. If a church makes a choice to appoint gay clergy then it has moved away from scriptura foundations, from the collective witness of the historical church and the Apostles (and Christ).

Also, as I have highlighted before, if you have a sense that our corporate identity will be restored at the eschaton by Christ himself, then institution and bodily unity doesn't apply as greatly today. Leaving a church is never an easy decision, and never an individualistc one. Its not about "I want my own way" but needs to be done in humilty and careful thought.

"Also, what does "release them into leadership" mean? All who are accepted as members of the church are involved in collective leadership. So are you talking about church membership, or about specific roles such as preaching and teaching? (If the latter then please explain how that role is less suitable than a role of leading the coffee and biscuits team - I would contend it is possible for someone to be homosexual and yet preach exactly the same sermon as you on the feeding on the five thousand.)

Leadership consecrates the aspirations of the church. I agree, I don't think a gay lifestyle is a consistent lifestle for any christian and I want to avoid clericalism. I'm not saying "gay leaders must be celibate but members can pursue this." I am saying that at the moment a church apponts gay leaders who are non-celibate, it becomes permissible for everyone. Churches need to be places where gay people can explore the meaning of their identity as it relates to Christ, so I am definitely not advocating that gay people cant even come to church. So, when I say this about leaders, its not to reinforce clericalism, but it is to recognise that taking this step of necessity implies that this lifestyle is ok for everyone. That is why the leadership iseeue is such a hot issue.

"And even supposing homosexual sex is sinful, what makes a homosexual leader different from a leader who sins in another way? (Please don't answer that it's a question of whether they are in denial about their sin and are unwilling to change - everyone is in denial about the sinfulness of some aspect of their behaviour at some point in their lives) Shouldn't we disqualify all leaders from leading in that case?"

Please, please reread what I wrote above about the need we have to consistent in the way we adress all sins. My argument in this area is about intentionality and the direction someone travels in. An single heterosexual has tendencies to sin with other women (genetic? cultural? spiritual?) just as a single homosexual person does. But they can both make a choice to model holiness through celibacy. Its about intent to move towards holiness. I would argue that neither should move away from this style of modelling sexual relations for the congregation unless they eneter heterosexual marriage.

I'm not saying that leaders must be perfect, or pretend (for example) that they dont' have temptations. But if they chose a lifestyle which is consistently sinful and suggest then that it is actually holy, then we are in trouble. Its all about intentionality, and consistency of relatinship with Christ and living in the presence of God.

"On a separate topic, I'm not convinced by the radical theory of separation of spiritual and physical spheres that I (perhaps wrongly?) detected in your above posts. I think that such a theory is more Cartesian than Christian. And I do think that all sin can be described in structural terms, but that that doesn't make us any less responsible for it."

Could you point to where you see this dualism? I'd like to correct myself if its there. I want to express a holistic jewish mode of throught not greek dualistic thinking. I am still trying to get this stuff straight in my mind

Cheers
Paul

Paul said...

With regards to my comments above about scripture, I genuinely still have not heard a cogent and coherent argument from a scriptural basis that gay lifestyle(s) are consistent with Christian behaviour. I still think emphasis of scripture is on liberation from this lifestyle, why the weight of the culture around us is to say the church needs to liberated to conform to the culture's idea of what is normative.

I stil think that there is a sensitive pastoral approach to gay identity and lifestyle that mediates Christ's love and grace and transformation in this area without so ingenising the gospel message that it simply becomes the same message that society is talkigng about.

Maybe I'm the last of the dinosaurs in this. Much of the non-western world church doesn't seem to think so, and so I'm prepared to become a minority in the belly of the beast over this one. I believe that the original Greek Christian communities were too, and that scripture at face values is its its own liberation theology when read in the light of the Empire that it was originally written.

I don't think that the methodology of the liberation theology hermeneutic (start with culture and come back to the Bible) is the correct basis with which to read the scriptures. I think we can pay attention to some of the insights this type of reading brings but it is not the best foundation for understanding the Bible

Paul said...

I tend to lean more towards a post-colnial reading of the scriptures than a liberation reading. I think liberation theology is too bound up in modernism in its methodology. In its epistemology it has always put its weight too much (in my opinion) on the dualism poor/oppressed (from a modernist marxist perspective) than a Christocentric/pauline basis which revolves around being born-again and the new creation. Post-cplonial interps which read from the ground into an understanding of Empire seem much richer and more helpful for me from my position as a Christian in a neo-liberal pseudo democracy like we are increasingly seeing in the West. I think the point about our culture is not only that capitalism is having too much influence, but also neo-liberalism, supported by a post-modern culture. This is the direction the Empire is taking nowadays. Liberation theology is too wedded to the very modernism which has collapsed into post-modernism for it to be as effective a hermeneutic for the church to use in the current prevailing culture in the west.

On the issue of homosexuality, I think the prevailing culture in the UK is moving more towards the culture that prevailed in Corinth and which the Pauline epistles critique, rooted in a contextualisation of a jewish worldview onto this pagan culture. I find a poco-hermeneutic very rish for interpreting thsi stuff. But I still need to explore it all more. I do think we needto move beyond old school liberation theology in our changing culture.

I don't think gay liberation theology as presented eg in the Gay Bible is a satisfactory epistemology - there are too many holes and its too poorly structured to convince me, on many levels. David and Johnathon really weren't gay - thats a very bad way to project our mores onto the culture of the times, and a prime example of how the methodology of liberation theology (starting from existing culture) can go badly wrong. I also don't think that the coming out of Israel from under the oppression of the Egyptians can be connected with the coming out of gays in modern society. Its a twisted interpretation and just doesn't ring true. Quite apart from anything else, the mosaic law just flatly contradicts such silliness.

Paul said...

Only a theology of gay liberatin that argues primarily from a new testament basis could begin to convince me, but there is too much data in the NT prohibiting homosexuality, and too many arguments from silence and culture deployed by gay liberation theologians, to convince me, I'm afraid.

tim f said...

Interesting stuff. I agree that some liberation theology can have a tendency towards the errors you described, but don't think it's inevitable. I reckon it tends to happen when the biblical roots for that way of thinking are taken from the exodus rather than the incarnation, crucifiction and resurrection. I'm thinking more of a liberation theology that's somewhere between Moltmann and Guterriez. I'll comment more on this & respond to the rest when I get the chance.

btw, thanks Glen for allowing this discussion to persist. I'm finding it interesting and useful.

Paul said...

Cool, thanks Tim, looking forward to it. I'd be interested to see how you read Moltmann in this regard.

Paul