Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Love unknown

Well, it’s been quite an eventful ten days or so.  However I’ll concentrate on just one theme that occupied me which is the one about which I blogged before we went away for a few days.
On Friday (4th) we were due to be celebrating with our friends Esther and Julie their wedding. So it was somehow bitter-sweet to hear Justin Welby doing an hour’s phone-in on LBC Radio, answering among other things questions about gay marriage. He came across well, I thought, not least making real why it is such a hard issue for him.

The wedding celebration was an extremely happy event. The couple were in great form. One of them said to me, “It’s nice to feel normal,” and I could see what she meant.

Then we went away to Devon for a few days, staying in a cottage up a winding crumbling lane and with a blissful absence of internet. Late breakfasts, fresh fish and chips, picnics by estuaries, views from the cottage, spending time with Jane's parents.… And so after all too short a break it was back to the harsh rushing world of traffic, vehicular and cyber.

One of the first things I picked up was the news that my occasional correspondent, Vicky Beeching, who did her theological studies at the same place as me had been getting it in the neck because of her support for equal marriage. She now describes herself on Twitter as “Theologian. Religious Commentator (Sky, BBC, ITV, Radio 2, Radio 4, LBC). Pro #womenbishops  & pro #equalmarriage. Feminist. Christian. Songwriter (EMI). Geek”. It was a blog post she had written entitled My support of same-sex marriage which had incurred the wrath of many Christian readers, sadly, and ironically, since it was a personal plea for dialogue carried on in a loving spirit.
“So, while many conservative and evangelical Christians are very angry about my stand for same-sex marriage, please let’s dialogue in love. Journey with me here. I’ll be blogging about this topic, the relevant Bible passages, recommending books and resources, and writing about the various questions that arise from them all.
“Thanks to the many people who do support equal marriage and have reached out to me. I’m touched by the way you have gathered around me and rallied to encourage me at this difficult time. Thanks also to those who’ve written to say they disagree with me, but are wanting to do so with kindness and respect.
“If you want to come on this journey, whatever your beliefs may be, I’d be delighted to have you read, comment and share your responses on this site.”

Vicky derives much of her income from royalties on her songs. One consequence of her expressing her views has been churches telling her they’ll no longer use her songs, and thus she will lose a good chunk of her livelihood. I decided to write her a note:
“Hi Vicky.
“Thank you for your blog post. As others have commented, it's brave. Being retired I don't have as much to lose as you do. Being relatively obscure, I don't stand to receive the shower of vitriol that you do. However as you know I come from a similarly conservatively Christian background as yourself - and have to confess to having held what might have been regarded as a Biblically-based homophobic stance, which I now regret and of which I have repented, as I believe I should have much sooner.
“My change of mind and heart has not been an overnight conversion, but has been based on my reexamination of the 'proof-texts' (very situation-specific in all cases but one; that one a Biblical hapax legomenon [single instance] with a much debated meaning), the resounding silence of Jesus on the subject of same-sex attraction, and his resounding condemnation of judging others and his all-encompassing demand of love. It's also arisen from witnessing the harm inflicted on LGBT young people and their parents by the uncomprehending condemnation of Christians like me, and from an encounter with a couple where I had no doubt that I was to reach out, accept and love them. I had the privilege of celebrating with their friends after their marriage a week ago on Friday.
“Ironically I had listened to Archbishop Justin's phone-in on LBC Radio that same morning. And I did understand the awful dilemma that he has as a crucial leader within the Anglican worldwide church, being aware that any 'liberalisation' which might take place here would have fatal consequences to fellow Christians in other countries - as well as having the responsibility to uphold the Church's agreed teaching on marriage. I share your hope that 'as the Church of England enters a two year discussion period about “human sexuality” based around The Pilling Report,... those of us on all ‘sides’ can talk with respect and kindness, despite the deeply painful and inflammatory nature of the subject matter.' As mule-headed Oliver Cromwell said to the equally stubborn Scottish Kirk Synod, 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.' We're all of us mere humans.
“I suspect you don't need me to say that I don't believe you're a heretic, but on the contrary Valiant for Truth in the market place of Vanity Fair. And I for one will be listening to 'The Wonder of the Cross' this coming week and being grateful.”

Following my recommendation of Vicky’s article, I was contacted through Facebook by one person challenging me to justify myself: “I have just never found an even slightly convincing theological argument for its practice...” I recommended Justin Lee’s Unconditional and Renato Lings, Love Lost in Translation. I suspect Vicky’s subsequent posts on the subject will provide more theology than I’m likely to. Another friend asked me whether I had read the Rev Steve Chalke’s article on the subject – which I had, and did again. I replied, “Yes, I have read it. It's so sad that Christians divide so heatedly over the issue. As I mentioned in my blog, knowing parents of gay children and having friends who are gay has made me think that the received attitude to homosexuality is pastorally misconceived and harmful - unloving and unChristlike. I suspect I'm like Steve Chalke in that. There are more struggling young gay Christians than churches like to acknowledge and consequently they feel they either have to conceal their sexuality or leave the ordinary fellowship of church.”

In her reply she agreed and recounted how one of her friends at university left the church when she realised that she was gay. She had prayed so hard that her feelings would be taken away from her. “I also am concerned that Christians appear to the outside world to be unloving bigots. I am so conscious of how the church is viewed by many of my colleagues - and it is not good!”
The stance which has caused more than “one of these little ones to fall” seems to me highly perilous and to require re-examination. I have previously said that I do not like Government redefining language by dictat – that is acting ultra vires in my opinion – but I do also like the Church supporting faithful loving commitment. Perhaps we need to accept that we live in an imperfect and broken world, and do what we can to work for the reconciliation between person and person and between people and God, which is why we call this Friday Good.

Have a listen to this: "The wonder of the Cross". I think it’s up there with “When I survey” and “There is a green hill”.


  1. I think it's essential that our church disagrees in a loving spirit. We'll never agree, on this or on other vexed issues ... but we are responsible for how we disagree.

    1. I totally agree on that one! In this week when we meditate on Jesus washing his disciples' feet, and saying, "Love one another even as I have loved you" and, "Take, eat, this is my body given for you," to friends who would shortly desert, deny and betray him, how can we do otherwise? Then he hangs on the cross and says, "Father, forgive them." I reckon the church from Paul and Peter onwards have had their disagreements and yet above all have put on love. We need the Holy Spirit for that.

  2. A few reflections:

    1) Those Christians who are ok with same-sex activity (and therefore romantic relationships) are going against the historic position of the Church. This much is undeniable. That doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong but a) it does put the burden of proof on them, b) it means they should be exceedingly patient with the rest of us (which has certainly not been the case in some quarters).

    2) These are big issues. If my (traditional) understanding of the Bible is right, this is a behaviour that can lead the unrepentant to hell. It's all good complaining about how people with same sex attraction feel excluded. But if I'm right, the liberal Christians are causing 'gay Christians' to stumble to eternal damnation. That is very serious. I know at least 5 people whom I love in this situation. This is not just theoretical for me.

    3. Given the novelty of the liberal view (point 1) and the seriousness of the issue (point 2), it is perfectly reasonable for 'traditional' Christians to view the likes of Chalke and Beeching as false teachers to be opposed. Chalke made that clear some time ago with his comments on the atonement.

    4. I am yet to read a remotely persuasive argument that same-sex activity is not sinful (like your friend above). Furthermore, I have no wish to spend money on books providing ( what I see to be) wickedness. So if I'm to be persuaded, the new kids on the block have got to do the work and make their arguments available for free.

    1. Hi Paul
      Thank you for your warning. I hope you'll understand if I don't launch into a dialogue in the next few days - when I guess we'd all like to be focusing on the events of Holy Week. But I suspect I'll be returning to the subject - not that I expect to change your mind! Blessings, peace and joy to you and Adele this Easter. Christ is risen!

  3. Hi Michael,
    It's surprising how you can be influenced by traditional values and thought.

    With eyes open fairly wide I went along to a day conference led by Adrian Thatcher, based in Portsmouth, recently addressing the subject of "From exclusion to inclusion - Marriage for all". As the day progressed I found myself agreeing more with the over-riding acceptance of GLM/P in society, having gone along with very fixed views on how such relationships might affect children.

    We live in a changing society when traditional values of marriage, in my opinion and the opinion of many others will eventually change too. As Adrian pointed out at one point there are far worse settings that many young children are exposed to, and I did acknowledge that any kind of loving relationship is what children need and look for in parents.

    I had originally intended to draw my thoughts together after the conference and put an article together for our church magazine, however I did not think at the time that it would be looked at by our somewhat conservative congregation with positive understanding - maybe I am wrong!

    Perhaps having had some time for reflection I should put pen to paper and see what interest it might generate. It would not be the first time I have addressed potentially contentious subjects in the magazine.

    The conference incidentally was organised by the Centre for Radical Christianity which is based at St. Mark's in Sheffield.

    1. Vicky has produced the first of her follow-up blogs on the subject. It's a good start, pleading for empathy and 1 Corinthians 13 love. Happy Easter, Rob.

  4. Justin Welby needs all the wisdom and strength God can impart as he is an impossibly difficult position.
    Whilst I would never agree with same sex marriage, neither would I condemn those who feel it right. We each have an individual conscience for which we will be answerable.
    I just know that I would never cease to love any child of mine who chose this way of life.
    I would not want to enter into any argument or justification. In some ways I feel that Facebook and Twitter cause a great deal of hurt to people ( from what I read of them. I do not use either)
    In this Holy Week/Easter Season may we all be blessed with His love.

    1. Amen, Ann. Holy Saturday is a good time for quiet reflection, as we wait for the Light to arise and shine on the confused dark world. Happy Easter, Ann.

  5. http://www.thetablet.co.uk/columnists/3/2101/-by-any-definition-of-catholic-social-teaching-this-is-a-shameful-and-immoral-cut-
    Dear Michael
    Not sure if you'll be able to access this link. Tried to copy it's content but it's too long.
    This is what's it's about. I wondered whether you could highlight it somehow?
    Many thanks