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:
“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”.