For as long as I can remember the church in the UK has treated people who are gay horrifically. We have denied, we have judged, we have excluded, we have hurt, we have silenced.
The vicious aggression of the recent banned bus ads doesn’t represent the approach of all Christians, but the church as a whole shouldn’t be reaching for their comparative halos.
The worst part of it is that ‘the gay thing’ has been an argument. An issue. A topic. We’ve gone to our Bibles or our church traditions and pronouced and debated on what they say and what they mean in today’s society. In doing so we forgot or ignored that we were talking about a profound part of the identity of real people.
We have failed to see people as people loved and created by God. As soon as we have heard the word ‘Gay’ ‘they’ stopped being human and became a target or a weapon. A target to cajole or convince into abstinence, reorientation or silence. A weapon in our debates about the rights and wrongs of our positions. Again and again people who are gay have got caught up in the cross fire in churches, because we couldn’t have a sensible conversation about how we read the bible without launching the missile of sexual orientation.
For a faith which claims to place such value on each person’s innate worth no matter who they are or what they’ve done we have failed. We thought that by being ‘set apart’ on this ‘issue’ from society that we were therefore doing the right thing. But it is our love that should be radical, different and offensive not our fear.
Giving up our rights
Therefore the church has forfeited the right to have a say in the current public discssion on gay marriage.
The church has lots of really helpful and constructive things to say about marriage in general – healthy living traditions from down the ages. The church may have some insightful things to say about gay marriage as well. The tone of the coalition for marriage petition has generally been positive.
But it doesn’t matter. We’ve blown it.
Whatever we say will be heard as a judgemental scream from a group trying to defend their own rights. In the unlikely event that the church prevented the reforms it would be seen as a dictatorial minority imposing their will.
Lament and forgiveness
The church should give up their right to participate in the discussion. We must trust that God will find other ways to bring His will (whatever it is) into this area. The organisations spearheading the ‘coalition for marriage’ should announce the withdrawal of their petition and lobbying efforts and instead enter a period of lament and seeking forgiveness. Maybe God will call us to influence this area of our national life in the future, maybe not.
This does not mean that everyone has to suddenly (or ever) become pro gay marriage or the blessing of same sex relationships. This is not about people having to toe a ‘politically correct’ party line or feeling coerced into changing deeply held views.
It does mean finding ways of seeking forgiveness from the people we have hurt and targeted. It does mean ensuring that we never again divorce our doctrines and beliefs from the realities of people’s lives around us.
Peoples’ sexual identities are not our theological weapons. It’s time to stop the warfare and lay down our arms.
21 thoughts on “The Church has forfeited the right to have a say on gay marriage”
Thanks for bringing thus discussion back to the individuals impacted. I agree that a humble stance needs to inform any approach to this matter. I also think that the question of hermeneutics is deeply important. For those operating from a traditionalist stance, where ‘clobber texts’ can become a bedrock of the argument, there is a huge amount at stake beyond the issue of same- sex relationships. The questions becomes; ‘If we let this one in, what are the other implications for our interpretive framework?’ To paraphrase the words of Phyllis Tickle ‘ The (gay) issue is the last puck conservatives have to play with.’
Are we prepared for the dangerous possibility that it’s time to re-examine the lenses we view the text through? Is it possible that the Spirit of God is working at the heart of this process?
Before we can consider covenanted same- sex relationships and whether they can fit within a Biblical understanding of personhood, we need to grapple with whether we have an adequate Theology of the Body. In turn, this may invite us to move beyond ‘prohibited/ sanctioned acts’, and the ‘natural order’ argument. Rowan Williams authored this 20 years ago and it provides a helpful place to inform real dialogue: http://igreens.org.uk/bodys_grace.htm
John, I agree with the tenor of your blog. Sadly I don’t think we are let off the hook so easily which is not a call for a greater focus on our failings, but that some in the LGBTU community really do want an articulated response from us. Of course we can ignore the plea but doing so will ultimately lead to stronger calls and the breaking for cover by individuals whose thinking is not supported by the rest of the church which will be far more damaging than the risk of some hard conversations. I am less sanguine about the coalition for marriage than you and feel very concerned that when I have raised the question of having a conversation in a safe context, that there has been no answer. However perhaps I am simply not asking the right people or else I am not the right person to be asking.
My own view is we need to reconcile the history of marriage in the UK and the marriage Act in 1836 with the churches views of sacrament. It seems to me that Henry Philpotts should have been listened to a bit more than presumably he was.
I guess my view is that the issue for the church is not so much gay marriage, but the sacrament of marriage and its variance from the wider conventions and practices in society. This would help us grapple with divorce and remarriage as well marriage between people of of the same gender.
This comment has been removed at the request of the respondent. Please see his comment at the end of the thread.
Along with Romans 1 we could perhaps also consider Ephesians 4 where the writer refers to the need for love and truth to be linked. Sadly many of the attempts by the church to deal with this issue have only focused on sin and truth, and forgotten the need to offer love to people who are created in Gods image and whose treatment by societies across the globe remains far from the model we would see as appropriate. Yet only 2-3 decades ago our own society was no different.
Sadly the bus adverts do not convey any sense of love and whatever the problems that Stonewall may create for some within the church, our standards need to be much higher
I am left-handed. I love being left-handed, always have. I celebrate it. I have been told it is a ‘disadvantage’ and that it has links with being ‘psychopathic’. But I have always found it special and something which makes me ‘me’.
In times past people would have been very suspicious of me. At best I would have been made to write with my right hand, perhaps developing a stutter. At worst I would have been denounced as ‘sinister’, evil and against God.
These days people recognise that being left-handed is something inherent to our genes, although no-one quite knows which gene or set of genes. We also know that, although sometimes ‘handed-ness’ can be changed, that to change it is detrimental and unnecessary. We also recognise a spectrum of ‘handed-ness’, some people are ‘very’ left-handed and some are closer to ambidextry, for instance I may write with my left hand, but other fine motor skills such as dealing cards or holding a cup, I do with my right hand. Others find their right hand is simply there to match the other side ascetically!
We still don’t know what causes left-handedness exactly, but we recognise from the experience and observation of people, that it is something that is part of the person and not easily changed. In a sense we know no more about why left-handedness is now ‘ok’ than we did in times when it was deemed ‘sinister’.
People found reason in the Bible to treat left-handers as little devils – as those who put themselves on the left-hand of God.
Being ever so certain on this issue is perhaps to turn a blind eye to epistomology evident in most human thinking: to hate difference, to live with difference, to accept difference (to embrace difference…..?)
The institutional church in times gone by was often powerful and corrupt and misunderstood Scripture or imposed dubious interpretations (due to the totalitarian culture pre-Enlightenment), many of which today have been shown to be downright silly, like the left-handed thing. The answer to mis-use of the Bible is right use, and careful, honest, reading of all the relevant texts relating to sexual behaviour reveals a clear and consistent condemnation of homosexual behaviour. In contrast, any idea that left-handedness is a disorder (as opposed to a morally neutral genetic variation) has never been based on any secure exegetical foundations and simply cannot stand up to critical scrutiny. The Bible nowhere forbids people to use their left hand for anything.
So there is a huge difference between the two issues.
the point is that everything you now think about the ridiculous nature of people’s thoughts on left-handedness, were what people REALLY thought were true, they weren’t stupid or primitive, it was what people thought regarding how ‘left’ is spoken about in Scripture.
is it not just even a slight possibility that we might find ourselves thinking about sexuality like this in a hundred years time?
not even just a wink of the minutest possibility that we might have got this wrong?
@corin – thanks for your helpful comment and link. The how do we faithfully read the Bible question is rich and important and I look forward to the discussion with you on another thread another time.
@ian – forgive my ignorance – could you tell me more about Henry Philpotts?
@ Martin – thanks for your comments. I’m not advocating anyone being gagged, but instead choosing not to exercise their freedom of speech. I’m also not passing comment on who’s right and who’s wrong, but that whatever we decide it should flow from the practical hermenutic that each person is created and loved by God. Finally, I accept that of course there are some shining examples of Christians who saw people as people loved by God first and foremost and should have recognised that in the article. But they were/are fighting against a Church culture that mitigated against that and to some extent we are all each others’ keepers.
I understand that Henry was Bishop of Exeter who was against the Marriage Act which established a secular marriage for the first time. Once this happened and an equivalence between the sacrament and the civil ceremony was enabled, it could be argued that the seeds for todays challenges were sown.
Appropriately enough I have just got back from a wedding and its interesting to read the comments on Jon’s piece. His post reminded me of the book ‘Love is an Orientation’ by Andrew Marin which is by far and away the best book I have read on the relationship between the gay community and Christians. I could not recommend this more highly.
Also recommended is a talk at Greenbelt by Tony Campolo which you can download for free where Campolo in typically forthright style manages to combine a message which is biblically conservative but with a blistering attack on homophobia. Greenbelt have recently promoted this talk and its worth a listen.http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/media/talks/13825-tony-campolo/
I do readily agree that all doctrinal and ethical positions should be exposed to scriptural critique and possible reformation. Regarding homosexual behaviour, I have prayed that if I’m missing anything regarding the key question of whether homosexual behaviour can ever be good and right in God’s sight then God would reveal that to his Church and to me personally. However what continues to strike me very forcibly is the lack of any hint anywhere of the smallest amount of positivity towards homosexual conduct throughout the Bible.
With left-handedness, it is true that the Bible often uses the right hand as symbolic of strength and favour, but that is because most people have found their right hand is stronger and more dextrous than their left. The Bible sometimes in its narrative accommodates figures of speech taken from social customs. In right hand dominated culture the left hand was (and is throughout the world today) often reserved for less honourable occupations like wiping one’s behind because it is assumed the right hand is for putting food in one’s mouth. The Bible actually indicates being left handed can be an advantage rather than a weakness. Ehud, a judge of Israel and a mighty warrior, was left-handed (Judges 3:15-21). Judges 20:16 mentions 700 left-handed warriors who could “sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” First Chronicles 12:2 seems to reference bowmen who were ambidextrous. Now in totalitarian cultures where strong propaganda against left-handedness was put out, I can see why people assumed the Bible backed this up, but when people began to freely read the bible for themselves, the weakness of this teaching soon became apparent .
With homosexual conduct, Western culture is now hugely permissive, and yet there are very few even half-serious attempts by revisionists to look at all the scriptural evidence in an attitude of humble submission and outline a coherent ‘gay ethic’. The real force of the revisionist argument comes from the perspective of political equality and liberty, which is based on a presupposition that a reasonable deity today is not or should not be against homosexual behaviour and that if the Bible appears to be against it we must have got our interpretation of it wrong. But, unlike the position re left-handedness, there are no texts that even hint of the view that the jury should still perhaps be out. Other controversial issues like women bishops, disarmament, taxation and the death penalty, have scriptural passages that might give support to people on both sides of the argument, but the bible is as clear in its view on homosexual practice as it is on incest and bestiality, and I don’t think that in 100 years time people who follow God’s Word will have changed their minds on these things one bit. In actual fact, I think the damage done to people through the loss of marriage as the foundation of civil society and family life will lead God’s people to wonder how on earth Christians could have been so blind as to what the Enemy was doing in removing all boundaries to sexual behaviour.
If I may, some additonal thoughts to add to Martin and Jody’s discussion. It seems to me that there are many aspects of contemporary life that are not referenced in the Bible, yet we are able to configure a response to include them positively. Technological advances and the development of medicine have had an enormous impact on the way we relate to our world, or God and our sense of self and community, yet both at best could be understood by the writers on a rudimentary level, if at all. How could the writers know their impact? Yet, there is enough in our framework of scripture to engage with these important areas. Accordingly, as an interpretive community we draw on a Christ- centred understanding of personhood in order to engage with such developments. An early first- century worldview had no context for understanding same sex relationships in the covenantal, committed context which many would advocate for and which is explicitly against ‘the removal of all boundaries to sexual behaviour’ referred to. The comparison made between homosexuality, incest and bestiality can only be understood in context; such acts could/can only be abusive and non- consensual. This is no comparator for a committed partnership.
In reference to the 100 years discussion, over to Phyllis Tickle, ‘The Great Emergence.’ Context: Phyllis has traced the line of the church’s teaching on divorce and its changing position, and it’s similar shift in stance on the priesthood of women:
‘To approach any of the arguments and questions surrounding homosexuality in the closing years of the 20th century and the opening ones of the 21st, is to approach a battle to the death. When it is all resolved, and it most surely will be, the Reformation’s understanding of scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead. This is not to say that Scripture as the base of authority is dead. Rather it is to say that what the Protestant tradition has taught about the nature of that authority will be either dead or in mortal need of reconfiguration. And that kind of summation is agonizing for the surrounding culture in general. In particular, it is agonizing for individual lives that have been built upon it. Such an ending is to be staved off with every means available and resisted with every bit of energy that can be mustered. Of all the fights, the gay one must be- has to be- the bitterest, because once it is lost there are no more fights to be had. It is finished. Where now is the authority?’
Incestuous acts could well take place with consent. The question of whether homosexual acts are ‘abusive’ should, I think take second place to the question of whether the are right, wholesome, and contribute to human physical and psychological health. If they are sinful then by definition they cannot, and will actually be ‘abusive’ in some way both to ourselves and those we commit these acts with, although this will not necessarily be immediately recognised by the spiritually blind. Notice I always talk about acts and definitely not about ‘relationships’ and ‘orientation.’ These are morally neutral words. There may well be, aspects to ‘gay’ relationships which are good healthy, and loving, but these aspects will be present as a result of the friendship, companionship, loyalty, trust, emotional support etc and not sexual acts.
Dear Martin I entirely agree. An exploration of the biology of Homo sexual relationships will show the enormous risk undertaken medically by such physical expressions in these relationships. And the enormous expenditure needed to research or to act prophylactically. The idea of a cure for HIV/AIds is a fiction promoted assiduously by the so called gay lobby -such a defence is a lie. All that treatment allows is delay not cure. And yes I am in favour of the expenditure on treatment fo those infected.Finally their is absolutely no evidence for a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. Much more research is required on what is a very complex issue. Theological debate is far from the only dimension to this issue and yes I do regard it as a problem. My new book which will be called “The Betrayal of Eros” will attempt to integrate the issues and causes that arise if the homosexual thought police allow- and even if they don’t!
Dr Colin Connolly DSc PhD
yes, I do think that it is essential to have real situations and people in mind when we talk about this, and really they should be people we love, or at least respect.
I think that one of the things that I find most worrying about this is that it becomes a topic that’s not even up for discussion. So that even to discuss it is seen as somehow wrong, let alone if we would ‘do’ anything about it. *sigh* to be honest I have to stop myself getting quite depressed about it. If we are unthreatened and secure in our relationship with Jesus, then we should be able to talk about this with openness, kindness, generosity and recognise a spectrum of feeling and opinion. Instead there’s a narrow meanness to the discussion which seems to want to force people to take sides.
In terms of tone and content of these comments…when a link is made between a committed monogamous same-sex relationship and paedophilia or bestiality that can be felt as really offensive and a lie.
Reading the tone of some of the comments made in response to Jon’s post makes me realise how valid the points he makes in his post are. This issue should never be discussed outside of reference to the actual people we are talking about – because when it is the arguments become dysfunctional and inhumane.
I have always had many gay colleagues, friends, managers who I have deeply respected and who are some of the most compassionate and dedicated people I have worked with. I don’t think anyone should be engaging in debate on these issues unless you have a meaningful relationship with someone who is gay. When you do it means that you have them in mind, their real experiences, their real feelings are borne in consideration.
Just bear in mind how the church treats people who are excessively rich – people who have 3 cars and multiple houses. Generally they are treated them with grace and acceptance (as they should) and many of them are members of churches. But Jesus’ speaks loads about the dangers of wealth and greed – but so often the ‘bible-believing’ churches sit light to these teachings and don’t make it a barrier for engagement in church. Yet on the gay issue, often all kinds of harsh language is used and we see so little repentance for homophobic and judgemental attitudes.
We wanted to carry on this blog different opinions but I am very saddened about the way many Christians talk about gay people. I want to plug the book ‘Love is an Orientation’ again. It shows the vital importance of forging proper, respectful relationships and not increasing the vicious divisions on this issue which affect so many people’s lives.
On reflection, I regret the tone and some of the language used in my recent responses to the original article on this thread.
I am sorry to all those to whom this made a bigger impression than any of the substantive points I tried to make regarding this controversial issue. I would like to say that I have never felt a personal anger or loathing to anyone on the grounds that they saw their identity as LGBT and always try to listen and be sympathetic to anyone struggling with any sexual issue.
I rather ‘shot from the hip’ in anger and failed to communicate both grace and truth (which is always a challenge at the best of times) and I would like to apologise for this.
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