Thursday, 14 November 2013

Law and Order


I spent Tuesday evening at The Law Society in London, next to the Royal Courts of Justice.  I was there to speak in a debate entitled “Protecting Diversity: Belief, Conscience, and the new definition of Marriage.”

Around 100 people gathered and there were 4 speakers comprising myself and 3 barristers including Andrea Minichiello Williams, the CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.  The debate was chaired by Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, former President of the Law Society.
Most of the debate was good natured enough. 

Andrea quoted at length from selected passages in the Bible, and spoke of her fear that Christians were being persecuted in England today for simply living out their faith in an increasingly hostile society.  At the centre of her message however, was the fact (as she presented it) that God is against same-sex marriage, and if we embrace it, we are against God.
I, on the other hand, summarised the fears of some Christians at the thought of same-sex marriage, but then quoted from Evangelical Alliance FAQ’s on marriage to show that there was absolutely nothing for churches and church leaders to be afraid of because no church (or faith group) can be compelled to celebrate or facilitate a same-sex wedding and every church and church leader has the right to refuse.   But what concerned me more, I continued, is that there is a diversity issue which is not being recognised – the diversity of belief and conscience among Christians on the subject of same-sex marriage. 

A You Gov poll from earlier this year has shown that more Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians support the right of same-sex couples to get married than oppose it.  Furthermore over a 1/3 of those who identified themselves as members of mainstream Christian churches went further and said that Same-sex Marriage was right (as opposed to wrong!)  Yet where is this diversity being recognised and expressed in statements by our denominational leaders?  Answer – it is not.
During the question and answer part of the debate, Andrea and I disagreed on how to interpret the Bible, the importance of looking at the context of Bible passages, the wideness of God’s love, and on the importance of marriage for all.  Andrea’s bottom line was that, according to her faith, all same-sex partnerships were wrong and sinful – and there was no recognition that there could be a different way of interpreting Scripture or being a Christian.  My bottom line was that faithful, committed, loving relationships honour the creative will of God for human kind and may (in my opinion) find their ultimate expression in marriage.

When the formal debate drew to a close, everyone was invited to the bar to continue our discussions in a more informal way, and I experienced an amazing thing.
Person after person came up to me to thank me for what I had said, and went further than that.  Again and again, I was being told, in different ways, “I am not religious – in fact I tend to be anti-religion – but what you said tonight has made me more open to the possibility of believing in God.”

 I was deeply moved by these first tentative statements of faith.  I had thought that I was going to the debate to defend the same-sex marriage from wild accusations and hysteria.  In the end, I saw people coming closer to God.
That reflection was particularly interesting in the light of the last conversation I had.

Just before she left, Andrea Minichiello Williams came to speak to me.   I assumed she was coming to say goodbye, but instead she said in a very calm and clear way, “I think that what you are doing is appalling.”
What was appalling, I wonder?  For me, the ultimate mission of a Christian is to live, speak, and act in way which draws people closer to God.  I wonder which one of us achieved that last night.

There was good news in the end, however.
In an effort to lighten the conversation after her statement, I asked how General Synod was going these days (knowing that she was a member).  Her reply was fascinating….

“Well” she said, “They are all like you!”
“Andrea” I replied as she was leaving, “That’s the best news I have had all evening!”

Perhaps there is hope for the Church of England…

Monday, 16 September 2013

Misreading the map...

Published in the Church of England Newspaper - 13 September 2013

I love walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

During my last visit there, I decided to walk up Great Whernside, a big bald moor rising above Wharfedale.  I set off with my map, bag and compass, quickly reaching the moor wall, beyond which there are few obvious features to help in finding the path.  As I checked my map, I saw a dotted line reaching up towards the summit so I set off, following it with the help of my compass.  I could see no visible path on the ground, but that was not unusual, and I pressed on across the moor.

Before long, I got into difficulties.  The ground became increasingly boggy, until I reached a point where I had to jump between tufts of marsh grass and dark sodden areas of peat bog.  I remember missing one tuft of grass and ending up thigh deep in thick peaty water scrambling to get out.  I checked the map again.  I was still on the dotted line but I realised that continuing on this route was both impossible and dangerous.
So reluctantly and carefully, I turned back and retraced my steps out of the bog and back to firm ground.

In the pub that night, I recounted my failed attempt to a local who looked surprised, and then roared with laughter when I showed him the dotted line I had tried to follow.
“That’s not a path” he said when he had stopped laughing. “That’s a parish boundary!”

Reflecting on this later, I saw the absurdity of what I had done.  I had diligently sought to follow the map.  I had followed this dotted line carefully and accurately.  But because I had misread the map my progress had ground to a sticky and dangerous halt in a miserable bog high up in the Dales.   The map wasn’t the problem – it was my interpretation of the map which was at fault.
I can’t help but think that we have made the same mistake in our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Bible and homosexuality.  As the church, we have joined together a faint dotted line of scattered verses and have thought we understood the map of the scriptures.  We have tried to follow the path faithfully, only to find ourselves getting stuck in an ever more treacherous bog.

And now we have ground to an uncertain halt.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury noted in his address to General Synod, the world has moved on, and the church’s stance on sexuality, same-sex partnerships, and now marriage is putting us at odds with society at large.  At the recent opening of the new headquarters of Evangelical Alliance he spoke about the way in which the church’s position on sexuality is alienating younger people.  We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible, but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism.

In Australia, research by the evangelical group Olive Tree Media showed that 69% of non-Christians surveyed said that church doctrine on homosexuality is a ‘belief-blocker’ – only exceeded by child abuse in churches.
As Evangelicals, we are passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that opens hearts to a personal relationship with Him.  Yet our interpretation of Scriptures has led us into a dangerous dead-end where we are alienating the very people we want to reach.  We have sought to follow the Scriptures – our map – but perhaps we have misread them just like I misread that dotted line, and have found ourselves alone in the wilderness as a result.

On the moor, there was only one option for me – turn back and look again.  Perhaps we need to do the same.
Rev Benny Hazlehurst
Accepting Evangelicals

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Good News... keep it simple!

 In contrast to the Church of England, the Church in Wales got its act together today and voted for women bishops. 

What is more, there were no 'ifs' and 'buts' - just a simple one clause measure with the promise of a code of practise to be written over the next few months.

Simple...

Which might be why the Church of England keeps getting it wrong.  We make it too complicated, always trying to please everyone and ending up pleasing no-one.

The first meeting of the new steering committee on women bishops in England took place earlier this month, and the discussions were described by the press release as 'serious, honest, and constructive'.

Let's hope they were also brave and simple - just like the Church in Wales.

On a different note, I hear that Pope Francis has given up his bullet proof Mercedes for a 30 year old Renault with 186,000 miles on the clock.  The car was a gift to him from a elderly priest in northern Italy, in response to the Pope's example of humility.

Now all we need is a little humility towards the role of women in the Roman Catholic church, and who knows what might happen...?

OK - that's just a dream - for now....

Friday, 23 August 2013

Wtfwjd..?


Recently Rev Alice Goodman has been propelled into the public’s gaze with her rather unconventional bumper-sticker ‘wtfwjd’. 
Apparently the sticker has resided on her car for some time without causing too much of a stir, until Anonymous of Cambridge wrote to a local newspaper to complain.  The story was then picked up by the Daily Telegraph, and before you could say ‘Holy Sh*t!’ statements were being sought from Bishops and Archbishops in a media frenzy.
The fact is -  vulgar words are nothing new in Christian circles.
For example, Paul used a word which could properly be translated as ‘Shit’ in the New Testament.  Talking about the righteousness he used to rely on before he knew Christ, he describes it all as ‘skubala’ compared to the treasure of knowing Christ.  The strength of this word is hard to understate.   Although our modern translations sanitise the word by translating it as ‘rubbish’ or ‘garbage’, it is really ‘street filth’ or ‘excrement’.  The King James version comes closest translating the word as ‘dung’ but in today’s language it would certainly be ‘crap’ and probably ‘shit’.  Yet imagine the offence which it would cause if we read that out in church…
“What is more, I consider everything as loss, compared with the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I consider all these things as shit that I may gain Christ!” Phil 3:8.
Then there was a famous Evangelist I worked with on a mission.  He was late for his opening address of the weekend.  Caught up in traffic, he arrived, hot, bothered and stressed, once the evening meeting had already begun.  He raced into the church and straight to the pulpit where he launched into one of the caricatures he used of a ‘man in the street’ to set the scene, but forgot to moderate the language, using the word “F*ck” as he laid the foundations for his address.  You could see people in the congregation, looking at each other as if to say “Did he really say F*ck in church?!”
And of course there is evangelical leader Tony Campolo, who has often begun speaking about poverty with 3 things he wants to say to Christians.
“First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition.  Second, most of you don’t give a shit.   What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
Which brings me back to Alice Goodman’s bumper sticker which (it seems to me) has been blown up out of all proportion.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t use the ‘F’ word very often, and when I do it is usually followed by a swift apology and silent request for forgiveness.  But there are more important things to get hot and bothered about.  There are bigger priorities for the church and the gospel than playing it safe all the time. 
And we do get things out of proportion.  If Paul can use the word ‘shit’ in his epistles to shock his hearers into taking his message seriously, then why shouldn’t Alice use another vulgar word to stop and make people think?  (Especially as most of the people who are likely to take offence would not know what ‘wtf’ meant anyway?)
Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we all have the propensity to get our priorities so muddled that we miss God’s big picture while getting hung up on the wrong thing yet again.  
So I leave you with one more offensive item – the pictures and caption below.
 



 

 Wwjd?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Lords Gay Marriage Vote - democracy or politics?


The same-sex marriage bill is being discussed by the House of Lords.

This evening, the Lords will vote, not just on the Bill, but also on a ‘wrecking amendment’ from Lord Dear who has called the proposals ‘ill-considered’ and ‘too serious a matter to be hurried through on a whim and in a cavalier fashion’.

Yet this is arguably the most democratic Bill to go through the House of Commons in years.

Not only were MP’s given a free vote at both its readings, but it has been passed by a large majority at both stages, despite the chief opposition to the Bill coming from the government’s own backbenchers.
Compare this to the usual day to day operation of Parliament on controversial legislation.  MP’s are corralled by their Party Whips into voting according to party instructions, irrespective of their own views or opinions.  Political posturing takes place on all sides of the House, and the debates seem to have more to do with party political points-scoring than with the issues under consideration.

In contrast, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill has gone to the House of Lords with support from all sides of the House of Commons, having had a largely principled debate on each occasion, and a 2/3rds majority in favour.
This is democracy at work as opposed to politics, and the Lords would do well to remember that as they prepare to vote.  To send it back to the drawing board or reject the Bill would be to reject the clear non-partisan vote of MP’s.

Sadly, there is a precedent for such a democratic debacle in recent months – the General Synod’s vote on women Bishops.  After vote after vote in favour of women bishops – after 42 out of 44 Church of England Dioceses voted for women Bishops – after 74% of General Synod Members voted for women bishops – the legislation was still lost by just 2 votes in the House of Laity as it failed to get a 2/3rds majority in that House. (see ‘Reflections on a Broken Democracy’).
The House of Lords would do well to remember the ridicule, incredulity, and outrage which greeted that Church of England vote.  Although the vocal minority got their way and prevented equality reaching the House of Bishops, the reputation of the Church of England suffered yet another crippling body blow.

If the Equal Marriage Bill is rejected by the Lords after such a clear democratic majority in the House of Commons, it will not help its precarious position as the unelected House in our Parliament.  Like the Church of England, it would risk being seen as anachronistic, reactionary and out of touch.
Alternatively, the Lords could embrace the democratic vote of MP’s and reject the vocal minority who still believe they have the right to dictate to the majority.

Democracy comes from hearing the voice of the majority, whereas politics is the exertion of power by those with the loudest voice.  Let’s not confuse the two.
 

Update - after the vote...

I am delighted to say that the Lords have chosen not to play politics, and voted by 390 to 148 to reject the 'wrecking motion' and forward the Bill to the next stage. The majority of 242 is even more emphatic than the 2/3rds majority in the House of Commons.

Congratulations to the House of Lords for such a decisive vote.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Ten years on...


(A personal reflection)
Last month was a significant milestone for our family.  It was the 10th anniversary of an event which changed our lives forever.
On the 4th April 2003, at about 9:30am, my wife Mel was cycling to Yoga through the busy streets of Brixton when a lorry turned left without looking or signalling, and she was dragged under its wheels.  She was pushed down the road under one of the front wheels for about 10 metres and when the 18 tonne truck came to a halt, it was quite literally resting on top of her pelvis.

Those who know us or our story, will know that by some miracle she survived, but it led to month after month in hospital after hospital, and on a number of occasions she was at real risk of dying, even years after the accident.  Today she is partially disabled, suffers chronic pain, and has to take tablets by the handful two or three times a day.

As you can imagine, the impact on our lives was dramatic.  For Mel, the effects are obvious:  pain, disability, loss of identity, depression and the side-effects of all the drugs have taken their toll.  Instead of looking forward to returning to work when both kids went to school, she had to limit her ambitions to learning to walk, time and time again, and staying out of a wheelchair for as many years as possible.
Our children were just 3 and 4 years old when the accident happened.  Zac was settled in the reception class at school but Iona was still at home with Mel looking after her as a full time stay-at-home mum.  Mel was just beginning to loosen the apron strings taking her to a play-group while she went to Yoga.  She always left with the promise “Mummy always comes back”.  For both the kids, the change was enormous, going from mum always being there, to seeing her in hospital for a few minutes every other day because she was simply too ill for anything more.

But for me too, the change was greater than I could have imagined.   I was vicar of a busy parish in Brixton, London.  As well as leading the church, I was also responsible for overseeing several projects including a ‘Foyer’ homeless project, employment training company, charity shop, cafĂ©, and youth team.  I was a member of the Church of England’s General Synod and an adviser to the Government on urban regeneration.  I had co-written a resource book on ministry in run-down housing estates and was getting invitations up and down the country to speak to groups of church leaders.
Slowly, one by one, all these things were stripped away as I found I simply couldn’t keep up with my working responsibilities alongside being mum and dad to the kids, supporting Mel in hospital and caring for her at home, and dealing with my own sense of spiritual brokenness.  “Why did you let this happen, Lord?  We were constantly sticking out our necks for you – couldn’t you have watched our backs?”

First to go were the speaking engagements and promoting resources for estates ministry.  I had spent 7 years developing the resources which went into the book, but now I found myself having to say no to invitations to help others use them.
The work with the Government went next as I simply couldn’t attend the residential meetings up and down the country.  I had been one of 20 people selected out of 600 applicants to serve on this national Community Forum, but now I found myself having to tender my resignation.

Then I had to scale back on the local projects I was overseeing, even though many of them were fragile and at a critical stage.
And my work at General Synod (the Church of England’s parliament) slowly became too difficult to do.  I could only attend about half the meetings, and even then had to miss things because of last minute complications, or a sudden downturn in Mel’s condition.

Then finally, 18 months after the accident, after Mel had survived another series of major operations, my health failed.  A combination of exhaustion and PTSD finally caught up with me and I was signed off work by my doctor.  For the first few weeks, I found myself unable to answer the door, pick up a phone or switch on a computer.  When I left the house to take the kids to school, or take Mel to her many out-patient appointments, I could hardly speak to people, except in one-word answers.
Soon we realised that we had to leave London and find somewhere quieter to live – somewhere where we could both heal.  We had been totally committed to living and working in the parts of London where others choose not to go because of poverty, crime or violence.  We never thought we would do anything else, but now we found ourselves moving to the other extreme – a sleepy village in comfortable, rural middle-England.  The stripping away of my previous sense of Christian calling, ministry and vocational identity was now complete.

But in all the trauma and exhaustion, there is one thing that we will always be grateful for.
I now see that for years before that fateful day, God had been challenging my sound, traditional, conservative theology of sexuality. 

Just like Peter on the roof of Simon’s house in Joppa, he had been challenging my perceptions of what was clean & unclean in his eyes, time & time again (see Acts 10) and just like Peter, I had refused to listen.    I had stuck to what I had been taught.  I had remained steadfast in the ‘Biblical’ teaching I had received since my childhood.  I had repeated the conservative evangelical mantra, “The Bible says its wrong” over and over again when it came to same-sex relationships.  I had signed letters to the Church of England deploring any relaxation in this strict moral code.  I had told gay friends who were ordained that I thought they should leave their ministry if they refused to repent and amend their lives.
But then in the brokenness which followed Mel’s accident, God gently lowered the sheet once again, sending to me gay Christians who tended my wounds – who prayed with me and for me when I couldn’t pray – who held me close to Christ when all my spiritual strength was gone.

And when I went back to the Bible to look again at what it said about such people, I found that the blinkers had gone.  The same blinkers which Peter wore when he said “No Lord” – the blinkers which meant that, when I went to the Bible, I already knew what it was going to say, even before I read it.  Those blinkers were gone, and for the first time I saw how weak the Biblical case was for condemning same-sex relationships.
Like the scales which fell from Paul’s eyes after his conversion on the road to Damascus, I now could see properly for the first time, and the world looked very different.

The rest, as they say is history.
The new understanding which came out of our tragedy has taken me down roads I never could have imagined.  I remember sitting in a Communion service at an LGB&T conference recently and feeling more at home than I do in most churches.  My wife and I have been able to talk about her Bisexual orientation – something we both knew, ever since we met, but had never been able to be talk about – and we are closer than ever as a result.  Our children live in a family where there is no conflict between faith and sexuality and their faith has flourished.  Even as teenagers, they are the ones who look disappointed if Mel or I say we can’t go to church this week.

So was this all part of God’s plan?
No – I can’t say that – but I do know that God promises to bring good out of even the darkest situations, and we have been blessed by the good He has brought into our lives despite all the pain.

Sometimes it is only when we are broken that God can work to reshape our lives.  That brokenness can come from our own actions, or the actions of others, or even from random events at work in our world, but God can use even the greatest tragedies to open closed hearts to his love.
I am only sorry that I was so stubborn and hard of heart when God’s sheet was being lowered down to me before Mel’s accident – and that it took such a traumatic event to change my mind.  My prayer for others, who struggle with this issue, is that it will not take such a tragedy to open their hearts to a new understanding of God’s will.

As this 10th Anniversary has passed, Mel and I still struggle with depression, flashbacks and the on-going effects of that terrible day, which is partly why I have been so quiet recently.  But in Christ we are more than conquerors through him who loves us and we are profoundly grateful for the good that he has brought out of the evil of that day.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A young voice from South Dakota...

I don’t often post other people’s blogs on here – but this one is different.
The voice of one young person in the American Midwest, crying out to the Church to embrace gay people and same-sex relationships before the Church loses this generation.
The catalyst for her was a song, “Same Love” performed in her town in front of 5,000 young people.  The song spoke truth to them, unlike the conservative Church she has been used to.
But she wasn’t writing this because she is gay – she has a boyfriend.  She didn’t write this to stand up for gay rights – no, her concern was wider than that:
“My point in writing this isn’t to protect gay people. Things are changing—the world is becoming a safer place for my gay friends. They’re going to get equal rights. I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave…
My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality…
You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.”
Please, please, please, read the whole thing and listen to the song which prompted her to write this profound and moving letter to the Church – our Church.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Taking offence...


I have been struck recently by the number of offensive comments which are being made by conservative evangelical Christians against LGB&T people.
In a long and painful thread on my Facebook page recently, the ‘sin’ of homosexuality was placed alongside murder, adultery, theft, violence, & paedophilia by one well known church leader.

And in a recent survey by Evangelical Alliance participants were asked how the church should respond when sinful behaviour comes to light in the church.  Almost inevitably, one of the ‘sinful’ scenarios outlined was "An openly gay or lesbian couple wanting to be involved in church life." This was immediately followed by, "A convicted sex offender wanting to be involved in church life".
It is hard to underestimate how offensive this is to LGB&T people.

Even when conservative evangelicals try to be conciliatory, they often fail to see how offensive their statements are.  In response to Steve Chalke’s recent statements in support of same-sex partnerships, Evangelical Alliance have taken the step of making their guidance on “Biblical and  Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” available as a free download – previously it had to be purchased from them.
It tries to be reasonable and balanced, reminding us that we are all sinners and should not look down our noses at other people’s sins.  One of the editors is Andrew Goddard with whom I have worked and for whom I have the greatest respect.  Yet even so, most gay and lesbian people will find its contents highly offensive.  Perhaps conservative evangelicals genuinely do not realise how offensive their statements are?

So I have decided to turn things upside down.  I have done this not out of malice or a sense of getting even, but rather in the hope that it might help conservative evangelicals to understand how it feels to be portrayed in a way which they will probably find offensive.  

At the heart of EA’s “Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” are ‘10 Affirmations’ which form the backbone of the book.  I have rephrased each of them to represent they way in which many gay and lesbian people will hear their carefully crafted statements.

I have called the re-written version “The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance” and I hope that they will cause some conservative evangelicals to think twice before making fine sounding but offensive statements against gay people.

I apologise in advance if you read this and take offence – causing offense is not my intention – as I am sure it is not your intention either.

The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance


1.      Thou shalt focus, first and foremost, on sin - and not love.  All expressions of ‘love’ shall only be based on our foundational concept of ‘sin’, and not on the character of God, or the quality of relationship.  Above all, 1John 4:16 shall not apply when we talk about homosexuals.

2.      Thou shalt attempt to be loving towards homosexuals, recognising that we have often failed to do so in the past and present.  Thou shalt also pretend that our continual focus on sin and our highly conditional and restrictive acceptance of homosexuals does not victimise or diminish people who are attracted to the same sex.

3.      Thou shalt pretend that marriage is, and has always been between one man and one woman entered into for life, contrary to the majority of marriages in the Bible.  Recognising our superior moral high ground, thou shalt focus all your indignation on homoerotic sexual practice as incompatible with God’s will, as revealed in the way we tell you to interpret the few bits of Scripture which appear to say something on the subject.  Thou shalt not listen to anyone else’s interpretation of Scripture.  In doing this we reject any suggestion that we are being narrow minded.

4.      Churches shall only offer an unconditional welcome to those homosexuals who agree with what we say – except for the condition that if they change their minds, we will change our attitude towards them too.  Thou shalt not let these people call themselves ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’, but instead encourage them to minimise their sexuality by referring to themselves as ‘those who suffer from same-sex attraction’.

5.      Thou shalt not accept or endorse the fact that other Christians, including evangelicals understand sexuality differently.  Thou shalt only support churches whose Biblical interpretation is impervious to change.

6.      Thou shalt fight as hard as possible against Christians and Churches who seek to encourage life-long, faithful, committed partnerships, while doing comparatively little to encourage heterosexuals to live out their marriage vows faithfully and permanently.

7.      Thou shalt hold up as iconic examples, all homosexuals who have successfully emasculated (or efeminated) their same-sex attraction, while ignoring all examples of same-sex couples who have lived faithfully together in life-giving partnerships for many years.

8.      Thou shalt support and encourage individuals and organisations which seek to change, heal, re-orientate, and deny those who suffer same-sex attraction any possibility of finding fulfilment in a loving, life-giving, exclusive relationship with someone of the same sex.  Thou shalt do this in spite of evidence of damage or coercion from those who have suffered from such ministries.  Thou shalt also ignore the overwhelming majority of professionals in psychology, psychiatry, and mental health.  They are not Biblical and do not know what they are talking about.

9.      Thou shalt expel from church membership and ministry all those who take a different Christian view on sexuality.  Such relational consequences in church membership are a natural response to anyone who disagrees with us and their blood shall be on their own heads.

10.  Thou may offer a highly conditional welcome to any actively LGBorT person who is brave enough to walk through our arches (although we never mention Bi or Trans people as we clearly don’t know what to think about them).  They are welcome as long as they accept that we have the right to preach at them, make them feel uncomfortable, and restrict their membership and participation.  They shall be left in no doubt that the only way to the Kingdom of God is by renouncing their sexuality and embracing our values, prejudice, and the version of God we present, made in our own image.

 

If you want to read the real book from Evangelical Alliance, you can download it from this link – alternatively, Andrew Goddard (one of the authors) has posted an admirably brief summary of the “10 Affirmations” which are at the heart of the book.
 

Update (26 March 2013)

I appears that Evangelical Alliance has today removed the optoin to downlaod the book from their website for free - the links above now go a page which simply lists the '12 Affirmations' as the authentic mainstream evangelical view, and invites you to buy the book.  I find it strange that last month they wanted as many people as possible to read it, but now they seem to have suddenly changed their minds.....

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Setting the record straight on Civil Partnerships...


“There was a 30% breakup of Partnerships with gays last year - and it only became law recently!!!”   Gerald Coates, 19th March 2013.
This direct quote comes from my Facebook page yesterday where Charismatic church leader Gerald Coates launched an unnuanced attack on anyone who would dare to suggest that same-sex partnerships can be anything but sinful.

His views and opinions on same-sex relationships are of course his own - and he has a right to hold them – but what particularly disturbed me was the blatant untruth of this statistical claim.
It is not just Gerald Coates who makes such claims.  I have heard similar ones from a number of traditionalist Evangelical clergy and ministers.  For some people who hear them, they have been repeated so often that they must be true!  And it doesn’t help when well known Evangelical church leaders like Gerald Coates repeat them with such force.

So what is the truth about Civil Partnerships and rates of dissolution?
Below is a summary of the available statistics from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) who provide official government statistics on a whole host of areas of public life.  Please feel free to follow the links to see the source documents.

Untruth Number 1:


Contrary to Gerald Coates claim – the statistics for 2012 have not yet been released.  The latest available statistics for Civil Partnerships are for 2011.

Untruth Number 2:


The ONS statistics for 2011 show that there were 6,795 new Civil Partnerships registered during the year.  It also shows that the number of dissolutions (the equivalent of divorce) was 672 – which is less than 10% of the number of new Civil Partnerships.
That does not mean, of course, that 10% of those new Civil Partnerships were dissolved, merely that  672 of the total number of registered Civil Partnerships (over 48,500) were dissolved in 2011.

Untruth Number 3:


So perhaps the year on year statistics show a higher rate of break-up?  Not atall.
In the period 2005-2010 (the first 5 years of Civil Partnerships) 42,778 Civil Partnerships were registered.  But during this same period only 1,007 ended in dissolution.  That is a break up rate over 5 years of 2.35%, making Civil Partnerships much more successful than marriage where long term statistics indicate that 42% of marriages are expected to end in divorce.

If we add the 2011 figures to this, we find that by the end of 2011, 49,572 Civil Partnerships had been registered and 1,679 had ended in dissolution.  That makes a cumulative break-up rate of 3.38% - a long way short of the 30% that Gerald Coates and others have claimed.
All of the above shows that in the short time since Civil Partnerships have been lawful in England and Wales, rates of dissolution are far below the rate of divorce.

But what of the longer term? 


Divorce rates are measured over much longer time period and the rate of Civil Partnerships which end in dissolution is increasing.  Perhaps in the longer term, that will show that Civil Partnerships are less stable than married relationships?
Or perhaps not…

The ONS have spent a lot of time analysing marriage and divorce trends and have concluded that just over 15% of marriages end in divorce during the first 6 years – compared with 3.38% of Civil Partnerships during the first 6 years – again showing that CP’s have been much more successful than marriage at keeping people together in their first 6 years. (Population Trends - The proportion of marriages ending in divorce  - Table 3)
Furthermore, there are countries which have had the equivalent of Civil Partnerships for much longer that the UK.  What do their statistics show?

Denmark was the first country to introduce registration for same-sex partnerships – back in 1989 – providing over 20 years of statistical data to analyse.
Their experience has been that Civil Partnerships are much more robust and long lasting than heterosexual marriages.  I am grateful to Dr John Pike in Bristol for researching this and for the following conclusions:

"Data for registered same-sex partnerships in Denmark[i] are particularly interesting since it is the country with the longest experience of official same-sex unions, since 1989. The cumulative number of partnerships rose steadily from 1400 male and 491 female partnerships by 1992 to 4347 male and 4732 female partnerships by 2012. Numbers of partnerships which had been dissolved were 26 male and 22 female by 1992 and 981 male and 1231 female by 2012. Allowing for partnerships where one partner had died, the cumulative dissolution rate is 17% male partnerships and 20% female partnerships. Directly comparable data for heterosexual marriages and divorces are not available, but over the same period 1992 to 2011, the divorce rate in Denmark varied between 38.6 and 43.6 percent.”

Conclusions:


So whichever way we look at it, Gerald Coates’ claim of a 30% break-up rate is a blatant untruth.  Not only that, but the evidence from this country and others with far longer experience, is that Civil Partnerships are much more successful that heterosexual Marriages in helping two people to stay together.
Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ – that is my prayer for Gerald Coates today.

Update: 

Gerald Coates has clarified/retracted his claim yesterday about Civil Partnerships.

He has written on my Fb page today commenting, "My 30% was taken out of context - it came from an article in the press at the end of last year - noting that 'last year' [ 2011] there had been a 30% rise in dissilusions. (The eqiuvalent of divorce as I am sure you know.) I wasn't making a big deal of it."

So everyone can see if it was taken out of context, I include a screen clipping below of his Fb comment from yesterday... and I will leave others to judge whether the 3 exclamation marks he used are making a big deal of it or not.





[i] Data from “Danmarks Statistik”. Publication “Befolkningens udvikling” 2011 at http://www.dst.dk/Pubomtale/16600. Table 7.1 (p. 89) is on registered partnerships.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Cardinal Sin...


So now we know…
We know what drove Cardinal Keith O’Brien to be so dogmatic and so offensive to people in same-sex relationships.
Last year the Cardinal was voted ‘Bigot of the Year’ by Stonewall after his outspoken campaign against same-sex marriage. 

At various times he described same-sex marriage as a "grotesque subversion”, an "aberration" and he likened it to slavery.

In May 2005 he told members of the Scottish Parliament that homosexuals were "captives of sexual aberrations" and writing in the Scottish Catholic Observer, he said
“The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships…”   http://www.sconews.co.uk/latest-edition/14858/scotland-fails-homosexual-people/ 
So when allegations emerged from Catholic Priests of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ it must have been utterly devastating.  The Cardinal resigned almost immediately, and now he has all but admitted that the allegations are true.

Such is tragedy of Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
The Roman Catholic Church appears to be responding to this by saying that the church has always had both saints and sinners in its ranks, but this is a gross over-simplification.   Speaking so strongly against same-sex relationships while all the time knowing the history of his own desires and sexual actions, reveals a man filled with self-loathing who learned to live with himself by transferring that anger and self-hatred onto others.

It is the classic vicious circle that almost always ends up in the kind of abusive words and actions which we have witnessed.
At its root is a concept of ‘sin’ which is defined not by what damages people and society, but by the application of an arbitrary set of rules claiming some divine authority.  For some, the authority for such arbitrary spiritual laws is the Church, for others it is the Bible, but the effect is the same - condemning people to live in this twilight world of secret shame and misdirected anger.

The approach is not just limited to Roman Catholics of course.  Evangelical Alliance recently updated its guidance on responding to homosexuality.   At its heart are ‘Ten Affirmations’ which should guide and direct evangelicals in their pastoral and theological attitudes to gay and lesbian people.  The first one begins with the words, We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only true hope for sinful people – whatever our sexuality – is in Jesus Christ.”

While the intention behind this opening is benign, encouraging all evangelicals to recognise their own sinfulness rather than just focusing on the ‘sinfulness’ of homosexuals, it reveals something much deeper in the mindset of the writers – that when we are talking about homosexuality, we can only be talking about sin.

For them, this is the non-negotiable bottom line, and everything which follows is based on that assumption.   Their authority is a reading of the Bible which is just as selectively legalistic, arbitrary, and inconsistent as the Roman Catholic theology that led Cardinal O’Brien to the torture of his alleged double life.

 But the God I serve is not arbitrary, legalistic or inconsistent. 

 When Jesus was asked about ‘The Law’, he consistently directed people to look at the Spirit behind the Law, rather than being limited to the legalism of the words themselves.   And when the New Testament declares that love, not law, is at the heart of the Gospel it never says “unless you are gay”.  God has been unfolding his plan for the redemption of human kind from the Garden of Eden onwards, and every generation has learned that this redemption continues to unfold as we seek to order our lives and society in a way which enables everyone to love God and their neighbour more fully.

The harm which Cardinal O’Brien spoke out against when he said, 

“The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships…”  

… is as misdirected as his own self-loathing. 

What he should have said is, 

“The empirical evidence is clear, religious or cultural repression of same-sex relationships is demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such repression…”  

The cardinal sin in this affair is not that of ‘homosexuality’.  It is the sin of a religious institution which created the toxic mixture of moral repression, secrecy, abuse of power, tortuous inner conflict and misdirected self-loathing – and then used it to oppose the aspirations of those in genuine, loving same-sex relationships.

This is this sin which both the Church and Keith O’Brien need to reflect on and repent of – not the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.