Saturday 26 January 2013

Don't take this the wrong way...

In the wake of leading evangelical, Steve Chalke ‘coming out’ in favour of same-sex partnerships, my friend Suem has written a fascinating blog post on not being  too judgmental about evangelicals, no matter how whacky they (we) may seem!
What makes it so striking is the way in which she takes the kind of language which is often used about the ‘gay community’, and reframes it around the ‘evangelical community’! 

Indeed, lots of things can be read or heard in two ways.  It is what makes us laugh at many jokes.   As a spokesperson for Accepting Evangelicals, (a pro-gay evangelical network) I am all too aware of how even that name can be taken two ways.
I once went to preach at an MCC church about Accepting Evangelicals and I only managed to get about 2 sentences into my talk before a lady in the second row piped up with the following words “Yes – I do keep trying to accept evangelicals”.

It’s a bit like the church advertising board in the photo.  Whoever put it up thought they were bringing a positive message of hope.   Other people might read it very differently!
Suem’s blog post reminded me of another piece of masterful misdirection which can be found in Brian McLaren’s book, “A New Kind ofChristianity”.  In the chapter on homosexuality, he begins with the following sentence, “I don't want to be closed minded or judgmental, but in good conscience I simply can't approve of the lifestyle.”

What follows however, is both profound and challenging.  I reproduce it here and hope you enjoy the irony as much as me (and hopefully Suem will too).

I don't want to be closed minded or judgmental, but in good conscience I simply can't approve of the lifestyle.  I believe it's a choice, although upbringing and genetics may have a role.  Freedom has limits - one limit being where others are hurt by a chosen lifestyle.  And this lifestyle, there can be no mistake, is hurting a lot of people.  Families are being torn apart by it, and churches too.  There is absolutely no question about God's opinion on this lifestyle if we begin with the Bible.  The orientation and behaviours associated with it are thoroughly condemned, especially by Jesus.  He was compassionate towards all kinds of people, but he had an absolute and uncompromising commitment to confront and expose one group:  those who dishonour themselves and others by engaging in this lifestyle and its practices.

When people choose this lifestyle, they often cut themselves off from everyone who doesn't agree with them.  They end up being assimilated and absorbed in closed communities where only their own voices and views are heard, and everyone who disagrees is mocked and condemned, often with very strong language.  Some, after giving themselves over completely to the lifestyle, have a crisis of conscience.   But when they want to leave, their leaders and peers depict their changing perspective as a betrayal and pressure them to stay, often using fear tactics to intimidate them and keep them in their gated community.  Special ministries have been formed to help people exit the lifestyle, recover from the abuse and pain the community has been known to impose, and be re-orientated to a healthier life and perspective.  But even with professional therapy, many people feel they have been wounded for life by their years in this lifestyle.

Advocates of this lifestyle are eager to recruit others into their 'love'' as they call it.   Through various organisations they raise huge sums of money to recruit youth and children into their chosen way of life, and they have been extremely adept at using media - radio, TV and now the internet - to create an aura of credibility and legitimacy.   They organise huge events and mass rallies to celebrate their growing clout and demonstrate that they are proud of who they are and what they stand for.  Everyone knows how much influence they have in our political system.  But look at the countries where this lifestyle runs rampant, and you'll get an idea of what your own nation will be like if some people don't have the courage to stand up and speak up.   Wherever this lifestyle spreads, a whole host of social problems inevitably follows.

Yes, activists may use the word love to justify their behaviour but those who disagree with this are seldom treated with love.   Many of us have already faced the scorn of these activists who promote their chosen lifestyle and defend it as legitimate and even godly.   For doing so we have received hate mail peppered with a wide range of threats and abusive speech.  But even so, we have learned that we must not respond to hate with hate;  we must hate the sin but still love the sinners.

The lifestyle I am speaking of is fundasexuality (not, as you may have assumed, homosexuality), a neologism that describes a reactive combative brand of religious fundamentalism that preoccupies itself with sexuality.

The term does not apply to the quiet, pious, respectful fundamentalism of straightforward sincere people, but rather to the organising, angry, dominating fundamentalism that declares war on those who differ.   Fundasexuality is rooted not in faith, but in an orientation of fear - fear of new ideas, fear of people who are different, fear of criticism or rejection from its own community, or fear of God's violent wrath on them if they don't fully conform to and enforce the teachings and interpretations of their popular teachers or other authority figures.  It is a kind of hetero-phobia: the fear of people who are different.

by Brian D. McLaren

Published by Hodder, 2010


Friday 4 January 2013

Happy. clappy, and out of the closet!

Today The Independent have published a very positive article on pro-gay evangelicals.

The article by Jerome Taylor came out of his research into a less reported side of Evangelicalism which is growing in both numbers and confidence.   Although still a minority, this more open approach to sexuality is both Biblically rigorous and genuinely evangelical.

In recent years, more and more evangelicals have been growing sceptical about traditional evangelical teaching on sexuality.  For example, in 2011, in research by Evangelical Alliance, over a quarter of evangelical Christians questioned at major evangelical festivals and conferences declined to agree with the statement "Homosexual actions are always wrong."  Interest in groups like Accepting Evangelicals is also growing - attracting over 30,000 hits per month on its website last year.

But most encouraging is the fact that we are starting to see evangelical churches and fellowships who are welcoming LGB&T Christians as they are, with their partners, and celebrating with them.  At the moment the numbers are small, and they tend to keep fairly quiet about their change of heart, but the change is beginning.

The real breakthrough will come when those churches gain the confidence to speak out publicly about their open and welcoming ministry.  Then the tide will really begin to change, and LGB&T Christians across the country will be able to rejoice in finding a spiritual home where their faith is nurtured and their gifts are welcomed.

In the meantime, I am encouraged by the article in the Independent (apart from the dodgy guy in the photo) and I hope you will be too!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Roman Catholics add insult to injury...

Following the Christmas tirade against same-sex marriage by the Pope and senior Roman Catholics, the only Roman Catholic congregation in England to offer special masses to LGBT church goers has now found itself homeless and closed down.
The ‘Soho Masses’ at Our Lady of the Assumption church had provided a ray of hope for gay Roman Catholics in London for the past 6 years, and operated with the permission of senior clergy.

But now the most senior Roman Catholic in England and Wales has put and end to the masses, reaffirming that “same-sex activity is not consistent with the teaching of the church” and saying that it is not appropriate that Mass be offered as part of pastoral care for LGBT Catholics as the Mass has to “retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church.”
Dismissing sexual orientation as a dangerous deception, the statement says that “of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation.”

Many people will interpret Vincent Nichols words and actions as further pressure on LGBT people to deny their sexuality, backed up by the threat of exclusion from this ‘highest prayer of the Church’ until they do.
But to add insult to injury, the Church in Soho is going to be made available to the Roman Catholic Ordinariate instead – a group made up of disaffected Anglicans who have been offered a special place in the Roman Catholic Church because of their opposition to women’s ordination.

So the church which has acted as a beacon of inclusive Christian faith is to be turned into a centre for those who deny the equality of women before God, and the validity of women’s ministry as Priests and Bishops.
Once again I find myself reminded of one of the most powerful stories of injustice in the Bible - the time when God sent the prophet Nathan to confront King David after he had committed adultery and murder. (1 Samuel 12)

Rather than face David head-on with what he had done, Nathan told David a story of a rich man with many flocks of sheep and a poor man with just one lamb who he loved dearly.  When a guest came to visit the rich man, he did not want to slaughter one of his own sheep to provide a feast, so he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it instead.
As King David’s anger raged against a man who would do such a thing, Nathan faced David  with the words, “You are the man.”

Today the Archbishop of Westminster has taken the one much loved lamb from the LGBT Catholic Community – the Soho Masses – and slaughtered it to feed to his new guest – the disaffected Anglican Ordinariate.
Today I believe that the Son of David’s anger is equally burning against any Church (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, or Pentecostal) which builds its faith on the exclusion of others, and teaches others to do the same.

Jesus had a name for such religious institutions – he called the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees of his day hypocrites and blind guides for doing the same kind of things.  In Matthew 23 he let his anger fly against those who place heavy burdens on people’s shoulders in the name of God, and who shut the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven in their faces.
 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)
And he was very clear about the way we should regard such religious institutions,

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:1-4)
Jesus last command was to go into all the world and draw all people into his Kingdom – not to go and find ways to keep people out.

When Church leaders exclude people from the fullness of the Kingdom of God because of their gender, sexuality or who they love, they would do well to pray that they don’t find the prophet Nathan waiting for them at the Pearly Gates… saying “You are the man!”