Keep on Marching

On Sunday I stood and watched as thousands of women marched through the streets of London as part of Processions 2018 and I was inspired. There was a sense of joy and community as the sun was shining and the colourful banners waved through the streets. It felt like each of the thousands of women knew each other yet it was strangers laughing, smiling, walking, chatting, chanting and marching processing together. The banners from across the UK told a story of the hundreds of thousands of women who clearly did not know each other but were united in their womanhood. The atmosphere was celebratory, it felt like all generations, classes, ethnicities and abilities were represented and as a man it was an honour to witness and to be made to feel welcome. I wanted my son and daughter to both see this historic event, to know of the hard fought campaign for women to be treated as equals to men but also to know that we also have a responsibility to keep on pressing forward.

Statue

I stood in the centre of Parliament  Square with my young children running around on the grass, surrounded by strangers it felt like we were amongst friends. I wondered how it would feel for a woman with children if this had been a march of men. As a man I think I would feel intimidated by a march of men yet as a man I was welcome and completely at ease at a march of women. This tells something of the story of how much has changed and how far there is still to go. Whatever one may think about the female Prime Ministers of the UK I felt a shiver of pride as when we walked past Downing Street knowing that 100 years ago women could not vote and today a woman holds the highest office of the land. Yet the commentary about the Prime Minister revolves about what she wears rather than what she believes and what she achieves, I don’t recall the same regarding any male Prime Ministers.

Dowing Street

The day after the celebratory possessions of women took place in London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh I read a report that Jess Philips (MP for Birmingham Yardley) had spoken about her experience of being trolled online. For example, in just one evening she received 600 rape threats, she receives daily threats of violence and aggression, her office has been vandalised twice in two years and two people have been issued with harassment orders because of their emails of constant bile and abuse. Amnesty International report that for Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) female MP’s the situation is even worse, with on average 35% more abusive tweets received than their white colleagues.

And where is the church in all of this? Leading the way? Fighting for justice and equity? There are some positive stories – just as there is much to celebrate from the achievements of the past 100 years. However, there is a considerable way to go. A female minister I know commented recently that in becoming a pastor she has been made to realise that she is a woman. Obviously she already knew this, but coming from a secular work place she found that for the first time her gender had become significant in the way she is treated, expectations upon her and judgements about her ability to perform the functions of ministry. As a recent ‘Open Letter’ recently stated,

“There is a problem.”

The problem is not small and it won’t just take a stand or a march of women, it requires men to stand with women, it requires men to recognise and relinquish the power and authority we have simply because we are men.

It requires us seeing one another as equals – made in the image of God.

It requires male and female clergy modelling equality to our congregations and parishioners. It requires a willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ, his Church and his Kingdom.

It requires the patriarchal church to be broken and not replaced with a matriarchal system but to become a one church with the mind of Christ, a body of God’s people broken and resurrected like the body of Christ.

It requires that we keep on marching, keep on processing, keep on telling the story.

Looking for a Fight

Over the years I have had the privilege of travelling and seeing different parts of the world. I have lived in a number of different towns and cities and can boast of friends across the globe. Some of the places I have lived have been described to me as being less than desirable or the places that no one chooses to visit. Yet each of those such places I have been made to feel the most welcome, most at home and when I move away they are the places I miss the most because of the people I get to know and love. One such area I have sadly seen on national news a number of times due to some of the incidents that have taken place there and yet in all my time living and working in the particular neighbourhood the worst trouble I ever witnessed was me being sprayed head to foot with a fire extinguisher. I am not naïve, I moved to that area knowing the risks, I’d heard the stories, but I also knew that no matter the potential for trouble there is also the potential for good.

There is an old adage that says if you go out looking for a fight you will find one.

I am not one for looking for a fight and so I have rarely been in a situation that has given rise to one. I have been around a few and stood in the gap to keep people apart or pulled people off one another. I guess living in so-called troubled areas because I didn’t go out looking for a fight or looking for trouble I didn’t find it and it didn’t find me.

As a pastor I don’t often find myself in a church listening to other preachers due to being in church and preaching myself. I was recently able to attend a service and I was taken aback by the sermon. I just didn’t recognise the world that was being described by the preacher and therefore my response to the world is very different. I heard about a world and a society that is oppressing and silencing the church, that is pushing the church to the margins and trying to overthrow churches so that it is no longer a voice in our society. I heard the preacher speak of Muslims and Jews as being given a higher standing and different opportunities whilst Christian’s are challenged, mocked and side lined. I heard the preacher speak of the Holy Spirit wanting to fill Christian’s and to make them bold in going into the world, preaching the Gospel, resisting the temptations and standing strong in the face of a hostile environment.

Mob

I heard what was said, it bordered for a moment on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and I wondered what the preacher was trying to achieve. Of course, the way the preacher described the world and the way he was encouraging the congregation to respond was just like those who go out looking for a fight. If you go out spoiling for a fight you will find one. If Christian’s go out looking for a fight with society or those of another faith or perhaps no faith at all, they will of course find a fight. But why would we want a fight?

I live in the same society that was being described and I am getting to know Jews (including Rabbi’s), Muslims (including Imam’s) and atheists. I have friends who have all kinds of different faiths and none. I see the world around me and I am in awe of creation, it is beautiful, creative and diverse. I don’t want to fight my neighbours I want to learn about them, to sit with them, share a meal, have a drink and develop friendships. I have a faith; I love the Bible, the Church and Jesus and I will happily share my love for them with others.

Jesus preached that we should love God and love our neighbours. This week I heard a preacher subtly preach condemnation, encouraging the congregation to boldly stand up for rights, to be ready to fight. It was a sermon that misused scripture and encouraged hatred for anything that is other. It was a sermon that subtly made space for racism, sexism and homophobia. It was not always explicit but there was an underlying tone and I was grieved.

I find myself defending my neighbours from hateful speech coming from a church when the only fight the Church should be fighting is the fight for justice.

The church is broken because it’s forgotten to love her neighbours and is choosing to fight them instead.

I am an Evangelical

For a number of years I have increasingly heard stories of people struggling with the faith or world view that they have inherited. Watching Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago on BBC I laughed when Ed Byrne commented that when the local church he’d grown up attending was installing a lightening conductor he finally left because for all the talk about faith the church demonstrated it did not have enough.

Having grown up in what I would now describe as a conservative evangelical church I have questioned my own faith and worldview. I have pulled it apart and questioned everything I was told by the church, my family, friends, pastors, school and so on. Is there really a God? What is the point in church? Does the church really follow and trust in the God that it preaches about? Many of the people I grew up with in the church no longer attend. It has little influence on their life but holds some fond (and some not so fond) childhood and teenage memories. I have gone on to meet people who have experienced at least rejection if not abuse from local churches. I know people who (in their hurting, fragile and vulnerable states) have been kicked out of churches because the people in the church didn’t recognise the actions and behaviours as a cry for help but interpreted them as insolence and disrespectful.

All are welcome in any church I pastor.

I have considered walking away from church myself. In many ways life would be much easier. It would be simpler. There is, however, something that always pulls be back. With all its imperfections (of which there are many and many of which are hideous) I remain. Not as an inactive audience member nor a silent participant but as an activist with a desire for the church to reach its potential, because the potential is vast and magnificent.

01

In my own journey I have questioned my faith, whether there is a God, whether Christianity is the right and only pathway to God, and so on. The term evangelical has become for many a dirty word. Before the days of Donald Trump and the support of white evangelicals alongside white supremacists and fundamentalists the term evangelical was being rejected, now it is associated with hate. Evangelical Christian’s have a reputation for being fixated on the Bible, in some cases taking it literally (when some parts are poetic or allegorical), making it fit lifestyle choices and judging and rejecting those who do not meet the criteria. Evangelical Christian’s are known to describe themselves as “Bible believing Christian’s” to laud it over others who they consider to have a lesser, misplaced or so-called incorrect interpretation of Christianity. The reputation of evangelical Christian’s is that they only love someone who behaves the “correct” way according to their “truth” and therefore in spite of speaking in terms of grace and mercy their actions reflect judgement and condemnation.

Because of all this I know people who have dropped the use of the word ‘evangelical’ and would simply describe themselves only as Christian, others would go a step further describing themselves as ‘post-evangelical’ or even recovering-evangelical whilst others choose to opt for phrases such as ‘Jesus Follower’ or ‘Follower of The Way’. I went down the route of simply being a Christian. No link to a particular denomination, theology or tradition but a sampling and celebration of them all.

A friend of mine died recently. Andrew was in fact not just a friend but he had been my youth pastor (more years ago that I care to remember). Andrew had a solid faith and a strong belief, which to the very end of his days gave him hope and caused him to share that hope with others. Andrew’s faith came from his understanding of the Bible and his relationship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Throughout his life, and in particular his suffering with cancer, Andrew held on to the words of the Bible, the promises within and its story. It kept him going, it kept him hopeful, it kept him faithful.

Bibles

I reflected on my relationship with Andrew, on all the things he taught me and challenged me on when I was a teenager, on the church I grew up in and on the faith of my youth. I considered the stereotypical reputation of evangelical Christian’s (I have encountered the pious legalism over compassion many times). In all this, through theological training and my desire for the church to reach its potential and have a reputation for compassion, justice and love I realise that I am one of those Bible believing Christian’s.

I am an evangelical.

Not because I am pious and judgemental (at least I hope not) but because to be evangelical is to be passionate about the Bible, to seek to live according to its narrative and lessons (inclusive and justice seeking), passionate about God, and passionate about the church (the people of God) in all our diversity, brokenness and mess. 

Open the eyes of your Church, Lord

Last week I was travelling on the tube to a meeting. I thought it was appropriate that during Holy Week I was heading to Kings Cross. As I approached the station I happened to notice the announcement letting passengers know a few of the options of transfers available and possible places of interest to visit.

One such place that I was not aware of at Kings Cross are the offices for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). There is no reason I should have been aware of this, I have never needed to visit or use the services of the RNIB, yet it got me thinking. There are a few places in the Bible that speak of the blind being able to see (eg. Isaiah 35:5 & Matthew 11:5). It is common for Christian’s to speak of the need for physical healing and as such for those who are blind being able to see again. To realise that the RNIB is at Kings Cross during the week leading to Easter when I am thinking more about the cross of Christ and his subsequent resurrection presented something of a irony.

Kings Cross

The blind being able to see in scripture does refer to physical transformation but more often than not it is an analogy; a parable for those who do not know salvation through Jesus having their spiritual eyes opened and recognising him as God’s son. I have been brought up with this message. I have been taught that as a church going Christian I am one of the enlightened ones, I know the truth and everyone who doesn’t is blind to the truth. The more I have studied, the deeper into Christian ministry I have fallen I increasingly wonder about the reality of this.

I do believe the Bible and I do believe that Jesus is Son of God. However, I am less certain that the church and all who attend are enlightened and humbly serve and love our neighbours. Increasingly I think that the church (particularly in the West) is blinded to the reality of the world. Blinded to the pain and suffering around them. Blinded to the pain and suffering that we cause.

I have come across those who claim to believe in the freedom to worship praying and campaigning against the building of Mosque’s. Preachers who speak in ways bordering anti-Semitism as they talk about the Pharisee’s and other Jewish leaders, Rabbi’s and teachers. There are church pastors with significant local, national and global influence speaking in racist, sexist and homophobic terms suggesting that they are doing so in love or to somehow bring forth God’s Kingdom. Just this past week Bethel Church  has made a statement opposing legislation that will bring an end to conversion therapies in the State of California. The message from Bethel promotes an archaic ‘therapy’ that reinforces negativity and pressure already faced by those who identify as LGBT+ . I understand that many churches and Christian’s conclude that the Bible opposes homosexuality, but we are still called to love our neighbour and this message is not one of love.

My prayer about eyes being opened has altered over the years. Rather than the eyes of unbelievers being opened I find myself increasingly praying that the church would open its eyes to see the reality of the world; to recognise the glory of God at work in the world. I believe God’s Kingdom is one of justice and compassion rather than of judgement. In the days following the resurrection of Jesus his disciples had their eyes and minds opened to things they had not seen or understood previously. I pray that the church today would have its eyes opened and be a place; a people; a community of hope for the world.

Open the eyes of your Church, Lord.

An Interesting Part of Death

Death is an interesting part of life.

The one thing that is guaranteed in life is that at some point we will die.

I was chatting with a woman I know who is in her 90’s. She tells me that she is ready to die. She is tired, she has had a good life, she has experienced a lot, she is not unhappy, but she is ready to die.

I have been involved in a variety of conversations recently about the purpose and mission of the church. One question that has been explored is about whether God would call local churches to close or in other words, to die. The response has been fascinating, some people have reflected that they realise that if the church were to close it would not be significant to them because it does not mean as much to them as they thought it did. Others have expressed the opposite view, the church means more than they realised and the thought of it closing is painful and so they are willing to do anything and everything within their power to keep it going.

In the approach towards Easter I have been reading again the life and ministry of Jesus. Initially there is much excitement about him, he attracts followers and they will go anywhere with him. His nearest and dearest friends (the 12 disciples) witness all kinds of miraculous events and hear his teaching. They believe he will be their saviour. However; they have a particular view of what a saviour will look like and what he will do. They expect him to become a king and to make the nation of Israel as great as it was under the rule of King David.

Jesus, however begins to talk about death (e.g. John 2:20-33 & Mark 8:31-38). He tells his friends he is going to die and it is for a food reason and for their benefit. The friends however, don’t like this; They are not ready for him to die.

Charles Cross 01

As Christian’s we claim to no longer need to fear death because of the occurrences of what we refer to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when Jesus died on a cross, overcome death and was resurrected. I realise more and more that often we do not really believe this. We cling to the things we like, we cling to the ways we know, we avoid change and we dare not speak of death, especially the death of local churches. Yet throughout the UK and other parts of the western world local churches are closing down. The buildings are being turned into houses, apartments, pubs, supermarkets and restaurants. Often this occurs because the members of the church are too afraid to speak about and address the issues leading to death.

Yet, we should be a resurrection people, a people who are not afraid of dying. A people who recognise that perhaps our churches become old and have had a good life but it is time to pass on. Perhaps because it is time to move out of the way and enable younger churches to thrive. Or perhaps we need to die with Christ so that we can be resurrected with him. Too often our churches do not choose to die but do so because of the attempt to cling to life. If our churches were willing to choose to lay down their lives and to take up our crosses we may appear broken but through the brokenness Christ will bring life.

Only then does life become an interesting part of death.

International Women’s Day

There is a Chinese proverb that says:

“A fish discovers water last.”

The meaning of the proverb is that because the fish is in water, it swims and takes for granted the water it is in. Animals who do not reside in water know their need for water and search for it. The fish is oblivious until for some reason it is taken out of water.

So it is with issues of injustice. Those who live within an unjust environment if they are not on the receiving end of injustice do not recognise that injustice exists.

Chat with anyone who lives with a disability and they will describe for you the challenges faced in daily living because the world around them is not designed for them. Often simple adjustments can make all the difference but those who don’t live with the disability often do not recognise the need to change, make excuses or (whether by word, body language or expression) accuse those with disabilities of complaining.

The same can be said of those from any minority group experiencing discrimination, whether related to race, gender, sexuality, ability, age, educational attainment, wealth, etc.

Why do we need events such as International Women’s Day?

We need these days because they remind us that we do not live in an equal and just society. There are people who experience discrimination and days such as this ask us to look at ourselves and to question what we can do to make a difference. If you don’t understand this need perhaps you do not recognise the world you inhabit as unjust towards women. Don’t be like the fish in water, don’t be the last to discover the world around you, listen to the stories of women and why days such as this are needed. Listen, not to judge, but to ask ourselves how can we be part of making a positive difference. It begins with our ideas as our ideas have consequences.

Web Header 2 (jpeg)

My response as I have listened and learned is to organise a conference for men to hear from women, a space to be challenged and a space to ask questions. Tickets are now on sale for Just Voices 2018: A Women’s Conference for Men.

Snowy Community

I have been enjoying the snow during the past few days. There has then the joyful whoops of excited children pulling back the curtains and seeing the world turn white. Explorations of snow and ice – the sound as is crunches under feet, how it feels in our fingers and even how it tastes. It has been a sensory delight.

One highlight was how the snow brought the community together as we came out of our homes and threw snowballs, built snowmen and women, and towed sledges filled with children (and a few adults that refuse to grow up) along the road. Out street was filled with excited shrieks and laughter as neighbours, young and old, played together for a good few hours.

20180302_164038

Snow Woman

There was however, another side to the picture. We went for a couple of days without heating as the boiler struggled with the big freeze. Some of the older folk we know were anxious about leaving their homes in case they got into difficulties. Various groups and activities were cancelled, therefore increasing feelings of isolation. Even these challenges were met with the beauty of community. One of our local shop keepers called around to elderly customers to check they had enough supplies and took it upon himself to deliver bread and milk to those who could not get out.

20180228_072935

Snow on Roof

 

As I reflected upon the snow and different people’s responses I considered the church.

The church faces an array of views, voices, opinions and challenges. It is perhaps easiest to manage if everyone is of one view. If everyone thinks and acts the same then we can develop programmes and services to meet the needs of a particular demographic and attract more like minded people. The church needs to be diverse. We need the people who see a new landscape and want to rush out and enjoy it, we need the people who are cautious about stepping out but with a little prompting come and join in and find that they enjoy the altered space. We need those who wait inside in the warm ready to welcome and warm those who have been out in the snow with fresh socks and mugs of hot chocolate, we need those who are afraid to come out and as well as those who will go to them.

To be the church is not to be a group of monochrome robots but to work at all of these relationships to be a rich and diverse community sharing life together because God’s image is in each individual and the community of God is most complete when the diversity of God is together in the diversity of God’s creation. The church should be a community where those who are cautious about stepping out can enjoy the pleasure of those who do and those with the courage and ability to step out caring for those who need safety and warmth.

Biblical Homosexuality

Starting Out

Whenever I go on a journey there are three things I always have with me – wallet, phone and keys. Whether it’s walking the kids to school, driving across the country or flying to another part of the world I will always have these items. They each have a place in a pocket and when I check a pocket and discover one missing I start to panic. Typically, I have simply put the phone in my wallet pocket and there is no need for concern but there is a moment of uncertainty.

Wallet, Keys, Phone

Considering things of faith and theology the thing I travel with is the Bible. I am a Bible believing Christian and the study of the scriptures is important to me. Over the years as I have studied the Bible I have come to understand certain teachings and passages in different ways. The words are the same but I have gained more knowledge about the context of when the words were first written, who they were written by, who they were written too and how the translation from ancient Hebrew and Greek is not a perfect science and so meanings can alter slightly in translation.

Some passages of the Bible are historical accounts whilst others are poetic; there are stories and family histories shared over the period of a few thousand years from the perspective of one tribe or nation. I believe the Bible to be inspired by God and that God continues to use the Bible to inspire. I don’t believe the Bible is a guidebook but I do believe that there are principles and values that tell us about the character of God and how God desires us to be in relationship with him and allow his character to shape our character.

When it comes to human sexuality the Bible has a significant amount to say. There however are just a handful of verses that make direct mention of homosexuality. Looking at the departure board with my Bible in hand this post seeks to go on a journey examining these passages with a view to further passages about human sexuality to follow in due course.

Bibles

 

The Old Testament (The Hebrew Bible)

Genesis 19

Genesis 19 provides an account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah which includes the verses “Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house.They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’” (Genesis 19:4-5 NIV).

The term sodomy stems from this encounter as it is implied that the sin of Sodom was homosexual rape. The Old Testament however does not reference the sin of Sodom in this regard, referring instead to rebelling against God and not defending the oppressed, parading their sin, adultery, lying, apathy towards those in poverty, assisting criminals and arrogance. Within the New Testament there are a few references to the destruction of Sodom but it is only in Jude where it states says “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7 NIV).

As I read these passages I have to consider the description of the sin. Gang rape (whether heterosexual or homosexual) is abhorrent. It stems from a place of perversion and is a selfish act on the part of the attackers seeking to over power and fulfil whatever desires they have without consideration of those whom they prey. The passage does not address loving relationships of equal kinship between two people of the same gender.

Leviticus 18 & 20

Leviticus is a book outlining the laws and instructions for the Israelites conducting themselves in the tabernacle and in the camp in which they lived. There are two verses that mention homosexuality:

‘“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22 NIV)

““If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 20:13 NIV)

Here are pretty clear instructions within the Levitical law. It has been argued by some that Leviticus is out of date and other laws are no longer followed by Christian’s so these too are no longer important. Christian’s no longer follow the instructions “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19 NIV). If we did follow this then the gardening I did this morning and the clothes I’m wearing cause me to be a sinner.

However, the verses surrounding Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 discuss other aspects of sexual immorality which have not been discarded – such as men not having sexual relations with your daughter, your sister, your mother, your aunt or any animal. If each of these holds up then it is understandable that regardless of a loving context the Bible forbids men having sexual relations with men.

Further investigation leads to the language that it used in the verses. The text in Leviticus 20:13 actually prohibits sex between a man (‘ish’ in Hebrew) and a male (‘zachar’ in Hebrew). The distinction is important. In Ancient Greek culture (for example) it was common for men of particular social classes to engage in social and sexual activity with younger males. A reading of the Levitical verses with this in mind creates the plausibility of a prohibition or pederasty (sexual activity between a man and a boy) rather than a man and a man.

Bible scholars and theologians may disagree about whether these verses prohibit homosexually or not but I suspect all would agree pederasty is against the will of God.

 

The New Testament

Romans 1:18-32

Paul is the only writer in the New Testament to refer directly to homosexuality. Jesus is not recorded to make any comment, nor the original twelve disciples. Paul opens his letter saying that he is writing to all believers in Rome; both Jews and Gentiles (those who are not Jewish). He talks of being thankful for everyone (1:8) and a debtor to Greeks and non-Greeks (1:14). These opening verses express Paul’s concern for the whole world (not just one nation or group of people) and that the Gospel of Christ and God’s salvation is for all. Romans 1:18-32 focusses in on the gentile world and the reasons it is considered unrighteous – they knew God but did not glorify or give thanks to him. Those who abandon God, God allows to follow their own desires (however perverse they may be). It is in this context that Paul writes,

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27 NIV)

There is debate about the use of the word ‘Akatharsia’ which Paul uses in Romans 1:24 to describe uncleanness (KJV) or impurity (NIV) is commonly used in reference to describe shrine prostitution. This provides the argument that Paul was only writing about specific forms of homosexual practice and not loving, committed relationships. This line of reasoning can be upheld by the subsequent verses which say “they have no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (1:31). In the context of prostitution there is no love or fidelity however within a devoted relationship there is love and faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Writing to believers in Corinth Paul says:

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV)

The original Greek includes two terms that mean that things are again not a clear cut as a first glance might suggest. The first word is μαλακός (malakós) for which the literal translation is ‘soft’ has been translated as ‘effeminate’ (KJV), ‘homosexuals’ (NKJV), ‘homosexual perverts’ (GNT) and ‘male prostitutes’ (NRSV). The second word ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoítēs) which is a compound word made up of arsen (meaning male) and koites (meaning bed). The literal meaning is not male-bed and is translated as ‘sodomites’ (NRSV/ NKJV), ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ (KJV). The pairing of the two terms leads some theologians to determine that Paul is referring to all kinds of homosexual relations as being a barrier to inheriting the Kingdom of God. However, there is enough uncertainty for others to determine that only homosexual relations that are abusive, involving prostitution or pederasty are deemed unacceptable by Paul and therefore God.

Either way the passage does not only talk about homosexuality. Heterosexual immorality, theft, greed and drunkenness are included and far less commotion is made by most believers and churches today.

1 Timothy 1:8-10

Paul writes in his letter to Timothy,

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practising homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

It appears clear yet again that (amongst a list of other sins including murder and liars) homosexuality is contrary to sound doctrine (beliefs). Paul uses the same word ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoítēs) and again different Bible translations use a variety of words ‘sodomites’ (NRSV/ NKJV), ‘them that defile themselves with mankind’ (KJV) and ‘sexual perverts’ (GNT).

 

Final Destination or Lay Over?

When I first looked at the departure board and wondered whether I was prepared to go on this particular journey I was coming from a place that said homosexuality was not biblically permitted and I was challenged by the injustice and persecution faced by those identifying as LGBTQIA by many identifying as Christian. As I conclude this part of the journey I can understand why people maintain this position but I am not convinced that the Bible can be used to make a blanket statement of acceptance or condemnation based solely upon these verses.

I am sure that debates and disagreements will carry on in circular fashion about whether the use of certain words and their potential meaning and implication permit any form of homosexual relations. The case is clear for sexual perversion, prostitution and pederasty – these should not be tolerated. Prejudice, rejection and persecution should also not be tolerated. We should mutually encourage and be encouraged by one another’s faith (Romans 1:11-12).

The Departure Board

I love to travel and explore and discover places that are new to me. Standing in front of a departure board I enjoy dreaming about the possibilities of all the destinations listed. Looking around it is clear to see that people are preparing to go away for business; it is part of the normal repetitive work life. Others with families excited about the holiday they are embarking on. Then there’s the sports team travelling to a tournament, the young adult heading out for a gap year or the friends embarking on a six month adventure travelling the world. Of course there are also those who are returning home after some time away – be it for a few days of work, a few weeks holiday or the over due visit to parents or other loved ones not seen in too long. In addition to those preparing to depart there are those who have come to drop off, to wave good bye and to wish bon voyage. For good or for ill all gaze at the same departure board.

Departure Board

Standing in the same place looking in the same direction does not mean that everyone is heading to the same destination and neither does it mean they have come from the same place. So it is with the Church and human sexuality. It cannot be assumed that everyone has started with the same view, is asking the same questions and travelling the same journey of biblical understanding. To understand something of the different destinations we first need to recognise where we are coming from.

What is often referred to as the traditional biblical view of same sex relationships is (at its furthest extreme) one which reads and interprets the Bible to say homosexuality is an abomination. This has been the traditional teaching of the Church and therefore anyone who has grown up attending and participating in the life of a church inherits such a perspective.

Those who do not have a church or religious background do not have the same influences but will have deeply ingrained ideas inherited from their cultural context. For example, it was only in 1992 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified same-sex attraction as a mental illness and the Isle of Man fully decriminalised homosexuality in 1994.[i] So even without the traditional biblical perspectives relating to same-sex attraction the world at large has carried a less than favourable bias. Coming to faith and accepting the teaching of the Bible will not necessarily alter this inherited cultural perspective even if opinions about other aspects of life and different people do change over time.

Both the societal and Church responses to human sexuality have meant that those who identify other than heterosexual have at best felt rejected, isolated and out of place. At worst they have been persecuted, subjected to ridicule, forced to deny their true self and suffered emotional and psychological trauma. Even with significant changes to legislation and rights in recent decades much of this negativity remains. Statistics demonstrate that young people who identify as LGBT half have reported self-harming and 44% have considered suicide[ii] (at least two times higher than the general population)[iii]. Furthermore 48% of trans-people aged under 26 have attempted suicide.[iv]

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 granted civil partnerships for same sex couples in the UK and later the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 giving the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples. This means children aged 14 and under have never lived when same-sex civil rights were not provided for and it is unlikely that anyone aged under 18 would have any memory of such a time. The impact of this is that young people are increasingly less likely to consider heterosexuality as the only norm or understand why those who identify as LGBT+ have faced the intensity of discrimination they have to date.

Both the societal and Church objections to homosexuality have meant the LGBT+ community had to keep their true identities hidden. Recent decades have seen this community gaining a voice and witnessing favourable legislative changes for them. Churches have not been required to face up to the issues of discrimination because the relationships within churches have silenced or kept out those who do not identify as heterosexual. This is changing. The once voiceless are gaining a voice. Scripture is being reread, re-examined and studied as those within the Church look at the departure board and ask whether they will stay put or go on a journey. Are we prepared to end up somewhere new or to one day return to the point of departure having experienced more of the wider world?


[i] http://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/key-dates-lesbian-gay-bi-and-trans-equality

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/412427/LGB_Suicide_Prevention_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf

[iii] https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2017/07/06/mental-health-challenges-within-the-lgbt-community/

[iv] http://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/lgbt-facts-and-figures

 

LGBTQIA and the Broken Church

If there is one subject that can cause division like no other for the Church today it is human sexuality. In some circles even to suggest support or welcome to those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersexual or asexual (LBGTQIA) will result in condemnation and exclusion. At the other end of the scale disapproval and prohibitions present themselves when the policy of affirming and accepting everyone is queried. Proponents at both ends of this spectrum quote and expound Bible verses to present their argument to endorse their particular view and prove a “correct” reading of scripture. When it comes to human sexuality the Church is broken.

Central Line

I recently found myself looking at the London Tube map. If you ride the Central Line you can look at a picture of the whole tube map or a simplified map of just the Central Line. At one end of the Central Line is West Ruislip and at the other is Epping – a journey of about 1.5 hours if you stay on the tube for the whole ride. Between these stations are 35 others (and a small number of stations on a couple of branch lines). The Churches division regarding sexuality is most noticeable when only considered by the polar opposite ends of the line, when the stops along the way are not considered to be ultimate destinations but that if you are not fully against or fully supportive you must be on the tube heading in one direction or the other. I have been through my own wrestling with my own understanding and views; the teaching I have received, the people I have met, the stories of exclusion, inclusion, pain, healing, hate and love. Looking at the tube map I realised that I have been on a journey, not of my own sexuality but in regards to my understanding of the biblical view. I also realise that I haven’t just followed one line or stopped at every station.

There are a much richer and broader range of biblical understandings and theologies of human sexuality and subsequent praxis than is often heard. There is not just one line with camps at each end but a map with a range of routes and destinations. In fact not everyone will travel in the same way; just as London offers the Tube there are also roads and pathways that can be followed on foot or by different vehicles with different maps to follow. Those who do not sit comfortably within one of the extreme opposite camps are cautious about voicing opinions or asking questions because of fear of the repercussions or being misunderstood. I know that if I affirm same sex marriage and am willing to conduct a ceremony of marriage or blessing my future ministry will be restricted by the denomination of which I am a part. If I am not fully affirming it will be viewed as a rejection of friends I know and care for and cause considerable pain as well as causing those outside of the Church to view it as increasingly outdated, exclusive and out of step with society.

Tube Map

In the past I thought that I needed to have an answer to everything, to be clear on my understanding of God and on God’s view on everything and therefore I always felt inferior to others and inadequate. I haven’t got it all figured out now but I know that’s alright, I am secure in God and secure in my lack of understanding.

Even when I feel secure in my beliefs I understand others see the world differently to me though we study the same scriptures and worship the same God. I want to understand my current location and to explore more of the map. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at what the Bible says about sexuality and the response of the Church, looking for Christ’s beauty in the Church’s brokenness.