Herewith is the promised blog on homosexuality, gafcon and affairs of a similar nature (no pun intended). Although I’m trying to be careful about how I write this, I’m sure it won’t be my final and definitive position, just a snapshot of the view from where I’m standing at the moment. In reality the homosexuality debate in the Christian world in general, and the homosexuality debate in the Anglican church in particular, has been winding me up for a while, so the gafcon conference, and the “Jerusalem Declaration” coming out of it arrived like a red-rag to the already wound up proverbial. So this is me trying to tease out where I think the problems are with the debate in its current form.
Problem one; “The false gospel and the true gospel”. It has become the norm to state positions in terms of the false (homosexual) gospel and the true gospel (the rest of us). In their final statement, gafcon choose to word it as the “false gospel” versus the “biblical gospel” which amounts to the same thing. I think there is a non-sequitur here; namely the assumption that if the other guy’s position is false, then mine must be true. Naturally I believe my understanding of the gospel to be true, otherwise I would revise it. However, I am also aware that I am continually revising my understanding of the gospel, so I am unable to guarantee that I will still fully agree with my today’s understanding by this time next week. Yes, I surely do believe in absolute truth, I just can’t claim that I will have a handle on it this side of heaven. When climbing a mountain, we may be pretty sure that the path we are on leads to the top, but incontrovertible proof can only be had by successfully reaching the summit (or not). Some of the false gospel / true gospel arguments that I am reading seem to go one further than the builders of the Tower of Babel in that the writers appear to believe that they are already at the top, in possession of the mind of God, and therefore don’t need even to go to the bother of building a tower. A little humility might go a long way.
Problem two; “The authority of Scripture”. This phrase makes me so cynical. It’s not the fault of the words, it’s the way they are carelessly thrown around. Say “it’s an authority of Scripture issue”, and apparently that clinches the debate; everyone must agree with me or you are being deliberately anti-scriptural the end. What is not being discussed is what we actually mean by “The authority of scripture”. How is scripture authoritative? To whom? Under what circumstances? Does this mean that we have to take it literally? All of it? Are some parts more authoritative than others? Who decides? On what basis? How do we know they are right? Is Paul’s request that Timothy should bring his coat also authoritative to us? If we use common sense to decide then are we ranking common sense above the authority of scripture? Latin Link is a multi-denominational mission, although theologically we probably lean towards a gafcon type position. Our basis of faith statement is similar to those found in many similar organisations. It slithers out of any discussion on the authority of scripture in a fairly standard, but non-the-less thoroughly cheapskate fashion, by inserting the phrase “as originally given”. This prevents any argument, since we don’t have the originals to argue over, and in doing so, claims absolutely nothing at all regarding the translations of the Bible which we hold in our hands today, giving us free reign to toss such phrases around without wasting any valuable energy over understanding their meaning.
Problem three; “Proof-text ping-pong”. Assuming that we had reached an agreement on the nature and function of “the authority of scripture”, turning to scripture itself presents us with another range of issues. Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 both tell us that “to lie with a man” is detestable. Pretty straightforward, until we find that these verses are sandwiched around other instructions such as Leviticus 19:19 in which it is also forbidden to plant two crops in the same field, or to wear a garment made from two types of cloth. So, what would an honest and consistent approach to these verses look like? (And what does that say about the recent resurgence of allotment growing in the UK?)
If the Old Testament complicates our lives, how about the New Testament? Let’s assume we have agreed that homosexual practice is sexually immoral, because while the NT only mentions homosexuality a couple of times, it does have more references to sexual immorality. The “fruit of the spirit” passage in Galations is one well-known example. It says “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality… (long list) and envy… and those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”. For a different genre compare Revelation 21, which offers “the fiery lake of sulphur” as the ultimate destination for various people, including “the sexually immoral” and “all liars”. In my blog of the 7th of July, I clearly admitted to being envious (of those people who weren’t spending their lives queuing on the M25). Since then, no-one has cancelled their speaking invitation, no-one has declared us to be out of fellowship, and no-one has called me in for counselling. I am pretty certain that all of those things would have swiftly followed if I had admitted to being a practicing homosexual. Likewise in Revelation, the phrase “all liars” suggests that there is little wriggle room to distinguish between “a white lie” versus out and out fraud. So when we say “I didn’t have time” meaning “I have no intention of doing this”, then we are condemned right alongside our homosexual brother. Therefore, if we are unable to draw a wedge between us, the question must be asked; are we equally God’s children, or are we equally to be excluded from the Kingdom?
One way of moving away from “proof-text ping-pong” is to look for the wider principles of the Bible. I have heard a couple of speakers begin with Genesis (which is the beginning after all). Genesis 2 sets out the principle for Christian marriage; a man and a woman, different roles, man “united to his wife” etc. The opening chapters of Genesis also define a pattern for work and rest. If we are going to use Genesis 2 as a mandate to exclude homosexuals from holding prominent positions in Christian organisations, then we quickly end up playing ping-pong again, since consistency demands that we will also use the same passages to oust many (most?) existing leaders of Christian organisations, for consistently failing to maintain Godly patterns of work and rest. If we are making any serious claim for scripture to be authoritative, then surely we must recognise a modicum of internal consistency, however uncomfortable that might be for us.
Problem four; “The parts we didn’t read”.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke
to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58
We have set ourselves up for this one. Any single issue debate carries a risk of losing sight of the bigger picture. Although gafcon et al may not have been responsible for starting the debate, for us to respond by defining it as an “authority of scripture issue” leaves us wide wide open, with the areas where scripture is rather less than authoritative in our own lives exposed to the heavens and the world. Where sexual immorality can be found in a few isolated verses, which I had to use a concordance to go looking for, the mandate for God’s people to model justice and inclusion occupies vast swathes of the Bible, from whole books such as Amos and Proverbs, to much of Isaiah’s teaching, to the scaffolding set out in the Pentateuch upon which Israel’s society was to be built, to the Jesus who spent his life identifying with sinners and marginalised people.
The gafcon declaration upholds the four ecumenical councils at item three, it upholds the thirty-nine articles at item four, it upholds the book of common prayer at item six, it upholds the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage at item eight, and it “seeks relief of the poor” at item ten. Skating swiftly over this interesting order of priorities, the wording of “seeking relief”, is still rather unfortunate. Maybe freudian, it could be mis(?)-interpreted as “we seek to be relieved of the poor”, but most importantly, it belies a “charity for the helpless” attitude, one where my conscience can be appeased by dropping a coin in a jar, which exposes a total lack of commitment to seek out the sources and causes of injustice, particularly those where my own economic decisions lead to the oppression of my unseen brother.
To give one example, when Coca Cola are stealing water supplies from poor farmers in Brazil and India, and polluting water courses in Panama and Guatemala, and treating the poor less favourably than the rich by permitting 30 times the level of toxicity in Coke in India compared with the USA, and standing by while their trade union activists are murdered in Colombia, it is difficult to see how I can maintain the contradictory stances of endorsing this organisation by buying their products, while looking down on my homosexual brother, and still claim to have any regard at all for the “authority of scripture”.
How can we who have consistently prostituted ourselves to secular gods of consumerism claim even a molehill of moral high-ground from which to judge another’s servant? (Actually Coca Cola aren’t even the worst, I just use them as one example of many, partly because they the most “in your face” of the multinationals in Argentina, and as such they have come to symbolise to me a daily reminder of the insidiousness of the evil which dwells among us).
The Independent correspondent in her response to gafcon wrote “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, or fiddling while Rome burns; pick your metaphor and weep”. I am reading John 8:1-11, and I am weeping. I weep for the lostness of all those people genuinely desperate to uphold the truths of scripture yet somehow lost in a caricature defending their tiny god and his mini-scriptures; and I weep for the lostness of the rest of the world waiting for a real Saviour; and I weep for myself for all those times when my own rage and frustration render me impotent to take the action that I ought. Come Lord Jesus.