Thursday, 4 December 2014

following on from saturday

Hi folks,
thanks you all at two:23 for a good time Saturday, and a big thank you to those who tolerated me rambling on before the main meeting!.
The books I referred to are:
David P Gushee: Changing my mind - an excellent read by a well-known evangelical ethicist setting out why he has changed his mind regarding issues of sexuality and offering a framework in which to place all sexualities.
James V Brownson: Bible. Gender. Sexuality - a more demanding but none the less readable and very helpful exposition of what he sees as the 'moral logic' beneath scriptural teachings on sexuality, exploring the why behind the what of what seem to be biblical prohibitions.

Of interest is Sam Allberry: Is God anti-gay? - the vicar of St Ebbe's in Oxford writes from his perspective as someone whose sexuality seems to be restricted by biblical teaching and how he copes whilst at the same time affirming the traditional view for the scriptures.

and I've just started....
Bishop Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham): More perfect union? Understanding same-sex marriage. - a recommended read so far (I've got to chapter 3), chapter 2 giving a helpful overview of our growing understanding of biology in relation to the traditional view of sexuality (aka Thomas Aquinas). Our (only provisional) understanding of biology today gives us, he writes: 'a considerably clearer and more detailed picture of the process of creation than was current 800 years ago. It indicates that homosexuality is simply a particular permutation of the possibilities locked up in any human being. Its cause is the same cause of heterosexuality. From a theological point of view, it is simply one possible outcome of the way in which God made us all.'

and finally.....
here's the (raw) text of my ramble regarding the importance/priority of God's covenant relationship with his people .........comments welcome at  where we can also have private conversations if you wish or arrange to meet up.

So in the beginning there was one ‘rule’ , a covenant if you like– enjoy my presence, just don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the unspoken consequence turns out to be a loss of innocence. But God made us inquisitive creatures, so the inevitable occurs…..we break the rules to see what happens.

What happens is sex happens, suddenly ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ are no longer innocent children but aware of their sexuality…..and thus babies were made.

So God journeys with his people as they make babies and populate his creation and counts as his those who seek his guidance like Abraham. With Abraham God makes, not a set of rules, but a covenant – I’ll be you God and you will be my people.


Time passes and the descendants get into various scrapes. Their relationship with God means that he makes himself available to sort things out culminating in his rescue of his people from slavery through Moses. Off they troop into the desert, but soon they get disgruntled about being led by ‘flame’ and ‘smoke’. What we need is a god we can see, they think (presumably because they miss the household gods they’d quietly adopted from the Egyptians. So whilst Moses seems to have been consumed by the volcanic action of Mt Sinai, they get Aaron to provide a ‘comforter’ – a golden calf. What Moses eventually brings them, at the second attempt, isn’t an idol but the 10 Commandments (cue thunder, lightning and Charlton Heston). Seemingly a set of rules they are, in fact an expansion of the original covenant, teaching how God and his people can live together in harmony.


As they progress through the wilderness Moses begins to get swamped trying to sort out people’s disputes and questions about how to live the Covenant such as ‘what constitutes murder’, aren’t white lies good, and ‘should I honour my father when he’s such a bastard.’ When his father-in-law turns up and sees an exhausted son-in-law run ragged trying to deal with it all he suggests appointing  some help. This looks like a great idea at first but with a number of people making decisions as to how to behave it quickly becomes necessary to meet and agree a ‘party line’ which then gets written down and expanded as people come with ‘yes, but what if….’ questions, and thus we have Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Instead of a Covenant we get a set of rules.


By the time of Jesus the ‘rules’ had been so minutely defined that the original purpose of them had been lost and they were being kept as a rule in itself – keep to the rules and all will be well and never mind the consequences, keeping to the rule is all. That’s why Jesus called the Temple leaders ‘blind guides’ – blinded by the details so they couldn’t see the purpose any more.


So Jesus lays it out afresh. It’s a simple covenant, he reminds us – Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. That’s how to live with your God. Ok, he expands it a bit as recorded in the Gospels but it’s always from the point of view of people’s relationship with God, not reformulating a book of rules.


Paul was one for rules, until he rather dramatically met Jesus. Now it was about relationship, not rules. This is important to remember when we read his letters. Most are responses to queries and problems of specific churches and he writes to restore the covenantal relationship with God, not to lay down a set of rules, even if we’d like to think that was just what he was doing. We have to view his letters with the same ‘spectacles’ he used to write them – the command of Jesus to love God and love our neighbour. Here we need the help of the Holy Spirit to keep these ‘spectacles’ in place because we are so prone as human beings seek the easy comfort zone of a rulebook instead of doing some work using our God-given minds and being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As we read, if we interpret anything as contrary to the Gospel principles then we’re getting it wrong. So, if we read the Romans chapter 1 and I Corinthians so called  ‘vice lists’ and interpret them as excluding homosexuals from a relationship with God because of their God-given sexuality, aren’t we returning to the rulebook?

I don’t think that is what Paul was doing here. He seems to me to be saying: ‘you used to be like this, you might still be like this, but what’s important now is that you’ve embraced Christ. What’s important now is that you let Jesus through his Holy Spirit work with you in aligning all that you are with all that he is.

The work of a church/church leader is to foster this embrace between believers and God, to quench the demand for particular lifestyles or claims to ‘correct interpretation/secret knowledge’, to lead people into worship for what God is doing with them, and to seek to draw more people into God’s embrace. It is not their job to be making rules – rules require judgements and we are specifically forbidden by Jesus from judging others. Paul fought hard to stop the Jewish Christians imposing their rules on new gentile converts. I therefore think he might take a dim view of any attempts by us to use his words as rules against our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

I've just finished a new book (so new I think it's only easily obtainable as a Kindle download) by David Gushee, a pre-eminent US evangelical ethicist, entitled 'Changing our mind'. It's a very accessible read and highly recommended.

I also thought this article by Walter Wink might be helpful............

Homosexuality and the Bible:  Walter Wink


Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before. The issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture whole denominations, as the issue of slavery did one hundred and fifty years ago. We naturally turn to the Bible for guidance and find ourselves mired in interpretive quicksand. Is the Bible able to speak to our confusion on this issue?

The debate over homosexuality is a remarkable opportunity, because it raises in an especially acute way how we interpret the Bible, not in this case only, but in numerous others as well. The real issue here, then, is not simply homosexuality, but how Scripture informs our lives today.

Some passages that have been advanced as pertinent to the issue of homosexuality are, in fact, irrelevant.

One is the attempted gang rape in Sodom (Gen. 19: 1-29). That was a case of ostensibly heterosexual males intent on humiliating strangers by treating them “like women,” thus de-masculinizing them. (This is also the case in a similar account in Judges 19-21.) Their brutal behavior has nothing to do with the problem of whether genuine love expressed between consenting persons of the same sex is legitimate or not. Likewise, Deuteronomy 23:17-18 must be pruned from the list, since it most likely refers to a heterosexual prostitute involved in Canaanite fertility rites that have infiltrated Jewish worship; the King James Version inaccurately labeled him a “sodomite.”

Several other texts are ambiguous. It is not clear whether I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 refer to the “passive” and “active” partners in homosexual relationships, or to homosexual and heterosexual male prostitutes. In short, it is unclear whether the issue is homosexuality alone, or promiscuity and “sex-for-hire.”

Unequivocal Condemnations

Putting these texts to the side, we are left with three references, all of which unequivocally condemn homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 states the principle: “You [masculine] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” The second (Lev. 20:13) adds the penalty: “If a man lies with a male as a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

Such an act was considered as an “abomination” for several reasons. The Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence the spilling of semen for any procreative purpose — in coitus interruptus (Gen 38:1-11), male homosexual acts or male masturbation — was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. (Female homosexual acts and masturbation were consequently not so seriously regarded.) One can appreciate how a tribe struggling to populate a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing total annihilation through overpopulation.

In addition, when a man acted like a woman sexually, male dignity was compromised. It was a degradation, not only in regard to himself, but for every other male. The patriarchalism of Hebrew culture shows its hand in the very formulation of the commandment, since no similar stricture was formulated to forbid homosexual acts between females. And the repugnance felt toward homosexuality was not just that it was deemed unnatural, but also that it was considered un-Jewish, representing yet one more incursion of pagan civilization into Jewish life. On top of that is the more universal repugnance heterosexuals tend to feel for acts and orientations foreign to them. (Left-handedness has evoked something of the same response in many cultures.)

Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture.

Whatever the rationale for their formulation, however, the texts leave no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of scripture. The meaning is clear: anyone who wishes to base his or her beliefs on the witness of the Old Testament must be completely consistent and demand the death penalty for everyone who performs homosexual acts. (That may seem extreme, but there are actually some “Christians” urging this very thing today.) It is unlikely that any American court will ever again condemn a homosexual to death, even though Scripture clearly commands it.

Old Testament texts have to be weighed against the New. Consequently, Paul’s unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior in Roman 1:26-27 must be the centerpiece of any discussion.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men, likewise, gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation, over which one has apparently very little choice, and sexual behavior, over which one does. He seemed to assume that those whom he condemns are heterosexual, and are acting contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up,” or “exchanging” their regular sexual orientation for that which is foreign to them. Paul knew nothing of the modern psychological understanding of homosexuals as persons whose orientation is fixed early in life, persons for whom having heterosexual relations would be contrary to nature, “leaving,” “giving up” or “exchanging” their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them.

In other words, Paul really thought that those whose behavior he condemned were “straight,” and that they were behaving in ways that were unnatural to them. Paul believed that everyone was “straight.” He had no concept of homosexual orientation. The idea was not available in his world. Is this true? There are people who are genuinely homosexual by nature (whether genetically, or as a result of upbringing no one really knows, and it is irrelevant). For such a person it would be acting contrary to nature to have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex.

Likewise, the relationships Paul describes are heavy with lust; they are not relationships of consenting adults who are committed to each other as faithfully and with as much integrity as any heterosexual couple. That was something Paul simply could not envision. Some people assume today that venereal disease and AIDS are divine punishment for homosexual behavior; we know it as a risk involved in promiscuity of every stripe, homosexual and heterosexual. In fact, the vast majority of people with AIDS around the world are heterosexuals. We can scarcely label AIDS a divine punishment, since non-promiscuous lesbians are at almost no risk.

And Paul believes that homosexuality is contrary to nature, whereas we have learned that it is manifested by a wide variety of species, especially (but not solely) under the pressure of overpopulation. It would appear then to be a quite natural mechanism for preserving species. We cannot, of course, decide human ethical conduct solely on the basis of animal behavior or the human sciences, but Paul here is arguing from nature, as he himself says, and new knowledge of what is “natural” is therefore relevant to the case.

Hebrew Sexual Mores

Nevertheless, the Bible quite clearly takes a negative view of homosexual activity, in those few instances where it is mentioned at all. But this conclusion does not solve the problem of how we are to interpret Scripture today. For there are other sexual attitudes, practices, and restrictions which are normative in Scripture but which we no longer accept as normative:

† Old Testament law strictly forbids sexual intercourse during the seven days of the menstrual period (Lev. 18:19; 15:18-24), and anyone who engaged in it was to be “extirpated,” or “cut off from their people (kareth, Lev. 18:29, a term referring to execution by stoning, burning, strangling, or to flogging or expulsion; Lev. 15:24 omits this penalty). Today many people on occasion have intercourse during menstruation and think nothing of it. Are they sinners?

† Nudity, the characteristic of paradise, was regarded in Judaism as reprehensible (II Sam. 6:20; 10:4; Isa. 20:2-4; 47:3). When one of Noah’s sons beheld his father naked, he was cursed (Gen 9:20-27). To a great extent, this taboo probably even inhibited the sexual intimacy of husbands and wives (this is still true of a surprising number of people reared in the Judeo-Christian tradition). We may not be prepared for nude beaches, but are we prepared to regard nudity in the locker room or at the old swimming hole or in the privacy of one’s home as an accursed sin? The Bible does.

So if the Bible allowed polygamy and concubinage, why don’t we?

† Polygamy (many wives) and concubinage (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were regularly practiced in the Old Testament. Neither is ever condemned by the New Testament (with the questionable exceptions of I Timothy 3:2,12 and Titus 1:6). Jesus’ teaching about marital union in Mark 10:6-8 is no exception, since he quotes Gen. 2:24 as his authority (the man and the woman will become “one flesh”), and this text was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy. A man could become “one flesh” with more than one woman, through the act of sexual intercourse. We know from Jewish sources that polygamy continued to be practiced within Judaism for centuries following the New Testament period. So, if the Bible allowed polygamy and concubinage, why don’t we?

† A form of polygamy was the levirate marriage. When a married man in Israel died childless, his widow was to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bore him a male heir. Jesus mentions this custom without criticism (Mark 12:18-27 par.) I am not aware of any Christians who still obey this unambiguous commandment of Scripture. Why is this law ignored, and the one against homosexual behavior preserved?

† The Old Testament nowhere explicitly prohibits sexual relations between unmarried consenting adults, as long as the woman’s economic value (bride price) is not compromised, that is to say, as long as she is not a virgin. There are poems in the Song of Songs that eulogize a love affair between two unmarried persons, though commentators have often conspired to cover up the fact with heavy layers of allegorical interpretation. In various parts of the Christian world, quite different attitudes have prevailed about sexual intercourse before marriage. In some Christian communities, proof of fertility (that is, pregnancy) was required for marriage. This was especially the case in farming areas where the inability to produce children-workers could mean economic hardship. Today, many single adults, the widowed, and the divorced are reverting to “biblical” practice, while others believe that sexual intercourse belongs only within marriage. Which is right?

† The Bible virtually lacks terms for the sexual organs, being content with such euphemisms as “foot” or “thigh” for the genitals, and using other euphemisms to describe coitus, such as “he knew her.” Today most of us regard such language as “puritanical” and contrary to a proper regard for the goodness of creation. In short, we don’t follow Biblical practice.

† Semen and menstrual blood rendered all who touched them unclean (Lev.. 15:16-24). Intercourse rendered one unclean until sundown; menstruation rendered the woman unclean for seven days. Today most people would regard semen and menstrual fluid as completely natural and only at times “messy,” not “unclean.”

† Social regulations regarding adultery, incest, rape and prostitution are, in the Old Testament, determined largely by considerations of the males’ property rights over women. Prostitution was considered quite natural and necessary as a safeguard of the virginity of the unmarried and the property rights of husbands (Gen. 38:12-19; Josh. 2:1-7). A man was not guilty of sin for visiting a prostitute, though the prostitute herself was regarded as a sinner. Even Paul must appeal to reason in attacking prostitution (I Cor. 6:12-20); he cannot lump it in the category of adultery (vs. 9). Today we are moving, with great social turbulence and at a high but necessary cost toward a more equitable, non-patriarchal set of social arrangements in which women are no longer regarded as the chattel of men. We are also trying to move beyond the double standard. Love, fidelity and mutual respect replace property rights. We have, as yet, made very little progress in changing the double standard in regard to prostitution. As we leave behind patriarchal gender relations, what will we do with the patriarchalism in the Bible?

† Jews were supposed to practice endogamy — that is, marriage within the 12 tribes of Israel. Until recently a similar rule prevailed in the American south, in laws against interracial marriage (miscegenation). We have witnessed, within the lifetime of many of us, the nonviolent struggle to nullify state laws against intermarriage and the gradual change in social attitudes towards interracial relationships. Sexual mores can alter quite radically even in a single lifetime.

† The law of Moses allowed for divorce (Deut. 24:1-4); Jesus categorically forbids it (Mark 10:1-12; Matt, 19:9 softens his severity). Yet many Christians, in clear violation of a command of Jesus, have been divorced. Why, then, do some of these very people consider themselves eligible for baptism, church membership, communion, and ordination, but not homosexuals? What makes the one so much greater a sin than the other, especially considering the fact that Jesus never even mentioned homosexuality, but explicitly condemned divorce? Yet we ordain divorcees. Why not homosexuals?

† The Old Testament regarded celibacy as abnormal and I Timothy 4:1-3 calls compulsory celibacy a heresy. Yet the Catholic Church has made it mandatory for priests and nuns. Some Christian ethicists demand celibacy of homosexuals, whether they have a vocation for celibacy or not. But this legislates celibacy by category, not by divine calling. Others argue that since God made men and women for each other in order to be fruitful and multiply, homosexuals reject God’s intent in creation. But this would mean that childless couples, single persons, priests and nuns would be in violation of God’s intention in their creation. Those who argue thus must explain why the apostle Paul never married. Are they prepared to charge Jesus with violating the will of God by remaining single? Certainly heterosexual marriage is normal, else the race would die out. But it is not normative. God can bless the world through people who are married and through people who are single, and it is false to generalize from the marriage of most people to the marriage of everyone. In I Cor. 7:7, Paul goes so far as to call marriage a “charisma,” or divine gift, to which not everyone is called. He preferred that people remain as he was – unmarried. In an age of overpopulation, perhaps a gay orientation is especially sound ecologically!

† In many other ways we have developed different norms from those explicitly laid down by the Bible: “If men get into a fight with one another and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand” (Deut 25:11 f). We, on the contrary, might very well applaud her for trying to save her husband’s life!

† The Old and New Testaments both regarded slavery as normal and nowhere categorically condemned it. Part of that heritage was the use of female slaves, concubines and captives as sexual toys, breeding machines, or involuntary wives by their male owners, which II Samuel 5:13, Judges 19-21, and Numbers 31:17-20 permitted — and as many American slave owners did some 150 years ago, citing these and numerous other Scripture passages as their justification.

The Problem of Authority

These cases are relevant to our attitude toward the authority of Scripture. They are not cultic prohibitions from the Holiness Code that are clearly superseded in Christianity, such as rules about eating shellfish or wearing clothes made of two different materials. They are rules concerning sexual behavior, and they fall among the moral commandments of the Scripture. Clearly we regard certain rules, especially in the Old Testament, as no longer binding. Other things we regard as binding, including legislation in the Old Testament that is not mentioned at all in the New. What is our principle of selection here?

For example; virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting:

  • incest
  • rape
  • adultery
  • intercourse with animals

But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bible condemned the following behaviors which we generally allow:

  • intercourse during menstruation
  • celibacy
  • exogamy (marriage with non-Jews)
  • naming sexual organs
  • nudity (under certain conditions)
  • masturbation (some Christians still condemn this)
  • birth control (some Christians still forbid this)

And the bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not.

Likewise, the bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn:

  • prostitution
  • polygamy
  • levirate marriage
  • sex with slaves
  • concubinage
  • treatment of women as property
  • very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13)

And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it. In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!

Surely no one today would recommend reviving the levirate marriage. So why do we appeal to proof texts in Scripture in the case of homosexuality alone, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practices? Obviously many of our choices in these matters are arbitrary. Mormon polygamy was outlawed in this country, despite the constitutional protection of freedom of religion, because it violated the sensibilities of the dominant Christian culture, even though no explicit biblical prohibition against polygamy exists.

If we insist on placing ourselves under the old law, as Paul reminds us, we are obligated to keep every commandment of the law (Gal. 5:3). But if Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6), then all of these Old Testament sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot then take even what Paul says as a new law. Christians reserve the right to pick and choose which laws they will observe, though they seldom admit to doing just that. And this is as true of evangelicals and fundamentalists as it is of liberals and mainliners.

Judge for Yourselves

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. Instead it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible only knows a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, culture, or period.

The very notion of a “sex ethic” reflects the materialism and splitness of modern life, in which we increasingly define our identity sexually. Sexuality cannot be separated off from the rest of life. No sex act is “ethical” in and of itself, without reference to the rest of a person’s life, the patterns of the culture, the special circumstances faced, and the will of God. What we have are simply sexual mores, which change, sometimes with startling rapidity, creating bewildering dilemmas. Just within one lifetime we have witness the shift from the ideal of preserving one’s virginity until marriage, to couples living together for several years before getting married. The response of many Christians is merely to long for the hypocrisies of an earlier era.

I agree that rules and norms are necessary: that is what sexual mores are. But rules and norms also tend to be impressed into the service of the Domination System, and to serve as a form of crowd control rather than to enhance the fullness of human potential. So we must critique the sexual mores of any given time and clime by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. Such a love ethic is non-exploitive (hence, no sexual exploitation of children, no using of another to their loss), it does not dominate (hence, no patriarchal treatment of women as chattel), it is responsible, mutual, caring, and loving. Augustine already dealt with this is his inspired phrase, “Love God, and do as you please.”

Our moral task, then, is to apply Jesus’ love ethic to whatever sexual mores are prevalent in a given culture. This doesn’t mean everything goes. It means that everything is to be critiqued by Jesus’ love commandment. We might address younger teens, not with laws and commandments whose violation is a sin, but rather with the sad experiences of so many of our own children who find too much early sexual intimacy overwhelming, and who react by voluntary celibacy and even the refusal to date. We can offer reasons, not empty and unenforceable orders. We can challenge both gays and straights to question their behaviors in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole.

Christian morality, after all, is not an iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God. It is the attempt to discover a manner of living that is consistent with who God created us to be. For those of same-sex orientation, as for heterosexuals, being moral means rejecting sexual mores that violate their own integrity and that of others, and attempting to discover what it would mean to live by the love ethic of Jesus.

Morton Kelsey goes so far as to argue that homosexual orientation has nothing to do with morality, any more than left-handedness does. It is simply the way some people’s sexuality is configured. Morality enters the picture when that pre-disposition is enacted. If we saw it as a God-given-gift to those for whom it is normal, we could get beyond the acrimony and brutality that have so often characterized the unchristian behavior of Christians toward gays.

Approached from the point of view of love, rather than that of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not “What is permitted?” but rather “What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?” Approached from the point of view of faith rather than of works, the question ceases to be “What constitutes a broach of divine law in the sexual realm?” and becomes instead “What constitutes obedience to the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?” Approached from the point of view of the Spirit of the rather than of the letter, the question ceases to be “What does Scripture command?” and becomes “What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?” We can’t continue to build ethics on the basis of bad science.

In a little-remembered statement, Jesus said, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57). Such sovereign freedom strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians; they would rather be under law and be told what is right. Yet Paul himself echoes Jesus’ sentiment immediately preceding one of his possible references to homosexuality: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!” (I Cor. 6:3). The last thing Paul would want is for people to respond to his ethical advice as a new law engraved on tablets of stone. He is himself trying to “judge for himself what is right.” If now new evidence is in on the phenomenon of homosexuality, are we not obligated — no, free — to re-evaluate the whole issue in the light of all available data and decide, under God, for ourselves? Is this not the radical freedom for obedience which the gospel establishes?

Where the bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant all that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well, and nowhere attacks it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue that slavery today is biblically justified? One hundred and fifty years ago when the debate over slavery was raging, the bible seemed to be clearly on the slave holders’ side. Abolitionists were hard pressed to justify their opposition to slavery on biblical grounds. Yet today, if you were to ask Christians in the South whether the Bible sanctions slavery, virtually everyone would agree that it does not.

How do we account for such a monumental shift?

What happened is that the churches were finally driven to penetrate beyond the legal tenor of Scripture to an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and the prophets and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus’ identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. Therefore, Jesus went out of his way to declare forgiven, and to reintegrate into society in all details, those who were identified as “sinners” by virtue of the accidents of birth, or biology, or economic desperation. In the light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays,  the gospel’s imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear.

In the same way, women are pressing us to acknowledge the sexism and patriarchalism that pervades Scripture and has alienated so many women from the church. The way out, however, is not to deny the sexism in Scripture, but to develop and interpretive theory that judges even Scripture in the light of the revelation in Jesus. What Jesus gives us is a critique of domination in all its forms, a critique that can be can be turned on the Bible itself. The Bible thus contains the principles of its own correction. We are freed from bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible. It is restored to its proper place as witness to the Word of God. And that word is a Person, not a book.

“With the interpretive grid provided by a critique of domination, we are able to filter out the sexism, patriarchalism, violence, and homophobia that are very much a part of the Bible, thus liberating it to reveal to us in fresh ways the inbreaking, in our time of God’s domination-free order.

An Appeal for Tolerance

What saddens me in this whole raucous debate in the churches is how sub-Christian most of it has been. It is characteristic of our time that the issues most difficult to assess, and which have generated the greatest degree of animosity, are issues on which the Bible can be interpreted as supporting either side. I am referring to abortion and homosexuality.

We need to take a few steps back, and be honest with ourselves. I am deeply convinced of the rightness of what I have said in this essay. But I must acknowledge that it is not an airtight case. You can find weaknesses in it, just as I can in others’. The truth is, we are not given unequivocal guidance in either area, abortion or homosexuality. Rather than tearing at each others’ throats, therefore, we should humbly admit our limitations. How do I know I am correctly interpreting God’s word for us today? How do you? Wouldn’t it be wiser to lower the decibels by 95 percent and quietly present our beliefs, knowing full well that we might be wrong?

I know a couple, both well known Christian authors in their own right, who have both spoken out on the issue of homosexuality. She supports gays, passionately; he opposes their behavior, strenuously. So far as I can tell, this couple still enjoy each other’s company, eat at the same table, and, for all I know, sleep in the same bed. [He is speaking of the Campolos. See for a debate between Peggy and Tony Campolo.]

We in the church need to get our priorities straight. We have not reached a consensus about who is right on the issue of homosexuality. But what is clear, utterly clear, is that we are commanded to love one another. Love not just our gay sisters and brothers, who are often sitting besides us, unacknowledged, in church, but all of us who are involved in this debate. These are issues about which we should amiable agree to disagree. We don’t have to tear whole denominations to shreds in order to air our differences on this point. If that couple I mentioned can continue to embrace across this divide, surely we can do so as well.


Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC. He has taught at numerous seminaries. He is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quaker meetings. His books include ‘Unmasking the Powers’, ‘Engaging the Powers’, ‘The Powers That Be’, ‘The Bible in Human Transformation’, and many more.

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Saturday, 1 November 2014



It’s one thing for a Christian to accept that their son or daughter is not heterosexual and still love them to bits.  It’s quite another the next time they open their Bible at certain passages that seem to tell them that God doesn’t.

It happened to me … a lot.

So I avoided these passages for years.  Who wants to hear that their loved-ones are excluded from God’s love?


It’s only recently, faced with a call from God to begin a ministry to walk with parents in a similar situation with their loved ones, that I have taken up the challenge and delved into these scriptures again.


I believe I’m called to share the journey as it evolves.  I’m not a scholar theologian or a writer or a linguistics expert.  I’m a simple retired parish priest.  So I’m going to have to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in my own thinking and in the writings of others.



The first thing to recognise is that we all come to the scriptures with our own agenda, particularly at the present time when seeking God’s mind in the area of human sexuality.  Tom Wright is quoted as saying:  ‘Let him who is without an agenda throw the first stone.’  


Jesus commanded the followers of his Way must love God with all our heart soul mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:25-28).


It is recorded in the gospels that he also commanded his followers to:

Love your enemies and pray for them.  Be compassionate as our Father is compassionate.  (Luke 6:27-36)

Love one another as Jesus loves us  (John 15:12 and 17)

Forgive … endlessly  (Matthew 19:21-22)

Stop judging others  (Luke 6:37)

Give to the needy  (Luke 11:41)

Don’t worry  (Luke 12:22f)

Be prepared and serve (Luke 12:35); Repent (Luke 13:5);

Go … and preach, make disciples (Luke 16:15, Matthew 28:18)

Don’t:   hide your light, murder, commit adultery, divorce, make vows, seek revenge, store up treasures, judge, give pearls to swine, steal, lie … (Matthew 5:15-7:6; 19:18)

… which all pretty much adds up to the same thing.


So my agenda is:  what do the scriptures say about human sexuality when viewed through the gospel ‘lenses’ of love God and love neighbour?



We have an understandable, but not always helpful, habit of categorising our fellow humans.  I guess it helps us to get to grips with our complex societies if we group people under certain ‘labels’. The trouble is, when we do this we can end up using these labels as ways of denigrating or excluding.  I dislike the way we have to speak of people as ‘gay’, lesbian, straight, LGBT or whatever the latest ‘non-offensive’ label might be.  What we are talking about are people, God’s creation, in all their wonderful diversity and I don’t believe it’s helpful to single out one strand of human sexuality from another.  Let’s face it, the tabloids (and our churches) are full of people whose heterosexual behaviour is pretty questionable to say the least, but I don’t hear the various church factions taking to the barricades about that.  So I’m going to try, and probably fail, to talk in terms of ‘human sexuality’ wherever I can.  I believe this is what the scriptures do, offering ways of expressing our sexuality which enhance rather than oppress the lives of others, ways that conform to the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.



As you come across these postings I’d be grateful for your comments – but please, if you violently disagree and can’t do so without being overly aggressive or closed-minded them perhaps you could go and kick a wall or something rather than me.  Thanks.


If you want to do your own reading then a good place to start is the helpful reading list that Vicki Beeching posted on her blog.  I’ve started with ‘Bible Gender Sexuality:  reframing the Church’s debate on same-sex relationships’ by James V Brownson (Eerdmans 2013) which is a detailed but very readable exploration of the scriptures seeking the ‘moral logic’ that operates in the text.  It’s a reasonably even-handed approach.  I’ll try to get some quotes and comments posted in the near future.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Filtered Love.

Filtered Love.

What am I to you
A thing of disgust
An object to avoid
To you, am I just wanton lust?

What do you see when
I embrace my beloved
Is it vile in your eyes
Are they blinkered
or covered

Did God turn you this way
A bigot to the label you gave me of gay?
Did he infuse your intolerance
Did he get you all fired up
Or is it the monochrome image
Of your unique rebirth
That matters so much?

I am as you are
A son of a father
I have a mother
I embrace my Lord
As do you

You are my sister
I am your brother

Did he really condemn my passion,
My peace
Did he filter your love in a way to restrict its release?

The greatest commandment or so it is said
Is to love one another
Perhaps you misread?

Open your eyes,
I am no different to you
My passion for God is both
Faithful and true
but where you reject me
I will embrace
Where you turn your back
I will offer my place

For our God does not falter
Nor is he swayed
For both me and for you
It was his Son that paid

copyright Wayne Dwyer

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Dad’s View ...

It’s the summer of 2014, I’ve been retired from being a country vicar for 9 months, and I’m struggling to come to terms with my new circumstances.  I’d heard the Lord say:  ‘I’ve trained you as an architect, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, church warden, lay reader, curate and vicar for what’s coming next.  This is not the end.’

It just felt like it.

The end of July arrived and my wife and I set off for our annual New Wine ‘experience’ hoping to seek an answer to the question ‘what next?’… and we got one!   Not the whole story, of course, He doesn’t work that way, but the next phase.  Sitting at the feet of Karl Martin as he taught from the gospel of John we felt called to respond to a bit of training the Lord has been putting us through since 2001.  In that year our son told his mum he was pretty sure he was gay.

When teenagers pluck up the courage to confess to anything it’s important as parents to supress our immediate ‘knee jerk’ reactions in favour of a casual:  ‘Oh yes? ’ When what one is feeling is quite other.  The initial reaction was one of shock, that ‘can’t think straight’ numbness of brain coupled with a draining of blood to the feet and a sense that someone has stuffed a lump of lead in your stomach.  Your rational side is saying:  ‘Keep cool, keep smiling’ because you want to talk about this calmly.  But that’s not how teenagers work.  They just drop bombshells and think:  ‘job done’.  They’re certainly not interested in how you are feeling.

So I was left all at sea to come to terms with the situation.  It felt almost like a bereavement – feelings of pain and loss, questions as to whether it was my fault, was it something I’d done to him, all wrapped up in a blanket of not understanding.  It’s not something a parent prepares themselves for.  So I shut it all away, and so did he.  He’s never talked to me about it.  For a dad, that hurts.

I love my son to bits and so does God and that will never change.  The trouble has been that’s not what he’s been hearing from most of the church.  And, frankly, the attitudes of the Christian Church to a sexuality other than heterosexuality haven’t helped me much either … fingers pointing at the printed black and white words of scripture and drawing a black and white conclusions. Which is odd when you think that the original symbol of God’s love for his creation is a rainbow – all inclusive colours in an over-arching all inclusive shape.

Over the years I’ve come to recognise the multi-coloured multi-faceted one true God rather than the man-made black and white one.  His creation is full of diversity so it shouldn’t be a surprise when we find the same in his creation of our sexuality.  We’re all somewhere on the sexual spectrum and very few are 100% one way or the other.

So anyway, to get to the point, my wife and I came away from New Wine with a strong call to reach out to parents who find themselves in the same situation as we did and to journey with them, and also to offer Jesus’ love to those who have felt rejected by God because of what the Church has said, or appeared to have said.  We had two opportunities to share this with people during that week and both times confirmed the call.  In fact the person we shared with gave our ministry its name – Joelministries, from the Old Testament prophet who proclaimed that God wanted to restore the ‘lost years’.  Later we realised it was also an acronym for Jesus Offers Everyone Love.  We’ve also adopted the slogan ‘God loves YOU to bits’ because he does, whether you feel he does or want him to or not.  We’ve got a facebook page and now a blog but don’t really know what to do so we’re relying entirely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We have no idea how to create a website but I’m sure God will sort that out.  In the meantime I’ve got a pile of books on the subject of Christianity and sexuality unread on the study floor.  If I can be disciplined enough I’ll post insights, questions, conundrums and quotes on the blog as I go along.

Please pray for us!