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.'
here's the (raw) text of my ramble regarding the importance/priority of God's covenant relationship with his people .........comments welcome at email@example.com 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.