Lambeth and Gene

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I heard the controversial Bishop Gene Robinson speaking on Radio 4 this morning. He was asked some pretty searching questions, including one about whether he was being deliberately provocative in order to force the Anglican community to change their position in relation to homosexuality. I thought he responded graciously and was impressed with his suggestion that he was testifying to what he felt God was calling him to.

Agree of disagree- this is a brave man. He apparently has bodyguards, and wears a bullet proof vest because of death threats against him, and he runs the gauntlet of abuse wherever he goes. Check this out-

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7504472.stm

The bishop is a fellow blogger, and you can check out his own story on this link-

http://canterburytalesfromthefringe.blogspot.com

I have had quite a few discussions about homosexuality recently. I have Christian friends who have recently had to face up to this in a real way as close family members have come ‘out’.

This is such a divisive, polarising issue. For many, the Bible is categorical- homosexuality is an abomination, full stop. Any suggestion that openly gay people should be shown fellowship and love is then accommodation with evil. I could never agree with this. Philip Yancey in his book ‘Whats so amazing about grace?’ describes his own reaction to the ‘outing’ of a Christian leader in the USA as gay. His description of Christian protestors at a gay rights march is hard to feel anything for but shame.

Yancey also makes another gentle but hard hitting point. There are about three verses that make specific reference to homosexuality in the Bible, but several more that forbid marriage after divorce. Most Protestant churches (but not Catholic ones of course) over the last 30 years have moderated their position in relation to re-marriage, despite what the Bible clearly says. Don’t get me wrong- I am glad they have done this- and given people a second (or third) chance at happiness after the trauma of broken relationship. I have never heard a satisfactory theological reason why this is OK however, and other specific commandments remain inflexible.

In even asking this question, I suppose I will already be typecast as a liberal heretic by many. But I have no fixed opinion in regard to the theology of sexuality. I suppose this is a bit of a cop-out- but there appear to be many variations on this- not just the polar opposites represented by Robinson and the Anglican ‘Evangelicals’.

  • Given the increasing (if hotly debated) scientific basis for homosexuality having a significant genetic component- not a ‘lifestyle choice’- then many would point to the need for Christians to understand more, and pathologise a lot less. This has led some (Tony Campolo for example) to suggest that to be gay can not be regarded as sin- but that homosexual sex should still be regarded as unacceptable. In short, Gay people can not help who they are, but should remain celibate.
  • Others would suggest that openly gay people should be tolerated by the church, even as priests, but not as leaders- hence the fuss about Bishop Robinson.
  • Still more are like me- unsure and wondering what the next generation will make of all this. Will theology be shaped by culture- with all the attendant risks of allowing such a thing (as if this has not always happened!)? Is it possible that we will just have to leave this to God? But this does not change the fact that it is still the cause for much prejudice and conflict.
  • Then there are those whose motivation is towards the poor and broken. Who point out that the voices of Christians should never be raised against a persecuted minority- that rather we should be the peace makers, the ones showing love and forgiveness. I have even heard the Good Samaritan story retold, with a gay person cast as the Samaritan.

Faced with people whose sexuality is different from ours, who might (Lord help them) seek to attend our Church- what should our response be? Would you rather they were inside, or outside?

Faced with a real person, hurting and seeking after the living God, would you make relationship conditional on sexuality?

I think my answer to these two questions is yes, and no. How I work out the rest will be an adventure with God.

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Peregrinatio

Around the coastline of my adopted county of Argyll are places rich in the folklore of the Celtic sailor-saints. For them, voyaging was about mission. It was the very stuff of faith and life. It was the living embodiment of trusting in the living God.

Tides ebbed and flowed to His ordinance.

Storms came to test and to admonish.

The journey was blessed only by His provision

But arrival was never certain.

One of the accepted practices of these monks seems to have been Peregrinatio, or ‘Holy voyaging’, which in practice meant to get in a boat, and simply to set sail. No destination planned, simply trusting to tide, wind and God. The destination of such a voyage was not geographical, but rather spiritual. The goal was to arrive at ones ‘place of resurrection.’ Arriving at journey’s end inevitably meant an actual physical place also however- and it is these places that still hold the memory of these voyages in Argyll- in the place names, the folk lore, and also in the marks and mounds in the earth out on exposed headlands, or on tiny islands.

Just around the corner from me is Holy Loch (the site in more recent years of an American nuclear submarine base!) At the head of the Loch is the village of St Mun, named after the saint for whom this place was his resurrection.

St Brendan

Lord stain me with salt

Brine me with the badge of the deep sea sailor

I have spent too long

On concrete ground.

If hope raises up these tattered sails

Will you send for me

A fair and steady wind?