A Christmas sermon that cost a man his job as a minister…

frank schaefer

And what a sermon. Here it is in full.

It was given by Frank Schaefer (no, not that one– different spelling) who was defrocked by the United Methodist Church last week for officiating at his son’s marriage to another man.

Whatever your theological stance on this issue (it will not surprise you that I am with Frank) you have to admire this man’s courage.

Frank said this;

Being a United Methodist minister is the only way I know how to minister. All of my children have been baptised in the United Methodist Church. It was our church. This is our church.

I knew that I had to confess what in my heart I knew to be true, and I had to stand against the church – not the entire church – but the institution of the United Methodist organisation to say “I believe that this rule is discriminatory and wrong”, and I knew I had to tell my lawyers that.

And so when I sat in the stand, and it came to that moment to share about my true faith, and to stand against the church. I was sick to my stomach. And I was thinking, “can I actually get those words out”? And as I was in that moment, I looked out into the room, and I saw my family. Behind my family there were people sitting. Some of the people were from this church, wearing rainbow stoles. And all of a sudden it was like I could feel their prayers, and I heard myself say to the jury: “I will put on this stole, this rainbow colored stole, as a sign that I will from now on stand in advocacy of the LGBT community of our church”.

And I heard myself say, “I want you to know, that if I am going to be a United Methodist minister tomorrow, I will not refuse ministry to anyone based on their sexual orientation.”

And I heard myself say:

I can no longer be a silent supporter. I will always be an advocate and I will tell the church that these laws are discriminatory. And that we treat our LGBT brothers and sisters as second-class Christians, and that the hate, the hate speech of the church has to stop.

Tony Campolo on homosexuality…

Over the last few years, a number of people who would previously have been regarded as Evangelical Christian heavyweights appear to have changed their stance on homosexuality significantly. There seems to be a whole wing of Evangelicalism that is ‘coming out’- or do I generalise from the particular?

Is this accommodation with the changing views of culture- albeit lagging behind because of a dragging-anchor theological hermeneutic?  Or is it the fact that Christians are finally catching the scent of freedom and justice on the breeze? Whatever, I celebrate the change.

I will not list the names I am thinking of, as this plays into the hand of the totemic brigade- you know the way it works, the degree to which a person is ‘OK’, ‘Biblical’, ‘Theologically sound’, depends on whether they agree with us on certain totemic issues. I try, but if I am honest I am guilty of a bit of this too…

I was first inspired by listening to Tony Campolo speak back in the early-mid 1980’s. He upset a lot of people at Spring Harvest festival some time around then (I think I was there, but the story might have become more important than fact on this one!) by telling a story something like this;

You know folks, X (can’t remember the exact figure) number of people have starved to death since I started to speak to you tonight.

And you know what is worse? Most of you people here do not give a shit.

And even worse that that, most of you are far more concerned that I just used the word ‘shit’ than the fact that those people have starved to death.

It is hard to convey how genuinely shocking hearing these words from a preacher at Spring Harvest was back then. Campolo has always been rather left field.

However, his stance on homosexuality in books of his I have read went something like this;

It is not the fault of gay people that they were born different, but the Bible is clear that the homosexual act is sin. It is however NOT a sin to be homosexual, as people have no control over their sexual orientation. Therefore to be gay and Christian is to be celibate.

I think he may even have used the old ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ argument. If he did not, others certainly did in his wake.

Contrast this with the clip below. He does not need to talk about the theology- rather he tells a story, which is a very Jesus kind of way of doing theology of course.

The emotional musical soundtrack is a bit naff, but Campolo is always (ahem) Campelling.

 

 

Are we still sending white missionaries to cause problems in black Africa?

I heard about this film recently. It has made waves in the US and Canada- although only a few clips are available in the UK via you tube.

It is a documentary dealing about the impact of evangelists from the American International House of Prayer (IHOP), an organisation that some of us may know from forays into the weird world of Christian satellite TV.

Are we really still sending young white men and women to do this kind of thing? Did we not learn the lessons about from the Victorians about how religion and colonialism (perhaps better understood as globalisation) become a potent toxic mix?

And when violence and intolerance result, do we still blame the victims- as if it is the fault of some kind of black ‘heart of darkness’?

Another analogy that sprang to mind in relation to this shameful process was how the cold war used Africa to play out power games- we exported the tensions and hatreds to places like The Congo and Eritrea. It is almost as if the church is doing the same in relation to homosexuality. IHOP are losing the argument in increasingly secular US, so they are fighting the good theological fight against homosexuality in Uganda.

Lord forgive us.

Cardinals, McLaren and the charge of hypocrisy…

Cardinal O'Brian

No one could have missed the story of Cardinal O’Brian and the scandal engulfing the Catholic Church at the moment, but just in case you have, it goes something like this;

Cardinal O’Brian, the only British Cardinal, starts off (20 years ago) as a moderate within the church, upsetting conservative Catholics with his liberal views on contraception, homosexuality and whether priests should marry. Over time however, as the Vatican became increasingly hard line, he seemed to swing towards the right, becoming a strident and belligerent voice proclaiming the need to Christian morality, family values and for Conservative Catholicism. There was even talk of him being the next Pope.

Last year he made a splash because of his rather bizarre comment comparing Gay Marriage to slavery. I wrote about it at the time, here. 

Then, totally out of the blue, in the wake of the shocking resignation of the Pope, just as Cardinal O’Brian is about to go to Rome to take part in the election of the next Pope, 4 men- three priests and one ex-priest, let it be known that he used his power and authority to impose sexual acts on them whilst they were young men.

He initially denies it. The Church starts to close ranks. Then he admits it and resigns his office.

I have avoided discussing this matter up until now on this blog- partly because I did not want anything I wrote to seem triumphalist. I have ‘come out’ as a Christian who has a very different position on  the (unfortunately) totemic issue of homosexuality to that espoused by the Cardinal (and many other good people, including close friends.)

I was also staggered by the scale of the fall of this man- for whom I feel great sympathy. I know what it is like to be trapped in an unyielding and inflexible hermaneutic- to resort to compartmentalism to cope with the cognitive dissonance. Many people describe O’Brian as a good man, a kind man who has the capacity for so much good. None of us are just one thing, we are all many- and those who attack him should beware throwing the first stone.

Finally, I feel a collective shame for the Church. Scandals like this confirm the worst of prejudice about what the Church has become- it tells the world that we are that most despicable thing- we are hypocrites. This story proves our guilt- and the guilt is collective. As soon as we (the Church) begin to stand on moral high ground, we will always be in danger of the crumbling cliff edge.

That is NOT to say that we should have no moral voice. Our job is to be a people who present a radical alternative. We are to be an irritant  and conscience of those in power, not because we are better than others, but because we are prepared to try this thing called love. All morality is captured by this simple word- love. As soon as love is subordinate to morality, then morality becomes the worst form of religion.

So in this sense, Cardinal O’Brian is both perpetrator and victim of a system of faith that makes individual salvation from private sin the most important issue. It IS an important issue- but we all have logs in our own eyes. And there are other issues…

Which were brought to me again when listening to clip in my previous post.

brian-mclaren

Brian McLaren, speaking in St Paul’s Cathedral mentioned that he had a son who was gay. I have read and listened to a lot of his stuff, but did not know this. It seems that he performed a marriage ceremony for his son and partner last year, which predictably got him in to a lot of trouble. A case in point is this entry on his blog, in response to a man who had publicly ‘broken rank’ with him as a result of his stance on homosexuality, and his decision to participate in his sons marriage ceremony. Some of his response is as follows;

My view on human sexuality has indeed changed over a period of thirty years, and actually, the views of most conservative Christians have also been changing over that period. It wasn’t too long ago that the only conservative position was, “It’s a choice and an abomination.” When that position became untenable due to increasing data, the conservative position evolved to “it’s a changeable disposition, and we know how to change it.” When fewer and fewer people who claimed to have been reoriented were able to sustain the reorientation, the position shifted to “it’s a hard-to-change disposition, but it can be done with great difficulty.” More recently, I hear conservatives say “the disposition may be unchangeable but the behavior is a choice, so people may choose to live a celibate life or a heterosexual life, even against their orientation.” All that’s to say that it would be unfair of me to break fellowship with people who are themselves on a journey, just because they aren’t where I am at this point…

In my case, I inherited a theology that told me exactly what you said: homosexuality is a sin, so although we should not condemn (i.e. stone them), we must tell people to “go and sin no more.” Believe me, for many years as a pastor I tried to faithfully uphold this position, and sadly, I now feel that I unintentionally damaged many people in doing so. Thankfully, I had a long succession of friends who were gay. And then I had a long succession of parishioners come out to me. They endured my pronouncements. They listened and responded patiently as I brought up the famous six or seven Bible passages again and again. They didn’t break ranks with me and in fact showed amazing grace and patience to me when I was showing something much less to them.

Over time, I could not square their stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) … we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish “what the Bible says” from “what this school of interpretation says the Bible says,” and that helped me in many ways.

So – many years before I learned I had members of my own close family who were gay – my view changed. As you can imagine, when this issue suddenly became a live issue in my own family, I was relieved that I was already in a place where I would not harm them as (I’m ashamed to say this) I had harmed some gay people (other people’s sons and daughters) earlier in my ministry…

This post hints at what must have been great personal pain through all this, but also a great strength- the sort that feels (to me at least) right. McLaren ends his post like this;

I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue (my words, not yours) “- what else will happen next?” Here’s what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak – the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 – 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 – 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value – far beyond monetary or corporate value – of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus’ proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God’s amazing grace to all creation.

What he is able to do here is lift our eyes from a  grubby obsession with what goes on in people private bedroom space to the call of the Kingdom of God.

This is the greater charge of hypocrisy that I feel myself constantly to be under. How all the distractions and comforts of my life and lifestyle prevent me from living as a full agent of  the commonwealth of God as spelled out above.

In this, as with the Cardinal, I am reliant on Grace, and the hope that I may yet become what I aspire to be…

Chalke on homosexuality- video

My last post on this issue at the moment.

I feel I must say sorry to my friends who are troubled by my take on this issue- angered even. My last post was unfortunately rather flippant and did not do justice to the depth of the issue. All I would say is that I do not do this because I am drawn towards controversy for its own sake. I do it because I have come to believe that the church has got its attitude towards gay people badly wrong.

We isolate people at their point of greatest need. We place them on the outside with no possibility of acceptance and inclusion. In another e-mail recently I found myself saying this;

human sexuality is highly complex- some people can indeed change their sexual behaviour to a certain extent, but the harsh fact is that most can not. The implication for this majority then is that God created them with a different sexuality, but who they are will never be acceptable to His people on earth- short of a half life of loneliness and struggle. The end results are high suicide rates, mental illness, isolation and some people end up living in (not always healthy) ghettos where they feel safer. Despite a shift in societal attitudes gay people still live in fear of all sorts of prejudice.

The other end result is that they are driven away from the church and from God. We have two friends whose children grew up in the church but always knew themselves to be ‘different’. Both are now far far from the church. I also have friends who deal with their sexuality by keeping secrets- trying to display surface acceptability. What they long for are stable, monogamous, loving relationships- and to be accepted and loved by their peers.

All of these friends will describe their utter incomprehension at being told that they are loved, but that their sinful lifestyles can not be accepted. They would describe their sexuality as fixed from the earliest age- in the same way as others have blond hair. The arguments about original sin make no sense to them- and they would point to others who are born with a physical disability, who used to be excluded but are no more.

The reason why we in the church have adopted the position we have is based on our interpretation of scripture. This has been a crucial journey for me- in trying to understand what these scriptures mean, and to set them in the wider context of the life Jesus calls us to.

And a long time ago I decided that if I was going to make an error in my theology, I would err on the side of grace. I would err on the side of love. I would err on the side of acceptance.

What I think we need is for people who have an apostolic voice to speak on this issue with love as the primary imperative.  People who are prepared to risk the storm that will surely fall on their heads- risk their jobs, their reputation, even losing their friends.

Step forward Steve Chalke;

http://player.vimeo.com/video/57125373

Steve Chalke raises his head above the parapet on homosexuality…

steve chalke

My mate Simon pointed me to this article, written by Steve Chalke, of the Oasis Trust, and published in this months Christianity Magazine. For those who do not know this publication, it is the voice of Evangelicalism in the UK- read by mostly fundementalist, bible-first, charismatic (with a small c), conservative (also with a small c) Christians. I used to read it myself years ago, but found that it made me too cross.

In this instance however, well done to the magazine for giving air to Steve, who has no doubt summoned down the wrath of many of its readers on his head, but in doing so has opened up an important debate from on the ‘inside’.

Here are some of the things he had to say;

I feel both compelled and afraid to write this article. Compelled because, in my understanding, the principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion sit at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Afraid because I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is ‘a grotesque and sinful subversion’, an ‘objective disorder’ or, perhaps slightly more liberally, ‘less than God’s best’.

Some will think that I have strayed from Scripture – that I am no longer an evangelical. I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible’s authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously. My prayer, in writing, is therefore to encourage a gracious and mature conversation around an extremely important pastoral and theological issue that impacts the lives of so many people…

In autumn 2012 I conducted a dedication and blessing service following the Civil Partnership of two wonderful gay Christians. Why? Not to challenge the traditional understanding of marriage – far from it – but to extend to these people what I would do to others – the love and support of our local church. Our service also gave them the opportunity, surrounded by their family and friends, to publicly recognise their dependence on God and their need to be part of a supportive Christ-centred community to strengthen them in fulfilling their promises to one another.

Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ. I leave it to others to debate whether a Civil Partnership plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage or not. But I do believe that the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded…

In my view, although motivated by a laudable concern for inclusion, many of the arguments that have been constructed in the attempt to soften or nullify what is the clear and uncompromising stance of Scripture unintentionally end up clouding the real issue – one of wider hermeneutics rather than simply exegesis.

Through my hermeneutical lens, the Bible is the account of the ancient conversation initiated, inspired and guided by God with and among humanity. It is a conversation where various, sometimes harmonious and sometimes discordant, human voices contribute to the gradually growing picture of the character of Yahweh; fully revealed only in Jesus.  But it is also a conversation that, rather than ending with the finalisation of the canon, continues beyond it involving all of those who give themselves to Christ’s on-going redemptive movement.

Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?

Tolerance is not the same as Christ-like love. Christ-like love calls us to go beyond tolerance to want for the other the same respect, freedom, and equality one wants for oneself. We should find ways to formally support and encourage those who are in, or wish to enter into, faithful same-sex partnerships, as well as in their wider role as members of Christ’s body.

I end where I started; in the coming months there will be huge and often heated debate around gay marriage. I am committed to listening and trying to understand the intricacies of the arguments on both sides. But, whatever the outcome and whichever side of the debate we find ourselves on, my hope is that as Christians we face what I think is the central issue – what does real, Christ-like, inclusion look like?

For those who want to engage with the theology of his argument, I recommend reading the article in full.

And in the mean time, I commend you Steve for using your apostolic voice to raise this issue in such a thoughtful and gentle way. I know this is an easy thing to do when someone agrees with your own opinion- it is much harder to feel respect for those on the other side of a debate.

Let us hope that there may yet be a time when the Church can be a place of radical inclusion of out groups- which is after all the Jesus way.