Yes, I’ve changed the title again! I was never very happy with the original, and now we’re here I’ve come up with an alternative that almost works! It sounds like it ought to be the final chapter, but we have one more, where I wanted to focus on marriage almost as a separate issue. Marriage is not determinative in the LGBTQ+ narrative, but the decisions arrived at, up to this point, inform our thinking about marriage. So in a sense the previous blog and chapter completed my exploration of the issues, whilst this week we are saying, “having made up our minds, how does this affect our relationships with those around us?” Then next time we will be exploring how what has gone before, informs our understanding of marriage.
Last time I was looking at Conversion Therapy, and a few days after it’s publication I came across this audio clip on Vicky Beeching’s Twitter thread and I think you will find it articulate and thoughtful: https://twitter.com/i/status/1376130990482075650. Please give it a listen. For the more curious there is a longer version which is part of a short 22 minute podcast at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1HvvVMszPQzwOkpIKQcj40. Then, this itself is an extract from a series you can find on BBC Sounds called “Tell It: From Gay to Non-Gay”, which is a three-part series, looking at Gay conversion therapy. I found it fascinating and enlightening, and anyone looking at the issues more deeply will want to give the Pods a listen. Sometimes, some of the things we read and hear, trigger negative memories. Consequently, be cautious, as I don’t have the experience or knowledge to know where those triggers might lie for you. I’m an ignorant non-gay trying to make sense of what I see and hear at the same time as I learn about God and His call on my life, while calling out damaging behaviour, in the main, passively accepted by my Christian brothers and sisters.
In addition, I also mentioned Rev Brandon Robertson, and coincidentally, today I came across an article about him in Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/tiktok-preacher-brandan-robertson-lgbtq-faith-1185814/
It’s about time I started the Blog! This time I wanted to look at the issue of how we deal with disagreement and differences of views. As far at the chapter released with this is concerned, I present a lot of illustrations, but found it difficult to propose solutions, mainly because we are all so different. Some will love writing to MP’s, others will go on demonstrations, others get involved with advocacy bodies, or work with volunteer agencies, or interfaith bodies, and others try and win over family and friends. If I’m realistic, any remainder won’t do anything!
However, it is important to recognise that people will hold different views about sexuality based on sincerely held, though maybe not deeply challenged, theological understandings. There are many organisations I utterly disagree with, but we need to find a way to try to persuade them they are wrong. I don’t know how we do that but shouting at them will do no more than their shouting at us – we both get defensive and shut our ears to what the other is saying, and both get hardened, and possibly hurt.
As an example, just writing that paragraph, challenged me to sit down and respond to the debate currently going on with the Scottish Government, where the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee is inviting views on a public petition, PE1817: [To] End Conversion Therapy: https://yourviews.parliament.scot/ehrc/petition-end-conversion-therapy-views/. You’ll remember I mentioned it last time, and I suspect that judging by the layout of the web page, they weren’t anticipating such a long response, but by now you know I don’t do things by halves! 😉 Some poor soul has to read it all, but they’re paid to do that! I also forced myself to write a chapter and verse riposte to a significant Christian agency over some publicity it had published – again some poor soul will have to read it, but hopefully will have the integrity to not just read the words, even though they’ll obviously disagree!
Maybe we must find a way to sit around a table and talk with those who have different views to our own, and this is probably just as true with other churches in our locality, because at some point we will have contact with them, either between leaders, or as part of some local initiative, and we need to be able to work together.
Turning to the contents of the chapter, I look at the different types of marriage we currently have and compare them. One of my problems was that when I was growing up, and even as a young adult, we only ever talked about people being “married”. As far as I can remember, the term “Christian Marriage” only began to be heard in the 1980’s, although when you talk to some Christians, they think it has been around since the time of Jesus. In reality, I think it only started to be used in the 1980’s when Christians started to respond to the call by gays, seeking to be allowed to marry. From memory, it was a reaction by the Religious Right in America, basically saying gay people must not be allowed to get married because real marriage can only be between a man and a woman. It then quickly crossed into UK Christian culture and has become commonplace here, but only really amongst non-affirming communities. I am not aware of any churches who affirm the LGBTQ+ community using the expression. I believe the term “Christian Marriage” is an elitist expression designed to put down the LGBTQ+ community, but at the same time it also puts down and dishonours, all other marriage types, seeing them as very much second best.
We will dig into the concept and different types of marriage next time, but when you are out with friends or family, and talk about that Sikh couple across the road, or the Muslim family next door, or the Christian couple on the other side, you don’t add any prefixes, like Sikh Marriage, Muslim Marriage, Registry Office Marriage, or whatever, you just say they are ‘married’, probably even if the couple have a civil partnership. I’m straight but I don’t regard myself as being in a straight marriage, and I have never said I am in a Christian marriage, even though my wife and I were married before God in a church. I am simply married – full stop. I want to do away with pejorative language that divides us before we have even got to know each other. As we get to know each other, some other elements that make me, me, will become more apparent. People who talk about Christian marriage use that description as if any other type of marriage is second, or third, best. So, to my mind, it is cited to be deliberately divisive – why would you use the expression if you were not trying to make a point? It is also quite stupid. Let’s suppose an aging Hindu couple become Christians, does their marriage suddenly get referred to as a Christian Marriage, even though they were originally married before various Hindu deities. Or, do you now require them to get married in a church? Of course not! For God’s sake (literally), call it “marriage”, and drop any prefixes.
I believe that most of society regards marriage as ideally a life-long commitment made in the presence of others. Frequently it fails, but at the start, the intention is, to make it last. If they are people of faith, there may be a celebration made in the presence of God, or whatever gods the couple recognise, depending on whether you are Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, or some other faith.
We know there is a lot of division between churches as it is. However, on the one hand, after centuries of divisiveness, the Methodists and Anglicans are looking to try to strengthen their obvious common links, by allowing the clergy of one denomination to officiate in the other, but at the same time on the other hand, all churches are trying to hold themselves together over the key issue of where LGBTQ+ folks can feature in church life. The Anglicans seem likely to split, at some point, because the African churches see the UK church as having become apostate because of its allowance of gay and trans* clergy and thus, in its understanding, turning its back on the Bible. Sooner or later, it will come to a head, though Archbishop Justin Welby has so far, done a great job keeping all sides talking.
There is already some evidence of the split to come, as the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) have gone a lot further than the UK Anglican church position, and so are temporarily out of communion with the rest of Anglicanism. Then there has been the formation of the GAFCON provinces who allege a “false gospel” is being promoted within the Anglican Communion, which denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and “promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Anglican_Future_Conference)
In my view GAFCON holds a very conservative non-affirming view of sexuality, and seems to be made up of a lot of African, Middle-Eastern and Asian Anglican churches, along with an assortment of other individual churches in the UK and America. On the GAFCON website they claim they are holding onto true orthodoxy because: “moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness in parts of the Anglican communion had reached such a level that the leaders of the majority of the world’s Anglicans felt it was necessary to take a united stand for truth.” https://www.gafcon.org/about
By God, is it messy?! Who knows what it’ll look like when the dust settles? You have individual churches, and whole denominations struggling to come to terms with the issue of sexuality, and the only winner, at present, looks to be the devil, because of the discord that exists. The problem is that individual churches have had individuals like me, who have questioned the theology we were taught, because it didn’t stack up properly. Some folk have decided to work within their church to change ideas and the prevailing thinking. Others have been faced with congregations who have decided to double-down on their traditions, and fight to hold onto the faith of their fathers, and against compromise with what they see as the “spirit of the age”. The faith must be defended at all costs “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”. Ephesians 6:13. That would be how they see it.
It’s confusing isn’t it, because I could counter with “Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5: 8. Or, from 2 Corinthians 11: “13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” But what’s the point of slinging arrows (or Bible verses) back and forth. We just leave even more victims of friendly fire strewn across the battlefield. The obligation of every follower of Christ is to learn about God’s Word (Jesus) through the writings of the Bible, and struggle to find the answers to difficult questions, and not give up till we get an answer that makes sense and is consistent with His teaching, and what we know of the Character of God.
I love engaging with people who see things differently, but only providing they haven’t clapped their hands over their ears so they can’t hear the reply. There’s no point engaging with those who refuse to listen. Justin Welby has been talking about “good disagreement”, or “civilised disagreement”, with regard to this issue.
As Christians we must learn to disagree well, without bringing harm to anyone. We must challenge what is called the “traditional” views, and challenge the views strongly, but we cannot wound those who hold such views in the way they have already wounded our friends. We need to know our Bibles well and be able to answer any questions addressed to us, with honesty, integrity and with compassion, because many people have simply not been taught properly, and lack basic Biblical education, as they have been told what they should believe, without knowing why. We need to have the person of Jesus ever before us and ask for the guiding of His Spirit.
I am not pretending that it will be possible, or likely, that we can always respond with equanimity, but that should be our aim. Personally, I believe there will be a certain amount of shuffling around as people find they can’t go in the direction their church is heading, whether that be towards affirming, or towards what is described as traditionalism. I have heard stories at the church I now serve, where at previous (pre-Covid) Pride marches in the city, members of our church who were part of the march, were the subject of verbals, from a small section of the watching crowd, who represented another church in the same city. Why the hatred? What’s going on?
It is sad when someone leaves a church, but sometimes it may be a necessary, least bad option. There is not much wriggle room to find a middle way in a church where some would welcome a gay pastor, and others wouldn’t even allow a gay person to “hand out the hymn books”. I don’t like the idea of changing churches, but I have had to do it myself. I always had the notion I would stay with a church and try to change things from the inside, but I realised that would not be possible for me, and that will be the case for others as well. Unfortunately, there will be some necessary rearrangement of the chairs, but ultimately, each church must work with all those other churches around them, whatever their stance – to the glory of God. To be a church that has no contacts with any other church, does not glorify God.
Later in the chapter I return to my constant plea to those who adhere to the conservative non-affirming line – to show how you arrive at your thinking. Saying we have 2000 years of history doesn’t make something right. How long did we, the church, think the Earth was the centre of the universe? How long did we think the world was flat? How long did the church support slavery? How long have we denied equal rights to women? How long has the church supported/ignored racism?
In addition, just trotting out the tired and ignorant answer “because the Bible says so”, even though you as an individual don’t know which book or verse supports your view, is again not good enough. Show us your workings. Throughout this essay and Blog posts I have been fairly exhaustive in citing Biblical references that I believe defend my theology. (Some would say I’ve been exhausting, and they might have a point!).
I want to encourage you to get to know your Bible well. Download the You Version Bible app so you can read the Bible in whatever translation you want. Find a Bible Reading plan on the app that suits you, so you can read part of the Bible each day. Talk to people who know more than you. If you can develop some Christian friends, you can talk over some of the difficult issues and keep each other going in the right direction. For me that was so useful as I rebuilt my theology. (A big thank you to Lina, Deans, Reuben, Stuart and Rupert) Read books. Use daily Bible reading notes. (Caveat: Please be aware, that most publishers of daily Bible reading notes aren’t yet affirming of the LGBTQ+ community, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of their writing is tainted – usually it is very good and helpful, but very occasionally you might have to bite your lip for that day!) Attend a Bible Study group. In spite of it’s faults, Premier Christian radio has some superb Podcasts that are well worth checking out. Sign up for evening classes or weekend courses at a reputable Bible college – whether that be distance learning, in person, or a hybrid). Find a church to be part of – one that can help you – I have put a couple of links on the Resources page. There is hopefully something for everyone. But please don’t allow your faith to get stale and stagnate. As the apostle Peter wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…”1 Peter 3: 15-16
A few days ago, I came across this quote by Revd. Dr. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in an article:
The Bible, of course, was not written all in one go, but is a collection of books written over hundreds – even thousands – of years. This means that when most of the books of the Bible were written, there already existed a body of Scripture, which later books refer to and reflect on.
So we can see throughout the Bible a whole variety of ways in which the Bible itself shows us how we can read – or chew over – what the Bible says. It’s not as simple as just ‘the Bible says it, so I believe it’. What the Bible says about the Bible is that we can and should chew it over in various different ways, in order to get the most nourishment from it for our faith and for how we live our daily lives.
The stories of Abraham’s negotiation with God in Genesis 18 and of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 were foundational for the developing biblical understanding of how humans can and should interact with God, and hence with God’s words in scripture.
Argument was an important strand in the Jewish rabbinic tradition of reading Scripture. It is what Jesus grew up with. When he stayed behind as a child in the temple (Luke 3:41−9) after a family trip to Jerusalem and was found “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions”, this is the tradition that he was drawn to. He continued with it throughout his adult ministry, debating with “scribes and pharisees” − though he stayed silent before the outsider, Pilate, who was not trained to appreciate this kind of debate. It was what rabbis and their disciples did; they wrestled with God and with the meaning of the Scriptures, in dialogue and debate.
In this rabbinic tradition, still living today, the purpose of argument was and is not so much to arrive at a correct answer as to encounter God in, and let ourselves be formed and changed by, the process of the argument itself. https://www.premierchristianity.com/theology/how-to-read-the-bible/5247.article
We get so hung up by the Law we read about in the Bible, don’t we? In the chapter I write:
I believe Paul goes some way to recognising the problem we have with law, and after all the work he did, writing about the issue in Romans, he comes back to it in his letter to the Hebrews. He refers to the Old Covenant made with Moses, explaining how it fails. Indeed, no-one was saved by keeping the law, which is a bit of a problem if the ultimate point was to save people! Instead, Paul explains that the replacement had to be radically different and achievable. He quotes Jeremiah (31: 31-34) telling us that the New Covenant will be written on our hearts and minds, and that the Old Covenant is completely obsolete. Paul writes in Hebrews 8:
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbours, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ 13 By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
I’m sure there will be those observing that because God is Omniscient (He knows everything) what was the point of the Old Covenant, because He knew it’d fail – He knew it wasn’t very good, so why be associated with failure. That’s for another day, but it is this obsolete law we like to hang our theology on. We love rules to guide us, because if we don’t have rules, anything is possible. Yes, anything is possible if the Holy Spirit is allowed to be actively involved. He can be a restraining influence as well an encouraging one. The law is still left in our Bibles, not to cling on to, but to show that it is unattainable in its fullness. Even though we know we can’t attain salvation by Law, we still insist on trying to see how much of it we can keep, in spite of God saying, “take your eyes off that, and look at my Son.”
I think that is a good place to finish this blog. As I say, the next blog will be the final in this series and will be looking at marriage in a bit more detail and how it impacts those identifying as LGBTQ+. I will then have to decide whether to continue to write blogs, and if so, how frequently, on what subject, and whether to ask some guest writers. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.
As I frequently say, always enjoy receiving helpful comments, so please feel free to get in touch. You will have a different experience to me, whether you identify as straight or queer. We all have different backgrounds and different ways of understanding, and different influences. Do your insights agree with my writings? Where do we differ? What do you think? Have I missed something important? Tell me about your own experience, or your story. You can use the Contact page or email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org,