(Just like last month, as a bit of fun, look out for the hidden rock/pop song titles!)
When I released my last blog, it was mere hours before a Pride March – my first “Pride” March (though not my first march), and since then I’ve been to a second. So, what were the experiences like? How do I reflect back on them?
After the first one, I came away really pleased to have been there, but wishing I had been able to say more. It was a colourful, vibrant and noisy occasion. Conversation could only be snatched here and there, but it would have been good to have had more opportunities, but part of that would be my fault as I’m sure I could have been more pro-active. However, I went along not knowing what to expect, so my caution probably inhibited me a little. Having had that experience, I went into the second with a clearer idea of what might be expected, and, with a bit more confidence.
That may sound strange if you were one of the marchers, but although we could have been part of the March, we were going along intending to present a positive view of Jesus and the church, and to be a kind of challenge to those who take a negative and antagonistic attitude, towards the LGBTQ+ community. We went along to the march with the message that you can be both Christian and LGBTQ+.
We had a bit of an idea of the opposition we might come up against, but my biggest disappointment on both occasions, was still the attitude of a small group of street preachers. They harangued the marchers saying, “homosexuals are going to hell”, that they were wicked”, were “abominations” and that they made God angry – and plenty more besides! There was a lot of rhetoric about an angry god, but no kind and loving words about the extent of God’s grace. The Gospel they preached was incomplete – no, it wasn’t even that, it was a distorted gospel. Even when the subject of the love of God was mentioned, it was shouted angrily in people’s faces. Something accusatory, along the lines of “God loves you, and you must turn to him right now”. Interestingly, every verse they quoted was from the King James Bible/King James Version (KJV). Why use that language of yesterday when talking to people today, given that most of whom won’t be going to a church, and won’t be familiar with that language? It conveys the message the church is stuck in the past and reinforces the idea that it is irrelevant.
When I was young in the Sixties, mum and dad had a couple of KJV Bibles in the house, but they didn’t use them, because the language was out of date. (They sometimes used them for reference purposes because they grew up with them.) The Bible they used was the Revised Standard Version (RSV), so the first Bible I was given, was the RSV, on my eighth birthday, and my late dad wrote in the front cover – and I still have it on my bookshelf! I used to underline important verses in different coloured biro when I was a teenager! Then, sometime in the late Sixties, I was given a “Good News for Modern Man” New Testament (which later developed into the Good News Bible – GNB in the Seventies). A couple of years after that I bought a Living Bible, and later in the seventies I bought the full Good News Bible, and then the New International Version (NIV), which I still use a lot (in its 2011 form). I have always wanted to read the Bible in a version that is clear, up-to-date and accurate, and so I therefore struggle to understand why anyone still uses the KJV in a public setting.
People talk about the rich and colourful language of the KJV, but my preference is not to admire the book like a painting is admired, but to quickly understand and use the Bible as a manual or guidebook (not a rulebook – since rulebooks have no room for grace!).
Please don’t get me wrong, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the translation of the King James Bible as such, although it is not nearly as accurate as some of the modern versions like the NIV and Revised Standard Version (especially the Updated Edition), but the language is so old-fashioned it can be difficult to understand in places. However, I still sometimes like to compare verses with the KJV. It was a masterpiece of its day, but that was 400 years ago, and as I said, there are better translations, and ones that are a lot more accurate, having been able to make use of lectionaries that simply weren’t compiled, or available, in 1611.
I have many times referred to the tremendous work of Kathy Baldock (https://canyonwalkerconnections.com) in various places in my essay, as well as on my Resources pages, and in previous Blogs. If you haven’t already done so, please go and view her two videos on YouTube (each one a proper seminar lasting more than two hours) called Unclobbering the Tangled Mess (Parts one and two) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBwajcvZtqw and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JTBpomMH5c. As I say, they are very long, but they are essential viewing to help you understand the culture and history surrounding ‘recent’ Bible translations. They are brilliant and easy to understand seminars, and I truly commend them. Bear in mind that most English-based Bible translations from the last 70 years have been commissioned and produced in America. Usually, sometime later, we might get an Anglicised version, so understanding the culture prevailing at the time, when each translation is made, especially in America, is very helpful. Before I move on, check out the interview with Ed Oxford (who has recently been working with Kathy) here, where he is looking at other European translations: https://www.forgeonline.org/blog/2019/3/8/what-about-romans-124-27. In that piece, we are reminded that the word “homosexual” didn’t appear in any German language Bible until 1983 (only 40 years ago), although the first time the word “Homosexualität” (Homosexuality) was used, anywhere in the world, was in a pamphlet in Germany in 1862 (160 years ago). Who financed that 1983 translation of the Bible? You won’t be surprised it was an American publishing house, not a German one.
We were talking just now about the King James Version of the Bible. Who was this King James? I want to take a brief historical sidebar: James (VI of Scotland and I of England) fathered a number of children with his wife, Anne of Denmark, three of whom survived to adulthood. He also had long-standing relationships with three primary courtiers, starting from when he was 14-years old, and continuing until his death. “Sir John Oglander observed that he “never yet saw any fond husband make so much or so great dalliance over his beautiful spouse as I have seen King James over his favourites, especially the Duke of Buckingham” whom the king would, recalled Sir Edward Peyton, “tumble and kiss as a mistress.” Restoration of Apethorpe Palace in Northamptonshire, undertaken in 2004–08, revealed a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and Villiers.”- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_VI_and_I#Personal_relationships There is a further page under the title of ‘Personal relationships of James VI and I’, and you can also look up Anne of Denmark.
Today, we would probably define James as either gay, because he romantically preferred men, or at least bisexual, since, other than Anne he was romantically linked with Anne Murray, who later became Lady Glamis.
So, it is interesting to ponder that if, when King James was reading the new Bible he commissioned, he thought his behaviour was being criticised, would he not have sought to alter/water-down the wording? Did the translators have him in mind when they were writing the translation that, in our eyes, seems to criticise his behaviour? Alternatively, maybe what he was reading simply didn’t mean then, what we think it means now. It simply wasn’t seen as an issue. Maybe what he was understanding the Bible to have been condemning was boy-abusing, which he wasn’t guilty of. Are we guilty of reading back into the translation our own cultural biases and understandings? Of course. We always do.
Getting back to the Pride marches, on both occasions we deliberately stood close to the shouty Christian group, not to goad them, but to provide an alternative narrative. It was superb to have marchers come up to us to give hugs or proffer air-kisses from where they were. At the first parade, I had been hoping to get into one or two chats with people, but on almost every occasion that people around me were drawn in, it became a shouting match, and nothing ever gets settled when one person shouts at another. However, I did engage on one occasion, when one guy kept loudly talking over/shouting at, my friends, and I asked him why he was shouting, and when did Jesus shout at people? He correctly came back with the clearing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15) but when I asked him (repeatedly, because he didn’t want to answer) to explain who Jesus was shouting at, he ignored me, and turned away and shouted at someone else. I wanted to remind him that Jesus only got angry at the traders and priests in the Temple because they were preventing the Gentiles (anyone who wasn’t Jewish) from worshipping God. The Gentiles were only allowed in one area of the temple to pray, and it was in this zone the priests had allowed traders and moneychangers, to set up their stalls. It would be like you going to church on a Sunday to quietly spend time in God’s presence, and the church leaders had, in the meantime, arranged for a street market and a small “farmers market” to permanently use the church, to boost church funds.
To answer my own question, the people Jesus got angry with, were those in authority and those trying to exploit the “ordinary person”, the powerless, of the period. Jesus never got angry at anyone he came across walking the streets, fields hills and lakes of the Holy Land. He never shouted at anyone he was teaching. He was always respectful and met people where they were. Jesus enjoyed conversations, stories and clever banter (Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 12: 28-34), none of which would be possible if he shouted at them. Instead, people loved him and gathered around to listen to what he had to say: “28 … the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law”. (Matthew 7) He never shouted at, but always talked with, people – and children loved playing around him. As Isaiah (42: 1-2) remarked: “1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.”
Whenever someone shouts at me, up go my barriers immediately, and I will move away if that’s possible – I won’t willingly stay around and listen to more. I find it really difficult/impossible to raise my voice, or shout (back) at others, because my brain freezes, and I can’t think straight. On the times when people have shouted at me, I have gone away wishing I could have responded, and then I would go over in my mind what I should have said. I simply can’t think quickly enough in the stress of the moment. As a method of evangelism, I find it wholly counter-productive, it drives people away when you want to draw them towards the love of Jesus. So how do people think the Gospel is being served, and the Grace of Jesus revealed, by getting in my face? Unfortunately, this little group of “pharisees” seem to thrive on confrontation, thinking they do God’s biding, and that any hatred they experience, is them sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, and proof that they are doing what God wants (2 Timothy 1: 8, 3: 12; Philippians 1: 29), but I pray that one day they will realise that their “own personal Jesus”, is not the one we read about in the Gospels.
At that first Pride event I was quite surprised because I was told in rather a shouty way, that I’ve been condemned by God, and will burn in the fires of hell. I chuckled when he said that, and more so when I thought about it later. How many assumptions had been made about me? He made no attempt to find out anything about my background or story, he wasn’t prepared to ask, and, certainly not listen. You’ve read some of my story that I’ve told in the “About” page, and a fair bit of my writings! You know whether you want to call me a Christian, but at the end, my future is fortunately in God’s hand, not anyone around me here on Earth.
These street preachers have pre-judged (prejudiced) ideas that all LGBTQ+ folk have chosen their lifestyle, and therefore it isn’t possible for them to be Christians, and as a result we are all future occupants of Hell – whatever that involves (and that’s a chat for another day!). I would have loved to sit down over a cup of tea and just talk to any of them for half an hour on the provision that they would listen, just as I would want to listen, because I want to know why they are so certain with the stance they take. I suspect that, for them, my faith – that goes back 51 years – would be seen as deluded, but let’s agree to differ.
We did find ourselves commending one banner they used, which was the words from Romans 10: 13. While they quoted the King James Version on their banner, the New International Version reads: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Once again, I don’t think they understood the all-inclusive language of that verse. “Everyone” is the same as the “Whoever” of John 3: 16 – no exceptions – LGBTQ+ Christians welcomed. I’d have liked them to also look up verse 12 of that chapter as well – especially the latter part of that verse! (To save you the trouble of looking, vv12-13 read: “12… the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”) Once again all-inclusive.
Not everything though was negative, and we need to be fair about this as well. After that first Pride parade, my LGBTQ+ friendly church got further flack on its social media page from the same street preachers’ group. It abated when our assistant pastor offered to meet them over a cup of tea to talk over the differences. It hasn’t yet happened but looks promising, so when the second parade happened, just before our recent record-breaking hot weather, they didn’t directly attack us in the shouty way they had previously – indeed they were very polite to us and came over to wish us a good day.
However, a minister who seemed to be closely working with them, always hovering around the group, did wander over in my direction at one point, and his opening snidey greeting was “So you believe God created murderers as well?” I hadn’t a clue where he was coming from and what relevance it had to anything. The penny finally dropped when I realised that he was linking murderers to the LGBTQ+ community, because murderers could choose whether to murder, or not. It was bizarre! It was that same old issue of choice. “Of course, they do!” was the response I got when I pointed out choice was not involved. I had to change tack, so, as I’ve argued on Blogs in the past, and in my essay (check the Downloads page!), I went back to the Fall, because I knew that would be a place, he’d be happy with. I asked if he believed that death and disease and every element of life had been affected by the Fall. “Of course,” was the answer. “So how is it then, I asked, that gender and sexuality, in your view, is utterly unaffected by the Fall, remaining absolutely binary?” Unfortunately, he wandered off without answering – though for an instant, I was feeling a sense of relief, because the stress was sadly stopping me thinking straight. Looking back, I should have called him back, because I wanted proper answers, and wanted to have a much better conversation. Hopefully though, in the future, this inexperienced and anxious person, will be better prepared, and less affected by irrational fear.
By way of a theological interjection, I am not at all comfortable about the concept in Original Sin: where death results from sin entering into the world. I believe death to have entered the world at its creation. To dig down deep, for example, we know from the fossil record that some animals ate vegetation, and some were meat-eaters, and the rest ate whatever they found that could be digested. We know this from their teeth, and it’s not a case that pre-Fall everything was a herbivore, and post-Fall they became carnivores. Their teeth didn’t change, but also, why would only some change and not all? Hence, carnivores were likely to have been killing things since their creation.
In addition, back before Humankind appeared, so this would be pre-Fall, dinosaur life was extinguished when the asteroid/comet slammed into the Earth at Chicxulub, in Mexico. (There are other theories that postulate that there were a series of asteroids over millions of years that incrementally put an end to the dinosaurs, but, whatever!) Hence, I would therefore argue that death occurred long before the Fall. By now, you’ll realise I tend to take a theistic evolutionary position.
Thus, I can no longer argue with any conviction that death came into the world with the Fall – it seems much more likely that death is a part of Creation. After all, God seems to have pre‑programmed death into the first people because Genesis 3: 22 says: “He [Adam] must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” The inference being that at that point Adam wouldn’t live forever, so at some point he would die – unless he ate of the fruit of the Tree of Life – death therefore must have been built in. I am far happier in viewing God as selecting two people, or a group of people who happened to be around at a point in history, to be God’s Image-Bearers. Obviously, there are deep questions with this, but these are no bigger than the traditional view needing to convincingly explain where (in no particular order), Homo Heidelbergensis, Neanderthal, Homo Erectus, Denisovan and Cro Magnon – and dinosaurs(!) fit into the Genesis story which centred on Homo Sapiens!
I also again want to briefly explore this issue of whether being LGBTQ+ is part of God’s original creation plan, or was it a second best – making good come out of the Fall? I think the problem we have comes out of the language we use and the hard grip many of us have on a literal understanding of Genesis as being reportage of history or science. In my essay I talked about how Genesis 1 tells us that on the third day God made “vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it”. Then on the sixth day God made living creatures on the land, and then Humankind – both male and female.
Then again, when the Creation story is retold in Genesis 2: 5, we are told that “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth” and God created a man “from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
So, the two creation accounts differ (and you can’t have it both ways in the literalist universe) – in the first there were lots of seed-bearing trees and plants before Adam was created, and in the second, no vegetation yet exists, and it sounds like Adam begins his existence, lying on bare earth. If we take the stories literally, which is right, and which do we dismiss as wrong? The two accounts are very different, and I would take the view that you don’t need to bin either story, but instead, the Origin stories show us God is in ultimate control, that he created everything, that humanity was something very special – the pinnacle of Creation, and into which, God breathed something of the Godhead. We learn God also gave humanity the responsibility to protect the world and all that is in it, and that at some point humanity turned its back on the Creator and rebelled, and we have largely been in rebellion ever since, in spite of the provision that God made, to bless life.
I think that what I am doing is taking the spirit of the text here in Genesis 1-3, perhaps even as a parable, and, because I don’t take the text as literal fact, I don’t have to do too many theological gymnastics to make it fit what I see around me today. If we discount what we know from science, and take a narrow view, where there were two people in a garden, and no death or disease was known until they sinned, we have this clear marker in time, that seperates our world into pre-sin and post-sin, where everything that is different after sin entered, is seen as being against the Grand Designer’s intent.
So, to make a point: Adam and Eve weren’t white European, they are more likely to be Middle Eastern in colour, so what this view infers is that every other skin-colour must be an aberration and not God’s intent. All other eye-colours be an abomination and not God’s intent. If Adam’s physique was God’s intent and pattern for men, and Eve’s physique was the intent for womankind, everything that doesn’t match either Adam or Eve’s physique means you are outside of the Best Intention of God. Clearly that is intellectually and theologically bonkers, so who then judges what subjective differences are according to God’s primary intent for humanity, and what is simply “making the best of a bad job”? How can you then claim that it is only the various gender and sexuality differences that fall outside the Best Intention of God, but not things like left-handedness, blondness(!), albinism, intellect/IQ abilities, etc.
Where do you get your Biblical justification or mandate? No one has a choice about what strengths or weaknesses their body will have when they are born. The Bible refers to a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (1 Chronicles 20: 6), and people with other differences, but it simply observes we are all different without making any judgements. Ezekiel even comments that some people had large genitals. No, I’m not giving you the references – enjoy the search! 😊🤣
As a society, we are fairly sanguine about people’s differences, but we start to run into problems when looking at racial differences, and nowadays with gender and sexuality differences. The attitude towards these differences don’t come from God, it comes from sinful human society. God, in scripture makes it very clear that he wants us to treat everyone with honour, dignity and respect. Micah 6: 8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Or, alternatively:
– Romans 12: 18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
– Colossians 4: 6 – “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
So, the question about whether being LGBTQ+ was in God’s original plan, for me, is the wrong question. As we are all Image Bearers of God, we must be all part of God’s plan because if not, we create categories of people we can devalue, then exclude, then hate, and finally, justify killing because they are less than human people. (Is that echoes of slavery, or the holocaust I hear? The Church has a poor record on both of those as well.)
There are so many other things you can ask – and not just “why did it have to be me‽” Did God intend me to have Asthma? As I wrote that, my mind leapt to the Bible story of the man born blind (John 8), where the disciples asked who had sinned – this man or his parents, that he should be born blind. Jesus answers that neither was the case, effectively saying these things happen. He says: “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And maybe that is God’s answer to me with my asthma, that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in [me]”. So, I don’t think God got out his spreadsheet and said this one will be born with asthma, this one cis, this one gay, etc. But I have no doubt God knew what we would be, but that he presents us with a series of choices that determine how much of the works of God might be displayed in us.
Going back to my short discussion with the minister, on the Pride march, the really big problem I had with him, was the way he came to chat – the attitude. My Biblical understanding of a minister, going right back to my youth, is that of a servant, a shepherd, modelling that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd – that is, that the shepherd looks after and cares for the sheep, not just of their own flock but those who might one day choose to join the flock. In this instance, he had no idea who I was, how deep my faith was, whether I was vulnerable, but simply came with the intent of getting me on the defensive and wanting to win an argument. He didn’t make any attempt to get to know me, nor did he introduce himself, or the church he was the minister of. If you wear the dog-collar, you are making a statement – it’s the first thing people will see, and he was making it into a weapon – “I know my Bible better than you”. Sorry, but that is not the model of Jesus we are encouraged to emulate. Me? Strong views‽ 😊
It was such a different attitude to the Quaker, and the Methodist minister who came earlier and had relaxed chats, as they stood with us (Hi Bob, if you’re reading this!) before the main march began.
After the Pride marchers had passed us, we knew they would go on to meander their way slowly to the centre of the city, so we decided to make our own way directly to the finish point where we could greet them again with our placards, which we did. Our shouty friends also made their own way there as well, when we saw them, we again gathered nearby as an antidote to their negativity. Whilst they again preached a gospel of that angry god they believed in, we stood silently nearby holding our own placards, and engaged in conversations with those who were struggling and hurting. Several people came over to give us hugs – which for me was strange to be hugged by a couple of complete strangers! But the conversations were precious, and of the spirit of God. If you are someone who prays, please pray for Susan, Mark and Emanuel (obviously not their real names because I want to protect their anonymity) and the others we spoke to. We would love them to come and see that there are churches who will love them and affirm them, meeting them where they are, because we too are largely, though not exclusively, run by, and for LGBTQ+ Christians.
So, next month, what subject do I tackle? Perhaps I might have to look at the issues facing the Anglican church because it sounds like they are being pushed into having a non-binding vote at the Lambeth Conference about Issues of sexuality. It is too long to go into here, but you can read about the background: https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/potential-vote-on-homosexuality-at-lambeth-conference-sparks-criticism.
And the bit of silliness I started last month? Did you spot the song titles?
The song references last month, were U2 and Jona Lewie – which I gave you.
The three I’ve deliberately (in case you spot others I’ve accidentally included!) put in this month were: Depeche Mode (Own personal Jesus), Marc Cohn (Dig Down Deep – that one was very tricky) and Abba (Why did it have to be me). How many did you get?