Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Gay Cruise

I decided to start my column for the paper again - this is saturday's piece for the religion page - thought blogland might want a preview. i know i will receive hate mail again, but I believe in this stuff

this is us, we, you and me day we'll be home

ps, i had no image to put to these thoughts, so I pinched this from the great 'Banksy' - rest easy you all on this bank holiday weekend

‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’
(Marcel Proust)

Yesterday a cruise ship docked out in the bay. Nothing new about that I guess, but this ship is causing quite a commotion. To be accurate it’s not the ship but the people on it – all two thousand of them. Why? Well, for those who have been living on Mars recently they are all gay men.

And so once more it starts. I for one am tired with this debate; at least 40,000 people starve to death everyday, within much of the West, the poverty rate is on the increase, especially among children, and we have now begun to describe our societies as post-Christian. Yet it seems that most of the church are still preoccupied with an issue that Jesus doesn’t speak of in direct terms once – this issue though is not going away – so we must embrace it with the kind of sensitivity and compassion Jesus constantly showed to those who found themselves under Pharisaic judgement.

The biblical exegesis and moral theology that refer to homosexual behaviour has in fact caused a great deal of confusion (the story of Sodom has little to contribute to the argument - Jude says one thing, Ezekiel says something very different. Romans 1, is still, I admit, for many the most obvious defence of those against the rite of blessing for same-sex couples. Though I am now convinced that 1 Corinthians 6 refers to Temple prostitution, and 1 Timothy 1:9 has little to say about any loving commitment between two people). I have now come to question even more how far the contemporary expression of homosexual love in a committed relationship corresponds at all with the patterns of behaviour rejected in Leviticus and condemned by Paul.

I believe there are deep personal questions about integrity, honesty and justice which are barely being addressed by many in the evangelical community (of which I was a part for many years – I still think there is ‘good news’ to give). Homosexuality is not only, or even primarily, about sexuality. It is not even an ‘issue’. We are talking about people! When some Christians require others, as a test of orthodoxy, to make public statements about God’s law and to call all homosexual people to repentance, it feels to me like a high road to legalism.

Contrary to what some may think, I believe very much in the fundamentals of the Christian faith – ‘that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind’ and that, ‘we should love our neighbour as ourselves’. Jesus actually states that on these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets. He also says that, ‘whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me’. In other words, what was at the forefront of the mind and action of Christ was to serve the poor, help the widow and orphan, visit those in hospital and prison, work for peace and make known the good news of the gospel - sadly our unending debate on homosexuality does very little to alleviate the predicament of the poor.

With the current two opposing opinions there is bound to be some theological tension. In truth the two boats who departed the same harbour together a long time ago have veered away from each other – in other words they are sailing (and have been for some time) in different directions. Canon Gene Robinson once said that there have been gay priests and bishops for as long as any of us can remember – he at least is ‘just being honest about it.’ I realise that people are ‘desperate’ to be faithful to biblical text, but I can’t help but feel that there are too many stones flying around – and we do after all reside in glass houses!

Recently I heard someone a little more to the right of centre than I am say that the Bible called homosexuality an abomination (Lev 18:22). I have a few questions for people who think this to be true. I am interested in selling my daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), I wonder what a good price would be? Let me ask another. A friend of mine is a doctor and insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says this person should be put to death. Touching the skin of a dead pig renders one unclean (Lev 11:7) – if they wear gloves can the rugby world cup still go ahead this year? And do whole communities have to come together to stone those who plant different crops side by side? I will end my point with this. Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing clothes made from two different threads?

So before you reach for the Christian platitudes, let’s dare to sift our own souls. Is there much there that is unhealed, unspoken, unforgiven? Faith in Jesus does not exempt us from traversing the deeper chasms of the psyche. Nor does it automatically protect us from the little deaths which rehearse us for the grand one. There can be no easy conclusion to this debate – I suspect that if we don’t weep as well as laugh, there will have been a failure somewhere.

Times of transition pass so quickly – they just seem to last a lifetime. It would appear, regarding homosexuality that we live in neurotic avoidance of its proximity. And yet without that ultimate transition, life becomes as trivial as a glossy magazine. Until we face our own demise, we lack real conviction and, more significantly, the capacity for love. As Australian biker Minister John Smith says, “At the end of the day, sometimes it’s more important to love than to be right.”

As long as people, on either side of the sexuality debate, continue to call down judgement on one another whilst ignoring ‘the least among us’, we will be calling down judgement upon ourselves. Or as my gran used to say…“stop chucking stones in’ glass ‘ouse” I hope the guys have a great cruise, and that the hospitality we show them will make a carpenter from Nazareth proud.


Mike Todd said...

Well done, Paul. I especially appreciated the connection to the issues of the widow and orphan, who Jesus certainly spent a lot of time talking about. And talking to, come to think of it.

Cheryl said...

do i recognise the voice of jed bartlett in there...?

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Hi, thank you - not sure everyone will agree but yes he did, sometimes i think we don't really take on board the kind of people he mixed with...

guilty....such a powerful moment, actually makes me cry - oh how i wish he were president

Niki said...

It's good stuff Paul, as I hope you know. It's bothered me before also how people interpret and put into practice only the biblical 'laws' which they deem to be useful.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

i agree - it's not that i am saying it doesn't say what it says in Leviticus etc but you can't just hijack a few bits to shape a theology - we have to wrestle with the whole context of the biblical message - the poems, the visions, laws, stories - the whole messy beautiful lot

MikeF said...

Thank you, Paul! That needed saying - and a powerful and graceful way you found to say it too...

Remember those WWJD wristbands that were so popular a few years ago? I am absolutely convinved that, on this question particularly, we all need continually to be asking ourselves, "Well, what would Jesus do?"

Awareness said...

Amen! Well written

It always more important to love than to be right.

As Niki too has always bothered me how literal things are in interpreted in the Bible. As I am just relearning the messages and's hard to fathom how this can be possible given the many interpretations of the same events etc.

I love the second last paragraph...where you pull the argument back to the reality and necessity of true in all parts of our lives. they seem so monumental while we're in one.....we fight them, and yet we need transitions and change to evolve in our thinking and living and doing. As important as the air we breathe.....well maybe transitions fuel the air with clean oxygen.

I look foward to hearing how the article is received on Saturday.

Awareness said...

What would Jesus do? Wouldn't He be sharing bread and wine with the men to give them sustenance for their trip?

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

I don't beieve I have across a Franciscan ex-dairy herdsman before - that's quite a combination
Thank you for your comment - I hope whatever i ramble about i do it as grace-fully as possible. my desire is not to judge as i live in the biggest glass house of them all, but rather for us to go deeper into this mystery of faith - to ask the big questions, to face the messy and difficult texts - for there i believe comes a deep lasting faith - and there just maybe we find the joy in the journey....maybe

i think he would be - for some reason this has got me thinking about the humanity of Jesus (i really think the whole fully human and divine thing must have done his head in from time to time - i wonder if he ever fell in love as a tennager, went to call for a girl to go to the palestine cinema? i mean wwjd - how does one get the reutation for being a glutten and a drunk? what kind of a man hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes - we all too easily sanitise jesus - and we do it to our peril i think

will keep you posted on pubic reaction

Society's Elite said...

thank you for posting on this... people seem to get so caught up with the SIN issue... is it a SIN, is it not a SIN?... my thoughts, "who the hell cares?!??"... people are afraid of what is different to them... i remember when i lived in the washington dc area, my wife and i had a gay friend that lived in our apartment building... to be honest, i never saw him as "gay", i say him as a "friend"... one quote you wrote stuck out to me, "it’s more important to love than to be right.”... that's what it boils down to... the arguments will continue about whether it's sin or not, blah blah blah... but love will not cease... and i'd rather be on the side of love...

peace to you my friend...

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

hey society
peace back to you - wonderfully put - love will not cease

once we start labelling we devalue the gift of humanity....i think god still weeps

happytheman said...

Paul, thanks I attend a music festival each year and have been part of the community for years. Many automatically thought I would label them because of the title of minister I bore but after years of transparency they know I love them and call them friends. The face of Christianity to them is one of hate, meanness and just plain arrogant. Until they meet people who will love them as Jesus loves them we will see the battles continue to brew, my question is have gone to far the other way to a point where I don't have the heart of Jesus for some Christians.

Kathryn said...

Wonderful stuff, Paul. Do hope the hate mail isn't too virulent. I specially like what you write about transitions...always the hardest part, the part when women in labour are inclined to say "S*d this...I'd rather do something else today" - but you can't stop, because the process is inexorable. Does that mean that something akin to compassionate inclusive justice is inevitable, inexorable within the Church? Ultimately, it must be - but for the institution, in the shorter term?? I do pray so...

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

it's a good question - i watched a you tube of some guy called mark driscoll the other day - now he is one phobia full man who am not sure would recognise jesus if he lived with him - i think bono (whatever we think of him) describes it well when he says that god always had a special place in his heart for the poor and the marginalised

i don't think anything has changed - grace and beer for the journey...

i pray so too - i feel like saying sod it every day but this god man won't let me go - oh those transitions!!!!!

Awareness said...

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Love perseveres.......

as does my respect for this carpenter you write about who hangs with the marginalized.

You're right......big marquee he had to live with, n'est pas? Name up in lights...probably paparazzi following him everywhere? Maybe to stay grounded and make a HUGE point that we are all human being, he walked over to the edge of town where deep feelings welcomingly reside.

GREAT discourse here. It's feeding my messy religion brain with lots to think about.

maggi said...

nice work, Paul.

Niki said...

Zactly. Well even if you do receive hate mail I think I might just write in with an expression of admiration, for everything that you're saying.

mister tumnus said...

good one, cs. i must email you about a story i'm writing at the minute...

i was thinking about this 'issue' just today. if having sex is an expression of love then this renders the 'gays are allowed to feel gay they just aren't allowed to have sex' argument ridiculous. if however we're talking about casual sex then that is a different issue and has to be applied across the board to people of all persuasions.

i am more and more convinced that the separation of 'sex' from 'sexuality' is where the church is falling down on this issue. i have a feeling that gay christians might be the ones to lead the way to renewal in this area as if the church is going to address 'the gay issue' properly then it nesscessarily needs to address sexuality (for everyone) properly. i'm looking forward to the time when this is taken seriously and plebs like me can hope for more than the usual trite nonsense from our churches. i feel utterly let down by the christian church in this area.

mister tumnus said...

Pee Ess, i recommend again (in case you haven't read it yet....!) 'found wanting: women, christianity and sexuality' by alison webster.

mister tumnus said...

Pee Ess, i recommend again (in case you haven't read it yet....!) 'found wanting: women, christianity and sexuality' by alison webster.

Anna said...

This was a good post Paul. Very thought provoking for me. I believe that we need to be loving eachother and not judging. I feel quite strongly that Christ would pouring out love and grace.

Anonymous said...

'What would Jesus do? Wouldn't He be sharing bread and wine with the men to give them sustenance for their trip? ' - Awareness.

I felt tears in my eyes as I read this. Of course he would go aboard and talk and socialise with the men. Of course he would. He had a special place in his heart for those society condemned and ostracised and that would definatley include homosexuals along with widows, orphans, single parents, the homeless, the broken hearted....... somewhere along the line Christianity has veered off course......

MikeF said...

Hi back to you, Paul - yes, I know I'm a slightly anomalous breed! I've suffered with this all my life ;-)

Julie - I don't think Christianity's gone off the road, so much as certain strands of the Church. But otherwise you're spot on - he'd confound the self-righteous by the outcasts and rejects he chose to hang out with, the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the misunderstood, just as he did in his time on earth. He still does confound them, in the hearts and hands of those who love him - which is what all this present strife in the Church is about, as far as I can see.

Kathryn in fact says just what I wish I'd said, "Does that mean that something akin to compassionate inclusive justice is inevitable, inexorable within the Church? Ultimately, it must be - but for the institution, in the shorter term?? I do pray so..."


Anonymous said...

Hi mikef

Yes your'e right. When I re-read my post I thought I should've put 'Churchianity' instead.


Diana M said...

Your comment gives my lesbian heart hope - I am very much frustrated by "Churchianity", which nearly succeeded in putting me off my Christian faith, but reading through your comment and having met really caring christian recently I hope that there will be a lesbian and gay christian future.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

so here's the thing - the bloody ship never stopped by - so the article was never published - bugger

so no hate mail - shame i liked this piece

thanks all who entered into the conversation

diana, you are made in the image of god and are welcome at the table....always

Tori said...

Well I have finally taken the time to do quite a bit of reading of your blog and I must say I am completely fascinated and it is quite refreshing to read such well put thoughts.
Thank you.
I will be checking in regularly.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

hi tori - thanks for your kind words, drop by and read my rambles anytime

Skyeblue2u said...

Hello. My first time coming by here and I'm so glad that I did, what a beautiful post, and the comments were just as wonderful. It all gives me hope. Have a nice weekend.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

sky, thanks for your kind words - i guess we all need hope - just a shame the ship didn't come i think

foulkesfamily said...

Ok - *takes deep breath* - where to start?

How right you are to be so compassionate. As pastor of a church with several friends who struggle in this area, and having extended family members greatly affected by issues of homosexuality, I value your desire to be gentle, helpful and kind. There are indeed far too many flying stones and far too many prejudiced and unkind people.

However, real kindness and real love is far more than affirming the lifestyle choices that people make and seeking to approve behaviour that is clearly outlawed by both Old and New Testaments. Sometimes love challenges and forbids, rather than accepting, affirming, or turning a blind eye.

Whatever jocular parodies one would like to make of those who appeal to Leviticus 18 as binding, it concerns me that you so easily agree that Romans 1 is clear and then dismiss it anyway. What we have there is not obselete cermonial law, but a plain statement of the mind of God. Homosexuality is a judgement of God upon society - for some that is really difficult to accept, and there are deep pastoral ramifications to carefully and graciously consider as we apply the teaching of that passage. However, such pastoral delicacies don't allow us to ignore what God's Word authoritatively declares.

We really do need to join Jesus in loving the widow, orphan, homosexual, hurting etc. That isn't the same as bending the moral goalposts in order to allow what God disallows. Jesus never did. Loving our neighbour is only half the story - loving God means we apply his word to our lives and to others in every area - however unpalatable that may be in the 21st century. Only by putting God and his commands first can we truly be said to love God and men.

To paraphrase and echo Niki - it ought to bother us that people interpret and put into practice only the biblical laws which they deem to be acceptable.

In closing - and if you are still reading :), I know a little of the ministry of Mark Driscoll. Can I encourage you to have a listen to his online ministry before assessing him? You and I may not always agree with him (probably for vastly differing reasons) but he is hardly phobic or without compassion or care for the marginalised/hurting.

Sorry to drop in to say hi and be posting two 'not so positive' comments in a single visit!

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Foulkes family, "Homosexuality is a judgement of God upon society - for some that is really difficult to accept, and there are deep pastoral ramifications to carefully and graciously consider as we apply the teaching of that passage. However, such pastoral delicacies don't allow us to ignore what God's Word authoritatively declares.

We really do need to join Jesus in loving the widow, orphan, homosexual, hurting etc. That isn't the same as bending the moral goalposts in order to allow what God disallows. Jesus never did. Loving our neighbour is only half the story - loving God means we apply his word to our lives and to others in every area - however unpalatable that may be in the 21st century. Only by putting God and his commands first can we truly be said to love God and men."

these are certainly strongly held beliefs - and i guess (much like the anne lamott post) we are not going to agree on this one - i believe though it's more important to love than to be right

I am everlastingly thankful to my father for teaching me how to cry, and for Jesus for teaching me why I should.

There is a beautiful story that seems to capture what I am trying to say. It involves a certain Rich Mullins who, one night, accepts a lift from a relative stranger from a small town back to his campsite.

‘And so we got in his car, and just as we pulled out from under the last light in town, the guy said, “You know what, I should probably tell you that I’m gay.” And I said, “Oh, I should probably tell you that I’m a Christian.” And he said, “Well if you want out of the car…” I said, “Why?” and he said, “Well I’m gay and you’re a Christian.” I said, “It’s still five miles and it’s still dark.” He said, “I thought Christians hated gays.” And I said, “That’s funny, I thought Christians were supposed to love. I thought that was our first command.” He said, “Well I thought God hated gays.” And I said, “That’s really funny, because I thought God was love.” And then he asked me the big one. He said, “Do you think I will go to hell for being gay?”…then I said to him, “No, you won’t go to hell for being gay, any more than I’ll go to hell for being a liar. Nobody goes to hell because of what they do. We go to hell because we reject the grace that God so longs to give us, regardless of what we do.”

The kind of love Jesus describes in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ is far more dangerous than we have allowed it to be. It requires an intimate expression that pushes and expands our boundaries. It may demand of us that we revise our position concerning the sexual expression of the homosexual, who are after all just like the rest of us, trying to find a way of being faithful and obedient in the light of the revelation we’re given. Rowan Williams’ hope is that ultimately ‘what we disagree about is how knowledge-in-Christ is mediated and made actual in the Church’s life.

my experience is that intolerance and fear in our communities contribute to an alarmingly high rate of self-hatred, violence and even suicide. If we remain silent, we help perpetuate the tragedy.

foulkesfamily said...

I agree almost entirely with all you have said in your last comment. Please forgive my overlong but probably final reply - I may post on this on my own site soon :)

I even agree that in certain circumstances "it's more important to love than to be right". The Pharisees loved to be right - so much so that they completely failed to truly honour the Law that they professed to care so much about, the Lord who gave it, and the lost who needed it!

Their lack of compassion for the paralysed man in John 5, the man with the withered hand in Mark 3, and the man born blind in John 9 not only condemns them, but should be a salutory warning to every single one of us also.

Bearing that in mind, what concerns me is not your desire to love our homosexual friends. Many professing Christians need to take a grace check regarding their attitudes to those who struggle in this area.

What disturbs me is the idea that plainly revealed commands and clearly revealed truths ought to be sacrificed in the name of what is perceived to be compassion. Our greatest requirement is not that we set 'being right' against being compassionate, but that we be right AND be compassionate. Surely that is the note of the NT? Why else did Jesus go to the cross if not to satisfy holiness and restore broken relations all at the same time?

When Jesus lovingly healed all those folk on the Sabbath, it wasn't that he was setting love above Law - it was that his opponents had a wrong view of the Sabbath. He didn't say - "Well, what matters is people and their hurts, not those tiresome old commands of God", but appealing to the OT, he challenged how the Pharisees wrongly interpreted the Law. Time and again Jesus does that - the Sermon on the Mount is a superb example.

I'm concerned that where we disagree is not on the need for love and compassion, nor how we view the disgraceful obsession of some Christians that homosexual behaviour is somehow damnably worse that other sins, but on something far more fundamental: the authority of Scripture to pronounce on how we ought to think, believe and live.

Perhaps it wasn't your intention to do so, but your last comment engaged only with what you saw to be my opinion - very postmodernly relativistic :) - and not with the fact that it is GOD who says in Romans 1: 24 - 31 that homosexuality (along with idolatry and other sins BTW)is a judgement on society.

I guess the other issue, and I am conscious that I am supposed to be commenting 'over at your house' and not blogging at my own :), is that you parallel the victim of the Good Samaritan with the practising homosexual. That is a huge and unwarranted leap. Yes, there are compassion needs, but whereas the former trangresses no commandments the latter certainly does. When Jesus healed the man in John 5, he was really direct:

"afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, "Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you." (John 5: 14 NLT)

In other words, "I love you, but deal with your sin - stop it".

Same thing with the woman caught in adultery in John 8 -

"Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, "Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?" "No, Lord," she said.
And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more." (John 8: 10 NLT)

He loved sinners! Amazing compassion - but he never once tolerated and excused sin.

I want ALL of my friends to be happy - including my homosexual friends - but not if perceived happiness and gospel obedience come in opposition to each other. I am concerned that rather than being like Jesus in compassion, you are in real danger (unwittingly, I am sure) of becoming very much UNlike Jesus.

Isn't his ultimate desire found in Ephesians 5: 25?

"... you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault."

THAT is what love is all about.

'Nuff said :)