Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?

So said Lord Keynes in a devastating reply to opponents. Churches are grappling with some changed facts about life and the pressure is on for a change of mind!

One way of looking at the question of the role of women in the church and in marriage is to acknowledge that the facts of life for men and women have changed. Education, for example, has opened up for women new vistas of opportunity both to develop and to apply intelligence and learning. Logically, no area of 'work' is now denied women who can become soldiers, doctors, politicians, and drain layers. Consequently marriage has changed, adjusting to the fact that a wife might be the bread winner or jointly bread winning along with the husband. That churches now find themselves opening up new roles for women in ministry is unsurprising (e.g. in the Roman Catholic church, women may be lay pastoral administrators of parishes).

Are the facts changing about homosexuality? The recent meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland over the past weekend considered two motions in respect of homosexuality. One was to confirm the appointment of Scott Rennie, a gay man with a partner, as Minister of Queen's Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen. I understand that the first motion was concerned with the technicalities of the process of application and approval of the appointment and it was unexpectedly passed as all the boxes had been ticked. The other would have banned acceptance of gay and lesbian ministers. But in a move not entirely satisfactory to both sides of the issue the General Assembley concluded as reported in The Scotsman:

"THE Church of Scotland last night effectively gagged its members from public discussion of gay ministers and postponed a potentially divisive vote on the issue for two years in a desperate bid to avoid a schism.
A debate on a call to ban openly homosexual people from appointment to the ministry was torpedoed by an 11th-hour motion that dominated the General Assembly yesterday.

Instead of proceeding with the vote – which many traditionalists had warned could split the Kirk – members agreed to establish a commission to study the issue and report back in 2011.

Until then, no more openly gay ministers can be appointed and no members can speak in public on the issue of openly homosexual, non-celibate ministers."

Might this be something ACANZP needs to do?

Wait, there is more. In this report in The Times, Scott Rennie speaks about his growing up as a gay man, frightened by bullying against homosexuals. He married, had a daughter, became divorced, but remained friendly with his wife, and supportive of the daughter, both of whom are very supportive of him and his partner David (met subsequent to the divorce). Interesting parallels with the Bishop of New Hampshire!

"The Rev Rennie said that the process of coming to terms with his sexuality had been painful. “As a young man growing up in a conservative church, it felt impossible to deal with issues around my own sexuality.

“It did not feel like a safe environment, and certainly not one in which I could have found support and understanding. So, I came to believe that I had to ignore it and do what I thought was the right thing at the time - live a heterosexual life.

“At school, I witnessed first-hand homophobic bullying, and the menace that anyone who even seemed gay was subjected to. It was not a pretty sight, and I wasn't brave enough to risk facing the bullies.”

He said the row over his appointment had left him feeling strong, but battered by speculation about his private life. He was also deeply moved by hundreds of messages of support.

“Although the present discussion centres around my own response to God's call, all the correspondence over the last few months has reminded me that there is a large body of people, like me, in a similar situation, in the Kirk,” the Rev Rennie said."

One question for conservative churches, and for conservative wings of Presbyterian and Anglican churches, is whether what we have understood to be the 'facts' of homosexuality are changing? Touched on in the paragraphs above are these 'facts':
- that homosexuality is a transformable condition of life in all cases
- that conservative churches are loving, safe environments in which homosexuals are safe to openly identify their situation in life
- that Scripture makes no discrimination between casual and paedophiliac (a la Hellenism) homosexual relationships and permanent, faithful, same sex partnerships.

Are these facts changing before our eyes?

Perhaps they are; perhaps they are not. Where do conservative Christians discuss these matters in freedom? The whole environment around these matters, in both church and society has become politicized to the point where 'speaking the truth in love' is all but impossible. But does not the love of God impel us, despite these great difficulties, to ask some questions about those matters we have presumed are facts? How safe, for example, are our churches for people to be honest about who they are?

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