Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda?

With the schism among Anglicans/Episcopalians in North America formally underlined by the installation of Archbishop Robert Duncan as primate of ACNA, the actual business of being the church in the world does not go away, and certainly not for the question of the welcome of the church to all people, including those committed to the GLBT agenda. Here in ACANZP we face this business, and many times I wonder if we are thinking hard enough about facing the world, engaging with it, and converting it to Christ. (I choose the word ‘thinking’ carefully – most colleagues and friends I know are working very hard – it’s in our Kiwi nature to do so – but taking time out to think, to reflect, to analyse, and to conceive solutions with an eye on the ‘big picture’ as well as the ‘long term future’ is something we are less prone to do!)

In thinking about where we are at with respect to the particular challenge of commitments to the GLBT agenda, a post from Ruth Gledhill is timely, reflecting on a Times poll/article by fellow journalist demonstrating “Nearly seven out of ten members of the public favour 'full equal rights' for gay men and women, suggesting that 'the Church, the final bastion of formal discrimination, is out of touch with public opinion’.” Of course there is an edge to such analysis in England which does not quite apply here where we do not have an established church, so I don’t want to shoot holes in the view which Ruth floats which has a particular take on the establishment factor for the C of E if, indeed, it is ‘the final bastion of formal discrimination’. Besides which plenty of commenters have lined her view up in their sights and let go with both barrels of ‘popularity ain’t the priority of the church’ shotgun! Out here in the former colonies it is not clear to me that the churches are seen as final bastions etc, but it is likely that a survey which asked, Is the church in touch with public opinion on the acceptability of a range of sexual partnerships beyond ‘traditional marriage’? would conclude with a resounding ‘no’.

Two matters are in my mind at the moment. One concerns being the church and responding to a challenge which is framed in a way which the church no longer has control over: the GLBT challenge, for example, seems today always to be framed in terms of justice/injustice, discrimination, prejudice, homophobia and bigotry. Almost any response other than ‘of course we will bless same sex partnerships in exactly the same way as marriages between men and women’ seems doomed to condemnation in the court of public opinion. In a sense, there is worse than ‘condemnation’, there is also ridicule to be faced, partly because every public admission of adultery by a right-wing politician who identifies himself (it’s always the men!) as a Christian, constitutes the foundation of a case for dismissal of any attempt by churches to articulate a moral distinction between marriage and same-sex partnerships. The church has a challenge on its hands, and must meet it, not only as a matter of its own ethical integrity, but also to forward its mission. It’s not much of a gospel of transformation which we are offering if it cannot get us men through our mid-life crises!

Another matter concerns the missing conversation partner in much talk about human sexuality and the church, God. It seems to me that the conversation goes like this in many instances: “life is complicated, particularly the sexual dimension of being, so whatever the biblical “ideal” is, it is trumped by actual reality, and so various accommodations need to be made by churches towards including in its membership people in various situations (unless, of course, a church wishes to become a very small, very pure sect); and just one more major accommodation needs to be made, the incorporation of the GLBT agenda.” Spoken thus, the conversation is solely between people and involves potential for negotiation, compromise, power shift, or not. It also involves potential, somewhat realised in experience, for people to be vilified, ridiculed, and condemned: homosexuals are particularly egregious sinners, traditionalists are homophobic hypocritical bigots … and that’s just the Christians commenting on blogs!

But what does God think about these matters? Has God spoken about the complexities of life? In particular, is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda? As I ‘listen in’ to this conversation in the Anglican blogosphere, it is clear that many Anglicans think God is indifferent to this agenda. Obviously many other Anglicans think God is not. But is the former group not obligated to persuade the latter group of theological grounds for proposing that God is indifferent? We are all Christians and not secular humanists! Unfortunately a lot of what passes for ‘theological grounds’ is a series of scornful, ridiculing remarks about the capacity of Leviticus and Romans to convey the voice of God to us. While there are many things churches need to address about bigotry, hypocrisy, inconsistency, and inadequacy in respect of hospitality to people different to us, the question remains, for Ruth Gledhill, for TEC, for my own church (ACANZP), is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda?


Anonymous said...

The 'GLBT agenda' is a Trojan Horse to the church, but it isn't the only one: no fault divorce, silence on abortion, capitulation to a culture of cohabitation, PC 'nonjudgmentalism', doctrinal indifferentism, biblical illiteracy, and a preference to entertainment over seeking holiness have all contributed to the weakness we see today.
And, uncomfortable as it is for many, whether orthodox evangelical faith can sit alongside contemporary feminism without the latter eventually reconfiguring even the biblical language about God - which is the real backdrop to recent discussion on this site.

But to return to my initial remark: the UK is effectively a post-Christian society (or mess of sub-societies) and the 'GLBT agenda' isn't interested in making Christianity be true to itself; it wants either to make it a eunuch or to outlaw it. It's the absence of constitutional defenses of free speech and freedom of religion in the UK that improve the likelihood of this project. The professed Christians supporting this are useful idiots.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
The UK of today does not seem to be the same as the UK I left in 1993!
Strangely a lot of change happened on Tony "Faith project" Blair and Gordon "son of the Manse" Brown's watch!!

Janice said...

You might find the following articles interesting:

The Role Of Free Agency In Sexual Identity Development, and

The "Trojan Couch": How the Mental Health Associations Misrepresent Science

Of course, they both come from NARTH and, therefore, will immediately be dismissed by some.

Anonymous said...

Most people are probably quite unaware just how pervasive the influence of LGBTQQI etc etc is on British politics. But for a demographic that can number no more than c. 5%, it wields a disproportionate influence: at one time 4 or more cabinet ministers were openly homosexual; Mandelson always exerted great influence over Blair, & now he's the unelected (!) No. 2 in the UK gov't; Brown's chief adviser is gay; and Brown himself - well ....
We should be clear about this: Blair's 'Catholicism' (such as it is) is decidedly a la carte, and there is no evidence that Brown himself is personally a Christian believer, despite his upbringing - as the saying goes, 'God has no grandchildren'.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Janice and Anonymous
Will follow up articles ...
Blair and Brown ... points well made!

Howard Pilgrim said...

I think your question is right on target, Peter. In the same way that it applies to every agenda for social/political change that comes from outside the church.
However, I would prefer to reframe it more positively. Something more like this ... "Given the fact that we hear loud voices from outside the Church calling for some new aspect of liberation, what good news do we have for them?"
I think we have to continually shift ourselves from an inward stance of resistance, our inate conservative reaction, to a fresh appropriation of the eternal Gospel of Christ's redemption. We should feel our hearts greatly enlarged, like Wesley facing the needs of his day, to "offer Christ" in all his transforming reality to those God places before us. "Redeeming love shall be my theme ..." etc, rather than careful prescriptions of what the redeemed state of other sinners must entail.
Our biggest challenge is authenticity, not correctness.
Those like me who are clear that God's redemption for gays and lesbians includes a positive affirmation of their natural sexuality must be just as sure that this stance is fueled by our passion for God's redemption of humanity, not just capitulating to another agenda, to the voices of foreign gods, as some may think we are doing.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
When you say "must be just as sure that this stance is fueled by our passion for God's redemption of humanity, not just capitulating to another agenda, to the voices of foreign gods", the point of challenge is "just as sure", ie. , how can we be? In the quest to answer that question much depends on how we frame things, as you note, and it could well be that conservatives are too resistant and liberals/progressives too eager.

Yet in my own answer re God's indifferentism or not to the GLBT agenda I would want to tease out the details of the agenda ... it could be that we can affirm some of the agenda and not the remainder of it.

Anonymous said...

"Those like me who are clear that God's redemption for gays and lesbians includes a positive affirmation of their natural sexuality must be just as sure that this stance is fueled by our passion for God's redemption of humanity..."

Howard, "natural" is a loaded word in common parlance: it can mean 'what we are born with' (< 'natus'), or feelings people develop (often unconsciously) or a more ideal version of 'nature' (phusis), in contrast to 'fallen nature' (para phusin).
What does 'redemption' mean other than renewal of our fallen nature and living with the help of the Holy Spirit in the expectant hope of full redemption? Does it exclude loneliness or struggle? Plenty of heterosexual people face this too!
We cannot escape the logic of an idea once admitted: if homosexual feelings are seen as God-given, then marriage and family life must also be reconfigured radically - against creation and natural law, I believe. Homosexual acts and families are contrary to God's creation intention.
Further, what do you understand by 'God's redemption'? You have observed extremist sectarian fundamentalism which certainly isn't appealing, not least because of its harshness toward the weak and its tendency to Pharisaism. But doesn't revisionism by contrast tend toward universalism - so what are we being redeemed from? 'If it is only for this life we have believed ...'

Anonymous said...

Anglicanism has rapidly made itself irrelevant in its absolute obsession with what Anglicans do “down under”. Janice may very well have some research supporting some people changing whom they are sexually active with. So what?! Many other tragic accounts of failed aversion therapy (forced in some occasions), and other attempts at “conversion” for real individuals are also readily to hand. Stories of oppression and persecution of homosexuals are easily to hand. The question has to be asked, in a world so full of human injustice and ecological disaster, why this energetic obsession with what a tiny minority of Anglicans do down under from a church that does not address its own significant majority sexual issues both overt and covert? With the one finger pointing in the hope of distracting at some of your members – there are more than twenty fingers pointing back to yourself! Why does Janice, for example, so strongly attack the consistent biblical teaching about the place of women in home, church, and society – and immediately think that the couple of ambiguous verses taken out of context that she thinks refer to committed same sex relationships need to be sprung unrelatedly into the discussion in "Trinity and Order (5)"? Why not go from her disavowal of the biblical place of women to remind us of the importance of the golden rule? Why does the Bible so quickly become a weapon against homosexuals? On every but every turn? The world realises that you cannot consistently preach a supposedly inspired Bible which has nothing to possibly very very little to say on committed same sex relationships and yet make this issue the primary one in your life individually and Communion wide!

Howard Pilgrim said...

"How can we be sure?" Notice what I was refering to - my own motivation, generalised to invite others to declare their own.

What shouldn't I claim sureness about? The mind and heart of GOd, the true meaning of the biblical text, the ethical value of any particular course of action .... the list can go on and on. Our knowledge and judgements are always fallible, which is why we are at loggerheads over the principles of sexual godliness. Head stuff, and unavoidable.
But I was talking about heart stuff, my passion for the gospel that has set me free from sin and death. My sureness about that is what makes me an evangelical. My experience of God's redemption makes me sure, without thereby making me right.
My comment was a challenge to myself and others to respond to socio-political agendas out of our assurance of God's love, not our delusions of being right.
Putting this another way: when we find ourselves locked into passionate arguments, the best way to find resolution of our differences is to attend more to the passion than to the arguments, as our hearts seem to find redemption faster than our heads. Speaking for myself firstly, of course.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard and Anonymous
Thank you for your respective comments - thoughtful and thought provoking!