Saturday, 21 April 2012

When it Turns Nasty

In the continuing Anglican wars over homosexuality, a number of clerics have made a more positive sound, one in favour of (the still unequal) civil marriage for gays and lesbians (Thinking Anglicans reproduces). That's to the good. So is a reminder of the possibility that Jesus could have had gay orientation himself, first highlighted in recent times by the late Hugh Montefiore. One context now is a huge amount of damage being done on the Fulcrum pages so that its leadership has tried to calm things down with a further thread. One of those who has changed her mind recently also appeared to ask for some tolerance. One ordained contributor to give his experience as a gay man has had his ministry, even his Christianity, trashed by one contributor in particular but by more in actuality.

I knew this would end in tears, simply by those who regard the Bible as a rule book and who keep quoting the 1998 Lambeth Conference 1:10 resolution as if it is uncontested law. It is usually backed up by the present (retiring) Archbishop of Canterbury affirming this as 'the Mind of the Communion' and that if he says this with a different private opinion then this must be right. Keep repeating something and argument becomes blocked, keep repeating something and it is as if true. There is no Mind of the Communion, and nothing has such authority, and that resolution was concocted in the teeth of division and opposition assisted by an incompetent now former Archbishop.

When training to be teachers we were told that a technique to block an unruly pupil who wants to question decisions is to use the broken record technique, which is to repeat the same point back to every point and wear down the pupil in order to enforce the decision.

The broken record seems to be this: that the Bible is a consistent revelation of the mind of God and Christ, so that if Paul says something then it's as good as Christ saying something, and it is all of God anyway. It is surface read, so little is given to academic biblical criticism, but this still comes through doctrinal eyes (the New Testament itself involves a mixture of doctrines). That doctrine developed after the Bible doesn't seem to matter to these folks, in that they read it back in; that there were different cultural contexts (and indeed from today) seems not to matter either when supernature is involved. Biblical critics argue whether there is even a 'fall' in the Bible - the Jews and Eastern Christians don't seem to think so, but evangelical Christians depend on it as an explanation for temptation against God to be overcome. You then get resolutions in support of a surface view, to be quoted, like a QED. Just repeat.

On this basis, then, the Bible is a book of rules. There is some ambiguity about the role of women, so wriggle room allows some toleration of variation on inequality. But when it comes to gay sex, there is no text in support and enough against and on this basis the rule applies and makes a definition of whether you are a) evangelical or not or even b) whether you are Christian or not.

To be for God is to be against sin, and at the very minimum is a required celibacy; but better still is for the individual to undergo techniques for sexual reorientation because it should follow that gay orientation is unwanted. To fail to do at least one is to prefer sin over God and this further defies the position of the Church, both Anglican and wider afield. You are just about allowed sexual orientation because that is like experiencing a sin to steal or murder, and we all have dislikable tendencies and experiences to overcome. Then comes the emphasis that this is the only way to be Christian, and furthermore those who insist on another view should be shunned and isolated - rejecting those 'brothers' who claim to believe but do not actually believe. The homosexual issue is thus the issue on which to judge whether the other person is in or out of fellowship. That this is sheer intolerance is irrelevant to those who follow the scriptural rule book.

Some go on further than this with a very Puritan predestination belief in the wrath of God, as if the sociology of knowledge has not changed since pre-Enlightenment days. They don't even seem to have caught up with Thomas Aquinas or Richard Hooker and the incorporation of reason and observation (never mind science). It's all revelation and rules.

To gay people, in or out of loving and active relationships, who are active Christians too, this becomes utterly offensive. Some are simply laying down the law and causing, with persistence, ruptures in the broader Christian community.

I can't very well pitch in because I don't take the label Christian and certainly do not regard the Bible as normative. The Bible knows nothing about science, or about sexuality - it's pretty hopeless regarding history too. It does not supply this kind of information. To turn a cultural and theological set of books (with some included that need not have been, and some missing that could have been added) is simply ridiculous. Even if one accepts some forms of supernatural causality, the Bible is open to levels of (even positive) criticism that render its use as a rule book impossible.

The point is, however, that people are determined to have this war. They are determined to alter institutions to reflect the divisions of these viewpoints. In my view, the intention of unity in such a situation, in which a former gay inclusive theologian as Archbishop also applies 'the rules' internationally (as in that Advent Letter of 2007), thus bending over backwards to his one time opponents (he is theirs if they are not his) was never going to succeed.

The way to tackle this is establish your grounds for toleration and the general bases for biblical use and build in flexibility for change. Have that and then defend it. Then let the people who insist on fighting do their own thing - let them carry out their threats and departures, to see if they will and how much they do. They will be the ones who have to leave. At least then there is a chance that Christianity will not be associated so completely with bigotry and intolerance.

If not, then these new definers of Christianity will slowly remove the tolerant, almost one by one, and in frustration, anger and bitterness. Even Fulcrum, that played the Archbishop's misdirecting card, and has included some moderately worded exclusion of its own, has become shocked. It is a very nasty, inhuman, intolerant part of the Christian religion in play.
(Meanwhile two dioceses have voted in favour of the Covenant. Too late!)

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