Saturday 17 October 2009

Jack Spong's Manifesto

Thanks to Erika, I was aware of Jack Spong's latest, but didn't want to carry it wholesale because of his copyrighting and commercial activities in presenting his ideas. There are clauses about permissions about carrying it in full and the like. Now it is made available and is complete via Ruth Gledhill I can more easily comment.

I think his sentiment is right, that he won't any longer debate homosexuality with people. I'm also fed up with adding a justification: I now assume it and write of it assuming it, for example when giving another voice into Fulcrum.

Inevitably, such people who are religiously homophobic, when set against an institution shaking this off, are going to separate off. Let them go, I say. Have the courage of your convictions. Comments such as those by Revd Stephen Kuhrt that he is 'orthodox' on homosexuality as part of his loyalty to the Church of England shows just how backward the Church of England has become, that someone can claim orthodoxy on an issue that has little to do with doctrinal orthodoxy or heterodoxy. He notes also how well evangelicals are doing during the occupation of the office of Archbishop of Canterbury by Rowan Williams, contrasted with Robert Runcie. Keep fighting the ugly corner!

Theology, especially narrative theology, is such a dishonest business these days, that the criticism Rowan Williams when Bishop of Monmouth made of John Spong's Twelve Theses wasn't worth too much attention, but this comment by John Spong now has resonance given the recent lecture by Peter Selby:

I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population.

The Archbishop is a person who puts religious bureaucracy and its intentions and fantasies before human rights, who can somehow separate out human rights from religious rights. This is why Peter Selby is right with the effective charge of being complicit. It is also why the silence of serving, paid bishops - at least those who should know better - is so deafening.

No, one doesn't debate with the Flat Earth Society, or the equivalent, but sometimes you do have to engage prejudice and stupidity with rationality. Take creationists, for example, whose argument trotted out is that evolution does not have proof of running across species. We now know from DNA and cellular switching that the eye evolved only once, and that it spread through the tree of life through stage after stage of development. There are now some fossils of species in transition. It may not be worth a debate, to say this to creationists, but it is worth saying to underline a point. And if these sorts say the Fall has to be historical with a real person Adam etc. or the whole of the redemptive scheme to Jesus Christ fails, then that's their lookout. You create the height of the barrier, so don't be suprised if (like the athlete Jonathan Edwards) you fail to get over it any more.

So we don't debate, but people of influence, or attempted influence, have to be tackled. Someone who causes real harm has to be tackled. The question is still, whether, the institutions are the right ones given what theologies we hold. Even John Spong is having to be selective.


June Butler said...

Erika sent me the link, too, but I'm glad to have you run with this first. I agree with Bp. Spong, but I'm not yet ready to shut down discussion, although I do have limits to the foolishness that I'll listen to.

Erika Baker said...

I think someone like Spong can shut down his part in the discussion because he is willing to step up his visible and actual support of lgbt people. He is not merely withdrawing.

I cannot really leave the debate because I have little else positive I can do.

But I think the debate needs to shift and lgbt supporters need to change the agenda. We are still too often not being treated as an equal partner in the debate but as the one who has to satisfy the demands of the
questioning and judging (!) others.

And now, I think, why should that be my problem? It's clearly theirs!
I think for me it was Andrew Marrin who finally did it. Engaging on his blog,
there were so many who, yet again, asked me in the politest of "I will
engage with you lowlife and I will love you but hey, you got some
explaining to do" tones.... and I thought, I’ve had enough of this. If you really want
to know, treat me with respect. With the genuine respect you accord
anybody else in life. And THEN we have an equal conversation.
While you have this superior mode written all over you, you're on your
own. That attitude is YOUR problem.

So now I say I'd like us to set the agenda. That means that we need to
change our own attitude. At the moment, we're still in a defensive position,
waiting for attacks or questions and then answering, defending, each
according to our temperament. It's as though we're collectively submitting
to judgement. But I am personally no longer interested in what anyone thinks about homosexuality. I
will not ask them, not defer to them, I will not let attitudes stop me from
walking hands in hand with Susan, from talking freely about my wife and just
assuming - expecting - that it will be accepted.

I will not engage with people who are aggressive or start a conversation by
saying "you know, I don't agree with gay sex". I will simply change the
topic. It is THEIR problem, not mine, and I will not make it mine and I will
not give them the power to sit in judgement, which I would do if I took them
seriously. I will treat these comments no more seriously than I do those of people who still hate the Krauts and the Wogs.

If, as has happened before, someone I really like comes round for a glass of
wine and says... do you mind, there is something I'm struggling with....
then I shall be delighted to talk.
I have blog friends who do not believe that gay sex is acceptable to God, but who treat me with genuine respect, with kindness and with real friendship. One has even left kind comments on my Facebook photos of our Blessing. They do not judge me, they simply and quietly disagree with me.
THAT kind of person I will continue to talk to and engage with.

Brother David said...

I think that there is a difference in closing down discussion and refusing to debate the issues any further.

I too reached the same point as the good bishop a few years back. I no longer suffer fools kindly!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Pleased to say that a female couple who are now coming to Hull will have a religious element of their partnership in the church I attend there. I hope that they had found out that the ethos of the denomination is welcoming, in contrast (denominationally) to others, and thus asked the specific congregation in place, and that they can have a very good day and give their togetherness some religious heart.

June Butler said...

Erika, I agree. No one should have to defend who they are. When the conversation veers toward that territory, simply don't engage on that level, which you have already decided to do. There's no reason for GLTB folks to allow themselves to be placed in a defensive position because of their sexual orientation. No one should have to defend their very identity.

Brother David said...

And now, I think, why should that be my problem? It's clearly theirs!
I think for me it was Andrew Marrin who finally did it. Engaging on his blog,
there were so many who, yet again, asked me in the politest of "I will
engage with you lowlife and I will love you but hey, you got some
explaining to do" tones....

Can you explain more Erika? Are you as sold on him as before at Changing Attitude?

Erika Baker said...

Thank you!
But that is, of course, precisely where the debate still is.
Groups like Changing Attitude are still constantly engaged in debates with people who insists against all the evidence that there is no such thing as a homosexual identity, that it is a learned behaviour, a chosen lifestyle (even Rowan seems to believe that by now!), that we could be cured, or that at the very least we have to remain celibate.
That is the daily bread of those engaged in what is laughably called a conversation.

And changing the parameters is fraught with danger. If we stop engaging at that level and simply walk away, the bullies will win. You only need to look at how ineffective the silent majority is who has done precisely that - refused to engage in what to them is a non-issue.

So the question is how to engage without getting down to the level of nonsense that currently counts for debate.

If I'm honest, I have no idea how it can be done. Not on a broad scale. I only know that I will no longer put up with it - but I do feel slightly guilty too, because I may simply be leaving my brothers and sisters to slug it out at the coalface.

June Butler said...

Erika, I realize that it's easier for me to avoid certain conversations than it is for you, but if someone talks to me about LGTB lifestyle or biology, I tell them that I won't engage on that level. If a person tells me this is who I am, I simply believe them. Who would know better? Maybe I'm wrong to go this way, but being drawn into the lifestyle or biology debate doesn't seem to yield good results, and, like you, I'm sick to death of those conversations.

Erika Baker said...


You know how fervently I supported talking to Andrew Marin, saying that without conversation we will never reach the others.
Well, in principle, I still agree with this, and I would still talk to individuals like Andrew, who I believe to be very genuine.

But you were right too, for most of those who comment on his blog it was simply a case of being nice to those un-Christian gays in order to convert them to the true path. Some started out by quite plainly explaining that they did not believe in gay behaviour!
There is a distinct feeling that there are gays and there are Christians, but there are no gay Christians.
That is not truly respecting the other but it is still about feeling superior and about judging, as though they had any right.

The politeness made it almost more unbearable than good honest confrontation.
And I suddenly knew that I could do it no longer. The saccharine “I don’t hate you, but you really have to explain why you think I should validate you” is ridiculous.
And I have decided no longer to explain the moral theology of my sex life to people who have already made up their minds, and who somehow seem to think there is a natural imbalance that means that I have to explain while they get to judge.

What I can offer is friendship and a getting to know what my life is like by simply walking with me – in real life or on the blogs. But that has to be done with an understanding that there is a genuine equality between me and them, that no-one can judge.

I had hoped Andrew’s blog would be a step in that direction. It isn’t, and after 5 years I’ve had enough of talking to people who have absolutely no intention of listening.

Erika Baker said...

The difficulty I'm now left with is how to participate intelligently in a debate that is in itself not intelligent and largely carried out at a very base level.
There are millions of straight and gay Christians who simply don't bother because they feel like Spong does.
But are they not partly responsible for leaving the field to the bullies who dominate what passes for church debate, and increasingly church policies?

How do we participate without engaging at the level the debate is being carried out?

June Butler said...

How do we participate without engaging at the level the debate is being carried out?

Erika, I don't know the answer, except that for the present, I'm worn out with that type of argument, which never seems to get anywhere.

Attitudes toward LGTB folks are moving in the right direction, and I don't think the bullies can reverse the trend. The movement may not be as fast as we'd like, but it won't be stopped.

Erika Baker said...

I'm with you.
But what do I, Erika, do when the next hot topic comes up in this "debate"? Do I engage as I have done, knowing I really don't want to be doing it any longer, or do I leave it all to "the movement" knowing they will win eventually? That seems to be a cop-out.
I am still responsible for making my contribution and not ignoring what is happening to gay marriage in the US, to gay priests everywhere and to gays full stop in Uganda.

The real question for me is HOW can I try to change the parameters of the debate without opting out completely.
And at the moment, I have no idea.

June Butler said...

Erika, I wish I could tell you. My responses pretty well end the conversation, except that I usually manage to work in that I think that inclusiveness is a moral imperative in both church and state, because it's a matter of implementing justice and equality.