Trendlewood 14/7/19

Colossians 3:12-17

Relationships 2019

We have some one-off sermons over the next few weeks

I’m not going to preach on the passage; I’m going to end with it.

This could be real long. It has been hard to condense. Four parts:

Where Am I?

Where are we legally and culturally?

Where are we in society as a whole?

Where are we with our Bibles?

Where Am I?

A story of my journey. Brought up after conversion in conservative evangelical church. No sex before marriage. No sex outside marriage. The only option for someone with same sex attraction was celibacy.

This pretty much remained my view, accepted and unchallenged until, ironically, I became a member of the writing staff at CPAS – an evangelical home mission agency. I had responsibility for a series of books designed to help leaders of teenagers groups get to grips with the Bible. In order to get these accurate (for the conservative evangelical community was and remains highly critical of liberal theology) I had to study like I had never studied before. Read heavier and deeper commentaries. Study a range of writers. Get to grips with my weak Greek again.

And I found myself torn. Because the more biblical I became the more liberal I became. I found myself on a complex journey. After a few years I found myself writing about sexuality with sentences such as ‘some say this and some say that; what do you think?’ We had all along seen it important that our task as writers was to help people think as a Christian thinks; not to tell them what a Christian should think.

There has been a parallel journey going on alongside my white, heterosexual privileged middle-class one. Noticing the memes that get stuck in my head. I was looking in my quote book for a reference and found number 1001 – my head started singing ‘cleans a big big carpet for less than half a crown’ a reference lost on the under 60s. Earlier we referred to pew Bibles but our church has no pews. What other bits of my past are stuck in my head but need to change?

Where are we legally and culturally?

In Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee 1866 Lord Penzance defined marriage as the ‘voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others’.

In 1967 (when I was 12) homosexual acts in private between adults over 21 were decriminalised. It had been a criminal offence until then, even in private. The age became 18 in 1994.

In this millennium we have seen the arrival first of Civil Partnerships then of Equal Marriage.

We now have a better understand of the range of lifestyle choices and hereditary tendencies that lead to us not simply talking about ‘gays’ but a community that includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and more. The initialism LGBTQI+ is often used in the press.

And those who for so long were excluded minorities in danger of jail simply for being who they were began to take a more outward stance and PRIDE rallies and marches around the country have become hugely popular. Bristol’s was yesterday.

What does it mean to be welcoming and hospitable to LGBTQI+= visitors and newcomers?

A new couple arrive at church. They identify as Christians, recently moved into the area, They were delighted when a church member came round and brought them a delicious cake. They looked at our web site and found out the time of our meetings, noting our desire to welcome and include children. They came along. Two women, legally married with their son, conceived with a sperm donation to one of the couple who is the birth mother and legally adopted by the other.

(2 minutes – how do you feel?)

I imagine there are some here who felt the relationship was sinful and some who didn’t. Should we have a ‘policy’ on this? Or should our existing policy of being welcoming and hospitable be enough? How deeply should we enquire into the lives of all our newcomers to find out about their history of sin? Exactly. So how much less should we do it when we are not even able to agree between us as to whether we are being presented with sin or not.

Where are we in society as a whole?

Where are we:

Serial monogamy is the norm. Commitment equals living together; wedding = celebration of that which already exists.

Learning that the world has been tuned to men for too long.

Embracing equality.

Learning to counter our ‘yuk’ factor when we think of same sex relationships. The same ‘yuk’ factor many of the LGBTQI+ community have when they think about what I get up to.

A president against whom the evidence of abuse of women mounts

A candidate for Prime Minister whose relationship life is certainly complex

And the Castor Semestors and Megan Rapinoes of this world who make us stretch our inclusivity and re-write our rules.

I could have listed so many more examples.

Where are we with our Bibles?

Christ and culture – above, in or below? How much of our scripture is culturally bound? All of it? How do we find the all-time principals versus the short-term practicality of the early iron age? What do you think are the limitations of the sexual ethics texts?

We have a long way to go to help the Texan congressman who said ‘If English was good enough for Jesus it’s good enough for me.’ But let me have a go at three things that the Bible doesn’t say clearly though you would think it did.

So what is not a biblical concept?

1. The marriage of one woman to one man to the exclusion of all others for life.

The Bible has a developing theology. There are some strange relationships in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, in an exhaustive Twitter stream, writes clearly about this.

In Genesis 16 Hagar becomes a surrogate mother for Abraham and Sarah

In Genesis 19 Lot’s daughters sleep with their drunken father to preserve the family line allowing the Bible the privilege of one very racist joke. Mummy where do Moabites come from? They’re what you get if you have sex with your father. Yuk!

In Genesis 29 Rachel lends her handmaid to Jacob so they can have a son. Jacob seems to be sleeping with at least four women at any one time.

King David has at least four wives, four other partners and a woman who lies with him in his old age to keep him warm.

Solomon, a great king conceived in a relationship that began adulterously has 700 wives and 300 concubines but is only criticised for having his face turned to foreign Gods.

The people of Sodom who would rather passing aggressors raped their virgin daughters than their young men, yet are later only criticised for greed.

We have been reading Ezra this week in which those Jews who have intermarried are required to send their wives away with their children to preserve purity.

We have read Timothy recently and in 1 Timothy 3 an overseer or elder is charged to be the husband of but one wife. This is showing the Bible’s developing understanding but it still suggests that there is a different standard for leaders and the led.

It is not easily arguable that one man one woman for life is a ‘biblical’ concept and philosophy professor Anthony Grayling tells us that monogamy is the social norm in fewer than 20% of human societies.

2. So what else is not a biblical concept?

The ‘nuclear’ family. Male, female and 2.4 children or whatever. Martyn Percy – Does the Bible Really … Advocate the ‘Nuclear Family’ <viamedia.news/2019/07/05>.

The oikos (household) would be a roof over the heads of an extended family who welcomed others to join and be treated kindly (literally – as family). Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, tutors, workers, dependants and contributors. Inclusivity and hospitality are the key. If we are safe and meet someone who is not safe we extend the safety net over them. There are some exceptions but fewer than we think. The instruction to thieves to steal no longer but do something useful with their hands in Ephesians is an offer of safety. Our house; our rules if you want to stay. We will not hand you over to the judge.

A third thing that is not a biblical concept?

That being gay is wrong.

Lifelong, to the exclusion of all others, committed, same sex relationships. My Bible study shows me that for many years we have misunderstood the apparently anti-gay texts. They are anti-victim – don’t force young boys to be cultic prostitutes.

Writer Andrew Brown points out that ‘received wisdom’ is different from belief. If you grow you in a country where homosexuals are imprisoned you do not ‘believe’ homosexuality is wrong. You receive the wisdom, enforced by threat. It is those who say there may be something wrong with this who we must call the ‘believers’.

There are places in our world where the leaders of nation states announce ‘We do not have homosexuals here’. They are somehow blind to the fact that if the punishment for homosexuality is death it is not going to be well advertised.

Our insistence that celibacy is the only option is to start with a barrier not a welcome.

Conclusion

This is a very live issue. Noting that the Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) has just made part of its doctrine the 1866 definition of marriage and many of the members have resigned, including the Archdeacon of Dudley who led Michelle’s priesting retreat.

Do we want a church’s web-site to have its attitude to gays on page 1? And for the denominations in this country to be divided along those lines?

All the gays left St Paul’s when I did. I was journeying with them. When I left nobody was.

I published my thinking on the subject around 2012 in chapter seven of my book Mustard Seed Shavings. 

Read passage again slowly.

Note about the peace of Christ, It’s not ‘It will rule…’ but ‘Let it rule.’ I pray that you will allow God to give you peace as you explore.