On Gay Sexuality and Scriptural Clarity…

I’m lucky enough to have a Christian academic friend who has proved an enormous help over the years as I have sifted through my accumulated weird and not-so-wonderful rag-bag of charismatic evangelical beliefs. Usually he would say very little as I sought to draw him out on yet more superstitious clap-trap; he would just listen intently – and then with laser accuracy, pose a quietly explosive question. Once we knew each other well enough, he confided that he used to think that people who actually believed all that kind of stuff were ‘nutters.’ Even that comment brought a little more freedom to my spiritually schizophrenic soul, our laughter effectively pinging off yet a few more strands of any lingering bonds.

‘Nutters’ – it sounds somehow sad yet harmless. But this morning I clicked on a youtube video to find a story of American evangelical funding being diverted from feeding the hungry to pushing for anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda – which originally included the death penalty.

It throws Steve Chalke’s candid stand last week against the traditional evangelical line on homosexuality into sharp relief. And also contextualizes Steve Clifford’s official Evangelical Alliance response, which though seemingly-respectful, nevertheless emphasizes their stance that homosexuality is clearly incompatible with scripture.

I was convinced of that myself, once. Not that I really gave it much thought. After all, not so long ago, homosexual acts were illegal in the UK, so those of us old enough to have been around at the time, grew up accepting that they were just wrong. The fact that this was apparently borne out in scripture was unsurprising.

There’s an old saying that used to be quoted in my NLP ‘modeling’ class: ‘you can’t understand someone until you have walked a thousand miles in their moccasins.’ As evangelical Christians, we were taught that scripture was clear enough for us not to have to engage in any real ‘understanding’. But when I finally woke up to the fact that I had never heard gay Christians themselves represented in our church teaching, I began to take steps to listen to the experiences of any who were prepared to risk opening up to me.

The stories were diverse. I had extensive conversations with some who were petrified about peers in their church learning about their sexuality, to others who had come out about their sexuality but believed they should be celibate, to a number who had repeatedly asked for prayer, or put themselves through ex-gay ‘programmes’ – including some who had self-harmed or attempted suicide when it failed to change them – to a few who had found a measure of peace and contentment in a heterosexual marriage, to others who were deeply frustrated with their experience of heterosexual marriage, some who divorced and then settled in monogamous gay relationships… and so on. Such a wide range of personal experiences and beliefs about scripture and how it played out in their lives. Definitive scriptural truth continued to be beyond my grasp; but these deeply painful experiences did at least show me that what I had been taught amounted to little more than old wives’ tales mixed in with a pinch of shallow conjecture.

And meanwhile, something else had been happening. Hearing and engaging with these stories had drawn me out in a way that my attempts to arrive at a clear biblical line never had done. I broke through the need to arrive at the objective truth on this issue by discovering a deep sense of affinity with and care for many of these friends who were having such an agonising journey.

And surely that is the whole point? Coming up with an objective scriptural perspective on gay sexuality may be beyond our scope. But maybe the very impossibility of producing a crystal clear scriptural line underlines the fact that the really important issue is the foundational call to love one another? That much, at least, really is crystal clear in scripture.

And when care for one another not only flies out of the window in our obsession with scripture, but potentially leads to utilising church donations given in good faith to push through harsh anti-gay legislation – then continuing to be a Christian ‘nutter’ has surely gone way beyond a laughing matter.

small truth or Great Truth…?

I woke this morning to hear John Humphreys trying gamely to get his head around the latest astronomical discovery – a group of quasars so large it would take 4 billion years to cross it travelling at the speed of light. The scale of the structure apparently challenges Einstein’s ‘Cosmological Principle’ – the assumption that the universe looks the same from every point of view.

Along with John, I was doing my level best to get a handle on the idea of quasars, but failing miserably. I did, though, take on board the fact that the discovery trounces scientists’ current understanding of the scale of the universe. Later, I read that Einstein’s assumption is so ingrained that researchers are struggling with the new information. ‘People are maybe understandably reluctant to give up the thing, because it will make cosmology too bloody complicated’, sighed a candid Oxford University spokesperson.

Even early on a Saturday morning, the metaphors were jumping. I went back to re-read one of the passages I had recently underlined in Richard Rohr’s new book, ‘Immortal Diamond’:

“In the authentic search for God, the field keeps expanding and never tightening. As in the universe itself, we move toward an ever greater aliveness, a greater consciousness, a deeper union… a divine allurement, which is calling the universe forward until a truly cosmic ‘Christ comes to full stature’… Do you want the Gospel to be small truth or Great Truth? That’s what many Christians must ask themselves.”

Rohr’s use of an expanding universe as a metaphor for a growing understanding of and relationship with God whisked me straight back to my Philosophy seminars at university. As a mature student, I had been euphoric at the exciting new realms of knowledge that were opening up to me after 10 years as a full-time mum – and a Christian wrestling with a dualistic worldview.

I had been brought up to understand what a dark, dangerous world it was ‘out there’ – and how only Christians (actually probably only evangelical Christians) had the Truth. Joining a charismatic evangelical church in my teens sealed the deal. It meant that anything and everything – from other spiritualities to books on psychology – that wasn’t earthed in our particular Christian worldview, was at best futile and at worst dark and dangerously flawed. Safest not to engage.

The thing is, I had no personal axe to grind about the world out there. I was drawn to it. As a curious, creative person, I sensed that it contained many bright, beautiful, and interesting things. But sadly I just reasoned that this attractiveness must be part and parcel of the danger – rather like a spiritual Venus fly trap.

I was also drawn to so many ‘out there’ people who came across as instinctively warm, generous and loving – and often more attractive personalities than some very upright Christians I knew – despite being Buddhist, gay, or whatever else seemingly counted against them. It was both sad and frustrating to live with the sense that a spiritual wall effectively divided us.

Then in that Philosophy class came the first suggestions that a Christian worldview may not, after all, be set in stone. Studying the 19th Century Crisis of Faith, I was struck by the fact that those who held on to their faith in the face of ‘undermining’ scientific discoveries, were actually the ones who had allowed the new information to adjust and enlarge their understanding of God. Those who had tried to keep their image of God penned within the old demarcations were the very ones whose faith would gradually and painfully trickle through their fingers.

For me, it was the beginning of an interesting, challenging, and liberating journey that has gently revolutionized my understanding of the nature of God, and of the integration of his creation. I just pray that embracing Great Truth never gets to be too threatening – or just ‘too bloody complicated’ – to keep on going…

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