Tuesday, 31 May 2011

General Assembly and Gay Clergy.

Of all the subjects discussed at the General Assembly last week, the one which has attracted the most interest from the media has been, inevitably, the one relating to sex.   People sometimes wrongly accuse the church of being obsessed with the subject.  I don't think this is at all fair, for two reasons:

(1) The Church does a HUGE amount of good work in communities all over Scotland and with vulnerable groups.  It is really thrilling at the Assembly to hear the reports of all the work going on, and I am immensely proud to be part of an organisation doing so much for the disadvantaged and needy.  Are the press interested in those things?  Do they get reported?  Not really, considering how much there is to admire.  "Crossreach", the social care arm of the Church of Scotland does a lot of truly wonderful stuff.  So does the "Guild" (formerly "Womens Guild").  So does the Department of World Mission, the HIV/Aids project, and so much else at a national level.  On top of this, in every city, town and village all over Scotland, local congregations are doing a phenomenal amount of good in terms of social care and community projects.  These things are done in the name of Jesus, and are all ways in which Christians communicate in very practical ways the unconditional love of God for everyone.  It is not really our fault as a denomination if the media are not sufficiently interested in these activities.

(2)  The main message of the Church is not a message about sex, or indeed about any other moral or legal or lifestyle issue.  The main message of the Church, often called the Gospel (which means "good news") is this: God loves the world so much that, rather than allowing people to receive the punishment that their sins deserve (and make no mistake we are ALL sin-full), he allowed his own son, Jesus, to take the punishment for us on the cross.  Jesus became a once-and-for-all sacrifice so that WHOEVER (including prisoners of course) believes in him will not die (though their body does) but have wonderful eternal life.  In Prisonworld, prisoners will interpret the word "sin" to mean their index offence; I sometimes find myself at services in prison having to break the bad news that there's a lot more to their sin than their crimes.  Jesus said, for example that the most important two commandments were to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour (our fellow human being) as much as we love ourselves.  We ALL break them, and probably several times a day.  We all need to hear the Gospel and our sex lives are marginal to that.

Having begun with that preamble I want to say something about the issue that has attracted the media attention because it IS an important one. 

Should the Christian church have homosexuals among its leadership?  This has been the subject of much debate.

The traditional point of view in my denomination and many others has been that (a) God loves every human being unconditionally, (b) God sees heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate place for sexual activity, (c) God loves heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals equally, and (d) it is in no way a sin to be homosexual in orientation.   In view of (a) to (d), therefore, ministers were traditionally expected to be either in a heterosexual marriage or else celibate.

Last week, the Church of Scotland General Assembly voted to consider the possible theological, ecclesiological and legal implications of moving away from this position towards allowing non-celibate gay people to become clergy.

What do I think of this?

To be honest, I am very sad.   This will probably shock my many LGBT friends and relatives because, I trust, you always have found (and I promise always will find) me to be unconditionally accepting of you.  I love you as much as I did.  I love you unconditionally.   However, I also love the Lord.

When I read the Bible it is abundantly clear to me that, whatever I personally may feel, GOD himself disapproves of homosexual practice (as well as heterosexual sin such as adultery etc too of course).   So what I think is irrelevant.  I'm a sinner myself, as all who know me will testify.  Therefore I am a poor judge of what is sin and what isn't.  Just because something doesn't particuarly offend me doesn't mean it's not a sin.  God is holy.  God made the world.   Wee boys playing football will sometimes claim "It's my ball" and that will give them extra say in what the rules are.  The world, shaped like a ball, is God's ball and he makes the rules.  We don't need to love them immediately but need to accept them and work towards understanding why God wants things that way.

The debate at the General Assembly a week ago today resulted in a decision to move in a "trajectory" in the direction of allowing practising homosexuals to be ministers.  This is against the will of the membership as surveyed by a Special Commission questionnaire.  This is against the will of the majority of the worldwide church with whom we do want to retain a real sense of unity.  But more importantly it is clearly against Scripture. 

It is this departure from Scripture that is really what upsets many of us.   I cannot begin to put into words how grieved I am that people genuinely think that people in my position are homophobic.  That is SO not true.  For a living, I love people in spite of their lifestyles.  For the avoidance of doubt let me be clear that I am not  comparing homosexual behaviour with a life of crime.  My point is that I love people in spite of their lifestyles.  If I love the criminal then obviously I love the non-criminal.  I know my heart and I know that I love everyone unconditionally and that clearly and definitely includes my LGBT friends and family.  My greatest fear, indeed, in posting this blog (which has been a decision reached after a lot of thought) is that you guys will be hurt and misunderstand where I am coming from as a rejection of you.

I'm aware that some readers may want to say, "But, AnneDroid, are you saying that only ministers who are without sin at all can be ministers?"  No!  Of course I'm not saying that.  No one is without sin, least of all me.   Ministers are human.  However, there is a higher standard expected of them than of others and that is just the way it is.  Were I to carry on a series of extra-marital affairs (I'm not planning to - I like what I've got) I would not have committed an offence against the law of the land but I would expect the church to take a negative view of it.  Even the least observant among you wouldn't need to look at me long to be suspicious that I am guilty of the sin of gluttony.  I am, and I fight it with varying degrees of earnestness, but what I wouldn't ever do is try to persuade others that gluttony was not a sin but in fact a great blessing.  That's an important distinction.

Some of my fellow clergy who share my understanding of God's will have already decided to leave the Church of Scotland.  Others are still thinking they may well do so.  I'm not going anywhere.  My dad, his brother, my mum's uncle and his uncle before him were CofS ministers.  Perhaps that's got something to do with my desire to stay, I don't know.  But I don't feel God's leading to leave.  Nor does Him Indoors.  So we're staying.  


Anonymous said...

I am profoundly grateful to some of my friends from the Liberal wing of the church for helping me to address my deep-seated love of money. I am a typical Westerner: consumerism, and the accumulation of stuff, and the pursuing of a constantly elevating standard of living was so important to me that it was a defining part of what motivated me to live. Third-world theology was what was I needed in order to help me as an impressionable youngster to reject the prosperity-theology which some of my Evangelical/Charismatic friends were promoting in the 80s. My Liberal friends quoted the Bible (Amos!) to show me that my lifestyle choices were as mistaken as the theology which sought to justify or embrace those choices as if they were Godly. The path of discipleship is costly. As you comment with regard to gluttony, I still struggle with this sin, and I still need the theology which exposes my sinfulness and doesn't blur the distinctions between right and wrong.

I now wonder if just as my Liberal friends helped me to reject prosperity theology as a capitulation to the spirit of the age in the 80s; they are now in precisely the same situation with regard to sexual ethics. The gospel is no more a lifestyle-enhancement product than it is a get-rich quick scheme. The message cuts right across everything we hold dear, and what defines us.

I have discovered that any part of my life which I deem to be above the scrutiny of the Bible is in fact an idol. Tearing down our idols is the very essence of what it means to 'crucify the flesh' - and I would expect anyone in leadership to be doing so - and doing so observably. Part of this is exposing sub-Biblical theologies such a prosperity (to the'right') or liberal sexual ethics (to the 'left'), which are but manifestations of the same desire to capitulate to the zeitgeist.

Mrs Gerbil said...

Thank you for a balanced and thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, and a great many feel the same as you. Glad that neither You nor Him indoors are going anywhere but staying and serving the Lord as you vowed to do many years ago.
This again is not about us but about God.He is the boss and though I struggle at times with his rules I do see where he's coming from and indeed leading.
I was always struck by the scripture in 1 Timothy 3
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,[a] he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives[b] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:

He[c] appeared in a body,[d]
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

I am homophobic and I to have known many lesbian and gay people; But one thing I am sure on is that it is a sinful act and one that God detests, But He as we still love them,It's the matter of turning from that life that is the crux.To me it is as if we are tearing bits out of the Bible to suit this day and age.The Bible was written many years ago, their struggles then are still the same now.. so in my eyes God 's word stands.
I apologise if this has offended anyone as it wasn't meant to.
Anne, Him In Doors God Bless you and thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

That will teach me to read before posting The latter part was meant to have I am NOT homophobic. Apologies again.

dickiebo said...

Don't you sometimes feel like you're walking through a minefield? Be careful of what you think/say/write etc., for fear of offending somebody.I think that you have the balance about right, A-D.
My thoughts are as I described them when talking about Rachael - a lady priest at http://dickiebo.wordpress.com/?s=Rachael [Rachael. No.6].
Strange - you are mentioned there as well!

That Hideous Man said...

Looking in from the outside, the CofS looks like two different churches in one structure.... must be very difficult for everyone.

Good post btw..

Anonymous said...

Anne, this has clearly been a very difficult post for you to write - one can feel the pain oozing out of it, but like so many have already said, I think you have held the balance beautifully. You have remained true to God's word, and held the feelings / opinions of others with such love and compassion.

My reply is in part to Anonymous - the prosperity Gospel was ALWAYS another gospel, it was man made and had no basis in Scripture. (If someone took the time to read the Bible, it is blatantly obvious that present prosperity has little to do with spiritual prosperity. (Eg Abraham, a wealthy businessman, sinned in sleeping with Hagar, and we reap the consequences of that to this day. Or on the other side of the coin, Paul wrote so many of his epistles from prison - not normally a place associated with prosperity) If we took 5 seconds to consider the persecuted church, we would know that the prosperity gospel is total nonsense!

However, one right and one wrong do not make a right! So just because the liberal church (who are not immune from prosperity living themselves . . . .) may have got the teaching right on the prosperity gospel, it does not follow that they have the teaching on sexuality right. Indeed I would say that the prosperity gospel, and what we are witnessing with the ordination of gay clergy are both 'other gospels'.

Neither have their place in scripture, and both are a perversion of what God has clearly laid said. God has given clear instruction on the only place for sex - that is timeless, and not open for negotiation or re-interpretation.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^^ Read my comment more carefully. You seem to have missed my main point!

dscott said...

You're right Anndroid when you say the church isn't actually obsessed with sex...neither is the bible! However, I'm not sure we can claim to have a clear picture from the bible about human relationships today. What is held up as "biblical marriage" is actually paternalistic, authoritarian, and denies women their personhood never mind equality! we've moved a long way from biblical teaching on heterosexual relationships, isn't it time we had a long hard look at using "biblical" morality to justify authoritarianism, paternalism and lots of other "isms" in church politics too?

Anonymous said...

I think this is a brilliant post. Like Mr Hideous Man I am looking in from the outside and therefore I wonder too how the church of scotland can remain as one entity.
I'm very grateful for my background of a separation between church and state - if nothing else it means that our denominational gatherings get ignored by the press.

I can't see how there won't be some kind of split, for how can the whole move forward to be the vehicle that God wants to use powerfully in this nation if there is such a schism?

Anonymous said...

please can the members of the cofs everywhere focus on the truths of GODS word and stop getting caught up in the politicts of the ways of the world,there is a dying world out there and they need to know the truth of what GOD says,not in the church it brings a curse.