So it’s a couple of weeks since I last hit the send button on this issue.
One of the things I have learnt is that an awful (and in some cases I mean literally awful) lot can happen in two weeks. But, overall the response to my initial article has been really interesting, and thought provoking. I am grateful to all who all who have added colour and texture to my deliberations.
Thank you to those who have spoken to me about their sexuality, to those who have told me they feel a strong sense of calling to engage with this issue and, especially to those who have said they will look once more at this issue through the lens of different approaches to Scripture.
Several people have contacted me anonymously (i.e. not through the on-line thread) thanking me for my thoughts – not necessarily agreeing with me – but thanking me. This is important because two things have become clear:
First, there is a genuine desire to engage with the issue pastorally, prophetically and, theologically.
Secondly, there is a real fear of doing so.
There are two aspects to fear: one honest and noble, the other dark and depressing.
There is a real fear of saying the wrong thing, using unhelpful language, being forced to come to a conclusion too quickly, backing someone else into a corner.
Then there is a fear of being thought of as subversive, a threat to the group in and through which people, may have come to, and been nurtured in, their faith. There is a fear of being ‘Steve Chalked.’ Punished and ostracised, in other words.
Sadly, tragically there is a great deal of bullying around this issue. Some of the bullying is more implicit than explicit and, is exercised through the use of language: orthodox, bible believing, fundamentalist, uncritical, mainstream, conservative, liberal and, so forth. These are amongst the least useful and loving words, and phrases, deployed in dialogue.
What I would want to say is simply this:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John, 4 -18).
If love must trump all in the conclusions we get to, it follows that love must also trump all in the process by which we get to those conclusions.
I am not sure love is trumping all.
I observe and (personally at times) experience the hectoring of the play ground bully.
And, just to be clear I am not letting myself of the hook here. I, just like many others, involved in the public debate around this issue occasionally enjoy delivering a crafty (and carefully crafted) punch to the ribs. It reminds me of my rugby playing days!
So my first call would be for the carefully constructed use of language.
If the language we use and the names of groups to which we belong imply rightness (and therefore wrongness to all outside the group, or, those who currently disagree) we may as well not even begin talking to each other. We need to find, and deliberately use, the language of love. We need to be honest with ourselves about both the words we use and how we use them. We need to construct a methodology of engagement that leaves no room for fear.
This does not mean that we should be less than explicit about our intentions. Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with candour, nor should we. In fact I think we need to be clear about our intentions.
We need to let our ‘yes be yes, and, our no, be no.’
So I would want to affirm my position – that the Church has a moral imperative to offer same sex couples, where their relationship is one of fidelity and monogamy, liturgical rites of affirmation, and that if it fails to do so it is guilty of a sin of omission – whilst asking those who disagree with my position to demonstrate how they can accept that same sex relationships can be marked by a love of a ‘stunning quality’ when, seeking to withhold liturgical rites and sacramental seals. As a ‘liberal’ my appeal to ‘conservatives’ would be how can a move beyond tolerance and into the sphere of love be unequivocally verified? Let me put it in propositional terms:
Love is not just abstract and sentimental, it is God’s logic and it therefore follows it should, always,be ours.
Logic and therefore love as an expression of God’s logic, is, and must be, capable of corporate verification. (This is necessary because the Church is the incorporated body of Christ).
It was suggested to me by a leading member of Anglican Mainstream that the only way that I could accept that ‘conservatives’ love, rather than tolerate, same sex couples is for conservatives to move to my position.
My answer to this would be that I can’t currently see how a church can verify God’s love for same sex couples without liturgical rites BUT I may be one of the ‘proud caught in the imagination of my heart.’ There may be different ways of affirming and verifying love, but this will require a level of imagination currently outside of my field of vision.
It is surely clear that the status quo will satisfy no one. But, for ‘conservatives’ to either seek to influence my theological thought process by restating the rightness of their position and the wrongness of mine isn’t going to help move us forward (even if we are moving on parallel tracks in love.) Equally, if there probably are issues in the way that I engage that prevent parallel movement, I need to know. But we all need to talk to each other in a way that precludes us from trading blows in a way similar to Ali and Foreman’s famous ‘rumble in the jungle.’ We need to develop the curiosity to always ask ‘what if?’ I suspect that love is always curious and investigative.
So let’s listen to each other’s appeals. For sure as eggs are eggs love appeals to be loved.
Love is also a matter of judgement because love and judgement are inextricably linked. I expect to be judged, both in this world and in the world to come, on the quality and breadth of my love.
I would want to clarify that ‘my liberalism’ (on this issue – because in other ways I am deeply conservative) should not be equated with universalism.
This is why same sex marriage is a first order issue (if we describe God through the language of virtue all currently presenting ethical issues must be first order issues?) Love and judgement are fundamental to issues of salvation and, this is why they are so important!
I suspect at a very deep level we know same sex marriage, because marriage is a celebration of all that Christianity holds dear (unity, relationship, love, fidelity, monogamy, covenant, indifference to sickness, health, richness and poorness, creativity etc) is linked to the issue of salvation – a mega first order issue – but we are sometimes too polite to say so.
So there you have it, my thoughts as to how love may, and should trump all, in our ongoing discussions. Love, expressed through dialogue, might contain the following characteristics:
- Carefully constructed use of language.
- Candour and explicitness.
- Questioning and asking.
- Love in dialogue is relies not just on words and beliefs but, critically, on
- Imagination becomes possible when we approach any given situation with curiosity, as investigators.
We need to remember that the manifestation of love, offered through the Church, is not solely a sentiment but an epistemological (i.e. verifiable) action.
Love, judgement and salvation are inextricably linked. (And that is why feelings – rightly – run so high on this issue.)
Does love automatically lead to unity? Or, ultimately may some have to ‘depart in peace?’ Now there’s a question for another time.