Advent and economics: a very short Theonomic reflection

Well we are nearly there! No, I am not talking about Christmas, that’s still some way off. I am talking about Advent.

Advent has a lot to teach us not just about theology but about life in general, which isn’t surprising really because theology’s concern is life, both eternal and temporal.

If theology is about life, if we ‘do theology,’ through living our faith, it follows that theology can inform our approach to economic life. Indeed, it must, because theology and economics, at their very heart, ask the same basic question:

Whose interests do I serve?

Marxists will answer that our primary economic concern is to serve the state. Capitalists, by contrast, will suggest that in serving self we better the lot of everyone. ‘My good’ becomes a ‘public good.’

People of faith aspire to serve the Kingdom of God (which necessitates serving each other).

In the West Marxism is widely discredited. But, does this leave capitalism as the only answer? The contributors to Theonomics suggest not, arguing that capitalisms biggest error is to assume that financial capital and human capital are on-in-the-same. The Bible teaches that this is not so. The Rich Man (in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke 16, 19-31) made this mistake and look where it got him!

Yet switch on the T.V. or go into the shops and you will be encouraged (or should I say manipulated) to believe that your human value is directly proportionate to your ability to consume. Consider the strap lines: ‘Because you’re worth it.’ ‘Just do it.’ And so on. And if you can’t just do it because you haven’t got the wherewithal there is a whole industry just waiting to lend you money; ‘praying’ on your vulnerability, your need to consume (and mine).

So what can Advent teach us? Simply this; the virtue is often in the waiting. Advent reminds us of an ancient economic value, one held dear by Adam Smith, ‘deferred gratification.’

Advent says ‘yes, you are worth it,’ and ‘if you wait your greatest need will be answered in the form of a gift.’ Advent goes further and suggests that the gift is a collective gift, given for the benefit of all humanity. Advent asks us to spend some time reflecting on the value of the ultimate gift and, whether we are prepared to use the gift as an act of service, in the full knowledge that the value of the gift to its recipients grows as it is shared.

Now that is a different way of considering the economic question.

Let me finish with a prophecy from the Cree Native Americans:

Only after the last tree has been cut down,

Only after the last river has been poisoned,

Only after the last fish has been caught,

Only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten

If you would like a copy of Theonomics please do be in touch! Theonomics is an edited book (by me!) and includes a series of interesting reflections:  +Alan Wilson and Rosey Harper’s reflection on the Rich Man and Lazarus is recommended as ‘an Advent Read.’

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Orthodoxy, morality and, discernment

Orthodoxy matters; not just a little bit but, a lot.

Orthodoxy (right belief) feeds orthopraxis (right behaviour). If we want to do the right things it therefore follows that we need to believe the right things.

Orthodoxy and its offspring, orthopraxis, because their concern is ‘rightness’ (which is pretty close to righteousness) cannot be disaggregated from notions of virtue, the exercise of which is one of Christianities prime, first order, concerns. After all Christians are called on, by Jesus, to ‘be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect,’ (Matthew 5, 48).

Yet, orthodoxy is also an aggravating term; open to misuse and abuse. And, this raises an interesting point for, when someone misuses the term orthodoxy to make a point they are affirming their ‘rightness,’ and, your ‘wrongness.’

When we use the term orthodox (or orthodoxy) we therefore need to be aware of two potential problems:

  • We need to be sure we are right in the technical sense of the word; that is to say correct. Orthodoxy is technical.
  • Different traditions within Christianity have developed different orthodoxies. The implication of this is that we are duty bound to understand both the strengths and the weaknesses of the traditions in which ‘our’ beliefs (orthodoxies) are developed.

If we don’t understand these two problems it could just be that we become responsible for inverting orthodoxy and, orthopraxis. Put another way, we might just start doing, or reinforcing, historic wrongs because the nature of our beliefs are wrong, even if they are sincerely held.

Sincerity and force of commitment are not necessarily indicators of right judgement, belief and, practice.

However we also need a more positive spin for orthodoxy can act as a break on wrongdoing, both at the individual and corporate level. As Gerard Hughes wrote in God of Surprises:

Because we are all liable to self deception and tend to use God and Christ (and Scripture – my addition) to justify and support our own narrow ways of thinking and acting, we need the institutional and critical elements of the Church as a check to our self deception, but ultimately it is Christ himself who is our teacher.

And  so it is right that all ministers are held to account by the Church under whose authority, and by whose permission, they act.

However, it would be naive to suggest that the Church has always believed the right things (orthodoxy) and therefore always behaved impeccably (orthopraxy). We know this not to be true.

Therefore claims that the Church has always (using the term ‘always’ to validate a position held to be orthodox) …….need to be treated critically and, cautiously.

We must not, in my view, overextend that which we consider to be orthodox. Using the word orthodox judiciously and sparingly may be regarded as a moral imperative, perhaps especially, when the Church is seeking to discern the ‘right’ way forward when negotiating a currently presenting ethical issue.

Gerard Hughes once again made this point, in arguing for the necessity to constantly refresh the mystical element in Christianity. Talking about ‘the safe’ (my metaphor) in which we deposit and protect our most cherished beliefs he wrote:

We guard it, treasure it, defend it by all means, fair or foul, not because we have any personal appreciation of its contents but, because we have been conditioned (see bullet point 2, above) to believe our lives depend on guarding this treasure box, but we have never been told, or have felt the need to examine its contents. This attitude is the root of all division within the Church and between churches. Christ becomes a label which we stick on the nonsense of our own lives, on our greed and power lust, on the cult of our own comfort, and self importance. When challenged or criticised, we wave our Christ label in front of our opponents, declare them unorthodox, heretical and a threat to our eternal destiny, threatening and, if we consider it necessary for our own and God’s defence, murdering them.

When we use the word orthodoxy to protect a prior set of beliefs (over and above the core beliefs articulated through the creeds?) and, validate resulting practices it might be legitimate to label our ‘conclusions’ wrong both in the common sense of being mistaken and, more seriously, in the ethical sense of allowing a vice to continue masquerading as a virtue?

Failure to look afresh at presenting ethical issues, in the era in which they are presented, could be regarded as failure to worship God ‘with all our minds,’ and a ‘sin of omission.’  Frequently orthodoxy is validated only through a prior set of assumptions which may, or may not be, valid. Discernment, in part, involves separating truth from assumption. Discernment asks us to ‘open the safe,’ to leave it unlocked for a while, and to free ourselves of prior assumptions. Discernment, as an ethical activity, is concerned not just with doing the right thing but also the avoidance of sins of omission. When, each Sunday we ask forgiveness for the things ‘we have failed to do,’ we are owning up to our reluctance to discern where the Spirit is seeking to lead us. Orthodoxy falsely asserted risks perpetuating sins of omission.

If we are going to persist in using the word orthodoxy – which we must – if we are to act with integrity – we are faced with one more problem:  The chronological problem. From where do we date our orthodoxy?

Let me illustrate:

Many have used orthodoxy to argue against ‘female headship.’ In doing so orthodoxy and orthopraxis are amalgamated, for it is true to say that for the majority of Christendom (and into the post Christendom era) females were excluded from leadership in the Church, in England.  But, we need to be a little bit more forensic because female headship only became a ‘no-no’ following the Council of Whitby in 664. Now interestingly, the Council of Whitby was presided over by none other than a woman; Hilda. This was possible because, according to Grace Clunie, in ancient British (Celtic) Christianity:

There is also evidence of gender equality and less patriarchy, especially evident in figures like St. Brigid of Kildare, St Ita of Killeedy and St Hilda of Whitby, who presided over the Council of Whitby in AD 664.

 So, recent decisions to re-confer female headship, validated through ordination, can be regarded as a return to orthodoxy, just as it can also be viewed as a breach with orthodoxy; it simply depends on where you start the clock from.

If we accept the two propositions (for orthodoxy is propositional) put forward:

  • Orthodoxy is essential in order to guide right (righteous) behaviour
  • Orthodoxy is open to misuse and danger

How then can we proceed?

I think there are two positive ways of working with orthodoxy. The first is to accept that visiting and revisiting ethical (and therefore doctrinal) issues as they present, in any given era is in itself part of Christianities’ traditional approach. This does not mean we have to change beliefs and practices but it does mean that there is nothing unorthodox about challenging the status quo; opening up the conversation, allowing our theology to be appropriately critical, accepting that any prior positions we hold dear may be wrong.  When we approach orthodoxy in this way we commit to the possibility of God’s progressive revelation. Christians have done this throughout history; we are morally mandated to continue doing so.

Same sex marriage is a ‘current presenting issue,’ and I would argue that there is nothing unorthodox or heretical about looking at the issue afresh, just as the Church has re-examined a wide range of ethical issues as and when they present.  If I am correct, we all ought to be encouraged to re-examine the issue afresh, free from the fear of being labelled unorthodox or, heretical.

The Church after a period of discernment may assert the status quo, or it might arrive at a different set of conclusions, but those involved in the discussion should not close down lines of enquiry through invoking the ‘tyranny of orthodoxy.’ There would be little rightness, or righteousness, in such an approach.

The second positive stance we can take is to limit the range of subjects which we place in a safe marked orthodox. If we could limit orthodoxy to the Catholic Creeds and explicitly stop using the term in relation to current and live, debates, it might be that we can move forward in some form of unity, as orthodox Christians?  We might be able to improve our praxis, whatever this comes to look like in reality?

Love trumps all – the sequel – talking about same sex marriage

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.)

But:

Does love automatically lead to unity? Or, ultimately may some have to ‘depart in peace?’ Now there’s a question for another time.

Fertile fallacies in the finance system: a theonomic response

Well it seems the TV journalist Paul Mason has reached the end of his tether with the banks. Just look on YouTube at his recent Channel 4 ‘outburst.’ Good man, he said some of the things that need to be said.

There is a lot of rubbish spoken about life in the Square Mile and other major financial centres. I can say this from experience having worked in the investment management industry between 1990 and 2007. Towards the end of my time in the City I became sensitive to the extent that mythology drove corporate behaviour.

The financier George Soros coined the term ‘fertile fallacies.’ Fertile fallacies are stories (myths) that keep growing, gaining ever wider acceptance despite being built on a false set of premises.

Fertile fallacies are weeds peddled around the market place as flowers.

Before I provide a fairly straightforward list of the most peddled fallacies let me give you a little bit of ‘testimony’:

In 1997 I held my first ‘senior’ position in an investment management company. I had reached the sort of level (Assistant Director – a fairly meaningless term) where I started to become privy to various bits of carefully selected information.

I remember being astounded to discover that the average (the arithmetic mean) of all employees of the company had just gone through £100,000. Now investment companies, just like banks, employ lots of low paid workers: cleaners, receptionists, clerks, post room workers and so forth. Their pay was, obviously, substantially – embarrassingly – below the arithmetic average. An investment management business also requires an army of middle ranking, middle paid, staff to keep the whole shooting match afloat; I.T. support staff, investment writers, compliance officers, pay roll staff, HR bods etc. The ‘infantry’ regiment are reasonably well paid but, not that well paid. I worked in what we might think of as the ‘artillery;’ sales and marketing. My salary was £55,000 (plus bonuses). So you don’t need to be Einstein to work out that some people were being paid an enormous amount of money, dragging up the arithmetic mean.

Now let’s wind forward to 2005.

In 2005 I was Sales and Marketing Director of the U.K.  asset management subsidiary of a multinational financial services business. We managed £3 billion (which sounds a lot, but in investment management company terms isn’t) of assets in a mixture of pension fund, insurance funds, unit trusts, offshore investment companies (quoted on the Dublin Stock Exchange) and hedge funds (‘domiciled’ for tax reasons) in the Cayman Islands.

In 2005 we had a bumper year. Our funds performed really well compared to both the market and their peers and we ended up paying our ‘excellent’ fund managers significant annual bonuses (in excess of 100% salary) whilst, also, adding to their long-term incentive schemes. I, as one of the five person executive team, also enjoyed a bumper ‘bonus season.’

In 2006 many of funds performed extremely badly. Not just averagely but really, really badly. So what did we do? How did we adjust performance related pay in the light of that year’s reality?

We didn’t! (I argued we should but lost – the first time I remember being on the receiving end of one of the arguments fed to you: ‘you just don’t understand.’)

We paid our poorly performing fund managers, in many cases, 100% of their substantial base salaries in bonuses.

Here was the rationale:

They had proved in 2005 they were really good at their jobs, in 2006 market conditions were not suited to their style of investing (silly, spiteful market!) and, in 2007 all would be well again. There was no sense, in our discussions, that gratification should therefore be deferred for a period of twelve months.

I remember going home on the train that night and thinking what sort of industry am I complicit in?

When things go well you earn a lot of money and when things go badly you also earn a lot of money in compensation for the rotten luck you had had to endure. The game in other words was rigged. Risk-reward, forget it. The rationale used to justify these bonuses was that our fund managers were really good at what they did – despite the evidence that they weren’t – and that if we didn’t look after them someone else would ‘steal’ them! We, like executive teams across the industry, had developed a level of corporate (and personal) neuroses, and you can’t make good corporate decisions when suffering with corporate mental health problems.

Oh one more thing: we spent countless hours discussing how we might pay bonuses in a ‘tax efficient’ manner, just in case our army of fund managers simultaneously  packed their kit bags and departed for Dublin, Geneva, Cayman, Luxembourg, New York etc. Despite our inability to beat the tax man, we never lost a fund manager to either an international tax haven or another international centre for finance. Why not? Well, most of them, even if they were talented enough, had kids in school, active social lives where they lived and so forth. How bizarre to spend hours and hours thinking about how we might react to a risk that didn’t really exist! Oh, the power of fertile fallacies!

I also remember, and this is absolutely true, we had to write a letter to one fund manager’s wife detailing how we proposed to remunerate him over the next few years, and what guarantees we were prepared to give.  Despite all of this, he still left. His wife still negotiates his – wait for this – his ‘economic rent’ with his employer, so I am told.

So we get to 2007, the year I resigned, in disgust, at the system in which I had been complicit (I felt like I was the rich young ruler, Luke 18, 18-23).

What happened?

Another bad year of performance and some of the fund managers who had been paid astronomical amounts of money in the previous two years were made redundant (with pay offs, mind you) because the business no longer had confidence in their ability to generate satisfactory investment returns ‘across a range of market conditions.’

Let’s do some figures to give a rough approximation of the price of failure:  2 years base salary £250k i.e. 125 k per annum -not including pension and life assurance contributions, annual bonuses over two years equalling £250, redundancy payments equating to half a year’s remuneration £125, payments from long-term incentive scheme £125: total cost of failure over 2 years £750,000 (and this is a conservative estimate).

So from this little testimony let’s see if we can identify some ‘fertile fallacies,’ the weeds masquerading as flowers you and I are still being asked to buy:

  • To work in banking and finance requires super human, market defying, amounts of skill and intelligence. It doesn’t. (My own school and undergraduate qualifications are raving average).
  • Everyone working in the industry benefits from the super returns sometimes generated. They don’t, we never paid 100% bonuses (or even 10-20%) in good times to support staff. In bad times they received the lowest levels of bonus.
  • ‘Talented individuals,’ unless they are locked in are likely to be recruited by competitors, ultimately leading to a complete drain of talent as the ‘very best’ talent chooses to move either to domestic competitors or overseas. Our poorly performing fund managers weren’t recruited by others (they were ‘let go’) and, our super star, guided by his wife left anyway!
  • Unless the tax burden is reduced the result will be a ‘mass Exodus’ of biblical proportions. Utter rubbish!
  • It isn’t the amount of pay that is the problem; it is the structure of pay. Couldn’t disagree more.

So here we have some of the fertile fallacies. Please don’t buy them; they are a bouquet of weeds.

Unfortunately a range of fertile fallacies are being peddled as the solution (they may be part of the solution but they are not the solution):

  • Governance and regulation will sort everything out. It won’t the system is fantastic at finding, inventing and exploiting loopholes.
  • It’s all down to corporate structure. It isn’t! Barings, followed by Equitable Life were early miscreants; Co Op bank has been one of the latest. Greedy and inept people are quite capable of rising to the top in any form of organisation.

So please don’t but these fallacies. When they are offered to you reject them.

Change starts with people and virtue. If we want to see a flourishing finance system we need to start with values and, we need to recruit people into the system who seek to serve others and not simply to feather their own nests. We actually need to reduce take home pay, substantially, (it will still be a well paid industry – no one is going to starve). We need people in the banking system who understand appropriate the Theonomic principles of: community, solidarity, gift, service and subsidiarity. Then, and only then, will the industry truly be ‘the financial services industry.’

A finance industry animated by religious virtues now that would be a thing of beauty.

Love trumps all: my theological rationale in support of same sex marriage

On the 21st March 2013 Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, told the BBC that some same sex gay couples have loving, stable and monogamous relationships of ‘stunning quality.’

More recently, the day after his retirement, John Pritchard, the outgoing Bishop of Oxford, said:

‘I want to affirm covenanted, faithful, lifelong relationships, either gay or straight.’

Bishop John remains unconvinced over same sex marriage, as does Archbishop Justin; I am not so sure, for me the issue around same sex marriage is binary. Half way houses and strategies designed to appease always seem to end up causing even greater problems? But, the more important point may be this:

If Archbishop Justin is correct then Bishop John’s desire to affirm, liturgically, all faithful lifelong relationships, is the only logical conclusion. Unless that is love is not the clincher.

Recently a theologian and a senior member of the clergy asked me whether I really believe that love trumps all. My answer is straightforward: Yes!

It has also been suggested that my arguments are philosophical and not biblical. My response to this is that it all depends on how you engage with the Bible. I think that all who seek to make theological arguments using Scripture have an ethical responsibility to explain, and justify, their approach. My approach as described below is primarily thematic and, starts from the position that God is love. The ethical and the biblical are not therefore divisible.

Both Justin and John are rightly keen to draw our attention to the characteristic content of Christianities understanding of love, where (italicised because true love can be expressed through a vocation to celibacy) love is vested in a covenant relationship characterised by fidelity, stability and monogamy. Covenant relationships, according to the Christian tradition, should be fertile, generative and fruitful. True love, as the Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren argued, is the distinctive Christian motif. Motifs possess content (fidelity, monogamy, stability, compatibility etc) from which outcomes (fruit) flow. True love is therefore not only to be experienced but, also, to be empirically observed (not least by God in his role as judge).

As I have already said it has seemed to me, for some time, that Christianities most important proclamation is ‘love trumps all.’  After all one the bible’s best known verses is:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life,’ (John 3, 16).

Love is God’s logic! It therefore follows that it ought to be ours!

We are called onto to ‘be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,’ (Matthew 5, 48). God’s perfection is love, therefore love is the epitome of our, human, perfection.

Consequently if love, as defined through the Christian tradition, is to be found in human relationships, irrespective of sexuality, as Justin and John suggest, then it becomes increasingly hard to see how the church can, without recall to a very few ‘proof texts,’ taken from a very narrow range of biblical genres, deny same sex couples access to liturgical rites, designed to seal their covenant love for each other.

John’s first epistle stresses that where love is God is: ‘everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,’ (1 John 4, 7). John goes on to say ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,’ (1 John 4, 16). The remainder of 1 John 4 provides some stern reminders of the consequences for those who claim to love God whilst simultaneously denying the existence of love in human relationships.  I fully accept a theology of judgement, where judgment begins in the here and now. In staking my corner I am not therefore affirming universalism, the idea that love trumps all because ultimately the love of God is so irresistible that no one can turn away from it, and therefore it doesn’t matter what we do in the here and now. It does matter. The here and now is where we seek to make the kingdom real, ‘on earth as in heaven.’  How we respond to our brothers and sisters in the here and now may well have eternal consequences. So our perspective on heavenly existence must act as a guiding principle for our earthly behaviour.

It seems to me that if the Church (of England) fails to provide opportunities for same sex couples to affirm their relationship it stands guilty of a sin of omission.

Liturgical and sacramental rites are one way – perhaps the primary way – that the Church has traditionally demonstrated both God’s love for all and, his desire to involve himself in human relationships, as well as our love for each other.  In the absence of liturgical and sacramental seals it is hard to see how the Church can evidence movement beyond tolerance to loving and full inclusion in the body of Christ.

Unless I am missing something?

The choice facing the Church is therefore binary, full inclusion, liturgically verified, or some form of lesser ‘toleration’ for the status of gay Christians and toleration is not a theological virtue.

Absorption into the tradition or exclusion from the tradition; that is the choice.

The problem is this that love places a burden on us, and for many the burden is to rise above the level of subjectivity, however viscerally felt, because we are charged to love unconditionally . The other choice for those wishing to exclude same sex couples liturgical affirmation is to deny that same sex relationships can be characterised by true Christian love, and it appears  that even the most ardent opponents  are loathe to do this. ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ seems to have disappeared from the discourse, thankfully.

In recent on-line debates the argument that extending marriage to same sex couples somehow diminishes heterosexual couple’s marriage also appears to be used with less frequency. From my own perspective the vows I made to my wife, in 1991, before God, and friends and family cannot be made any less sacred, or enduring, through extending the institution of marriage, for the simple reason that we meant every word we said before God, to each other.

Some critical friends suggest that fully fledged marriage is inappropriate for same sex couples because one of the primary objectives in marriage is reproduction and, of course, in Genesis 1, 28 God is recorded as saying to his prototype humans: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ Without in any way denying that this is a call to procreation humans are mandated to be generative (fruit bearing – ‘bear fruit,’ and…) in a far more holistic sense.

This brings me to my friend David, God-Father with his (male) partner to my children. We asked David and his partner to be God- Fathers to our children because, by my observation, David epitomises a life of radical discipleship.

One of the reasons the consequences of his love is so tangibly experienced is because he is in a loving, stable and monogamous relationships of ‘stunning quality.’

David regularly visits rural Uganda and has set up a scheme to care for some of the most vulnerable elderly people in the world. The way he uses his home and other resources are an example to us all. I love David and he has enriched my faith, he has provided me with the most incredible example of faith in action; Christian love in other words. He has been my tutor.

If I could pick one verse that describes David’s approach to his life in Christ it would be 1 Thessalonians 2, 8:

‘So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share not only the gospel of God but also our very selves, because you have become dear to us.’

Yet, he is painfully aware that many in the Church disapprove of him and are disgusted by

his sexuality.

One of my greatest sadness’s is that the Church refuses David and his partner full liturgically affirmed recognition; suggesting the best we can offer is some form of toleration and semi inclusion.

Post script:

I have written this because I want to support my friend David – to stand alongside him in solidarity – because he struggles with and in the Church. I know that many will reject my thoughts, just as a significant number will be supportive. The rationale for my blog is to provide food for thought and not ammunition for battle.

Tutored in mission by Simon Callow

I recently went to see Matthew Hurst’s one man play The Man Jesus, ‘starring Simon Callow.’

It was simply amazing.

I made a ‘mistake.’ As often happens we left the house in a rush and I didn’t have time to change out of my dog collar and into civvies. A potentially fateful move when going out with one’s spouse to a ‘religious play.’ And so, during the interval, I was approached by a couple keen to know what I thought and, how I was challenged.

It became clear that both husband and wife were carrying around a great deal of religious anxiety but were extremely moved by the drama that unfolded before our eyes.

Maybe this is why:

Matthew Hurst and Simon Callow were both, through the play, exploring their understanding of, and reaction to, Jesus.

They were using the literary form to work out their own religious sensitivity. By studying the person of Jesus they were able to critically reflect on the ‘historic Jesus’ presented to them by others, in their youth.

Simon Callow was brought up a Roman Catholic and experienced something of the transcendence of God through the Roman Mass. Matthew Hurt was variously introduced to the Jesus of ‘oily mahogany’ clad Catholicism, the ‘watery acrylic cartoon Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witness,’ and the ‘superhero and benevolent phantom’ of Pentecostal Christianity. Unable to decide on whether the Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Pentecostals had the best Jesus he realised that ‘the cumulative effect of all these images of Jesus was to leave me with a bland figurine, in various clichéd poses, of whom I had no sense whatsoever.’

Holy crap!

Lesson 1: beware of how we Christians present Jesus.

Fortunately Hurt decided to explore the gospel for himself: ‘I went back to the Bible and re-read the gospels. The more I read, the more clearly a figure – a man – started to emerge. He bore little resemblance to the Jesuses I’d previously envisaged. He was much more radical, provocative, brilliant and contradictory……..not a cartoon, not an ethereal presence, but a very human being. An exceptional and strange human being, who, irrespective of questions of his divinity, merits being heard.’

Lesson 2: To what extent do we Christians really want people to explore and read the gospels for themselves, allowing them to find their own Jesus?  How comfortable are we with taking people on a voyage of discovery with an uncertain destination?

Simon Callow’s rationale for accepting twelve multiple roles through which to portray Jesus was the ‘hope that they (the audience) will be profoundly challenged by what Jesus says in the play, and that they will ask themselves whether he has anything to say to them individually and personally.’

Lesson 3: How much time do we spend exploring Jesus through the lens of those who he touched and changed –or indeed looking at the faith stories in our own communities? It might be the way to reach a hugely diverse audience. It seemed to work in the play!

Simon Callow was adamant that he sought ‘neither to endorse Jesus or to dismiss him, but to present him as vividly as we know how, so that they (the audience) can make their own minds up.’

Lesson 4: should we spend more time reflecting on how vividly present Jesus than in trying to apologise for Jesus?  Jesus, through vivid and vibrant presentation, is more than capable of endorsing himself.

The first point that Simon Callow makes in the programme notes is Jesus doesn’t belong in a church, he belongs where he can be most vividly be brought to life.’

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Lesson 5: Simon Callow understands that Christian mission is simply this: to bring Jesus to life and to do so in a way that renders him so attractive that he becomes irresistible.

So five simple challenges: is the Church up to them? Are you?